Thank you, Hiram Scott (part 1)

Unlike Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all U.S. veterans, Memorial Day was specifically set aside for remembering and honoring those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice and died while in military service. For this Memorial Day, I want to honor the memory of one of my direct ancestors who died while serving his country in the U.S. Civil War: Private Hiram Scott of Company C of the Illinois Infantry Volunteers.

Hiram Scott is my fourth-great-grandfather. He was the great-grandfather of the the great-grandmother I was lucky enough to know for the first fourteen years of my life—Gertrude Scott Askew.

Hiram Scott fought for the Union Army along with the three of his sons who were old enough to serve: Horace, Willard, and James. Willard and James survived the war, while Horace “contracted disability which resulted in his death” five years later. Their father, Hiram, however, never returned home from the war. To this day he remains buried where he died—in New Orleans, a long way from his home and family in northern Illinois.

Horace’s birthplace, parents, siblings, and pretty much the entire first half of his life have been an enduring mystery for me. Over the past three decades I have repeatedly hit brick walls while trying to uncover the details of his birth and the first half of his life, including the identities of his parents and siblings. What little I information I have found about his early years has been sparse, often speculative, and frequently contradictory. In this post, I want to do my best to break though this brick wall to learn about Hiram Scott, an ancestor I want to remember and honor on this Memorial Day.

My research notes tell me that Hiram lived for some time in or near Bolivar, Allegany county, New York, where his three eldest sons were born between 1842 and 1847. Before 1842, I have nothing reliable. This is where I want to pick up the trail. In the following series of posts, I’ll detail my search for his parents as well as documenting serendipitous finds I made along the way that reveal bits and pieces of the life of Hiram Scott.

The approach that I’ll be using this time around is potentially labor-intensive and gives no guarantees of helping me make a breakthough. Rather than starting with a known person and working backwards, this time I’ll by looking for people who might be relatives. I’ll look for people who share the same last name (Scott), who lived in locations that Hiram frequented, and who had family members with given names that were similar to those in Hiram’s known family.

Once I assemble a pool of such potential relatives, I’ll trace the families of each to see if I can find any connections between them and my ancestor Hiram Scott.

A reasonable person might rightly conclude that this is a desperate way to go about family history research, given the long odds and the potential amount of work involved. Yep.

I started with the earliest place I knew Hiram to be associated with—New York state (possibly Bolivar, Allegany county, New York). I looked for all Scotts in Allegany County and to my surprise I found a promising candidate relative right away—Hiram Jackson Scott (born August 22, 1833, in Bolivar, New York).

My ancestor Hiram Scott was born around 1815 according to his military records, so this new Hiram Jackson Scott definitely wasn’t in my ancestor’s immediate family, but perhaps he was a first or second cousin? As this lead seemed so promising, I temporarily set aside my plan to assemble a pool of potential relatives and decided to focus on this one lead first.

I traced Hiram Jackson Scott’s family back two generations at first. His parents, John Scott Jr. (1804–1847) and Artmissa Frost Scott (1810-1883), would have been far too young to be my ancestor Hiram’s parents, so I went back another generation in Hiram Jackson Scott’s line to his paternal grandparents John Scott Sr. (1777–1850) and Polly Rogers Scott (1778–1847). Now we’re in the ballpark—if these Scotts were the parents of my ancestor Hiram Scott, they would have had him when they were about 38 and 37 years old (assuming a birth date of ca. 1815).

From the as-yet-unverified research done by other genealogists on the family of John Scott Sr and Polly Rogers Scott, it appears that they had nine children:

  1. Samantha Jane Scott (born 1 Oct 1799 in NY; died 19 Mar 1848 in Allegany co., NY)
  2. Benjamin Scott (born 15 Nov 1800 in NY)
  3. John Scott Jr (born 24 Apr 1804 in Brookline, VT; died 5 May 1847 in St. Clair, MI)
  4. Mary “Polley” Scott (born 9 Jan 1806 in NY; died 28 Jan 1875 in NY)
  5. Elias Leander Scott (born 22 Jun 1814 in NY; died 28 Aug 1886 in Allegany co., NY)
  6. Hiram Scott (born 7 Jan 1812 in NY)
  7. Erasus Scott (born 22 Jun 1814 in NY)
  8. Horace Scott (born 26 Mar 1817 in Bolivar, NY)
  9. Caroline Scott (born 23 Jul 1819 in Bolivar, NY; died 7 Apr 1883)

Fantastic! This Scott family did indeed have a son named Hiram who was born around the same time as my ancestor Hiram (January 7, 1812 vs. circa 1815), and this Scott family also had a younger son named Horace (the name that my ancestor Hiram gave his first-born son, my third-great-grandfather). As coincidences go, this is pretty good stuff.

But how should I test the hypothesis that this newly found Hiram Scott is the same person as my ancestor Hiram Scott? First, I’ll need to research and critically examine everything I think I know about my ancestor Hiram Scott—if I’m going to be comparing what I know about the new Hiram Scott to my ancestor Hiram Scott, I need to have my facts established and in order.

Second, I’ll need to line up the facts I can find for the newly found Hiram Scott and look for ways to demonstrate that these are two different people. Were they living in different places at the same time? Did they marry different people? Is there a record of two Hiram Scotts about the same age who were living in the same area at the same time (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gotten fooled by such a coincidence)?

If at the end of this exercise I don’t find any way to exclude the newly found Hiram Scott as being the same person as my ancestor Hiram Scott, I’ll accept this as initial support for the hypothesis that these two people are indeed the same person. In that case, a possible next step would be to look for a solidly documented living descendant of the newly found Hiram Scott’s father John Scott, and see if I could talk them into taking a genetic ancestry test to see if our genetic relatedness matches what I’d expect (5th to 6th cousin) as a result of both being descendants of John Scott Sr (1777–1850).

In part 2 of this series, I’ll begin by setting out and examining what I know about my ancestor Hiram Scott.

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