Tombstone Tuesday: Philander Purchase (another case study of sorts)

PhilanderPurchase_gravePhilander Purchase was born on February 27, 1830 in New York to parents Phillip and Rebecca Purchase.  I wasn’t sure what challenges this unique name would present.  Surprisingly, there were very few records on Family Search (I can usually find marriage records and some census records).  I did however, find a few census records on Ancestry from which to piece together Philander’s history, splintered though it be.

As noted on his death certificate in 1909, Philander had married at the age of nineteen so that would mean in approximately 1849 he married Caroline Williams.  Famously, though, census records contain misconstrued, mis-transcribed or inaccurate information.

For example, in 1850 Philander and Caroline were enumerated in the same household as his parents Phillip and Rebecca in Woodstock, Lenawee County, Michigan.  Philander is listed as being twenty-three years old (if really born in 1830 as his death certificate states he would have been only twenty) and Caroline nineteen years of age.  The month was August and they had a one-month old son named Phillip.

Almost to the day and ten years later, Philander had gained only nine years in age, enumerated as being thirty-two years old (and probably only thirty years old) and Caroline had aged twelve years, listed as being thirty-one.  Instead of Phillip as the oldest child, a son was listed as Dexter.  What I believe might have happened is that baby Phillip probably died at a young age and Dexter was their oldest child at that time.  He was joined by sister Ida (7) and brother Jaley (probably “Jay H.” aged 4).

In 1863 Philander was conscripted for military duty and likely served in Company K, 10th Michigan Infantry Volunteers.  In 1867 Philander signed an affidavit, as “a credible and respectable citizen”, in support of Anna Williams, mother of Alexander Williams, Jr., a fellow soldier who had been killed in the war while serving in Company K.  Perhaps Anna was already a widow at the time of the war as it appears that Alexander had been the sole provider of his family, and Anna was making the case for a widow’s pension.

In 1870, Dexter had become Lester and was listed as being merely seventeen years old (he was ten years old in 1860).  Along with Dexter/Lester in 1870 were siblings Ida, Jala (again, probably “Jay H.”), Sirg(?) and Byron.  In 1880 “Sirg” was missing so she probably died sometime between 1870 and 1880.  No record of the 1900 census could be found, but the final record for Philander Purchase was, of course, his death certificate.

Caroline had preceded him in death about nine months earlier on December 27, 1908.  Philander died at the age of seventy-nine on August 19, 1909 from a fall he sustained, causing a concussion and “cerebral congestion.”  His death might have been a job accident since his occupation was listed as “painter.”  His son Jay was the informant listed on his death certificate.

As stated on the death certificate, there were three living children: Jay H. who died in 1922, Fred Byron who died in 1913 and either Dexter/Lester or Ida, neither of whom I could find any clear and convincing information regarding their whereabouts, marriage, death, etc.  I found this family name particularly difficult to research for a variety of reasons, the main one being that there were so many people with the Purchase, Purchis, or Purkiss surname in Michigan (that and the “butchered spelling” in the census records).

In those counties where the families seemed to be concentrated, there were similar names.  For instance, there was more than one Ida Purchase (and sometimes the surname spelled differently).  Philander, however, was a standout with an apparently unique name – yielding just enough records to piece together a bit of his history.

I had also come upon a “Purchis” surname and considered writing about her, but it turned out to be so convoluted because there were too many women named “Emma May” Purchis or Purchase or Purkiss, either by birth or marriage.  One of my genealogy research pet peeves is how people assume everything on the internet is absolutely true, so they proceed to propagate false and misleading information on family trees and related web sites.

I love a challenge, but today’s research yielded such a mixed bag of sometimes frustrating results, making it hard to write a coherent story.  Whereas last week I wrote a case study on finding information via a “back way”, there wasn’t much of a “back way” for this story, at least in a reasonable time frame – just too many similar names.

However, had I about twenty hours, I might have figured it all out!  Still, these graves are picked at random and it’s never assured that it will yield a clear-cut history of someone’s life.  This one had brick walls galore – fellow genealogists know exactly what I’m talking about!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.

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