Am I Researching the Wrong Person? Research Objectives Can Help
In my research project to discover the actions of my relative during the Civil War, I learned the importance of starting with the right objective.
There are three kinds of research objectives that most genealogy research projects fall into:
– Identify an individual
– Prove a family relationship
– Discover ancestor actions
I had chosen the objective to discover Moses W. Isenhour’s actions during the Civil War. Moses is the brother of my 4th great grandfather, Barnett Isenhour. Moses died during the Civil War and I wanted to learn about his service before he died. This is the objective I wrote for the project:
Discover the actions of Moses W. Isenhour prior to and during the Civil War. He was born in 1823 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and died 16 February 1862 in Fort Thompson, Missouri, United States. Moses was the son of John D. Isenhour and Sarah Bailey and married Amanda McKinney 1 October 1846 in Montgomery, Arkansas.
As I researched him, I found that his family migrated from Arkansas to Texas in about 1855. Moses was not found on the 1860 census, but his wife and children were in Cass County, Texas. Previous researchers had found that Moses enlisted in Confederate service in an Arkansas regiment in 1861. Why would he go back to Arkansas? That same Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) said that he died in 1862.
I wondered if the previous research was incorrect. Could there be two Moses Isenhours? I thought it was more likely that Moses served in a regiment from Texas, since that’s where his family was living. I then found a muster roll listing a man named “Mos Isenhower” who enlisted with the 1st Regiment of Texas State Troops (from Bosque and Coryell Counties) in 1863. These had to be separate men, since the first one died in 1862. Which was which? I realized that I hadn’t taken enough time to fully identify Moses W. Isenhour and his family, so I couldn’t determine which service record matched my relative.
Which Type of Objective Should Come First?
The first type of research objective, identify an individual, is the most important. The other types of objectives rely on the first being done well. You can’t discover an ancestor’s actions if you haven’t identified where a person and their family lived, resided, and died. Have you ever had that feeling of dread that comes when you realize you’ve been researching the wrong person?
I had that feeling about Moses Isenhour. I had assumed the previous research was correct and that Moses Isenhour’s family moved to Texas, then he went back to Arkansas to enlist in the 11th Arkansas. However the other possibility made even more sense – his family moved to Texas, and he enlisted there.
So, I put my “ancestor actions” objective on hold and focused on identifying my relative. Which Moses Isenhour was which? This became my new objective. The two objectives were quite intertwined. One CMSR had a death date, the other was a muster roll with only an enlistment date.
I searched census records and cemetery records to help me identify the new Moses Isenhower. Here’s an excerpt from my report about what I found:
To further identify the man of the same name who was a private in the Texas State Troops, the 1860 Federal census records were searched in Bosque and Coryell Counties. A man named Moses Isenhower, residing in Bosque County, Texas, was found:
Moses Isenhower, head of household, age 36, born in Tennessee (estimated birth year 1823) with other household members including Catherine age 36, Simeon 14, Elizabeth 12, Manda E 10, David F 9, Ellena 7, Rosetta 3, Mary A 6/12.
Additionally, the image of a gravestone for Moses Isenhower in Milford, Barton County, Missouri, was found. The inscription reads:
Born Oct 8, 1823
Died Oct 27, 1906
Catherine Bird, his wife
Born Oct 24, 1824
Died Mar 10, 1905
These census and gravestone records show that the Texas State Troops muster roll for Moses Isenhower almost certainly belongs to the Moses Isenhower who was born 8 October 1823, died 27 October 1906, and married Catherine Bird. He was not the son of John D. and Sarah Isenhour.
It follows then, that John D. Isenhour’s son, Moses W. Isenhour, was the soldier who enlisted with the 11th Arkansas Infantry regiment.
I also researched Moses W. Isenhour’s wife and children in Texas. I found a biography of his son which mentioned his father’s service in the Arkansas regiment, confirming my hypothesis. From my report:
A biography about William Martin Isenhower, the son of Moses W. Isenhour and his military service was located. The biography contains the following information:
“Moses gained pioneer honors in Texas and prior to the Civil War he here gave service as overseer for a number of the largest slave-owners in the state, including Reese Hughes, Mark Sumner, Wilber Peacock, and a widow named Driver.”
“When the Civil War was precipitated he entered service as a loyal soldier of the Confederacy, and at the battle of New Madre, near Memphis, Tennessee, he received a severe wound in the head, he having been taken to a military hospital in Memphis and his death having there occurred, in 1864, as a result of his wound.”
“William M. Isenhower was a child at the time of the family removal from Arkansas to Texas, and his early education was acquired in the schools of Cass and Johnson counties.”
I also discovered that Moses was elected as county coroner for Montgomery County, Arkansas. From my report:
“V. Isenhour” and “M. Isenhour” served as Coroner for Montgomery County, Arkansas for the terms of 1856-1858, and 1860-1862, respectively. County coroners were elected in each county and held office for a term of two years. The duties of Coroner were to investigate the cause of death for persons who were killed or who died an unnatural death and bring to trial those responsible. The county Sheriff, Coroner, Treasurer, and County Surveyor were elected by the residents of the county and served a term of two years. During that time they were required to “reside in their respective counties during their continuance in office.”
This explains why Moses was missing from the 1860 census with his family in Cass, Texas, and why he didn’t enlist in a Texas regiment. Moses had been elected Coroner in Montgomery County and still had ties there, including his older brother Valentine and his family, who lived there until about 1862. Moses may have even lived with his brother after he left his family in Cass County, Texas and served as Coroner.
Start with Identity
In the future, I will start with research projects to identify a person. After that has been completed, I will then create a new objective to research that person’s military service. But, as you can tell, the objectives are often intertwined. This requires flexibility and a fluid research plan. As discoveries are made, changes to your research plan can be made!
My research project about Moses W. Isenhour was the result of my participation in the first Research Like a Pro study group. If you’re interested in notifications about the next study group, sign up here: Research Like a Pro Study Group Updates.
You can read all the work samples from this project and more about research objectives in our book, Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide.