More About Maggie

This is my fourth post in the Guild of One-Name Studies blog challenge 2020.

I have written two previous posts about Margaret—“Maggie”—Casbon (1864–1903), who was born out of wedlock as Margaret Jackson, the daughter of Mary Jackson (abt. 1833–abt. 1875). Mary Jackson married James Casbon (abt. 1813–1884) at Stretham, Cambridgeshire in 1866, when Maggie was two-and-a-half years old. James might have been Maggie’s father, but that is unknown. My first post about Maggie, written in December 2017, summarized everything I knew about her life at that time and the second post, from February 2019, presented her obituary. Today’s post is an update, with a correction and clarification about information I discussed in the 2017 post. It is also a cautionary tale about how incorrect conclusions can be drawn from derivative sources.

In my December 2017 post, I quoted the source “Genealogical Notes from the Porter Vidette, April 7, 1881 – Sept. 14, 1882,”[1] This was a typewritten extract of items of interest printed in an early Porter County, Indiana, newspaper. The entry dated 9 February 1882 listed a few marriages and deaths and then this statement: “Maggie Casbum living with Ben Woodard.”

Excerpt from “Genealogical Notes from the Porter Vidette, April 7, 1881–Sept. 14, 1882”

I interpreted the phrase “living with” from my modern perspective as meaning that Maggie was in a relationship, i.e., “living in sin” with Ben Woodard. This seemed like an odd thing to print in the newspaper, but then again, newspapers from that era tended to be more gossipy about local matters than they are today. I couldn’t view the microfilm of the original article at the time because it was at the Porter County Library, almost a thousand miles away from me. It wasn’t until early 2019 during a short visit to Indiana that I was able to view the microfilm. That was when I realized that my interpretation completely missed the mark. Here is the article.

Untitled article, The Porter County (Indiana) Vidette, 9 Feb 1882, p. 5, col. 1.

As you can clearly see, the phrase “living with” in the extract simply meant that Maggie had been living in the home of Ben Woodard and his family. There is no suggestion of an inappropriate relationship with Mr. Woodard. The article tells us that Maggie was suspected of stealing clothing from the Woodard family and was now missing. It also says that she has been suspected of similar activities in the past.

My mistake was that I had misinterpreted the limited information contained in the extract. This shows how a derivative source can sometimes lead us astray in our genealogical research. Elizabeth Shown Mills defines a derivative source as “material produced by copying an original or manipulating its content; e.g., abstracts, compilations, databases, extracts, transcripts, translations, and authored works such as historical monographs or family histories.”[2] She goes on to say: “Derivative sources also span the entire spectrum of reliability—depending upon the form they take; the circumstances of their creation; and the skill, bias, or aim of their creators.”[3] In this case, the extract failed to convey the true meaning of the original article.

This isn’t necessarily an error on the part of the librarian who prepared the extract, since she probably only intended to note the fact that both Maggie Casbon and Ben Woodard were mentioned in an article. The purpose of the “Genealogical Notes” is to save readers hours of time they would have spent scrolling through microfilm reels and reading the fine print of newspapers in search of their persons of interest. Instead, a library patron, upon reading the extract, would know which microfilm reel to pull and which newspaper edition contained the information they wished to find.

The “real” story about Maggie as told in the article fills in another blank in what we know about her and portrays her in a negative light. The article also raises new questions. It was written in 1882, when Maggie was 17 years old. This was two years before her father (or stepfather?), James, was murdered. Yet, she was said to claim that she was “an orphan, and destitute of a home.” Why would she make such a claim? We can only speculate, as there are several possible reasons: 1) After her mother’s death, perhaps she truly was an orphan (i.e., without a living parent) if James was not her biological father; 2) Perhaps for reasons unknown to us, she was estranged from James and her new stepmother and had been turned out of their home; 3) Perhaps she left her home of her own volition and was posing as an orphan in order to take advantage of the good will of others. We will probably never know the whole story.

One danger of genealogical research is the risk of drawing broad conclusions from limited information. It would be easy to dismiss Maggie as a “black sheep,” but this would be an oversimplification. I prefer to look at this episode in the context of what else is known about her.

Maggie did not have an easy life. Born out of wedlock, she was taken to a strange land (Indiana, USA) when she was only six years old. She lost her mother when she was probably no more than ten and then raised by a man who might not have been her biological father and a new stepmother. We know nothing about her home life in Indiana except that her father or stepfather was a poor laborer. This man (James Casbon) was murdered when she was 20 years old. Maggie had an unsuccessful marriage about seven months after the Vidette article was printed. Then there is a huge gap in information between 1882 and her second marriage in 1899. This marriage was ended four years later by her untimely death at the age of 39 due to uterine cancer. She never had children. The 1882 news article is the only piece of information portraying her in a negative light. It would be wrong to draw a general conclusion about her character based on this episode that took place in her teenage years.

Unless new information turns up, this is probably the last thing I’ll have to say about Maggie. Why do I write about her at all? Part of the reason is that I am especially interested in those family members who made the difficult journey to America in the mid- to late 1800s. Part of the reason is that there is no one else to tell her story, and I think it is worth telling. And finally, I have to admit that I have the genealogists’ disease of being unable to resist the desire to go down rabbit holes in search of just about anything.

[1] Kaye Griffiths, compiler (typescript, 1983), no. G977.298; Genealogy Department, Porter County Public Library, Valparaiso.
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, 3d ed. (for Kindle) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015), p. 24.
[3] Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, p. 24.

6 thoughts on “More About Maggie”

      1. Yes, it does, particularly in my line of work. All of the “disruptive innovation” in higher education in the past ten years has necessitated pretty much ongoing reevaluation.

  1. […] The first information I had about Margaret’s whereabouts after the 1880 census was this intriguing snippet extracted from the February 9, 1882 Porter County Vidette: “Married – Joseph Quinn – Viola Beard (Baird penciled in); Mrs J. Meyer of Mo.; Died – Wm Dye; Married – Kimberlin – Vita Pennock; Died – Lena Wulf; Maggie Casbum living with Ben Woodard.”[9] What an interesting thing to print in the newspaper! It seems a bit scandalous. Margaret would have been just under 18 years old at the time. [UPDATE, 16 Jan 2020: “living with” did not mean she had an intimate relationship with Ben Woodward. See “More About Maggie.”] […]

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