A Minor Mystery Solved

A more appropriate title for this post might have been “The Many Wives of James Casbon.” However, I’ll stick with the current title because it was finding the answer to the “minor mystery” that prompted me to write the post.

This is a cautionary tale. The caution is that one should be very careful about trusting “facts” that are listed in online family trees unless the evidence supporting those facts is documented and credible. In this case, the facts in question are the identities of the women who were married to James Casbon (~1813–1884).

When I did a search on Ancestry for James, listing his parents as Isaac and Susannah (Howes) Casbon, I found that he was included in 66 family trees. Six different women were named as his wives in these trees. Some trees only listed one of them while others listed up to five. A few of the trees simply said “unknown spouse”—a safe and reasonable approach. Several of the trees were private, meaning the names of James’s wives could not be viewed. Here are the names of the women, in order of frequency, in those trees I was able to view.

Elizabeth Waller             26 trees
Mary Cooper                   17 trees
Mary Payne                       7 trees
Mary Harper                     5 trees
Mary Jackson                    5 trees
Ann Mitch                         5 trees

How many of these women did James actually marry and which ones? I can say with confidence that only three marriages have been documented. I have copies or extracts of the marriage records of James to Elizabeth Waller in 1835,[1] Mary Jackson in 1866,[2] and Mary Payne in 1876.[3] There is no evidence that James married Mary Cooper, Mary Harper, or Ann Mitch. In the family trees where they are listed, no sources are provided other than other family trees. One could posit that James married another woman in the interval between Elizabeth’s death in 1852 and his marriage to Mary Jackson in 1866, but there are no records to support this (and no children born during this time listing James as the father).

Census and birth/baptism records show that all of James’s children were born to either Elizabeth Waller or Mary Jackson. (Alice Casbon’s birth in 1871 is not registered but given that it occurred just one month after the arrival of James and Mary in America, there is no reason to believe that anyone besides Mary Jackson was her mother.)

The marriage of record of James Casbon to Elizabeth Waller at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, 25 July 1835; Meldreth parish records (Click on image to enlarge)
The marriage record of James Casbon and Mary Payne, Porter County, Indiana, 15 January 1876; Porter County Public Library (Click on image to enlarge)

So how did these other women come to be listed as James’s wives? There are several possible reasons. In the case of Ann Mitch, it is a matter of mistaken identity. There were two men named James Casbon in the early 1800s, both born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. One was born 7 September 1806.[4] He was the first cousin of the James of this post. The elder James married Ann Hitch (whose name has been incorrectly transcribed as Mitch in both Ancestry and FamilySearch) at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire on 15 December
1827.[5] Ann died in 1833 after bearing James one child (Alfred Hitch Casbon). It can be easy to make mistakes in family trees when two people have the same name. Although the younger James would have been only about 14 years old when the marriage to Ann Hitch occurred, some family historians have gotten around this discrepancy by assuming that there was only one man named James. However, this is not supported by later census records.

The case of Mary Cooper is harder to explain. James’s older brother William married a woman named Mary Cooper in 1829.[6] My best guess is that the name of William’s wife was incorrectly attached to James in a family tree and the incorrect information was passed on to others.

That brings me to Mary Harper. Where did the name come from? This was the minor mystery I learned the answer to this week.

I was updating some of my documentation and came upon the marriage license application of James’s and Mary (Jackson’s) daughter Alice Hannah Casbon to her second husband, Charles Hicks. Alice and Charles applied for the license at Starke County, Indiana on 4 March 1936 and were married the same day.[7] The application requests the names of the bride and groom’s parents. Alice wrote “Mary Harper” as her mother’s maiden name.

The marriage license application of Alice (Casbon) Edwards to Charles Hicks, 4 March 1936, Starke County, Indiana; FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

This naturally raises the question: Wouldn’t Alice know her own mother’s name? In fact, there is good reason for her not to. Her mother died before Alice was 5 years old, and probably much earlier than that. (The date of Mary (Jackson’s) death is not recorded). Her father, James, died when Alice was 13. Mary Payne, her stepmother, might not have known the correct maiden name. Alice might have been told incorrectly that her mother’s surname was Harper or she might have misremembered what she was told.

At any rate, it appears that Alice herself was the source of the misinformation that was included later in family trees.

As I said earlier, one must be very careful about accepting genealogical “facts” at face value. Once incorrect information is made available in an online family tree, others might copy it to their own tree and it takes on a life of its own. A useful rule of thumb is to carefully review the source attributed to any “fact” in an online tree. If there are no sources attached or the only source is another family tree, one should not accept the fact as proven unless more reliable sources can be found.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I am one of the guilty parties here. I saw the names of Mary Cooper and Mary Harper in family trees many years ago and included them in my own tree. I even included them as possible wives in my first blog post about James in 2016. When I posted my tree to Ancestry I was still a relative beginner at genealogy and did not yet understand the need for careful source documentation or how easily misinformation could be spread. I kept the names in my tree for much longer than I should have after realizing that I had no evidence to support them. It’s likely that others copied the information from my tree and perpetuated the misinformation. I am much more diligent now.


[1] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of marriages (1813–1867), p. 34, no. 100, 25 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017), image 363 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[2] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[3] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 [Sep 1871-Jan 1875], p. 348, 8 Jan 1876; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014495?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014494 >image 693 of 928.
[4] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of baptisms (1806–1812), baptisms 1807; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 137; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QC-7QV : accessed 19 October 2015), James Casbon and Ann Mitch, 15 Dec 1827; citing FHL microfilm 990,377.
[6] Cambridgeshire, England Melbourne Parish, Bishop’s transcripts for Melbourne, 1599-1847, (marriages beginning 1814) unnumbered page, no. 160, Wm Casbon & Mary Cooper, 14 Mar 1829; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007672882?cat=1109075 : accessed 12 Jul 2016) >image 529 of 682; citing FHL microfilm 2,358,010, item 2.
[7] Indiana, Starke County, marriage records, v. 10 (June 1934-January 1937), pp. 392–3, marriage license application; imaged in ” Marriage records, 1850-1957″, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007742312?cat=574765 : accessed 27 Mar 19) > image 392 of 716; citing FHL film 2447544, item 3.

