The  Shelbyville  News
circa 1992
By John German, C.G.
          Filling our ancestor charts and family group sheets full of names and dates is a significant accomplishment reflecting hours upon hours of research in census records, wills, probate court records, and (when accessible) vital statistics.  But when you look at your work with well deserved pride do you also feel a sense of incompleteness because you know that an ancestor's life had more substance than a list of begats and three dates? What is missing is biographical information.  Many reading this will immediately think of published biographies of famous people and protest that their ancestor was nobody famous - just a poor farmer or store clerk.  To them I say, "Congratulations!  You have just started his biography by noting his occupation.  The task of a "family historian" is to record how an ancestor coped with the events caused by some of those "famous" biographical subjects.
          A few of the many aspects of an ancestor's life to consider are relationships with neighbors and family, morals, and honesty.  A tremendous source of this information in Shelby County is the original civil court case files in the Clerk's vault in the basement of the Courthouse.  Many of these extremely valuable documents predate the Mexican War and give accounts of the brushes our ancestors had with the law and their neighbors and relatives.  To illustrate the use of these records I give an example from my own research.
          I had an elderly uncle who had a clear memory of two of his great uncles:  Joe German (1834 - 1910) and  Lindsey German (1827 - 1908).  My uncle would tell me anything he could about Joe German, but would clam up whenever the discussion turned to Lindsey German; all I could pry out of him was, "there was trouble back there."  My old uncle is dead now and he took his secrets to his grave - or at least he thought he did.  I was thumbing thru the "Index to Suits Decided", a series of books found at the north end of the second aisle in the Clerk's vault, and came across a case "State vs. Lindsey German."  I found the case file in the indicated box number in those that line the walls of the Clerk's vault.  The case was an 1856 assault charge against Lindsey German for threatening to kill his brother Joe German.  Wow!  My old uncle was right about the trouble, but why the secrecy I wondered.  This case file did not give the reason for the threat on Joe German's life.  I looked in the "Civil Order Books" of that period but those volumes rarely provide any valuable information besides the disposition of the case.  Lindsey German had sat in the county jail for three weeks and then the case was dropped.  The case file still had some clues.
          The civil case files also contain the summons that were issued to witnesses.  In State vs. Lindsey German, the prosecution witnesses were a brother, a sister, a cousin, a stranger to me named  Riley Davis, and  Elsie Wells  who married Joe German later in 1856.  I returned to the "Index to Suits Decided" and found that Riley Davis's wife  Rebecca  sued for divorce in early 1857.  What was clicking in my mind at this point was Lindsey German's marriage to  Rebecca Wells  in April 1857.  Rebecca Wells was a sister to Elsie Wells who had married Joe German.  The case file on this divorce showed that Rebecca had summoned Joe and Elsie German as witnesses to the alleged cruelty of Riley Davis.  This divorce was not the only case involving Riley Davis. The "Index to Suits Decided" also led me to a case file on an adultery charge against Rebecca Davis.  The original complaint in the case file was by Riley Davis in response to the divorce suit and was in fact filed against both Rebecca Davis and Lindsey German who was not in the index.  This case file revealed that the prosecution witnesses were much the same as in the previous assault case.  The "Civil Order Books" recorded the trial of Rebecca Davis and Lindsey German as though they were separate cases and showed that both were found not guilty of adultery.  The "Civil Order Books" also record that Rebecca Davis was granted her divorce and "her maiden name restored."  The book did not reveal that maiden name.  A few days later Rebecca Wells married Lindsey German.
