• Brigette Cook Jones

Union County October 2014


Yesterday on October 21, 2014, I took a trip out to Union County, Indiana - the birthplace of Mary Alice Smith a.k.a. Little Orphant Annie.

I was hoping to solve a few mysteries about Mary Alice and her family - and that was the primary purpose of this trip. One of the things I wanted to do was finally determine: Who was Mary Alice's mother and WHAT??? happened to her.

The story of "who is Mary Alice's Mom" is tangled up in a web of genealogy research. I won't go into all of that detail here - but will tell you that I was going under the assumption that Mary Alice's mother was either "Ellen Smith" or "Nellie Smith," and this woman was married to Thomas Smith.

However, the story of what happened to Mary Alice's mother changes over the years - based upon Mary Alice's own accounty. In some cases, she says her mother died. In other cases, there was a divorce. So - my reason for going to Union County -I was looking for records that would verify either theory.

Death Certificates would not be issued by Indiana until 1886. So that information was unavaible. I would have to rely on a cemetery or a church record, and without having a clue - about where Mary Alice's Mom was buried or if she was even buried in Union county - this would be a difficult find.

Therefore, my first stop was the Union County courthouse to look for divorce records. In the County Clerk's office, I asked the very nice lady about where I would find divorce records from the late 1840's/early 1850's? Brenda pulled two of the immensely huge ledger books from the shelves in the back of the office.

Now - I don't know if you have every looked through these ledger books before - but they are the size of a small flat screen TV - but are about 9 inches thick - and weigh about as much as a small child. In other words, these suckers are huge. They are usually indexed alphabetically, but the names of the cases are not alphabetically organized. What this means is that all of the "S-name" court cases are in one spot - but you have to go through all of the "S-name" cases in order to find the right one - as they were recorded by the date they happened.

The first gigantic book - 1853 - 1862 -it provided no information. No divorce records and nothing else. This was disconcerting - because I was hoping to find that divorce in and around 1854, which is when Mary Alice claims to have come to live with Grandmaw Smith in Hancock County.

Well, maybe Mary Alice was off by a year or two - so I looked in the older book. AHA! I found something - but it - wasn't- exacly - what I was looking for ...

In the Spring term of 1851, the State of Indiana brought suit against "Antipas Thomas Smith." This name just jumped out at me!!! OMG - here is a BIG clue.

About a year ago - I spent several days going through some records at the Shelby County Public Library and in the Shelby County courthouse. I was looking for information on "Peter Smith" - the grandfather of Mary Alice. To make a long story short, - I already knew that "Alice" was Mary Alice's grandmother's name. Also, I knew that John Rittenhouse married Malinda Smith in Shelby County - and of course this would be Mary Alice's biological aunt on her father's side - and John Rittenhouse was the name of the Uncle who brought Mary Alice to the Riley Home.

The records that I had found in Shelby County - indicated that Peter Smith had died sometime around 1844, and in probate records his heirs were listed as: Alice his widow, Malinda (Smith) the wife of John Rittenhouse, and minor heirs (under 14): Daniel, Mary, Anitpas, Asa and William Smith.

This was troubling.

I have Alice - the grandmother - check.

I have Malinda - the aunt - check.

I have John - the uncle - check.

But - there was NO Thomas listed. Why???

Well the first logical reason is that Thomas was a middle name - and he dropped one of those other listed names - in favor of it. BUT, in all of the records that I had uncovered from Thomas' Civil war days and later - listed his name consistently: "Thomas H. Smith." I am fairly certain that the "H" stands for "Henry." So with no "Thomas Henry Smith" - I was puzzled.

But now back to the Union County records. We know that Mary Alice's family was in Union County around her birth in 1850 - and we have a good degree of certainty that her father WAS a "Thomas Smith." But with this new record of "Antipas Thomas Smith" - I now had the connection to the Shelby County records - - as there WAS an "Antipas" listed as a minor heir of Peter Smith. However, most importantly, I also had a possible reason WHY Thomas Smith changed his name over the years, and what may have caused a divorce . . .

This record in Union County from the Spring Term of 1851 (around April - based on the date of the next court case listed) - stated that "Anitpas Thomas Smith" was charged and convicted with "Petty Larceny." It didn't go into details about much - and I really need to try to sit down and transcribe the handwritten material to get a more easily readable document - but it did say that he was fined $1.00 and was sentenced to one year of hard labor in the state penitentary.

Well THIS certainly explains a lot! Thomas was a THIEF! And Mary Alice would have been less than a year old when this sentence was handed down - and he would have been sent away. This is very much a reason WHY -her parents reportedly "quarreled" and had a "marital disunion." However, about that disunion - still no definitive records. I found only one record for a divorce in this time period - and I question if it is the right people. It was in the Spring Term of 1850 - (prior to Mary Alice's birth in Sept 1850) - and it was between a Thomas Smith and a Nancy Smith. It also appears to list two older children - and the custody of those children were given to the mother. A quick internet search that day - provided no further information on this Thomas and Nancy Smith - no marriage info, and no census records - -of course - I didn't have a lot of time to look.

