History Mystery! No. 2

The Clark Family Record: What is it? Who created it?

Welcome to our second installment of the Clark House Historian’s History Mystery! in which you, the reader, are invited to Help the Historian and solve one of the many persistent mysteries surrounding Jonathan M. Clark, his family, and related unknowns of local history. In a previous post, we got to Meet the Children of the Clark family. One of the sources for that post is an image that I received from Clark descendant Liz Hickman (thanks, Liz!) of what looks like a single page removed from an old family bible. The page lists birth dates for Jonathan M. Clark, Mary Turck Clark, and their children, and death dates for Jonathan and his only son, Henry. It’s a key document for Clark family research and yet there is much we don’t know about it.  History Mystery! No. 2 seeks to answer: What is the Clark “Family Record,” who created it, and how accurate is it?

Here’s a copy of the image from our files:

CLARK, Jonathan family deaths and births (bible page?)

Clark “Family Record.” Image courtesy of Liz Hickman. See below for discussion of provenance, contents and accuracy. Click to open larger image in a new window.

The image appears to show one side of a blank page, size unknown, with the printed heading: FAMILY RECORD with a simple, double-line border around the page. Pages like this were (are still are) often found in family bibles, so that the family could keep a list of births, marriages, and deaths. Such pages are often kept as family treasures and can be an invaluable source for family history.

Clark family birth and death dates have been recorded on this page in at least two separate hands and inks. One hand, in dark ink, records the death of Jonathan M. Clark at the top of the page:

CLARK, Jonathan family deaths and births (detail, top)

Clark “Family Record” (detail, top of page). Click to open larger image in new window.

Transcribed, this reads:



Jonathan M. Clark died Sep 20th 1857. Aged 45 44 yr [years] 9 mo[nths]  22 days

Visible in the upper-right corner are lighter ink or pencil markings with “1812,” Jonathan M. Clark’s supposed birth year, and below that, “45,” JMC’s original, dark ink, age at death. These lighter markings are possibly in the same hand as the other annotations on the page, which are in a similar lighter ink or pencil.

It appears that someone was checking the math of the dark ink age-at-death calculations. Given the September 20, 1857 death date, and a birth date of November 28, 1812 (see the lighter entry, below), JMC would have been 44 years old at the time of his death. However, if JMC was born on November 28, 1811, he would have been 45 years old, as written originally in dark ink. Why the confusion about birth year and age at death? That, dear reader, will be the subject of one or more future History Mystery! posts, because it’s not at all clear whether JMC was born in 1811 or 1812.

Also visible in this detail are what appears to be dark-ink cursive writing bleeding through from the other side of the page. If we could see the original reverse side of this page it might help establish the provenance of the document.

The rest of the page is written in lighter ink or pencil, and is mostly legible. It reads:

Henry M. Clark died April 21st 1866 Age 23 yrs.

J. M    Clark        Born   Nov 28th 1812

Mary     ”               ”       May 4 – 1820

Caroline     ”         ”       Nov 7 – 1840

Henry         ”         ”       Feb 21 – 1842

Elizabeth   ”         ”        ”  [Feb]  25  1845

Persis        ”         ”        Oct 5    1847

Teresa      ”         ”         May 9  – 1850

Laura       ”         ”         ”  [May]  24 – 1852

Josephine”         ”        Oct 26 – 1854

Jennie        ”         ”       May 25 – 1857

These names and dates support and add original detail to other sources such as census records and marriage and death certificates. There is one odd detail, however. Someone has written an “x” or a checkmark to the left of each child’s name in this list.

CLARK, Jonathan family deaths and births (detail, side)

Clark “Family Record” (detail, left side markings). Click to open larger image in a new window.

The first and last born, Caroline and Jennie, are marked with an “x”. The other six children are marked with a check. What does this mean?

Finally, who wrote this Family Record, and when? We’re not sure. The answers would help us evaluate the accuracy of the information. The page could have been started anytime after the birth of JMC in 1811 or 1812, although I suspect (and it’s only a surmise) that the first entry is the dark ink notation of the death of Jonathan M. Clark. Logically, the page was completed no earlier than the date of Henry Clark’s death in 1866.

One might assume that Mary Turck Clark, as matriarch of the family and widow of Jonathan, might have made this record. But it’s hard to tell, as we have very, very few samples of Mary’s handwriting. For comparison, here is her signature, along with that of her younger brother James B. Turck, on a legal document from 1867:

Signatures of Mary Turck Clark, James B. Turck 1867

Signatures of J. B. Turck and Mary Clark, son and daughter of Peter Turck. From their petition to have Peter Turck admitted as a patient in the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane. Wisconsin State Historical Society archives, series 2194, box 2. Click to open larger image in a new window.

I’m not a handwriting expert, but the letter shapes in the Mary Clark, daughter signature seem clearly different from the same letters as written by either hand of the Family Record. Compare the uppercase Ms and Cs and lowercase Rs and Ks in particular.

Liz Hickman believes the Family Record page is part of one of two Clark-Turck descendant collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society. It may possibly be from the genealogical collection assembled by Jonathan M. and Mary Turck Clark’s grandson, Edward P. Carlton, or it may be from the papers of Mary Turck Clark’s brother-in-law, Densmore W. Maxon (click the highlighted names for links to the online WHS archives catalog listings for each). Clearly, I’m overdue for a research trip to the WHS archives in Madison. But in the meanwhile, I invite any of our readers to make the trip and help us solve History Mystery! No. 2.

Update, March 26, 2018, to correct the spelling of Dr. Edward P. Carlton’s last name. Edward P. Carlton’s father was Albion L. Carleton or Carlton. Albion’s surname shows up in various documents either with or without the “e.” I am reliably informed by Liz Hickman that E. P. Carlton always used the spelling without the “e” in the middle. Thanks, Liz!