RBOH – Walter Bonniwell’s first marriage

UPDATED: February 25, 2021. See notes, below, for details.

Introducing RBOH – Random Bits of History!

I have so much information to organize and share with fellow Clark House researchers and blog readers, and it doesn’t always fit into a one of our longer, regular blog posts. So today we begin an occasional series where I publish random bits and pieces of Mequon related history. With RBOH, I plan to write shorter posts that present new information or unknown documents, and try to solve mysteries or confirm existing, but undocumented, facts. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests.

Walter Bonniwell’s first marriage documented!

Regular readers know that I often refer to George B. Bonniwell’s excellent history of Mequon’s early and influential pioneer family—and Clark House neighbors, friends, and in-laws—the Bonniwells. Like any work of history or genealogy, George’s book, The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, printed in 1999, has a few omissions and blank spots. But research has not stopped since his book was printed, and today we present three documents that give information about one of those missing bits of history, the marriage of Walter Bonniwell (1824-1884) and his first wife, Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey (c. 1827 to ????). In the process we’ll run into another key early settler—and man of many trades—Jonathan M. Clark’s father-in-law, Peter Turck.

Marriage License – January 18, 1845

The couple’s handwritten marriage license is image number 1211 in the Milwaukee Public Library’s collection of Milwaukee County Marriage Certificates. It reads:

Territory of Wisconsin }
Washington County }
License is hereby given to

Walter Bonniwell and Ellen
Bailey to Unite in Marriage according
to Law
Given under my hand this 18th day of January. A.D. 1845
{SL} Peter Turck Justice of the Peace


Signature of Peter Turck, Justice of the Peace. Detail from marriage license of Walter Bonniwell and Ellen Bailey, 18th January 1845. Source: Milwaukee Public Library, used under Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Click to open larger image in new window.

Marriage Certificate – January 21, 1845

The couple’s handwritten marriage certificate is image number 1212 in the Milwaukee Public Library’s collection of Milwaukee County Marriage Certificates.

This is to certify that Water [sic] Bonniwell & Eleanor Bailey
Both of the County of Washington and Territory of Wisconsin
were Joined in
the Holy Matrimony on the twenty
first day of January A D 1845 By me
J M Snow
Minister of the Gospel


Milwaukee County Marriage Book A – February 8, 1845

It’s not surprising that early Washington/Ozaukee county marriage licenses and certificates were handwritten on scraps of paper. Paper may have been in short supply from time to time, and pre-printed forms were not in regular use yet. But some Wisconsin Territory counties were already keeping official county records of marriages. For some reason, this 1845 marriage record—and other post-1840 marriages for Washington (including the future Ozaukee) count—was recorded in Milwaukee County’s “Marriage Book A.” In theory, (the now mostly independent from Milwaukee) Washington County should have had its own marriage books by this time.

Unfortunately, many images of the pages this book were badly photographed when microfilmed, resulting in smeared or unreadable names and other information. Many marriages are incorrectly indexed, including the Bonniwell-Bailey marriage. But now that we know the date of the their marriage, it becomes possible to locate it in the county marriage register. It’s marriage no. 640, the last of five marriages recorded on page 128 (formerly page 91):

Bonniwell, Walter and Eleanor Bailey, in Milwaukee County Register of Marriage, Book A (1838-1849), in Milwaukee Public Library; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Milwaukee Vital Records; Call Number: 929.3 Volume or Surname Range: A-C. Ancestry.com. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., Marriages, 1838-1911 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2018. Click to open larger image in new window.

The register consists of a verbatim transcript of the marriage certificate signed by J. M. Snow on January 21, 1845, with the addition of the date the marriage was recorded in Marriage Book A: February 8th 1845.

What happened to Walter’s first wife, Eleanor “Ellen” Bailey, and their two children? And why did Walter marry his second wife, Annie Coles, around 1850? Good questions. But answers will have to wait for another post, another time.

See you next time with more Clark House history. Stay safe. Be well.



George B. Bonniwell and his excellent book The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, [privately printed], 1999, remains an important resource for learning about the Bonniwells and other early Mequon settlers, their ancestors and descendants. If you’d like a copy of this unique, handsome, and generously-illustrated hardcover book, George still has some for sale at $30 each. If you’re interested, send me a message via the blog’s Contact form, and I can put you in touch with the author.

UPDATED: February 25, 2021, to correct a whole bunch of mindless typos and to raise—and not really clarify—the muddy issue of whether this 1845 marriage should have been recorded in old Washington/Ozaukee Co. or Milwaukee Co. And, if the marriage records were not kept in old Washington Co. in 1845, when did Washington and/or Ozaukee Co. start recording its/their own marriages?