I spend most of my genealogy time on line and in libraries because most of what I need to find in courthouses is a good distance away. (There are some that are closer that I need to re-visit, because I didn't really know what I was doing in those first courthouse visits.) Two weeks ago, I visited my sister in her new home and dragged her along with me while we did some sleuthing. Actually, she might have enjoyed it, just a little.
Mt. Vernon, Illinois is more than seven hours from my home, so I don't expect to get there often. And I need to go back, because we missed some important stuff while we were there, but what we found was awesome.
The first few places we looked (library at the historical museum, downtown library, some of the courthouse offices) turned out to be dead ends. But when we started looking for land records, we struck gold. Actually, Sue was the one who spotted the first clue, in an index. I was so intent on finding Thomas J Knott that I didn't hear, or it didn't register, when she said, "John W. Knott." I finally came to and said "We'd better look at that".
Sure enough, it was a deed in which John W Knott bought land, 80 acres, in Shiloh Township, Jefferson County, Illinois. His wife's name, Harriet, was also on the deed and their residence(s) made it quite clear that this was our great-grandfather. We also found a deed in which Margaret A. Knott made a purchase of an adjoining 119 acres at the same time. "Margaret A. Knott" didn't mean anything to me at the time but I later learned that she was the wife of Albert Adams Knott, one of John Wilson Knott's brothers. We must have missed a deed in the time period between 1877 and 1883, when John W is again buying the land, this time from Thomas J and Albert Knott. So somewhere, title must have passed to Thomas and Albert. We need to go back and find that! At any rate, John W in 1883 is buying the land again but still owes money to both Thomas and Albert. (I don't know when Margaret transferred the land either, or for that matter, why she was buying land in her own name in the first place, or how Albert's name came into the picture.)
The final deed we found was one transferring the deed when John W Knott, apparently as executor for Thomas's estate, sold the land in 1893, for about half of what was originally paid for it. John W was at that time living in Phelps County, Nebraska and that is where the deed was originally recorded.
Thanks to the wonderful people in the assessor's office, we were able to drive out to "the farm," which is now mostly grass and trees, and actually walk on a bit of the land that our great great grandfather and great grandfather had owned. Thomas died in 1887, and it's believed that he is buried somewhere on his original eighty acres, but no one seems to know where the grave is. We found no death record or obituary for him on this trip, which was a disappointment.
Still, we now understand a little more about our family and about the family dynamics, although I still haven't figured out how my poor Presbyterian minister great grandfather had the money to purchase the land in the first place. I don't know how Thomas then (probably) purchased the land, or why John W seems to have purchased it back. Thomas owned a flouring mill and then a stone quarry, so perhaps he earned enough money to buy it from John and then as he aged needed cash again, so sold it back. We need to find that missing deed to figure it out, I guess.
I thoroughly enjoyed our sleuthing trip and am so grateful that we were able to actually find the land in question. I always enjoy visiting my sister, but this trip was extra special. It was also a good reminder to me to get back to the courthouses!
As usual, I'd love to hear from descendants, descendants of neighbors, or anyone else who knows more about this family. I'm sure there is more to the story of Thomas Knott's final years.
The line of descent is:
Thomas Knott-Hannah Bell
John W Knott-Harriet Starr
Edith Knott-Edward Allen
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook