The Clark Family in 1850, part 3

Where y’all from? 

If you missed them, you might want to begin with Part 1 and Part 2 of our look at Jonathan and Mary Clark and their growing family on the 1850 federal decennial census. Those earlier posts focused in some detail on the names and ages of the various family members and how that information correlates with the manuscript Clark Family Record. In this post we’ll try and answer the question of where Jonathan, Mary, and the children were born, a simple question, right? Let’s start by taking another look at the census page:

CLARK, Jonathan family 1850 census (

“United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 April 2016), J M Clark, Mequon, Washington, Wisconsin, United States; citing family 1120, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Click to open larger image in new window.

The 1850 census was the first federal census to (attempt to) list the full names and state or country of birth for all free persons living in the United States at the time of enumeration. Looking at the Clark family’s information we find pretty much the names and birth locations we expect from earlier and later censuses and other documents. Jonathan M. Clark is listed first—as the traditional “head of household”—followed by his wife Mary and children in descending age order: Caroline, Henry, Elizabeth, “P. A.,” and Mary. The Clark Family Record and other later documents show that “P. A.” is  daughter Persie A. Clark, also known in other sources as Precious or Percie.

The youngest daughter, only five months old at the time of enumeration, appears to have been called a variety of names during her lifetime. On this 1850 census she is Mary. On the 1860 census she is called Sarah. In 1870 the enumerator made a real hash of her name and wrote down what looks like “Fresta.” This is probably a mis-hearing or mis-spelling of the name she seems to have favored through her adult life: Theresa or Teresa.

As we might expect, all the Clark children were born in Wisconsin, presumably in or near the family farmhouse in Mequon. Their mother, Mary Turck Clark, was born in New York state, as were all but one of her siblings. The genealogy of Mary Clark’s parents, Peter Turck and Rachael Gay, has been generally well researched and documented, although there are gaps—and some serious errors— in what has been published in earlier studies. The Turcks and the Gays have deep New York roots and Mary Turck Clark probably was born not far from the Hudson River in or near Greene or Columbia counties, New York.

And what about Jonathan? According to 1850 enumerator J. L. Loomis, Jonathan M. Clark was born in “Vir.” But which state is that, exactly? Virginia seems logical. But research suggests that there were very few early Wisconsin settlers moving up from the Southern states. The first white settlers in southeast Wisconsin Territory were primarily from New England—including Vermont—and New York state, followed soon after by immigrants from Ireland and the German lands. So Vermont seems like a more logical interpretation of Loomis’s “Vir.”

Even so, about a decade ago the hired indexers working for decided that “Vir.”—at least in the 1850 census of old Washington/Ozaukee county—must be an abbreviation for “Virginia.” To this day, the indexes for the 1850 census still indicate that seventy-six “Mignon” [sic, for Mequon] residents were born in Virginia. I have cross-checked quite a few of these 1850 Mequon residents, and I believe most or all of these people born in “Vir.” were enumerated by J. L . Loomis, who consistently and uniquely used this “Vir.” abbreviation, probably to indicate a Vermont birthplace. Fortunately, other nearby 1850 enumerators, such as Allen E. Daniels, enumerator of the West Bend, Washington Co. area, took the trouble to write out “Vermont” in full, avoiding any confusion.

It seems likely that this 1850 census “Vir.” was J. L. Loomis’s personal phonetic abbreviation for the characteristic New England pronunciation of “Vermont.” To support this theory I tried to find 1850 settlers born in “Vir.” on the subsequent 1860 and 1870 censuses. This was difficult, as many of the original New England settlers left the Mequon area in the 1860s and 1870s and can’t be found on later censuses. But there are exceptions. For example, Ira H. Wheelock, of Hartford, Washington Co., is from “Vir.” on the 1850 census, but from “Vermont” in 1860. And Ira’s biography in the Western Historical Society’s History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, (Chicago, 1881, p. 595), confirms this, clearly stating he was “…born in Royalton, Vermont, Sept. 17, 1820…”

I am satisfied that the 1850 census indicates that Jonathan M. Clark was born in Vermont, circa 1811-1812. This also agrees with what we know from the Clark Family Record, JMC’s Army enlistment documents and later census returns and biographical sketches of some of the Clark children.

So it’s settled: Jonathan M. Clark was born in Vermont, USA.

Or was he? Let’s just say it’s “complicated.” Stay tuned for more…