The Two-William Problem

This post describes a situation that is all too common in genealogy research. What happens when you have two people with the same name at the same place and time? How does one connect them to the right parents, wives, and children? This is a big problem when someone is trying to trace their family tree back in time and they discover two people with the same name, either one of whom who might be their ancestor.

I’ll illustrate with two men from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Two brothers, William
(1806–1875) and James (~1813–1884) Casbon, both sons of Isaac Casbon (~1773–1825), each had a son named William, born within a year or so of each other.

Basic family tree showing two of Isaac Casbon’s sons and their two sons, each named William

Births were not registered in England at that time, so birth dates must be estimated from other records, such as baptisms and censuses.

Unfortunately, only one of the Williams was baptized, and the baptismal record only confuses the matter.[1]

Meldreth Parish, register of baptisms; William Casburn, 7 February 1836 (Click on image to enlarge)

As can be seen, William was baptized at Meldreth 7 February 1836. He is said to be the son of William and Elizabeth. That seems straightforward, except, there is no record of William Casbon marrying a woman named Elizabeth. His wife’s name was Mary (Cooper) and she died in July 1835.[2]

On the other hand, William’s brother James (b. about 1813) married Elizabeth Waller, who was still alive in 1836.

So, there is a problem with the baptismal record. The name of either the father or mother is wrong. Maybe the vicar or curate was tired and wrote one the names incorrectly. My guess is that he inadvertently replaced the father’s name with that of the child. If so, the baptism applies to the son of James and Elizabeth, but there is no way to know for sure.

But this is only the beginning of our two-William problem. First, how do we even know that both brothers had sons named William? The answer lies in census records. Both Williams appear with their respective families in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. Here are their entries in 1851.[3]

1851 England census, Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, entry for William Casbon and his family (Click on image
to enlarge)
1851 England census, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, entry for James Casbon and his family (Click on image
to enlarge)

We can see in the upper record that William the father, whose age is incorrectly stated as 40, is a widower and lives with his daughter Elizabeth, age 19, and son William, age 16. This gives us an approximate birth year for William, the son, of 1835. This is consistent with the year his mother died. We can also see in the lower record that James’s family includes his son William, age 15, which gives him a birth year of about 1836.

As we’ve already seen with William the father, ages reported in censuses are frequently incorrect. However, this is less likely to occur with children, and the ages of the two sons in the 1841 census are consistent with the same birth years. So, it is likely that William, the son of William, is about one year older than the son of James.

Unfortunately, the situation becomes unclear from this point forward. We know that a man named William Casbon married Sarah West in 1855.[4] The marriage was registered at Royston, Hertfordshire, a few miles from Meldreth. I only have an index entry of the marriage. This does not include details such as date, location, names and occupations of each party’s father, or names of witnesses. Therefore, I don’t know whose son married Sarah West.

After 1855, I have a complete set of censuses from 1861 through 1891 for William and Sarah. William died at Meldreth 7 March 1896 and Sarah died 22 December 1905.[5]

The grave monument of William and Sarah Casbon, Meldreth, Holy Trinity Church (incidentally, this is the only Casbon monument that remains in the Meldreth churchyard) (Click on image to enlarge)

The inscription reads as follows:

In/ Memory of/ WILLIAM CASBON/who died March 7th 1896/ aged 61 years/
“We hope to meet again at/ The Resurrection of the just/ A light is from the household gone/
A voice we loved is stilled/ A place is vacant in our home/ Which never can be filled”./
Also of / SARAH, wife of the above/ who departed this life/ December 22nd 1905/
aged 83 years./ She hath done what she could/ Her end was peace.

William’s given age of 61 suggests that he was born sometime between March 1834 and March 1835, which would be consistent with him being the son of William (b. 1806). However, this is hardly sufficient to be considered proof.

Of the second William, there is no certain record after the census of 1851. There are no additional census records, no marriage record, and no death or burial records. I have found a couple sources which might refer to him—I will refer to them in a future post—but they provide no clues as to his parentage.

So, we have two Williams, born in about 1835 and 1836. One was married and had a family; we don’t know what happened to the other. One was the son of William (b. 1806) and one was the son of James (b. about 1813), but we don’t know which William was which. This is a problem for the living descendants of William and Sarah West, who can’t determine whether they are descended from William or James.

There are several family trees on Ancestry that list James Casbon as the father of William and father-in-law of Sarah. These do not contain any supporting information or justification for the choice. My own bias is that William (b. 1806) is more likely to be the father of the William who married Sarah West.

Fortunately, there is a potential solution to this problem. I referred above to the marriage record of William and Sarah. The official marriage certificate is supposed to give the names of the bride’s and groom’s fathers. As of this writing, I have ordered a copy of the marriage certificate from the General Register Office in England. When it arrives, I will hopefully have a definitive answer. I will provide an update when I receive the certificate.

Do you have any two-(insert any name) problems in your family tree?


[1] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 40, no. 360; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Film #007567609 >image 219 of 699.
[2] Parish of Meldreth, register of burials (1813–1875), p. 29, no. 232, Mary Carsbon, 28 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Film #007567609 >image 457 of 699.
[3] 1851 England census, Cambrideshire, Meldreth, ED 5b, p. 7, schedule 28; imaged as “1851 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8860 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >ALL >5a >image 8 of 25. 1851 England census, Cambrideshire, Melbourn (“Melbourn in Meldreth”), ED 11c, p. 32, schedule 126; imaged as “1851 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8860 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >ALL >11c >image33 of 36.
[4] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DQ3-WY3 : accessed 23 September 2015).
[5] Kathryn Betts, “Holy Trinity Church, Meldreth: Monumental Inscriptions,” PDF download, Meldreth History (http://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/page/holy_trinity_churchyard_monumental_inscriptions?path=0p2p120p53p95p94p : accessed 27 August 2020); entry for William and Sarah Casbon, item 27, unnumbered page 8 of 23.

