William Burke (1820-1898): Word of Mouth, a Map, and the 1880 Census

Some ancestors are easy to find information about and others, not so much. My great-great grandfather, William Burke (1820-1898) and his wife Catherine (Powers) Burke (1821-1880) are looking like they’re going to require some intensive detective work.

Much of the information I have about them comes from family word of mouth, collected by my mother back when many of William’s great-grandchildren were still alive in the 1970s and 1980s. This information may or may not be accurate, of course. Lots of factors affect the accuracy of family stories. But there seems to be agreement that William and Catherine were born in Ireland, perhaps in County Cork. I don’t know yet when they married or when they immigrated to America. Eventually, they settled on a farm in West Point Township, White County, Indiana.

The 1880 United States Federal Census helps provide confirmation for some of the dates and places I have for William and Catherine’s family. Here is what the census shows:

The families on census page 25 living in West Point Township, White County, Indiana, were enumerated on the 16th and 17th of June, 1880. One family on this page is the household of William Burke (spelled Burk on the record). William, age 60, is listed as widowed. This is in line with some family information that Catherine died earlier in 1880, though by no means proves it. William’s occupation is farming. Ireland is listed as his birthplace, and it’s also listed as the birthplace of his parents. The record indicates that William cannot read or write, which was not uncommon for immigrants at that time.

The rest of the household consists of four sons of William, all of whom are listed as single and farm laborers. The record says Michael, age 26, and William, age 24, were born in Ohio. John, age 20, and Richard, age 18, are listed as born in Indiana.

We have to remember that information on censuses (or any record, for that matter) should not be taken as gospel. There are lots of errors made in any kind of record-keeping, which is why we always look for multiple sources to confirm facts about our ancestors’ lives. But this census can begin to give us a sense of the shape of the lives of William and Catherine and their family.

William’s age is given as 60, so he was born about 1820. Michael was born about 1854, William about 1856, John about 1860, and Richard about 1862. A timeline based on this census information would say that William and Catherine emigrated from Ireland sometime before 1854 and that they lived in Ohio for a few years before settling in Indiana by the time John was born in about 1860. Catherine died sometime before the census was taken in June of 1880.

Here are the Burke farms in West Point Township, White County, Indiana in 1896. Courtesy of Sue Burke Harrington, used with permission

This image is from the 1896 plat map of West Point Township. You will see the farm of Wm. Burke Sr. on 80 acres in the northwest corner of section 29. In section 30, to the west, you will see 80-acre farms for R. Burke, M. Burke, and Wm. Burke Jr. Also in section 30 is a 180-acre farm belonging to John A. Burke. The little black squares indicate where the houses are located on each farm.

Now, Michael Burke had died in 1889, but according to family information his widow Agnes lived in White County with her second husband until sometime after 1910 when they and their family moved to Michigan. That could account for the plat map’s showing “M. Burke” on that farm even after Michael’s death. Another question that needs to be researched and answered.

It’s a start. There are still lots of questions about this branch of the family. I’ll keep working on them, but if you know anything more about them, please leave a comment and let me know.

How I’m related to William and Catherine:

William Burke (1820-1898) and his wife Catherine (Powers) Burke (1821-1880)

Their son, Michael Burke (1854-1889) and his wife Agnes (McCormick) Burke (1863-1918)

Their son, William Michael Burke (1888-1956) and his wife Mabel Nellie (Boone) Burke (1890-1956)

My father

Me

 Sources:

1880 United States Federal Census.West Point, White, Indiana; Roll: 324; Family History Film: 1254324; Page: 313A; Enumeration District: 183; Image: 0207. Record for William Burk. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1880usfedcen&h=28023949&indiv=try.

Donna Hundey Burke Weaver Archive. In the possession of the author.

Sue Burke Harrington family collection.

 

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