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A new Reuben Slavens.

Last blog I discussed how the probate packet for my great-great-grandfather James Slavens establishes his date of death. In this blog, we’ll discuss how the probate packet reveals the ninth child in the family, and how it may establish the birth date of the family’s youngest child, John Slavens.

Experienced genealogists know that county history bios are notoriously inaccurate. For example, the 1912 bio for James’s son Jesse contains several assertions that are questionable at best. Jesse died in 1911; because of the lead time in compiling a county history, he may have written his bio, but it likely came from his daughter or son-in-law. Whoever was responsible, they let some whoppers slip through:

Similarly, I’d cast a skeptical eye on the bio for Willis Slavens that appeared in an 1885 county history. It claims that James died in 1851 at age 44. With James’s brother Benjamin’s birth date of 12 December 1806, it’s extremely unlikely that Isaiah and Barbara could have had another child until early 1808. We knew that James’s death had to have occurred by the first of September 1851, when his estate entered probate, so 1808 and 44 years old at time of death didn’t add up. While Willis’s bio notes that his mother died in 1846, it doesn’t note his father’s second marriage, to Margaret Crane. It also says there were nine children, including a son Reuben. I had never found another reference to a son Reuben, so I chalked this up as another biographical misstatement.

But the probate packet tells us that Willis’s biography was correct– there was a ninth child, Reuben. Luckily for us, James was dirt poor farmer who still owed a bill to the doctor who lived closest to the family, Peter T. Russell of Eel River Township. Dr. Russell submitted a bill to the estate that starts with the date 4 September 1850 in the upper left corner. The top line reads, “Estate of James Slavens to P.T. Russell” and the next line is fairly plainly “to visit obstetrics.” The next line is a ditto, presumably for the “Sept.” at the top of the page, and “7 James Slavens flux” stating that on Sept. 7, 1850, James was treated for dysentery, with treatment continuing on the 8th and 9th.

The next line is a revelation: “(Sept.) 10 visit and treat son Reuben.” Treatment continued on the 11th and 12th. The elusive Reuben!

Not only did the probate file provide a probable death date for James, but we have solid evidence of the birth of a son, Reuben, on 4 September 1850. Since Reuben disappears (with the exception of the mention in Willis’s bio), we can assume he died as an infant, 12 September 1850 or later.

In the 1850 census, taken on June 1, the youngest member of the household is my great-grandfather William, three years of age. So Reuben was born after June 1, and Dr. Russell’s bill would put the date at September 4. This raises an interesting question: could Reuben and John been twins?

According to one of John’s descendents, he claimed to have not known what his birth date was. John’s age jumps around in the census– he’s 8 in 1860 and 19 in 1870. (I haven’t been able to find him in 1880, and he had passed away by the 1900 census.) In guardianship records, his age likewise shifts a year or two. But one guardianship document may be the most accurate in fixing John’s date of birth– a Montgomery County, Indiana record where he receives his inheritance of $88.43 from guardian Elliot Pearson. “I now having arrived at the age of twenty one years.” Interestingly, following this statement is the date August 29, 1871, which has been lined out and September 4 written in.

John Slavens guardianship

Twenty-one years earlier… September 4, 1850, the date of the obstetrics call. I believe that Elliot Pearson’s wife Elizabeth (Crane) was a sister of John’s mother, Margaret (Crane) Slavens, so it’s likely they saw to it that John received his inheritance as soon as attained legal age. (As a side note, I believe that the James Morrison whom she married after James Slavens’s death was the widower of another sister (Mary), and that yet another sister (Sarah) married James Morrison’s brother William.)

We can discount the thought that perhaps the obstetrics call was for John’s birth, and Reuben just coincidentally was ill at the same time. If that was the case, Reuben would have had to have been born by the end of 1849 at the latest– so he would have been in the 1850 census. Could John have been born after Reuben? Technically possible, although breast feeding’s inhibition of ovulation meant children were usually spaced a year and a half to two years apart in the 19th century. But even if Margaret conceived John immediately after Reuben’s birth, he wouldn’t have been born until approximately June 1852. If that was case, I highly doubt that Elliot Pearson would have allowed John to fraudulently claim his inheritance in 1871, as he wouldn’t have turned 21 until 1873.

Not only has the James Slavens probate packet given us a reasonably certain date of his death, it’s confirmed the existence of son Reuben. It’s given us a tentative birth date, and with a guardianship paper for James’s son John, leads us to believe that he and Reuben shared the birthday. The packet also hints that James himself was a twin– but not with Phillip Slavens, like most online family trees claim! I’ll explore those clues in the next blog.

Copyright © 2015 Larry Slavens. All rights reserved.