Aylesworth Connections

Descendancy chart of the Aylesworth family, beginning with the original immigrant, Arthur1 Aylworth and ending with Carrie Belle9 and Mary Adaline7 Aylesworth in their respective branches (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aylesworth name is well-known to many of the Casbons who trace their roots through Porter County, Indiana. One reason for this is that Carrie Belle Aylesworth (1873–1958) was the wife of Amos Casbon (1869–1956). Their wedding took place on 28 November 1900 at the home of Carrie’s parents (see “Wedding Bells”) in Boone Township. This loving couple had six sons and three daughters, all but one of whom lived into adulthood and had families of their own. Many of their grandchildren are living today and remember them well.

Before Amos or Carrie were even born, there had been another Casbon-Aylesworth wedding in Porter County. That was the marriage of my second great-grandfather Sylvester Casbon to Mary “Adaline” Aylesworth on 30 October 1860. Sylvester and Adaline had two surviving children—Cora Ann and Lawrence—before Adaline’s untimely death in 1868.

Because of these two marriages, the descendants of Amos, Carrie, Sylvester, and Adaline  are connected through both their Casbon and Aylesworth ancestries.

But what are those connections? How are the two branches related? The answer is fairly straightforward on the Casbon side. Their common ancestor was Isaac Casbon (~1773–1825) of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, England, the grandfather of both Amos and Sylvester Casbon. Amos and Sylvester were first cousins, despite the fact that their ages were 37 years apart. Because of the age difference, their descendants of similar ages are mostly cousins “once-removed,” meaning their relationship to the common ancestor—Isaac Casbon—is one generation apart.

The connection on the Aylesworth side is more complicated. Carrie Aylesworth’s great-grandfather, Philip Aylesworth (~1793–1866) was the older brother of Adaline Aylesworth’s father, Giles (1807–1880). Their common ancestor was John Aylesworth (~1764–1810). Carrie was two generations farther away from John than Adaline; therefore, they were first cousins, twice removed.

The concept of cousins once or twice removed can be confusing, so I’ve created a diagram showing the lines of descent of the branches of the Aylesworth family to which Carrie and Adaline belonged.

The diagram also demonstrates the places where the Aylesworth ancestors lived as they slowly migrated westward to Indiana. This is an interesting story in itself and will be the topic of the next post.

The Aylesworth genealogy has been well-documented. Many of today’s living descendants have a copy of the Aylesworth Family book, last published in 1984. This book traces the family back to Arthur (generation 1). Most of the information about the first seven generations comes from an earlier book, Arthur Aylesworth and His Descendants in America, written by Homer Elhanan Aylesworth and published in 1887.[1] A copy of this book has been scanned and can be viewed or downloaded at https://archive.org/details/arthuraylsworthh00ayls.

Because of the Casbon-Aylesworth connection, members of the Casbon family have always been invited to the Aylesworth family reunions, which still take place on a (mostly) annual basis.

Aylesworth family reunion ca. 1921; several Casbons are in the photo: Amos & Carrie and their children, Lawrence and Leslie Casbon; how many can you pick out? (Click on image to enlarge)

[1] (Providence, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Co., 1887).

Sunday School

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

Many genealogy researchers have learned that old books can be a valuable source of information about their ancestors. Many books that are no longer protected by copyright have been digitized and are available online. The three book sources that I use most often are Internet Archive, Hathi Trust Digital Library, and Google Books. You can go to any of these sites and type in a search term, such as a surname, and then get a list of books containing that search term. A regular Google search will also find these references, although they may be scattered throughout the search results.

A recent search turned up a source, titled The Sunday Schools of Lake: An Account of the Commencement and Growth of the Sunday Schools of Lake County, Indiana, from about 1840 to 1890.[1] The book was written to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Lake County Sunday-school Convention, an interdenominational annual meeting of many of the county’s churches, as well as “the 50th Anniversary of Sunday-school work in Lake County.”[2]

In addition to giving a detailed history of Sunday schools in the county, the book provides a listing of students enrolled in the Convention’s Sunday schools in 1890. A few Casbon names turned up in this list.

Detail from pages 161-2 of The Sunday Schools of Lake, showing students enrolled at the Deep River Union School in 1890; (note: “1888” next to the name of the school is the year the school was organized)
(Click on image to enlarge)

The three names on page 161, Charles, Lawrence and T. (Thomas) Casbon, are all known to me. They are the sons of my second great-grandfather, Sylvester Casbon. Sylvester had moved to Deep River from Porter County in about 1865. Lawrence was born in 1865 to Sylvester’s first wife, Mary Adaline (Aylesworth), who died in 1868. Thomas and Charles were born in 1870 and 1872, respectively, to Sylvester’s second wife, Emilene Harriet (Perry), who died in 1874. In 1890, Lawrence, Thomas, and Charles would have been about 25, 20, and 18 years old, respectively. All three were still unmarried.

I must admit that I am completely baffled by the name on page 162—Stella Casbon. There is no other record of a child with that name. She does not appear in vital records, census reports, family histories, newspaper articles, or photographs. The fact that she was enrolled in the Boys’ and Girls’ class tells us that she would have been younger than the three Casbon sons. But there are no records of a younger daughter being born to Sylvester. Nor was a child of that name born to any of Sylvester’s siblings. There is no record that Sylvester’s third wife, Mary (Mereness) had any children. There were no other Casbon families living in Lake County at the time. So, who was Stella? I just don’t know.

The fact that the Casbon name appears in this book led me to reflect upon the religious beliefs and practices of the early Indiana Casbons. I’ll say at the outset that there is insufficient information to draw any firm conclusions. The Indiana Casbons are all descended from Isaac Casbon of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, England, who lived from about 1773 to 1825. The baptisms, marriages, and burials of Isaac’s family were recorded in the parish registers (i.e., Church of England) of Meldreth and nearby parishes. Since this was the near universal practice of the time, it tells us nothing about the family’s religious beliefs or practices. The baptisms of two of Isaac’s children, Joseph and James, were not recorded, which suggests that the sacrament was not a high priority. As a poor agricultural laborer, Isaac was at the lower end of the social order. Putting bread on the table was probably a higher priority than religious practices.

