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23 June 2014

#24--52 ancestors: Disappearing Act

#24-52ancestors; Disappearing Act

John Vanderpool (1794-ca1840)

I found him! Genealogists recognize that shriek. You hear it now and then at libraries and archives. However, I was alone in the dawn’s silvery streaks of light when I found him, with only my computer’s blinking cursor to acknowledge my cry of joy.

He evaded me for years, and it took technology and the wonders of the Web to track him down. Somewhere between 1835 and 1840 he disappeared. He being John, the older brother of my ancestor, William Vanderpool. John was the administrator of his father’s estate in Marion County, Indiana, and court records revealed some legal disagreements with a brother-in-law in 1835. John was also appointed guardian of his younger sister, Mary – an idiot (that’s a legal term rather than a sibling’s slur). Then John and his wife, Susannah, and their children disappear – vanish from the face of the earth. Or so it seemed.


Unable to find John and his family in 1840 or later censuses or in any Marion County, Indiana records after 1835, I finally stumbled upon his younger children in Missouri in the 1850 census – living with their older brother. So where was this family during this 15-year span?  What happened to John and Susannah? The trail was an icy-cold; I soon exhausted the few clues I had, including a search for Bounty Land Warrants (BLW). John served in the War of 1812, and under an 1842 act he could have chosen land in areas other than Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. However the search for a BLW was negative, and I came to one of those dead-ends that most family historians encounter at various stages of research. I put the hunt for John and Susannah on hold and worked on other problems. In genealogy, you never run out of problems to solve. At least I never have.

American land records are invaluable for tracing roaming, restless ancestors across the vast expanse of this huge country. I was well aware of these records, having solved a few genealogical problems with them before. However, without a clue to which county, even which state, John and Susannah might have removed to after they left Marion County, Indiana, there was not much hope of finding him -- not easily or quickly in any case.



The Bureau of Land Management -– Eastern Division established a website in 1998 where records may be searched online for the states whose records it hold. One early morning I decided to explore the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Home Page http://www.glorecrds.blm.gov/ -- and that is where I found him. In January of 1837 he purchased 80 acres of land in Shelby County, Illinois (for the princely sum of $1.25 an acre). A search in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri land patents at this website had turned up several John Vanderpools. However, armed with the narrow time frame I had, I was able to sift out unlikely candidates and turn my focus on the records of Shelby County, Illinois.

On 13 October 1838, John and Susannah sold this property and disappeared again. At least I've narrowed my search from 15 years to 12. Is that progress or what?

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