1860: The odd separation of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 472: First in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery. 

Summer is almost here — that wonderful season when census takers go house-to-house each decade, knocking on doors to compile the data that eventually leads many of us to our ancestors.

Farmhouse doorway. Summer is the season when census takers go house-to-house, knocking on doors to compile the data that eventually leads many of us to our ancestors Sometimes they reveal  family mysteries in the process. PIRO4D (CC0), Pixabay

Census returns usually help family history researchers discover where individuals and families lived at a particular time — and can also provide the names and relationships of previously unknown relatives.

Yet federal, state and local censuses can also reveal family mysteries — such as why my paternal great-great-great grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was living separately from his wife Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee in 1860, as illustrated in the table below.

In this series, I hope to use census information and other research to try to figure out what was going on with the Blakeslees circa 1860 — something I have long wondered about.

U.S. Federal Censuses (1830-1880) for Zebulon Blakeslee and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee. Source: FamilySearch
Year Location Zebulon Blakeslee Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee) Others in household
1830 Lawsville, Susquehanna, Penna. Free white male 20-29 (1) Free white female 20-29  (1) Free white male 20-49 (1)
1840 Chenango, Broome, New York Free white male 30-40 (1) Free white female 20-30 (1) Free white females under 5 (2); 5-10 (1); 40-50 (1); and a male 30-40 (1)
1850 Conklin, Broome, New York Age 42, Farmer, born in Conn. Age 37, born in Penna. Mary E. Blakeslee 12, born in New York
1860 Brookdale, Liberty Twp., Susquehanna, Penna. 48, Merchant, born in Conn.  Head of household: James Adams
1860 Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware, New York Age 48, born in New York Head of Household: Son-in-law Arthur T. Bull
1880 Binghamton, Broome, New York Age 68, Widowed, born in New York Head of household: Grandson Albert E. Whitney

Happy times in Brookdale circa 1856

When we last encountered the Blakeslees, they were celebrating happy times in Brookdale, Susquehanna, Penna. — the 1856 marriage of their younger daughter Mary Elizabeth to my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull, my Union Army ancestor who was then a tanner from Corbettsville, Broome, N.Y.

Wedding bouquet. In 1856, the Blakeslees celebrated the Brookdale, Pa. marriage of their younger daughter Mary Elizabeth to my gg grandfather Arthur T. Bull. By 1860, the Blakeslee daughters had moved to Delaware Co., N.Y. with their families and mother Hannah — leaving father Zebulon behind. What caused this family diaspora?  Olessya (CC0), Pixabay

At the time, Zebulon was the Brookdale postmaster, a merchant with a store near the local tannery, and may have still been working a professional elocutionist dispensing therapy for stuttering or stammering. Hannah was keeping house. Their older daughter, Rhoda Anne (Blakeslee) Whitney lived in nearby Conklin, Broome, New York with her husband William.

What happened in 1860?

Yet by the summer of 1860 — just four years later — all of that had changed. Both my great-great grandmother Mary and her sister Rhoda Ann had relocated with their husbands and children to Delaware County, New York — taking Hannah with them. And Zebulon appeared to be living as a boarder in the household of James Adams.

So I can’t help but wonder: Was this upheaval precipitated by a personal or family crisis? Or had there been a downturn in the local economy? Or had some larger social, political or economic forces impacted my Blakeslee and Bull ancestors — prompting them to pull up stakes, leaving Zebulon behind?

More on this Blakeslee mystery in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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21 thoughts on “1860: The odd separation of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee”

    1. Me, either! Funny how events can happen more than 150 years ago — but as soon as we discover them it’s like they happened yesterday and we need to know more 🙂

  1. I too look forward to what you can uncover. Sometimes the census reveals only a temporary arrangement, it was a snapshot after all, and somebody was just on a journey or visiting.

  2. We always want to know about our ancestors’ mysteries, don’t we? Sometimes they are solvable and other times not. My husband’s 2X great grandfather, Isaac Sturgell, was my mystery for a long time. I assumed that his wife had died sometime after 1860, perhaps during the birth of her last child. However, eventually, I not only traced her to Peoria, IL, I found 3 more marriages for Isaac and every one of his 4 wives left him! Hope you have success solving yours.

  3. I wonder if it was just temporary and she was living with one of the daughters who was having health problems or needing the children cared for during a difficult pregnancy or something.

    1. I was thinking the same, but that may not have been the case. Please stop back for the next post where I unpack the 1860 census details.

  4. Very interesting. It seems like all the interesting events happen in the years between the census. Our ancestors should have been more considerate. Lol

    1. So true! Especially between 1880 and 1900 when one of the censuses is missing. So I am hoping to find workarounds that will help me unearth the Blakeslees’ story.

  5. I have a mystery separation in my family tree. My great grandmother, who birthed a dozen children with my great grandfather in England, came to the U.S. in the late 1800s with five of her youngest children leaving behind her 7 grown children as well as her husband! She seems to have seen some of the older children left behind after coming to America, but never saw her husband again and we can’t help but wonder what happened. We’ll never know, of course, which is too bad. Oh well.

    1. What an intriguing story — an even more dramatic departure, it seems, than with my ggg grandparents. A shame you have not been able to uncover more about your great-grandparents’ separation.

      1. The entire family, if old enough, worked in the cotton mills in England, & it’s thought perhaps the mother brought her younger children to the U.S. with hopes for a better life for them. One of the girls who came with her was partially crippled & couldn’t work in the mills. We don’t know if it was a result of an injury suffered while working or not? She did, in fact, make a very good life for herself here, as did her accompanying sisters and brother – my grandfather. Why the husband stayed behind instead of accompanying his wife we’ll probably never know. All we know for sure is he wound up living with one of his grown daughters in England.

  6. Family mysteries always fade with time. Trying to find answers to questions like these requires real history detective work. With minimal clues so far, I’ll take a wild guess that someone’s illness has precipitated this separation.

  7. Oh, I do love a good genealogy mystery. The census often throws up lots of them. It’s great when you can solve them, but some of them do keep you up at night wondering what was going on. (Maybe that’s just me.)

    1. No, it’s not just you! This mystery has been nagging at me for some time. Hoping to make research progress in this series.

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