Of Isaac’s son Thomas, my third great-grandfather, nothing is written about his religious beliefs. The few biographical references I have seen do not mention religion. If he is mentioned in church records in the U.S., I am not aware of them.

However, I do have a little information about Thomas’s sons. An 1882 biographical sketch of Sylvester Casbon, the father of the three sons mentioned above, states that “he is liberal in politics, attends church, and is much esteemed by his neighbors.”[3] The 1912 History of Porter County Indiana includes sketches about Sylvester and his brother Charles. Of Sylvester, the book says “he and his wife are members and liberal supporters of the Christian church [of Valparaiso, Indiana], with Rev. Hill as their pastor.”[4] Charles and his wife, Mary (Marrell) were also said to be liberal supporters of the same church.[5] Sylvester’s obituary also mentions his membership in the Christian church.[6] The fact that Sylvester and his brother were members of this church tells us that they considered themselves to be Christians, like the majority of Americans at the time. However, it tells us nothing about how important their Christian beliefs were to them.

The Christian church referred to above is now known as First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and was founded at Valparaiso, Indiana, in 1837.[7] A modern source describes the denomination in these terms: “the Disciples of Christ, also known as the Christian Church, has no creed and gives its congregations complete autonomy in their doctrine. As a result, beliefs vary widely from individual church to church, and even among members of a church.”[8] Thus, it is hard to tell exactly what the members of The Christian Church in Valparaiso believed.

First Christian Church, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1950 (https://www.fccvalpo.org/our-building-over-time)

Going back to the Sunday school roster of 1890, The Sunday Schools of Lake tells us that the Deep River Union School was organized “in August, 1888, by the evangelist ‘Christian’ minister of this district, Rev. Ellis B. Cross.”[9] I haven’t been able to find out anything more about the school or its founder. Were the three Casbon sons there because of their Christian beliefs or was it more of an acceptable social outlet—something young men in Deep River were expected to do (especially since there was also a young ladies’ class!)?  How was their Sunday school experience reflected in their later lives?

I was always under the impression from conversations with my father that his family in Indiana wasn’t very religious. His grandfather was Lawrence Casbon—the one listed on the Sunday school roster above. Lawrence’s obituary mentions his membership in the local Masonic Lodge but says nothing about church membership.[10] Likewise, the obituaries of his three sons, Leslie, Loring, and Lynnet, mention their memberships in the Masons, Scottish Rite, American Legion, and similar organizations, but say nothing about church membership. Perhaps these social organizations became their surrogates for participation in an organized church. [Update: see comment from Dave Casbon, below.]

Of Lawrence’s two brothers, Thomas’s obituary describes him as a member of the same Christian church as his father.[11] Charles’s obituary says that he belonged to the Elks lodge but does not mention a church affiliation.[12]

As I said earlier, there isn’t enough information to draw firm conclusions. The Indiana Casbons described above were all respected members of their communities. They fit in with the norms and expectations of their fellow citizens. Church membership and Sunday school attendance was probably one of those expectations in the late 1800s.

I will be eager to hear from any of their descendants whether they have different recollections or opinions.

[1] T.H. Ball (Crown Point, Indiana: T.H. Ball, 1891); Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=g5A_1QM4wVAC : accessed 21 Jan 2020)
[2] The Sunday Schools of Lake, p. 5.
[3] Weston A. Goodspeed, Charles Blanchard, Counties of Porter and Lake Indiana: Historical and Biographical, Illustrated (Chicago: F.A. Battey & Co., 1882), p. 707; Hathi Trust Digital Library.
[4] History of Porter County Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1912), p. 484; Hathi Trust Digital Library.
[5] History of Porter County Indiana, p. 461.
[6] “Death Calls S.V. Casbon; Reached 90,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 10 Dec 1927, p. 1, col. 1; Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries).
[7] “Our Story,” First Christian Church (https://www.fccvalpo.org/our-story).
[8] Jack Zavada, “Disciples of Christ Beliefs and Practices,” Learn Religions (https://www.learnreligions.com/disciples-of-christ-beliefs-and-practices-700019).
[9] The Sunday Schools of Lake, p. 86.
[10] “85-Year-Old Resident of County Dies.” The Vidette-Messenger, 16 Jun 1950, p. 1, col. 5; Newspaper Archive.
[11] “Deaths … Thomas S. Casbon,” The Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1955, p. 6, col. 3; Newspaper Archive.
[12] “Death Takes C.P. Casbon,” The Vidette-Messenger, 1 Feb 1949, p. 1, col. 1; Newspaper Archive.

Writing the Book, Part Five

This will be the final post in this series describing the steps involved in writing The Descendants of Isaac Casbon in America, which I published in late November 2019. This is also my third post in the Guild of One-Name Studies 2020 Blog Challenge.

In the previous post I described the final steps in preparing a print-ready manuscript. So today, I will talk how that manuscript was converted into a printed book and made available for purchase.

I haven’t mentioned previously that I had decided to publish the book only in printed form—not as an e-book. The reason for this was all about privacy. E-books are very popular and generally less expensive than their printed counterparts. However, due to their easy accessibility and the ability to disseminate them electronically, I was concerned that it would be too easy for information about living people to be shared or possibly misused. Even though I had received permission, I felt that I had a responsibility to limit access to that information.

Before I could print the book, I had to decide which company use for self-publishing. A Google search on self-publishing companies turns up a dozen or more options. After reading about these, I narrowed my list down to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Lulu.com. They both seemed to have well-developed platforms for publishing and marketing, and there were no up-front fees for either.

