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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

John Jacob Baugher

One of my ancestors is John Jacob Baugher. In fact, I believe I am related to him two ways, through two of his likely sons. So trying to learn more about him has been doubly frustrating to me.

He was alive in Shelby County, Illinois, on August 11, 1832, as that’s the date of a document that he writes is his “last will and testament.” Below is an image of the county record. In it, he gives “Thomas Baugher his son the following named property…to take Sarah Baugher, the wife of said John Jacob Baugher, and property and take care of them during her lifetime.” The witnesses were James Ledbetter and Thomas Wegar.

Photo: a snippet of John Jacob's last wishes (footnote 1)

From this document we know that John Jacob Baugher died no earlier than August 11, 1832. He had a son named Thomas and a wife named Sarah. He also had cattle, farming tools, crops, and horses. He was well-acquainted enough with James Ledbetter and Thomas Wegar for them to witness his last wishes. These are the elements of this original document, which we can compare to elements of other original documents to help build a profile of John Jacob’s relationships. A Thomas Wegar married Catherine Baugher in 1829. She was most likely John Jacob’s daughter, so one witness to the will was probably John Jacob’s son-in-law. The other, James Ledbetter, appears two entries from Jacob Baugher on the 1830 census in Shelby County. James was at least a neighbor to John Jacob Baugher around the time of the latter's death. It also appears from earlier state census record transcripts that Baugher and Ledbetter had lived near one another in Gallatin Co., Illinois, around 1820.

There are several undocumented pieces of information that circulate about John Jacob Baugher, who appears to have mostly gone by Jacob [although his will is signed John J. Baugher]. Many of these pieces are incongruous. Some of them are downright frustrating. Very few of them cite a primary source that can be found or produced. Two pieces of this complicated puzzle involve John Jacob’s wife Sarah.

Sarah, Mrs. John Jacob Baugher, is widely considered to have been the widow of Louis Ledbetter. I’ve never seen a citation for a primary source, however, so I can’t tell where this information comes from. The book “Combined History of Shelby and Moultrie Counties, Illinois,” from 1881 includes the following:

Photo: from the Combined History of Shelby and Moultrie Counties (footnote 2)

“The congregation of Christians meeting on Sand Creek, in Windsor township, was organized by Elder John Storm in 1834. It consisted of the following eleven members: Benjamin Weaks and wife; Joseph Baker, wife and son; Ashley Baker and wife; Louis Leadbetter and wife; Sarah Bougher, and Rachel Wallace; all of whom are dead.”

Is this the source of the information about Mrs. Sarah Baugher? If so, there’s a significant error in explaining Sarah’s identity. Mrs. Louis Leadbetter [sic] and Sarah Bougher [sic] are different people within this series of eleven people. (The 1830 census of Shelby County includes a cluster of entries: Ashley Baker, Lewis Ledbetter, James Baker, Thos, Baugher, Basel Weeks, Thomas Wegar, and other surnames appearing in the excerpt about the Sand Creek Church. This Lewis Ledbetter, according to the census is aged 20-30, as is the eldest female in his household.)

Another piece of information in circulation is that the marriage of Sarah Ledbetter and Jacob Baugher took place in 1821 and is recorded in the Gallatin Co., Illinois, record book. I’ve flipped through the marriage bonds of Gallatin County—and other places this family is to have lived, just in case, with no results. This is the one marriage record I find in Gallatin Co. for a Sarah Ledbetter.

Photo: marriage documentation for Sarah Ledbetter and Jacob Prewit (footnote 3)

Could this be the source of the information about Sarah Ledbetter’s marriage to Jacob Baugher? The groom is clearly Jacob Prewit, and the year is 1829 (though it could look like 1821 if it wasn't in the section with other 1829 documents). Was this information wedged into the narrative about John Jacob and Sarah? Massaged to fit a void, then perpetuated without critical inquiry? Until I see a source or a reasoned argument for the marriage of Sarah Ledbetter to some variation of John Jacob Baugher, I am inclined to think that is the case. The geographic connection of John Jacob Baugher and James Ledbetter might suggest a familial connection that is ultimately true, but I haven't seen evidence that isn't circumstantial. There are several men whose names appear on the Illinois state census in 1820 in Gallatin County near John Jacob Baugher and James Ledbetter as well as on the 1830 Shelby County census with them.

I don’t publicly share images of or information from every record I’ve found. Some are copyrighted. Some are obscure and took immense effort to find. Some cost me quite a bit of my own money to obtain. And some, when the information is produced, can make people with contrary data very upset, and I don’t want to spend my time arguing with someone who is not receptive. With all but the latter, I will give directions for the researcher to find the same information themselves. Overall, I understand how someone might not want to widely distribute some fruits of their research.

However, there are certain records that would clear up a lot of doubt and misinformation, could they only be produced. It’s literally never been easier to share images and information. Of course circumstantial evidence helps form a hypothesis to test. However, there has to be actual evidence. An email from a fellow researcher or a story from a family member both have to be approached critically and the sources considered.

The Ledbetters, Wegers, and Baughers are certainly related. They lived in and moved to the same geographic areas, and there were several marriages among them. (For example, there are Ledbetters living with John Jacob’s presumed granddaughter Lorena Womack and her family on the 1850 census of Shelby Co.)

I’d be very happy if someone could produce the documents or sources that verify the details of John Jacob Baugher and his wife Sarah. I would gladly admit I was wrong and had failed to find the sources myself. We’d be able to confirm a little bit more about them and direct an appropriate search. Until then, I fear we might all be looking for the same needle but in the wrong haystack.


1. I was able to find this document on microfilm, but now many Illinois records are available online. The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System from the Illinois State Archives is also a great resource for such items. This document can be found in Shelby County, Illinois, deed book 1:316.

3. Microfilm: Marriage Records of Gallatin County, Illinois: 1829-1836, 1829, image 136.


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