Casefile Clues

13 February 2014

My Wife Answered These Questions and She Forgot My First Wife

There are several genealogical lessons in this one document in Leander Butler's Civil War application. It's always interesting when an informant simply crosses out questions that they do not want to answer

At the bottom of this 1897 questionnaire Mary Butler indicates that "My husband is not able to fill this out." Maybe that's why she crossed out the questions about the previous wife. 
"questionnaire" completed 10 January 1898 by Mary E. Butler, signed by Leander Butler, Union Civil War pension based upon service of Leander Butler in Company B, 10th Kansas Infantry, National Archives and Records Service.

Mary Butler also crossed out the question about whether or not a record of her marriage exists. This is an odd thing for her to have done considering that a certified copy of her marriage record is included in her widow's application made out after Leander died. She might not have thought it important to answer the question. It is really difficult to know. Pension law required her as a widow to provide proof of marriage. I'm also not certain why she crossed out the question about whether or not Leander was married before.

If I had relied on this document to conclude that there was no record of the marriage, that would have been incorrect. Lesson/reminder: never rely on just one document if possible.

If I had relied on this document to conclude that Leander was never married before, that would have been incorrect. Lesson/reminder: sometimes a person filling out the record can choose to answer what they want and they can choose to answer things any way they so choose. Leander's pension does mention a first wife and I'll have to analyze the material more carefully to determine just the first time she is mentioned in the file. The dissolution of their marriage (via the first wife's death) is discussed in the widow's application.

For an ancestor who was on the Civil War pension rolls, these 1897 questionnaires are wonderful. Keep in mind that they weren't created for us. The pension department used the answer to these questions to see if, after the veteran died, the widow's application contained information consistent with the 1897 questionnaire.

I believe that Mary listed all her children with Leander in this letter. I've seen other letters where only minor children were listed and others where only children under 16 were listed. There is some variation here.

She who answers the questions sometimes determines what questions she answers.

As a part of my citation should I indicate that while this document is signed by Leander Butler it was completed by Mary Butler? I think I should as it is not known if Leander Butler could even read the document.

And never ever rely on just one document.