I initially decided to use Amazon KDP because of the ability for my target audience to use Amazon to purchase the book. I also figured that many of my readers would be Amazon Prime subscribers and would therefore be eligible for free shipping. I went so far as to print a proof copy of the book before I changed my mind and went with Lulu.com. I’ll explain the reason for the change when I talk about distribution.

The process for submitting a manuscript on either Amazon KDP or Lulu.com is very similar. The manuscript can be uploaded in either Microsoft Word (DOCX) or Portable Document Format (PDF) format. I saved my Word draft as a PDF file before uploading it to Lulu.com. Lulu then converted it to a print-ready PDF which I was allowed to download and review The only difference between my PDF and the print-ready PDF seems to be that the top, bottom and outside margins were increased slightly, so that the edges could be trimmed to the final 6 by 9-inch size after printing—hence the term “trim size.”

However, before the book could be printed, it needed a cover. Both Amazon KDP and Lulu.com have cover creator wizards that allow you to choose from a variety of templates and colors to design a cover. Some of the templates allow you to upload your own photos or images for use as cover art. They also allow you to design your own cover without a template. Once completed, the cover is saved as a PDF file.

With the manuscript and cover uploaded, the book was ready for printing. At this point, I was given the choice of releasing the book to the public or ordering a print copy. I strongly advise anyone considering self-publishing to order a proof copy. This allows you to see the final product and review one last time before sending the book to market. Amazon puts an overprint on their proof copies that reads “Not for Resale.” The proof copies from Lulu.com are the same as what will be sold to the public—the only difference being that the proof copy is available at a reduced price.

After reviewing my proof copies, I was ready to start selling books. But first, I had to decide on a price. Both Amazon KDP and Lulu.com have calculator tools to help you with pricing. The calculator subtracts printing costs and publisher’s profits from your target retail price, allowing you to decide how much, if any, profit you want to make on the book. My goal was to provide an affordable book to my readers, not to make a profit. After all, this wasn’t intended to be a best-seller!

Once the price was set, all I had to do was push a button on the computer and the book was available for sale, with its own product page on the website.

Screenshot of the book’s product page on Lulu.com

 

Why did I finally go with Lulu.com instead of Amazon? It all came down to privacy again. Since the book contains private information about living people, I wanted to have the ability to limit sales of the book to family members and others of my choosing. Lulu.com provides this ability through a sales option called Direct Access. With Direct Access, the book can only be sold to people who have received a link to the product page. The book does not appear on Lulu’s search page or online catalog. Amazon KDP does not have this option, so the book would have been available to anyone. I didn’t realize this until I had already received my proof copy from Amazon, so I switched to Lulu.com at that point.

As an aside, since I received proof copies from Amazon and Lulu.com, I was able to evaluate the print quality of both. Both were excellent quality and the graphics came out very well. The only difference between them was that Amazon seemed to use a slightly heavier weight of paper, so the book was a little bit thicker.

The final step was letting people know about the book. I did this through the same means I had contacted people to send them permission forms and family information sheets. I announced the book on the Casbon Family Facebook group, asking them to contact me for the link if they wished to purchase copies. I sent emails to everyone I had email addresses for and I sent letters by regular mail to those who don’t use email or the internet.

After almost a year of work, the book was finished! I’m very happy with the final result and have a great sense of accomplishment. I’ve already learned of a few corrections that will need to be made and I’m looking forward to providing an updated edition sometime in the future. But for now, I’m happy to get back to blogging and spending time doing anything other than working on the book!

Writing the Book, Part Four

This is my second post in the Guild of One-Name Studies 2020 Blog challenge.

In the previous post, I discussed the process of writing the text for The Descendants of Isaac Casbon in America. Today I’ll talk about three important steps needed to get the text ready for printing. These are use of illustrations, editing, and layout. These steps don’t necessarily fall into chronological order. In fact, they were ongoing throughout much of the writing process.

Illustrations. These are not strictly required for traditional family history books, but they certainly make them more appealing. I knew from the start that I wanted to use illustrations in the book. Over the years, several Casbon relatives have shared family photos with me, so I had a good selection to choose from. When I started writing the book, I created an “Illustrations” folder on my computer to store photos that I thought I might use. As I wrote the text in Microsoft Word, I inserted the photos at appropriate points and wrote captions for them.

Photographs weren’t the only type of illustrations. I also wanted to use maps to illustrate important places in the family history, notably Cambridgeshire (England), Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. I found good examples of period maps on public-domain websites. Then I did some additional editing, such as shading or highlighting certain areas of the maps to show where the Casbon ancestors lived. I created nested maps that allow the reader to “zoom in” to see certain areas in more detail. Here is an example of one.

Example of a nested map showing England (top), Cambridgeshire (center-left), and detail of southwestern Cambridgeshire (bottom). The villages of Meldreth and Melbourn are circled. John Cary, Cary’s new English Atlas: Being a Complete Set of County Maps (London: John Cary, 1809); David Rumsey Map Collection, (https://www.davidrumsey.com). (Click on image to enlarge)

Other illustrations included a chart of Isaac Casbon’s ancestors, images from parish registers, censuses, and other online document collections, excerpts from newspapers,
a handwritten family history, and pages from a family Bible.

Most of the images needed some kind of modification before they were ready to insert into the book. For printed books, a resolution of 300 dots per inch (dpi) or higher is recommended. Most of my images were lower resolution—some as low as 72 dpi. Although this resolution looks fine on a computer screen, it isn’t detailed enough for a print publication. I won’t go into details, but I was able to use image-enhancement software to increase the resolution of my pictures. I also used the software to adjust the lighting and contrast, to sharpen the images, and to crop them. Most of the photographs were originally printed in black and white or sepia-toned. Color photographs would have greatly increased the cost of the book, so I converted all the images to greyscale.

A photograph of Sylvester and Mary (Mereness) Casbon, before and after image enhancement;
Courtesy of Ilaine Church

Editing. I was blessed with a “secret weapon.” My daughter worked as a copy editor for a New York publishing company for several years. She graciously accepted my request for her to review my text. She happened to be on maternity leave during the time that I needed her skills. Although taking care of a newborn child was her first priority, she managed to keep up with my writing.

