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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

William Baldwin of Shelby County

Updated: Feb 26, 2018

The brick wall finds us all. Generally at least a few people have reached the same point. Sometimes, however, it feels like you're the only one who's ever searched for this person.


I was looking for a William Baldwin in Illinois in the 1850s.  There were a lot of William Baldwins in Illinois in the 1850s, but which one was mine?  He was an old man by 1850 when he lived in Shelby County, Illinois.  But his true age and place of birth conflicted on the 1850 and 1860 censuses.  Censuses said he was born sometime in the 1780s or 1790s in Ohio or Virginia--a pretty broad geographic search radius. One of his children was born around 1830 in Illinois--or was it Indiana? Even the son didn't appear certain.  William had a young wife and a few little children in 1850, but he didn't appear to be living near any family members that could connect him to his past.  With no other anchors beside his general age, finding the right William Baldwin anywhere from Illinois to Virginia might have seemed like an impossible task. The earliest confirmed existence for this man was in Illinois in 1846 at nearly 60 years of age.  


William was old enough to have served in the War of 1812, but did he?  His much-younger wife didn't file a widow's pension application after William's death in 1862.  With her youngest child only two years old at the time, she certainly could have used that pension money. 


Searching for men will often return some element of military service.  Pension application index cards, like the one below, are generally the most information you can easily find online.

This index card is relatively informative by itself once you learn what you're looking for, but there's a lot more that can sometimes be found in the records referenced.  Many of those records were only found through submitting a request and paying a fee to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).   But because of those reference numbers, you know that a packet of information should exist at the archives for Joseph Tate and Margaret Horn.  Joseph's packet of 53 pages included more information than was available anywhere else, and that made the search for him much easier.


However.  William Baldwin's wife Evaline didn't apply for a military pension after his death.  William may have served in the conflict, but his widow remarried soon after his death, which was a reason for disqualification from receiving widows' pensions. Certainly many men named William Baldwin served in the War of 1812.  Could I figure out if my William Baldwin matched up with any of them?


After comparing a lot of data from various sources and forming a theory, I took a genealogical gamble.  For a total of $110, I ordered the bounty land application files for one of the William Baldwins who served in the War of 1812 and who seemed like the most likely candidate for the man I was looking for.  I didn't know if NARA would have any records or be able to find them given the limited information I had provided.   However, in a few weeks I received an email. The packet was slim--and ultimately cost roughly $10 per page--but it included information that aligned with my theory and helped me crack the brick wall.  


Included in the packet is a letter, dated June 22, 1855, in Shelby County, Illinois--where my William lived from at least 1850 until his death in 1862.  The text of the letter is below.  In short, I was able to find where my William was in 1814 when he enlisted in the war: Fayette County, Ohio.  I was also able to narrow his age: William states in 1851 that he's 65 and 1855 that he's 68, which places his birth around 1786 or 1787. The 32 years of his life from enlistment until his last marriage in 1846 are still unknown--as are the nearly 30 years of his life until his enlistment in the army.  But now I have an anchor in Fayette, Ohio, with which to compare new information. 


Around 1810, there are two Baldwin lines in the area around Fayette County.  One is a well-documented family whose similarly aged son William is well accounted for and therefore--of course--cannot be my William.  The other Baldwin family appears in a smattering of documents but is otherwise mostly unknown.  I feel as though I'm the only person who has ever searched for them, but I will keep looking


I've ordered several packets of information from NARA.  Some packets yielded no results, for which I was not charged.  Some packets contained no new information, so I paid a good sum of money only to confirm details I already knew.  Some packets were worth the cost and more because of the elusive information they contained. From the information in the NARA records I've received, I've been able to find complete lists of children and their residence that year; the family bible pages that contain birth and marriage dates; the year and location of the soldier's birth; a brother or uncle that the soldier served with; or friends and neighbors who vouched that the applicant was indeed the soldier and added personal details about the person.  


Ordering these records can be a gamble because of the cost. But it you are motivated enough to find more information on your ancestor, and he served in the military, ordering records from NARA might be an option to investigate.


From William's bounty land application file:

Bounty Land Claim

State of Illinois

Shelby County

On this 22nd day of June A.D. 1855 personally appeared before me Charles E. Woodward, a justice of the peace, duly authorized to administer oaths within and for the county and state aforesaid, William Baldwin, aged about 68 years, a resident of Shelby County in the state of Illinois, who being duly sworn according to law, declares that he is the identical William Baldwin who was a private in the company commanded by captain Lemuel Conley, in the regiment commanded by Colonel Stuart in the War of 1812 with Great Britain, that he volunteered at Washington in Fayette County, State of Ohio, on or about the first of August A.D. 1814 (he thinks) for the term of six months and continued in actual service in said war for the term of about thirty days, and was honorably discharged at Franklin in the State of Ohio, on or about the first of September A.D. 1814, as will appear by the Muster Rolls of said company.  He makes the declaration for the purpose of obtaining the bounty land to which be may be entitled, under the act granting additional county land to certain officers and soldiers who have been engaged in the Military Service of the United States, approved March 3rd 1855, and refers to his former declaration made under act of 28th of September 1850 upon which he obtained a Land Warrant No. 21461 for forty acres, which he having legally transferred and disposed of is not within his power now to return.  He further declares that he has not received a warrant for bounty land under any other act of congress, nor made any application therefor, than the one above referred to under act of 28th September 1850 upon which he obtained the said land warrant No. 21461 for forty acres, and the one now presented.  

[Signed]

William Baldwin

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