Mystery Monday: Was Edward Roberts in Franklin, Kentucky before 1831?

Frankfort (Kentucky) Argus, 20 Apr 1831, Vol 25, No. 19, Page 3.

Roberts Family (Click for Family Tree)

One way to help determine when a family migrated is to look at where they were located in the US Federal or a state census. Those censuses only show us a snapshot every 10 years, with sometimes a state census (or the 1940 Federal) showing us a year halfway through the decade. To narrow the date of migration further, we can use newspaper articles. Sometimes there will be short articles posted about a good-bye party, or a note about a store closing or a farmer selling at auction and moving on. One other type of newspaper article can help us pinpoint a date- and advertisement for “dead letters” sitting at the post office, awaiting pickup.

In the early years of our country, the mail carrier did not come to a person’s home, especially if they lived in a rural area. People would make a trip to their post office, which might be in the General Store of the small town nearby. They would go to the counter, or a Post Office window, and ask for their mail. This area was often a gathering place, where one could meet neighbors and townsfolk, exchange stories, gossip, and argue politics. (George A. Roberts of Jasper County, Iowa was one who did the latter regularly, according to his daughter Edith (Roberts) [McMurray] Luck.)

When someone moved on and no one picked up their mail to forward it, the Post Office would publish their names in the local newspaper in hope of someone seeing the notice and helping to get the letters sent on. The addressee had three months in which to pick up their letter; after that time, it would be sent to the General Post Office as an official dead letter.

In 1831, the New Castle, Kentucky P.O. published a list in the newspaper that included the name “Edward Roberts.” Finding “our” Edward is challenging due to his common name and lack of middle initial, and we are not sure where he was in Kentucky at various times. What makes this listing of interest is that a “Charles Stewart” (again, a somewhat common name) also is noted as having a letter sitting at the New Castle P.O. in 1831.

You may remember that “Charles Steward” signed a marriage bond on 25 February 1800, along with “Edward Robbards,” guaranteeing the marriage of Edward to Rosy Steward. We do not know if Charles was Rosy’s father, brother, or uncle, but of course, back then a woman had few legal rights so could not sign the bond for herself and a male family member or friend would have to represent her. In a way this discrimination does help us, however, since it gives us another related name to search for in the area.

The marriage bond was signed in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, about 80 miles from New Castle. That would be a 3-4 day ride on horseback- a bit far to be courting- but the family may have moved in the ensuing 30 years within Kentucky and closer to New Castle, and then on to Indiana. Some families, especially if they rented farmland, would move frequently to better quality land. Also, if they had decided to migrate, they might travel part of the way, work for a while, and then move on to another destination that might be more lucrative than their original migration plan. It has been suggested that the government gave Revolutionary War veterans land in Kentucky, but then they had to move on to Indiana for some reason- we do need to learn more about this, but our Roberts ancestors did move in that direction.

One tree has the youngest child of Edward and Rosy, Mary Ann, born in Jessamine, Kentucky, in 1817. (No source listed for that birthplace.) So the family may have left after then for Indiana, or even been traveling when Mary Ann was born!

There is an 1820 US Federal Census for Ripley County, Indiana, that lists Edward Roberts as being 45 and there being 3 members of the household working in agriculture. We cannot prove this is “our” Edward Roberts but it most likely is. In 1840, in Switzerland, Indiana, John S. Roberts is listed, as is a Charles Stewart and other Roberts heads of households. Biographies state that John S. Roberts lived in Switzerland Co., so we can be more sure about this being “our” ancestor.

The above data suggests that the family migrated  sometime after 1817 and before 1820. So why might there be letters for men of that name back in Kentucky?

  1. Maybe they still held land there thus letters were sent to KY.
  2. Military pension information may have been sent to them at their address in KY- back then the government didn’t always keep up, either.
  3. Family or friends back in Maryland or wherever may not have known about their move. The Post Office could not always deliver to or from the frontier.
  4. They could just be different men and this is another genealogical wild goose chase. (I prefer to say it is a “reasonably exhaustive search.”)

As already stated, just because these common names are found in the same place at the same time does not mean they are related to each other or even to us. The next step would be to learn more about these men, and the 1810 census for an Edward Roberts in Franklin, Kentucky does contribute to the story. Sadly the early censuses do not list other members of the household (that started in 1850, but no relationship was given then) but each piece of information is another piece of a puzzle that might end up being “our” Edward Roberts- or maybe one from a completely different line. (Negative findings are important too.) We just need more research to separate out these men, and this “Mystery Monday” post may help us with locations in which to search for more detailed information.

Here are some other ‘dead letter’ notices that include an Edward Roberts, Stewarts, and other names similar to our ancestors:

John Roberts and William Stewart, Weekly Messenger, page 4, Russellville [KY], 15 April 1826.

Edward Roberts and David Stewart, Reporter, page 3, Lexington [KY], 17 January 1827.

Edward Roberts and David Stewart, Reporter, page 3, Lexington [KY], 20 January 1827.

Edward Roberts in Reporter, page 3, Lexington [KY], 24 January 1827.

Edward Roberts in  Commentator, page 3, Frankfort [KY], 19 April 1828.

Edward Roberts in  Commentator, page 11, Frankfort [KY], 26 April 1828.

Edward Roberts, John Roberts, and a Ralph Stewart listed, Commentator, page 3, Frankfort [KY], 07 July 1829. (“Our” John S. Roberts would have been 24 in 1829.)

Thomas Roberts, Edward Roberts, John Roberts, and a Ralph Stewart listed, Commentator, page 3, Frankfort [KY], 14 July 1829.

Thomas Roberts, John Roberts, and a Ralph Stewart listed, Commentator, page 3, Frankfort [KY], 21 July 1829.

Edward Roberts and Charles Stewart, Frankfort (Kentucky) Argus, 13 Apr 1831, Vol 25, No. 9, Page 4.

Edward Roberts and Charles Stewart, Frankfort (Kentucky) Argus, 20 Apr 1831, Vol 25, No. 19, Page 3. (seen above)


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Frankfort (Kentucky) Argus, 20 Apr 1831, Vol 25, No. 19, Page 3.
  2. is the source of the above articles- love that website!


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