I usually sent her one or two completed chapters at a time by email. She returned them to me with comments which we then discussed over the phone. Even though I had carefully proofread what I had written, she invariably found errors and made helpful suggestions on ways to improve the text for readability. We had good discussions about the finer points of grammar, such as use of commas and when to spell out numerals.

For those who don’t have an editor in the family, I strongly suggest finding someone with a good grasp of grammar and composition to edit your text for you. It’s important to have another set of eyes read what you’ve written, not only to find typos and grammatical errors, but to make sure your target audience will understand what you are trying to say with your words.

Layout. This is the process of placing all the elements of the book—text, illustrations, headings, page numbers, etc.—into the final form needed to make it print-ready. Up to this point in my life, the only experience I had in publishing was some professional correspondence and my annual Christmas letter. I had a lot to learn!

The first step in layout was deciding what size I wanted the finished book to be. This is known as the trim size of the book. I decided upon a trim size of 6 by 9 inches—the most common size for paperback books in the United States. Based on this I changed the page size in Microsoft Word to 6 by 9 inches. I also set the margins, leaving room for a header on top, page numbers on the bottom, and a gutter. The gutter is the additional space added to the inside page margin to account for the binding. The page layout was set for mirror margins so that the outside and inside margins would match on odd and
even pages.

I learned that chapters should always begin on odd-numbered pages. This means that an extra blank page must sometimes be inserted at the end of a chapter so the next one can begin on an odd number. I set up headers so that the book’s title would appear on even-numbered and the chapter title on odd-numbered pages. I set footers so the page numbers would be placed at the outside bottom margin of each page. I found headers and footers to be very frustrating. They seemed to keep moving to places I didn’t want them or disappearing from places I did want them. It took a lot of time, trial and error to get
them right.

Once the page size and margins were set, it was time to fill the pages with my text and illustrations. Of course this required a number of decisions as well: typeface, or font (Times New Roman), type size (16-pitch for chapter headings, 12-pitch for body text, 11-pitch for child lists, 10-pitch for bibliography and index, 9-pitch for captions and endnotes), use of small caps for names, line spacing, justification, and placement of headings. I didn’t find many rules for these decisions, so I looked at a lot of examples and made my best guess.

Another aspect of layout is making sure your pages don’t break at undesirable places. For example, you don’t want your reader to have to turn the page to read the last word or two of a paragraph (a “widow”). Likewise, a single line of a new paragraph or section should not fall at the bottom of a page (an “orphan”).

Placement of illustrations greatly complicates the layout process, You have to decide where to place them and what size they should be. They should be in close proximity to the relevant text so your readers don’t have to flip pages trying to find them. Microsoft Word isn’t an ideal program for illustrations and it takes quite a bit of fine-tuning to adjust spacing and how words and paragraphs flow around pictures.

One other aspect of layout is the creation and placement of the front- and back-matter of the book. Front-matter is everything that goes before the main text of the book: half title page, title page, copyright page, dedication, preface, etc. Front matter is numbered with small roman numerals, beginning with the half-title page. However, these page numbers are not printed until the table of contents, which was page vii in my book.

The back matter is everything that comes after the main text. In my book, these included the Notes, Bibliography, Index, and About the Author.

My table of contents, showing the front matter, main text, and back matter

Obviously layout is complicated and makes the difference between having a professional versus home-made appearance to the book. Many people pay professionals to help with this part of self-publishing for good reason.

At this point in the process, other than proofreading a few more times, the book was ready to publish. Stay tuned for the next and final post in this series!

Writing the Book, Part Two

In my previous post  I explained the planned scope of my book and my intention to write it in Register style. Before I could start writing, I needed to compile and organize a great deal of information. Today’s post looks at the information that went into writing the book and how it was obtained.

My information requirements fell into three general categories:

  1. Genealogical information (i.e., basic facts such as births, deaths, and marriages)
  2. Additional biographical information
  3. Background information—historical, geographic and other sources used to provide context

Genealogical Information. The first step in gathering the genealogical information was generating a list of the people who would be included in the book. I’ve already said that I wanted the genealogy to begin with Isaac Casbon and then trace the descendants of two of his sons, Thomas and James, up to the present time. Much of the information I needed was already contained in the genealogy software (FamilyTreeMaker®) that I have used for many years to save my research. The program allows me to generate custom reports, so I was able to produce a list of Isaac Casbon’s descendants along with their vital (i.e., birth, marriage, and death—”BMD”) information.

With this list I was able to identify gaps in the data, such as missing dates and places, that would require further research before I could start writing. This was a straightforward task. However, a bigger issue was the fact that my list was incomplete because it did not include most of the more recent—especially living—descendants. Many records, such as births and marriages within the last 50 to 100 years, are not public. Finding this information would require a different approach.

How do you find people when you don’t know who they are? The easiest approach was to ask other people who might have the answers. I’m fortunate to have distant cousins in different branches of the family who are willing to share their family information with me. They were kind enough to provide names and contact information for many of their relatives. Obituaries were another good source, since they usually listed surviving members of the decedent’s family. Facebook was another valuable resource. There is a Casbon Family Facebook group with about 150 members and a smaller Casbon Family History group with 84 members (most of them are also in the former group). These groups have provided a great way for distant cousins to meet and share stories and photos. They also provided a convenient way for me to tell people about the book and ask them for information about their families.

Between these sources I had the names of many living descendants. The list was still incomplete but it was good enough to move forward. The fact is, after nine generations, it is practically impossible to keep track of every descendant. In the book some family lines would just have to end  with the last known person.

Although I now had names, I still needed contact information for many of the living people. This is where my old friend Google helped out. Anyone who has used Google to find people will know that it is a mixed blessing. A Google search brings up many websites with information derived from public records. The problem is that many of these records are not current. They frequently list multiple addresses and phone numbers for a given individual. It was a lot easier when everyone had landlines and you could just call directory assistance. At any rate, I ended up with preliminary contact information for most of the people on my list.