While I was at the courthouse, I took a trip to the Recorder's office to look at land transfer records to see if I could find a Thomas (or Anitpas) Smith's land info - either as a buyer or a seller. I looked through some more of those huge ledger books - but turned up nothing. It is very possible that Thomas may have only been a farm laborer - and didn't own any land of his own.

My next place to investiage was the Tim Smith farm on Snake Hill Road.

A few years ago, I received a tip from a friend at Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana that when they did a recent home/building survey of the area - one of the places - claimed to be the original location of the Smith Cabin - where Mary Alice was born. This propertly sits very near the Liberty/Center Township line - and over the year the line has moved a little. Based upon the records from the 1850 census that I had uncovered for Thomas and Ellen Smith - they were living in Harrison Township in Union County. So again - not a match.

Tim was great to give a a copy of an article that was written in the late 1960's about his farm and the previous owner - and the claim to be the site of Mary Alice's birthplace. He also took me up in the woods to see the foundation of what was reported to be the original log cabin foundation. It had a more modern construction on top of the foundation - but it had since caved in. The foundation was a simple gravel mix type of concrete - and definitely older - but I don't know if this would be appropriate for a log cabin of the era. Most log cabins were built right on top of the ground - and either had a dirt or wooden floor. The only possible explaination - was maybe this was added to the structure at a later date - - or - this is a later structure and not the cabin at all.

Tim also took me up to a very old cemetery near his home - - which would be the closest to the cabin site. Many of the stones were overturned or broken - which was very sad. There was no evidence of any Smiths in the cemetery at the time that I could find - from the short time that I was there.

In our parting conversation, Tim mentioned that he did have his farm's abstract. I did ask him to see who were the names listed as owners from the late 1840's/early 1850's - and email me that info. It "might" be a Smith. If it isn't - at least I will know who the owner of the property was - and may be able to track down connectons - based on the fact that they were a neighbor of the Smith's.

My last stop on my Union County trip was to the Union County Public Library where I finally got to meet the famous Karen Coffey. She seems to be the pre-eminate genealogy expert in Union County - as her name was mentioned more than once by the wonderful ladies in the courthouse and by Tim Smith. I had corresponded with Karen quite a bit in my initial research stages - and she provided me with some great guidance and a copy of a letter from Marcus Dickey (Riley's personal secretary) - who corresponded with a Union County resident with questions about "Peter Smith" - Little Orphan Annie's "father." Which of course - I know now is really "grandfather."

What I was hoping to find in the library was microflim of newspapers from the era of the courtcase with "Antipas Thomas Smith" - I really wanted more info on what happened, and how he became accused. Unfortunately, even though there were papers printed during that era - there were no extant copies. I was out of luck.

Karen did say that I was free to look through the other genealogy books and refernces that were there at the library. I did look through the cemetery indexes - one more organized than the other - but again no luck. I spent an hour or more in the library - and didn't come back with anything, but it was great to finally put a face with Karen's name.

So the results of my Union County trip:

***Veriftying that Thomas Smith's original name was "Antipas Thomas Smith." This connects him to the Shelby County Smith's and the rest of that family. I was missing this link.

***Finding out that Thomas was a thief!! And this is probably why he changed his name - and seemed to give misinformation on many of his legal documents.

*Another possible name for Mary Alice's mother: "Nancy" - based upon the one divorce record that I found, and other possible "older" siblings.

**Pictures of the possible Smith cabin site - which may be the birthplace of Mary Alice Smith.

***A good copy of the 1960 article about the Tim Smith Farm - being the birthplace of Mary Alice Smith.

**Finding out that there seems to be no more records to uncover under Thomas or Anitpas Smith in the era that I was investigating in either the Union County Courthouse, or the Union County Public Library.

Where does this lead:

*I now need to try to find out if State Archives has ANY information on the prison stay of "Anitpas Thomas Smith."

*This strengthens the need for those Civil War records from National archives for Thomas Smith.

-Either of these records may shed light on Thomas' first wife's name and what really happened to her.

-Do some additional research under Thomas' first real name - Antipas - this might turn up something that I didn't know. It also means that I need to look again in Shelby County for records under this name.

-I can with most certainty - chalk Union County - off my "need to research list." There doesn't seem to be anything left to find there. The only exception may be if Tim Smith's abstract info - provides and interesting name.

Did I find out Who was Mary Alice's mother - and What happened to her? No

But I did find out a big clue as to WHY there may have been a divorce - which led to Mary Alice ultimately coming to live in Hancock County.


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