Mea Culpa

Week 22: #52 Ancestors – Uncertain

By Eilene Lyon

After I posted my story about Nancy Self, I realized I made a series of errors. It happens when we make assumptions. Nancy’s obituaries stated that of her twelve children, five had died in infancy. But my tree had eight adult children. Um, basic arithmetic says something doesn’t compute.

Further, they state that she outlived all seven of those remaining children. Since Franklin Self outlived her, I assumed this was an error. I also assumed that his death record had an error (very common). But the evidence of my errors was right there in the post – my photograph of the Self lot in the Malden Cemetery.

SelfMaldenCem
Self lot in Malden Cemetery, Bureau County, Illinois. Buried here are Rosanna (Self) Peake, William Peake, Anna Self, Iven Self, Mary Catherine (Lowe) Self, and Franklin Self. (E. Lyon 2012)

The first U.S. Census to list all members of a household by name was in 1850. However, it doesn’t give any relationships, so genealogists have to be careful about assuming how the people are connected to one another.

Here is the Self household in Bureau County, Illinois, for that year: John Self, 57; Nancy Self, 46; Rosanna Self, 27; Osias Self, 19; David Self, 14; Phebe Self, 12; Franklin Self, 10; and Martha Self, 8.1 See how neatly Franklin fits in there, two years after Phebe and two years before Martha? Logically, he’s the child of John and Nancy Self.

(Two adult daughters are not listed: Betsy (Self) Painter, my 3rd great-grandmother, and Mary (Self) Stanton, who were listed with their husbands and children elsewhere.)

Aside from the evidence in Nancy’s obituary that I had an extra child, there was Franklin’s death record from 1919. It’s only an index and I can’t view the source at this time. It states that his parents were John Self and…Rosanna Self, not Nancy.2

I don’t know who provided this information, but most likely it was Franklin’s ailing wife, who only survived him by a few months. We commonly see errors in the names of parents in death records, but usually it will just say “unknown” rather than a guess.

Rosanna Self would have been 17 years old in 1840, the year Franklin was born, so it’s certainly plausible that she gave birth to him. Is there any supporting evidence? Yes.

According to the 1860 U.S. Census, Rosanna Self and William Peake had been married within the year. Rosanna was in her late 30s by then and the two of them had no children together. What struck me is that the Peakes didn’t live in Bureau County. They were living in Winneshiek County, Iowa.3 Apparently they died there, too, but I haven’t been able to locate death records or obituaries for either of them.

So why are they buried in Franklin Self’s family lot in Illinois? Franklin must have had the bodies brought there for internment. That suggests a very close relationship to go to that expense.

Another record came to light as I dug into this. In 1886, Rosanna was ill and considering her death to be imminent, she wrote a will. She owned real estate in Winneshiek County in her own name. Rather than leaving her real estate to her husband, she left it to Franklin Self.4 She never states her relationship to him, but it certainly adds credence to the hypothesis that she was his mother.

007590575_00380
Excerpt from Rosanna Peake’s Last Will and Testimony naming Franklin Self as her heir.

(She did give William Peake the right to live on the property for life, rent free, so she wasn’t treating him too badly.)

Given the strong case to be made for Rosanna Self Peake being Franklin Self’s mother, I have to look at his paternity. His death record names John Self, Rosanna’s father. Horrors! Could this really be a case of incest? I don’t think so.

Obviously Rosanna’s parents did not turn her or the baby away. I suspect that Rosanna refused to name the man or boy who fathered her child. It’s interesting that the family didn’t pretend the baby belonged to Nancy. And I don’t know why John Self was named as father on Franklin’s death record except that he certainly would have been Franklin’s father figure growing up. It just happens to make for a very strange-appearing relationship between John and Rosanna.

I can’t be certain about any of this, but it seems the most probable scenario.

Feature image: Rosanna Self Peake’s headstone in Malden Cemetery, Bureau County, Illinois (E. Lyon 2012)


  1. John Self. Year: 1850; Census Place: Berlin, Bureau, Illinois; Roll: 99; Page: 203B – via Ancestry.com. 
  2. Franklin Self. Ancestry.com. Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916–1947.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2010, film #1562097. Index entries derived from digital copies of original records. 
  3. Rosa A Peake. Year: 1860; Census Place: Calmar, Winneshiek, Iowa; Page: 721; Family History Library Film: 803345 – via Ancestry.com. 
  4. Rosanna Peake. Winneshiek County, IA, Probate Records, Vol U-V, 1882-1894. Ancestry.com. Iowa, Wills and Probate Records, 1758-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 

28 thoughts on “Mea Culpa

Add yours

  1. I like your conclusion about how it is probable that the family didn’t turn their daughter with child away, but she refused to name the father of the child. That’s as logical of explanation as any.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Interesting! Maybe Franklin was initially raised as John and Nancy’s child but later in life, the truth about his biological mother was revealed and the two developed a mother/son bond. If no biological father was revealed or a relationship was never formed there…that might explain why John Self is still listed as his father as it’s the only one he knew. Of course, speculation is all we are left with.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You were very clever working this out. I have found similar cases in my family and my husband’s so it was very common. Taking the father’s (Grandfather’s) name certainly complicates things.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Good for you to persist and find the right answer (or it seems like the right answer to me). And I think we’ve all made similar errors. The important thing is that we correct them!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. He may have been told. My grandmother was born to a young mother. The father listed on her birth certificate, was the man her mother married. Her mother did tell her who her real father was but back in the day there was shame. It was a common story my family is full of it too..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Maybe so, but there wouldn’t have been any reason not to have that on his death record, since more than likely all the people involved were long gone by then. I suspect he didn’t know.

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