The next step was to contact as many living descendants as possible, ask them for information about themselves and their immediate families, and obtain permission to publish their information in the book.

This latter point—permission—is very important. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for family history and some might take offense at finding their names and other personal information in print. In these days of robocalls, identify theft, and laws directed at privacy protection, it is imperative to respect these concerns and to seek permission before printing personal information. Based on suggestions made by genealogist and lawyer Judy Russell in her blog, The Legal Genealogist (“Getting Permission,”  20 March 2013) I crafted a form for people to complete, giving me permission to print their information and allowing them to opt out of certain types of information.

An excerpt from the permission form I sent out; the form also explained the purpose of the book, asked for contact information, and gave options for keeping information private

  I announced my intention to write the book on Facebook and by email. If the only contact information I had was a phone number or mailing address, I called them up or wrote a letter. Along with the permission form, I sent, via Facebook Messenger, email, or regular mail, a form that allowed individuals to list vital information about themselves and their immediate families.

A portion of the family unit chart; note that it allows for information about three generations: parents of husband/wife; husband/wife; children; it also allows for previous marriages

I started contacting people in February 2019. Responses did not immediately begin to roll in—it was more like a slow trickle. I found that it was necessary to send follow-up emails and to make multiple pleas on Facebook. One approach that seemed to work was to publicly thank people on Facebook when they returned their completed forms to me. This served as a reminder to those who had not yet responded. I eventually set a deadline of 31 May 2019 to return the forms to me, so that I could proceed with writing and setting the information into Register style. Even so, a few people continued to contact me well into the summer and I accommodated them. 

Most people were happy to share complete details such as birth dates and locations. Many requested limitations of one kind or another, such as using birth year only, omitting locations, or not mentioning previous marriages. A very small number of people said they did not want to be included in the book. Many of the completed forms identified additional people to contact, such as adult children with families of their own. I was happy to get their names, but this required me to sent out more forms.

Eventually I received roughly 70 completed forms. Several additional people gave me permission by email. In all, I had about 560 names and 164 family groups to include in the book. The added benefit of contacting everyone was that I now had a ready list of people who would be interested in buying the finished book!

Additional Biographical Information. There were several potential sources of this information. Newspaper archives—either online or microfilm— were probably the most important. Newspaper articles often helped to fill in gaps in timelines or identify significant family events (a barn burning, an airplane crash, and a traumatic amputation are just a few examples). Obituaries were especially helpful because they often included short biographies of the deceased. Local county histories, popular in the early 1900s, contained biographical sketches with interesting tidbits of information. Censuses were also helpful because they identified where people lived and how they were employed. Property records showed when people moved from one location to another.

Background Information. I wanted the book to include more than just genealogical and biographical information. It was important to describe the world my ancestors lived in and the circumstances that shaped their lives. A lot of good information was available online, but traditional books were needed for many subjects. My local libraries don’t have carry much about the history and geography of Cambridgeshire. Thank goodness for interlibrary loan! I also found books that described social conditions in 18th and 19th century England. Other sources described the expansion of railroads in England and the United States, information about immigrant ships, and transportation along the St. Lawrence River. A military unit history helped me to create a timeline for one relative’s movements during and after the American Civil War. All these sources helped to “set the scene” for what was going on in people’s lives.

Other than the family information forms, most of my background research was completed by about April 2019. I was ready to begin the next phase—writing the book.

Writing the Book, Part One

With this and subsequent posts, I plan to describe how I went about planning and writing The Descendants of Isaac Casbon in America (see “The Casbon Book” link at top menu). The stages in the book’s production were something like this:

  1. The decision to write; scope of the project; format
  2. Compiling the information
  3. Writing
  4. Editing and publishing

I’ll cover these steps in a series of posts, beginning with the decision to write.

I’ve always wanted to share my research with the extended family. That was the idea behind this blog. By the latter half of 2018, I had been writing Our Casbon Journey for about two years. During that time, I gained confidence in my writing skills and, thanks to ongoing research, my understanding of the family’s origins had increased significantly. My research had reached a point where I thought a book would be a good way to tie together everything that I had learned. The idea of leaving a written legacy was appealing as well. I didn’t want my work to be lost or forgotten. I also didn’t want someone else who was interested in researching the family’s history to have to start all over again. The idea of writing a book floated around for several months before I made a firm decision in late 2018.

Once the decision was made, I needed to answer some fundamental questions. Where and when would the book begin? Where would it end? Who and what would be included? How would the book be organized?

Those who have followed this blog know that my research has been broad-based, covering a wide range of times and places from the late 1600s to the 20th century and from England to America, Canada, and Australia. My posts have covered several branches of the family including at least one that I have not been able to connect to my own. I did not think this approach would be appropriate for a book. I wanted the book to be more focused and more closely related to my own branch of the family. I decided early on to focus on the descendants of two brothers, Thomas (my third great-grandfather) and James Casbon, who emigrated to the United States from England in the 1800s. Although their father, Isaac Casbon, never left England, he seemed to be a good starting point for the genealogy, since he was the common ancestor of Thomas and James’s descendants.

I wanted the book to be relevant and interesting to those descendants living in the present time. Therefore, I decided that the genealogy should include as many living descendants as possible. This raised the important issue of privacy, which I will discuss in a later post.

I also knew that I wanted to summarize my research into the family’s origins in Cambridgeshire and provide historical context about Isaac, Thomas, and James’s lives in England. It was also important for the book to include more than just the dry details of when and where people were born, died and married. Therefore, the book must include expanded biographies when possible, as well as illustrations.

Finally, I wanted the book to be based on sound research and able to stand up to academic scrutiny so that future researchers would be able to see my sources and not have to do the research all over again.

