Dr. William M. Litchman

Mysteries in genealogy add spice to family history research. When one is solved, the thrill is tremendous. And adoptions are a special kind of mystery since solving them opens the door on new lines to trace.

The mysteries surrounding adoption can be very frustrating for those who search out the roots of family history, with the fear of never being able to find the link between child and birth parent(s). Even the birth date might be lost. William Henry Middleton was such a mystery for me.

I was following the family of Andrew Middleton down through the 19th century censuses when I first found mention that a great-grandson, William Henry Middleton, was adopted.

 Andrew1 Middleton, his wife, Margaret [Middleton] Middleton; his mother-in-law, Sarah; and his children, Robert2, Elisabeth, John, Sarah, and Peggy Ann sailed from Newry in Ireland in May, 1792, and arrived at New York the July following. They settled first in Freehold, Monmouth county, New Jersey, where their son Andrew was born (1793), and then went to Charleston, Montgomery county, New York, where Samuel was born (1797). Most of the family moved to Rutland, Jefferson county, New York, where Robert3, the son of Robert2 and Elizabeth Middleton, was born in 1807.

Robert3, a farmer, married Emily Francis, daughter of Thomas and Priscilla [Cady] Francis and they lived most of their lives in or near Champion, Jefferson county, NY.

The 1840 U. S. Census lists Robert Middleton of Champion, and indicates that Robert3, age 33, has a younger man (perhaps his younger brother Samuel L.), age 28, living in the house. In addition to Emily (age 27), a young woman (perhaps Robert's youngest sister Nancy Antoinette) (age 19) and (possibly) Emily's mother, Priscilla [Cady] Francis (age 69) are living there.

In the 1850 U. S. Census for Rutland, Robert3 and Emily have one child living with them (Henry, age 11) as well as Emily's mother, "Sarah" Francis (age 79.) In the 1855 NY State census for Champion, the listing includes Henry (age 15) and Celestia (age 19.) The 1860 U. S. Census for Champion does not mention [William] Henry but does include Celestia S. (age 24.)

In the 1865 NY State census for Champion, Robert3 and Emily are living in the home of Joseph Gardner (age 73), along with Henry (age 26) and Celestia (age 29). It is in this listing that the two Middleton children are identified as "adopted." This was my first indication that William Henry and Celestia were more than the natural children of Robert3 and Emily. There immediately arose in my mind visions of Dickensian orphanages and child labor. Who were the parents and why were the children given up? Did the parents die tragically? Were these children illegitimate? Were they even related?

I put these questions up on the shelf with a number of other mysteries with the very faint hope of ever finding anything to unravel the secret.

A few years later, following Celestia and William Henry through the census, I discovered that both married. By the time of the 1870 U. S. Census, William Henry (as his name is then given) is living with his wife Louisa and their one year old son Robert H. in Rutland. The 1870 U. S. Census also lists Emily Middleton, age 56, living with Celestia, age 34, in Rutland. Robert3 Middleton has probably died by this time. In the 1875 NY State census, Emily is living alone in Rutland; in the 1880 U. S. Census, she's listed right next to Gilbert E. and Celestia Francis in Felts Mills and listed as Gilbert's mother-in-law even though she is the head of her household. Emily died 28 Jul 1889 at Rutland. The probate of her estate mentions Celestia, William Henry, and his son and two daughters.

Celestia's husband Gilbert had lived with his first wife Sophronia Coughlin in Champion until her death. He served in the Civil War in Co. D of the 10th Regt of the NY Heavy Artillery and was wounded in the face by a musket ball in action at Bermuda Front, Va., on 2 Apr 1865. I haven't found the date for his marriage to Celestia.

William Henry also served in the Civil War, in Co. A of the 35th Regt NY Vols. I sent for his pension file to read more about him. He was 5 ft 7 3/4 in tall, had grey eyes and brown hair and a light complexion. He joined on 9 May 1861; on 29 Aug 1862 he fought at the battle of Bull Run and received a gun shot wound to the lower right leg which fractured the bone badly and left that leg a couple of inches shorter than the other.

Following his injury, he returned to Felts Mills, and was honorably discharged 24 Dec 1862. Despite the damage to his leg, he re-enlisted for three years' service on 30 January 1864 at Denmark, Jefferson county, NY, to serve in Co. L, 20th Regt of NY Cavalry Volunteers. He was mustered out of that service on 31 July 1865, and returned to Jefferson county to farm. He married Louisa M. F. Gillette on 26 Jun 1867 at Black River.

William Henry and Louisa had four children: Robert H., b. 27 Jun 1868; Julia Montelia, b. 28 Aug 1870; an infant son, b. 23 Sep 1871, lived 10 days; and Emily Irene, b. 10 Sep 1876. Robert H. died 8 Jul 1898; the two daughters were still living in 1915.

William Henry farmed all his life, despite his continued disability from his war injury. After the close of the war the family lived at Felts Mills until moving to Waukesha, Waukesha county, WI, in 1872. In 1881 they moved again, to Merrill, Lincoln county, WI, where they lived for many years until William Henry went to the Wisconsin Veteran's Home, Waupaca county, WI, where he died on 21 Jul 1925.

 Upon his first discharge from the service his injury was declared to be half disabling by a physician's examination 29 Dec 1862. He applied for and received a pension, at least by 1869, from the government to compensate him for his injury and associated problems.

His wife was a bed-ridden invalid by 27th Mar 1922, when William Henry was a resident of the veteran's home. When he was examined there by a physician on 15 Apr 1922, the doctor declared that, in addition to some normal complaints of his age, he apparently had suffered a gun shot wound to his right leg at the junction of the lower and middle third, shattering the tibia and producing a very large callous formation which had evidently been infected in the past.

Also in William Henry's pension file from the National Archives is a letter written in 1889 to the pension office by a disgruntled Wisconsin neighbor, Mr. H. G. Chase, disputing William Henry's right to a disability pension:

"... Middleton is receiving the sum of twenty four dollars per month as a pension ... that ... Chase verily believes is more than ... [he] is entitled to for the reason that ... [he] can and has and does do as much work in a day as any other man. ... Chase has worked with him at various times and ... [he] walk[s] from his homestead to the city of Merrill, a distance of thirteen miles and back the same day making a walk of some twenty seven and one half miles in a day..."

Walking that distance as well as performing some sort of business while in Merrill must have been quite a task! No further references are made in the file to this letter, so William Henry's pension probably continued despite the neighbor.

I still didn't know much about this man's birth. But the pension record held other surprises. When he turned 75 and applied for an increase in his pension, William Henry answered questions about his family and his disability. On 1 Jul 1914 he made the following statement, witnessed by a notary public:

"This is to certify that my mother was accidentally drowned when I was only a little over one year old, the family then living in the town of Champion... that, following her death, I was taken and reared by Robert Middleton and his wife, Emily Middleton, both of whom taught me to believe that I was born on the 6th day of May, 1839; that I have never, at any time, seen or known of any record of my birth made by any one but myself; that my father, as well as my foster parents, always agreed as to the date of my birth and my age; and that my father, Joseph Gardner, died at my home in the town of Rutland... in or about the year 1870."

What a thrill! In one stroke, William Henry presented not only his birth date and the name of his birth father, but also an account of why he had been adopted by the Middletons.

Celestia's parentage is still a mystery. I think it is very likely that she is William Henry's sister. Too bad that there is no Civil War pension record for her!

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