By Don Taylor
Following families in the early census records is always tricky, and following widows can be particularly difficult. I had been unable to find her in several early census records after her husband died. So, I thought I’d try approaching finding her using a different approach.
What I think I know
Mary (Wolcott) Parsons migrated to Windham, Greene County, New York in the spring 0f 1802.[i] Her husband John Parsons, Jr., died on 7 April 1813.[ii] Mary died in 1857[iii]. I was not successful in finding Mary Parsons in the 1820 Census, so I thought I’d try finding her in the last census before her death.
1855 New York Census
Luckily, New York had an 1855 State Census. The 88-year-old Mary is recorded living with her son Samuel[iv]. Samuel was reported as being 65 years old, born in Mass. He was a farmer who had lived in Windham for 50 years. He voted and owned land.
In the same house, but making a different household, is Mary’s youngest daughter, Prudence, and her husband, Benjamin Miller. The census shows “Brudence” as 44-years-old and a resident of Windham for 44 years. Her husband Benjamin was 54-years-old and a resident of Windham for the previous 20 years. Benjamin was a voter but did not own land.
Having been unsuccessful in finding Mary Parsons in the 1850 Census previously, I decided to look for her son Samuel Parsons. There he was, Samuel “Persons.”[v] Living with him was 83-year-old “Polly Persons.” Polly is an alternate/nickname for Mary[vi].
The 1850 Census doesn’t show relationships, but the household appears to include 66-year-old Samuel and 83-year-old Polly Persons.
The 1840 Census finds Mary Parsons enumerated as a female 60 thru 69. In her household is a male 50 to 59. Samuel does not appear to have been enumerated elsewhere, so I am confident the male in the household is Samuel. Interestingly, the next person enumerated on the page appears to me to be Benjamin Miller. That household seems to have Benjamin (age 30-39), a female (age 20 to 29), and a boy (age 10 to 14). If the 1855 Census were correct, Benjamin would be 39 in 1840, and Prudence would be 29, fitting this entry.
Mary does not appear to be listed in the 1830 Census with Samuel. Samuel is listed as being 40 to 49 (as expected). With him is a female 10 to 14. This is an unknown female in his household. However, there is an Albert Persons (age 20 to 30) living in Windham. His household includes a female 50 to 59, which fits the age for Mary. Could this be a here-to-fore unknown child of Mary? More research is needed to determine who Albert is. Because they are next to each other in the 1840 Census, I’m confident Mary is the 50 to 59 year old female in his household.
The 1820 Census reports three Parson’s households in Windham, Greene County, New York.
- Albert Parson’s profile is: 1 1 0 1 0 0 | 0 1 1 0 0
- Samuel Parson’s profile is: 0 0 0 0 1 0 | 0 2 0 0 0
- Orrin Parson’s profile is: 1 0 0 1 0 0 | 0 0 1 0 0
None of the families enumerated appear to have a woman over 29, let alone the 53-year-old Mary. That Albert’s household did not include an older woman in 1820 but did in 1830, shows that the older woman moved into his household sometime between 1820 and 1830.
Mary’s Age Shifts
- In 1830, 63-year-old Mary appears to have been enumerated as 50-59, four years younger.
- In 1840, 73-year-old Mary was enumerated as 60-69, four years younger.
- In 1850, 83-year-old Mary was enumerated as 83.
- In 1855, 88-year-old Mary was enumerated as 88.
I find the four-year shift in Mary’s age is relatively common for women during their middle years to report be a few years younger than they are. Likewise, older people often seem to add a few years and say they are slightly older.
Based on the 1830 Census, it appears that Mary may have had a son, Albert, that I didn’t know of before. If so, Albert would have been born between 1800 and 1810 and could have been born in either Massachusetts or New York. The Parsons moved to New York about 1802; I haven’t found a birth record for Albert. Further research is needed to confirm this potential relationship.
Finding Mary/Polly in the 1840, 1850, and 1855 censuses vastly improves my understanding of her life. Again, I feel I’ve located Mary in the 1830 Census with Albert, but that feeling is tentative at best.
Research Land records for the Parsons owning land in Greene County, New York, during the early 1800s, particularly Samuel Parsons.
Did Mary have a son, Albert, who was probably born between 1802 and 1810 in New York?
[i] History of Washtenaw County, Michigan (Chicago, Chas. C. Chapman & Co., 1881), Google, Pg 1405. Chas. C. Chapman & Co. (2012). History of Washtenaw County, Michigan: Together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history ; portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens : history of Michigan : embracing accounts of the pre-historic races, aborigines, French, English and American conquests, and a general review of its civil, political and military history. Salem, MA: Higginson Book Company.
[iii] Find a Grave, database and images (www.findagrave.com/memorial/118318771/mary-parsons : accessed 23 April 2021), memorial page for Mary “Polly” Wolcott Parsons (20 May 1767–26 Mar 1857), Find a Grave Memorial ID 118318771, citing Pleasant Valley Cemetery, Ashland, Greene County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Mookie (contributor 47515129) .
[iv] New York, US., State Census, 1855, Ancestry, Greene County, Windham, Image 8 of 34, starting at Line 7 – Samuel Parsons.
[v] In early records, the surname “Parsons” and “Persons” seem to be interchangeable.
[vi] BuzzFeed has a nice little article about “12 Weird Short Forms of Popular Names That Make You Go ‘Huh?’” which mentions why Polly is short for Mary.