As to how the book should be organized, I had some general ideas, but needed to learn more. To help with this, I purchased the book Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History, by Penelope Stratton and Henry Hoff (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014). From this I learned that there are two general formats for writing family history books: descendancy or ancestry style. The former starts with a single ancestor and traces the genealogy forward in time. The latter traces direct-line ancestors beginning at or near the present time and working backwards. This was an easy choice, as I had already decided that the book I had in mind should describe the descendants of Isaac, Thomas and James.

I learned that a common format for writing about the descendants of one or more individuals is known as Register style.  This format was developed by The New England Historical and Genealogical Register and has been used for more than a hundred years. It includes a standardized way of presenting genealogical information for each person, including birth, death, marriages, and children. The style is flexible enough that additional historical and biographical information can be added. It includes a standardized method if numbering to provide continuity from one generation to the next.

An illustration from the book showing the basic elements of Register style. The top image shows a complete family sketch and the lower image shows how the numbering system connects to a child’s family sketch in the next generation, or chapter.

Finally, Register style also allows writers to document their sources with footnotes or endnotes. I decided endnotes would be a better choice so that the majority of my readers—close and distant family members—would not have to wade through multiple footnotes on every page.  However, I thought footnotes could still be used for occasional parenthetical comments.

Finally, I visited the library and viewed several published family histories to see how they were organized and to get more ideas for my book.

With the decision to write made and a pretty good idea of what I wanted the book to include and how it was to be organized, I was ready to move onto the next step: compiling the information. Stay tuned for more in the next post!

Back to the future—the book is finished!

My entire year has been devoted to writing a family history about the Casbon family—specifically the American branch of the family with English origins. I’m happy to say the book has gone to press and is now available by a private link to the Lulu.com website.

Screenshot of the book’s product page on Lulu.com

Since my main intention in writing the book has been to share my research with living descendants, I’m selling it using a private link to the Lulu.com website. It does not appear using the website’s search function (or Google, for that matter). This also ads a layer of privacy protection, since the book includes names and birth dates of living people. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can contact me through the Contact section of this blog and I’ll be happy to send the link.

That’s all I will say for now. Writing and self-publishing the book has been quite a learning experience. I will provide details of the process in upcoming blog posts. I’m happy to be back and looking forward to working on the blog again!

The Book

I haven’t posted anything in a few weeks, so thought I would take this opportunity to explain why. I’ve started writing a book, so I’ve been devoting all of my time to that project.

The book is an offshoot of Our Casbon Journey. It’s the story of the two Casbon brothers, Thomas and James, who migrated to the United States from England at different times (1846 and 1870, respectively) and ended up in Porter County, Indiana. The book starts with a description of their home country—Cambridgeshire, England—and their ancestry as far as I’ve been able to trace it. After the introductory material it will be organized in a traditional generation-by-generation format, starting with Isaac Casbon, the father of Thomas and James, and ending with the most recent living generation.

By traditional format, I mean that I’ll be using what is known as “Register style.” This refers to the style used in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, a widely recognized format for presenting genealogical information. In Register style, you begin in the past and go forward in time with each generation. Family members are assigned sequential numbers according to their generation and birth order. Information is presented in the form of family “sketches,” written in a standard format, beginning with birth, death, and marriage information about an individual, then one or more paragraphs containing additional biographical information, and then a list of that individual’s children. Those children who have children of their own will have their own sketches in subsequent chapters.

For example, the sketch (and chapter) about Isaac Casbon will look something like this:

The numeral “1” before Isaac’s name denotes that he is the starting point for the numbering system. The superscript “0” (zero) after his name denotes his generation. The numerals “2” and “3” before Thomas’s and James’s names indicates that they will be carried forward and have sketches of their own in the next chapter, while nothing more will be said about William and Joseph. The superscript “1” after Thomas’s name shows that he is the first generation after Isaac.

Individual sketches will vary in length, depending on how much information I have. There will also be illustrations and photographs, similar to what you’re used to seeing in Our Casbon Journey. There will be appendices, containing additional information or copies of important documents. Although not shown in the sample above, facts will be documented with abundant endnotes. These will provide the information for future researchers to see where the information came from and be able to evaluate the evidence for themselves, if desired. Most readers will not want to dig that deep, which is the reason I’ll be using endnotes (so they don’t clutter the pages).

The people in my target audience are the living descendants of Thomas and James. With Thomas and James as generation number one, their have been eight generations of descendants (I’m in generation six). Hopefully many of them will have an interest in their ancestry. Perhaps someone in the younger generations will be motivated to pick up wherever my research leaves off. I plan to donate a few copies to genealogy libraries, especially the Porter County Public Library in Valparaiso, Indiana.

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months trying to locate and contact as many living descendants of Thomas and Joseph as possible. This has been a major challenge. I’ve been using every means available to me: my known contacts, facebook, Google, email, regular mail, and the telephone. This has been an ongoing endeavor because I keep learning about new descendants from those I’m able to reach. I’m sending each of them two forms to complete: a blank “family unit chart” to record information about their immediate families (births, marriages, deaths, etc.) and a permission form. The latter is important in these days of concern about privacy and identity theft. I’m reluctant to print information about living people without their knowledge and consent. Unfortunately, this means that even though I know who they are through my research, many entries for living people in the book will only say “Private” instead of showing names and birth dates. The permission form also gives people an opportunity to let me know if there is any specific information they would like kept private about themselves or their family members.

It’s a very steep learning curve. While I’ve been waiting for people to return their information to me, I’ve been researching and writing the narrative vignettes that will appear in personal sketches. Once the writing is done, there will be a tremendous amount of editing and formatting to get the manuscript ready for publishing. I plan to use a publish-on-demand service, which means individual copies of the book will be printed as they are ordered. Copies will be available through the website of the publisher, and possibly on Amazon—these are things I’ll be learning about as I go on.

So, dear readers, I hope you’ll understand why you won’t be seeing many blog posts for a while. At this point I haven’t set a deadline for publishing the book. I will be doing some traveling, and that will slow down the pace a bit. I’ll keep you posted and let you know when the book is finished. After than, Our Casbon Journey will be back to business as usual.