Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Two William Coopers


      Since returning from our southern sojourn, I've been thinking about my Civil War ancestors.  Am I the only one with such a short attention span?  I can be working intently on one family line and then something reminds me of another topic and I'm off.  This time what happened was my proximity to several battlefields and my skimming through a history of Ionia County Michigan where some of my Wiggins line settled.  In this history it was noted that William W. Cooper of Berlin, Ionia County, who enlisted in 1861 at Ionia County, died at the battle of Gaines Mill in 1862.  My 4th great aunt Catherine Wiggins married Peter Cooper, and William was their first child, did he die in action?  If so he's the only one of my cousins who did, the rest succumbed to disease.

     I checked the 1850 census and to my dismay there were two William Coopers of the appropriate ages in Michigan and one actually had the initial W, but he wasn't my cousin, my cousin was still living with his parents in 1850 in Ionia County.  The other William was in Pittsford, Hillsdale County with his parents along with a Lucy aged 17 and Mary aged 11.  Was he the one who actually died in Virginia?  He did have that W.  

     The 1860 census shows my cousin no longer in his parent's household, but a William Cooper was living in nearby Berlin with a wife Sarepta Johnson Cooper.  The William who died in the war was definitely from Berlin, so this was the right man, but was he my cousin?  The other William Cooper was now "William N." and was in Ann Arbor with Lucy Cooper, and their ages were 10 years older than 1850 so I'm pretty sure these were the former residents of Pittsford.

     Upon consulting the 1870 census, I found Sarepta living with her parents in Palo, Ionia county, but no William.  The other William and Lucy were still in Ann Arbor that year. The 1870 census didn't specify marital status, but in 1880 Sarepta was enumerated as a widow living with her widowed mother, still in Palo.  I was starting to conclude that William Cooper of Berlin was in fact the son of Peter and Catherine Wiggins Cooper.  

      I then pulled up a map to see the distance between these places.  Pittsford, the home of William W. in 1850, and Ann Arbor, his home in 1860 are 65.5 miles apart, and both are about 120 miles from Ionia county, a two hour drive today, in 1860 you could probably double that figure.  The city of Detroit was only 44.6 miles from Ann Arbor, it didn't make sense that William of Ann Arbor would go all the way to Ionia county to enlist, even assuming he couldn't in Ann Arbor.  And of course he is still alive in 1870, but I like to cover all my bases.  Some might say I like to make things more difficult for myself but hey, you NEED to be sure about these things!

     So, I'm 99 percent convinced that William W. (for mother's maiden name of Wiggins?) who died at Gaines Mill and is buried in Palo cemetery is my relative.  He is definitely the man mentioned in the history book and the husband of Sarepta, and no other William Coopers his age lived in Ionia County.  Ancestry has very little information about him, perhaps I need to consider a Fold 3 subscription...


  1. Oh, no, you're not the only one with a short attention span, Ellie. I sometimes do the same thing. I have to keep notes before me to help me remember what I was doing before I began doing whatever I'm doing now. It's really bad sometimes.

    I know what you mean about covering all bases. I think it's important not to assume anything. I hope you find something to confirm the relationship.

  2. Note keeping is a good idea, I've tried but usually fall down on the job. Thanks for the comment.