Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jenny Holden Browne

1850 Federal Census, Will County, IL
I’ve been looking at the census records and there seems to be a mystery afoot. In 1850 Jenny is living in her father’s household. That would be Phineas and Betsy Parker Holden. She is listed as Jane Holden. My first mystery is her age. I know this is the correct family because Jenny mentions David, George, and Parker Holden as her brothers. She also tells Sarah Cummings in her letter, that “father took a girl by the name of Ellen Blaisdel into the house and raised her like a daughter”. I can’t but help think Jenny was comparing her father to Sarah’s uncle Adams Holden, since he adopted and raised Sarah.

So this is the correct family. Next I look at the family group. Notice how the children are listed from oldest to youngest, with the exception of Jenny. She should have been 17 years old in this census. If she were 17, you would have a nice grouping of children meeting the ‘every other year’ rhythm that so often is seen in families. So I think I’ll chalk this mystery up as solved – the census taker recorded the wrong age for Jane.

1860 Federal Census, Cook County, IL
Next mystery pops up in the 1860 census. Again, based on the things she tells Sarah Cummings in her letter, this has to be the correct person. The age matches and she mentions Malcolm and George as her children (and their ages are correct, too). This census has two mysteries. The game is afoot, one more time. The first mystery revolves around Jane’s husband. In her letter, she referred to her husband as J. M. B. Notice the head of household in this census is named Isaiah. Clearly Isaiah does not start with a “J”. This mystery is solved as the census taker records his name correctly in the 1870 census. He was named Josiah M. Browne. I guess the census taker in 1860 was in a hurry, or perhaps he misunderstood the name Josiah as the name Isaiah. Either way, I’ll chalk this mystery up to census taker error – again. See; never assume a census record is correct until you compare what is listed to what you know to be correct.

The other mystery in this census record is the oldest child in the household, Merritt Browne, ten years old. Who is he? Jenny does not mention him at all to Sarah Cummings, yet there he is. This is another thing that I just love about census records. Every page has surprises to help make the research process exciting! Merritt is also in the 1870 and 1880 census, with Jenny and Josiah Browne. The 1880 census is really interesting (more about that later). So, the question is, is Malcolm a son of Josiah and Jane? Or, possibly, he could be a son of Josiah by a first wife. This would make him a step-son to Jenny.
1870 Federal Census, Cook County, IL

1870 finds our family still together. Notice Merritt is still living in the house. We know that George dies on 28 Oct 1865, and as expected, he doesn’t appear in the census record. Josiah is listed, correctly, as the head of household for this family. He also has become quite a prosperous businessman, too. My handy inflation calculator tells me his net worth is equivalent to more than $300,000! Not bad, but I still don’t know who Merritt C. Browne is.

The 1880 census really is an amazing piece of work. In 1880 the census taker was required to ask the relationship to the head of household, for all of the individuals living in the household. So if Merritt is still living in the household, his relationship to the head of household should be listed. Well it is, sort of. This is the household of Josiah Browne in 1880. I’m still scratching my head over this one. It appears that Josiah has a boarding house. It also appears like there are quite a few individuals living there that work in the boarding house. You have boarders, maids, laundry girls, a cook, etc. 

1880 Federal Census, Cook County, IL
Merritt is listed further down.  His relationship is son.  I am assuming he is the son of Josiah.  Jenny Holden Browne was born in Vermont, and Merritt lists his mother's birth place as New Hampshire.  For now, I think I'll pencil Merritt in as a child of Josiah Browne and an as of yet unknown first wife.

The last document I found is the death notice for Merritt Browne.  It lists his brother Willis W. Browne as his only surviving sibling.  This Obituary comes from the Chicago Tribune for 17 Dec 1919.  So there is Nellie Holden Browne's family. 

All of this from a letter written over a hundred years ago...


  1. I would like to present you with the Ancestor Approved Award. Please go here to pick it up ==> http://lostmementos.blogspot.com/2010/04/ancestor-approved-award.html

  2. Hey, I stumbled on this, because I am looking for things about my family - Josiah Brown(e) and Anna Tuck had a son Josiah M. Browne, Feb 21, 1821. I think, but haven't yet proven that this is the same one who married your Jenny.

    By the way, I am sure that by now, you have seen the entry in th e1910 census records for a Merritt C. Brown in Chicago, with wife Jennie Nellie S age 39?

  3. I have found proof that Merritt Caswell Browne and his brothers Malcolm and Willis were the sons of Josiah M. Browne, and grandsons of Josiah Browne of New Hampshire. The LDS Data Base includes the papers related to probate of Nahum F. D. Browne's living relatives. These three were listed as sons of Nahum's brother Josiah M Browne.