          By using the Civil case files I unlocked my old uncle's secret and apparently recreated the story of Lindsey German's courtship of his wife....or had I?  The records I had found would not allow me to conclude that Rebecca Davis was also Rebecca Wells.  In her petition for divorce found in the case file, Rebecca Davis had requested her name be restored to Murphey.  The marriage records in the Clerk's office show that Riley Davis and  Rebecca Murphey  were married in 1854.  The marriage records did not show any marriages between a Murphey and a Wells.  Returning to the basement and the "Index to Suits Decided" I found the divorce of  Rebecca and Jonathan Murphey  in 1852.  Her petition showed that she had married Jonathan Murphy in Rush County.  Checking that county's marriage records proved the identity of  Rebecca Wells Murphey Davis German.  One surprise found in the Murphey divorce case file was that Rebecca's witnesses were two unmarried men named Lindsey and Joe German.  The above study is only one example of what can be done using civil court case files.  Besides raising a few Victorian eyebrows, I discovered the family secret my uncle had wrongly kept from me and proved the identity of a woman in three marriages and two counties.  Other biographical details I have found in civil court papers include occupations, economic problems, and non-residency.  I have also found an interesting suit against my great great grandmother's estate that was heard in civil court rather than in probate court.
          The old Civil case files are indeed treasures.  They have been spared from fire, sheltered from weather, survived riots and relocation.  Let us hope that the county government and court system will forever have the  WISDOM  TO  PRESERVE  these historic records.  And after you have used these records don't be alarmed by the rolling sounds under the sod next time you visit an old uncle's grave.

           Shelby County's old tax records contain a wealth of information for both local historians and genealogists.  The annual lists that were recorded every year in bound volumes are arranged by township or Shelbyville in each annual volume with the names of taxpayers arranged by first letter of surname within each township.  In addition to the taxpayers' names are columns used to record the value of personal property, the poll tax which was levied on men aged 21 to 50,[1] the value of personal property, and if a landowner, the location of that parcel, its value and the value of improvements.
           For the historian these records provide an annual snapshot of the county and its subdivisions.  Comparisons can be made between different parts of the county and Shelbyville in the categories of population, wealth, age (above or below 50), land ownership, and correlations between these categories.  Further insight into the development of the county or responses to changing political or economic conditions can be tracked through the comparison of the above mentioned categories across the span of several years' lists.  Referral to the tax lists is also a convenient method of identifying the owner of a tract of ground in a given year.  A second series of records that list the delinquent taxables every year is also valuable.  Lack of cash or simple neglect could be reasons for being included on a delinquent list, but often persons were on these lists because they moved.  Use of the delinquent lists which duplicate the above categories of information could identify periods of migrations from Shelby County or provide insight into the makeup of the transient segment of the county's population.
          To the genealogist the tax lists show in which part of the county an ancestor lived between the censuses, provide insight into an ancestor's social status as measured by wealth and changes therein, and are evidence of land ownership.  The latter is important if that ancestor neglected to record his land purchases.  By examining several years' tax lists a researcher can learn when an ancestor was no longer subject to poll tax and approximate his year of birth; this method is especially useful when census records are inconsistent.  The appearance of a female's name in a tax list may be evidence of her recently being widowed or of her husband being incapacitated.[2]  Tax records may also explain the absence of estate records for an ancestor; if a man's total worth was less that $300, his estate could pass to his widow without administration.[3]   Delinquent tax lists may help in determining when an ancestor removed from the county or township, or these lists may reveal him to be a transient tax dodger.
          Most of Shelby County's old tax lists are located in the County Recorder's vault in the basement of the courthouse [this is no longer true, plf-2007].  The earliest one available there is 1842.  For unexplained reasons the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis has Shelby County tax lists for 1845, 1849, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1859 thru 1864, 1867, 1868, and 1869.  An 1828 list has been microfilmed and is in custody of the Indiana State Historical Society; an abstract of this list is in the Genealogy room of the county library.  Some of the information in the 1842 list has been privately abstracted and published.[4]  Several delinquent lists and a few tax lists are in the vault adjacent the Recorder's vault; they survived a recent cleaning of this vault by the County Treasurer, however, researchers should use these records often as an expression of our desire that they be PRESERVED.
   * submitted by John L. German, 2631 Kitley Road, Wanamaker, IN 46239.
   1 Samuel Bigger and George H. Dunn, revisors, "The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana" (Indianapolis, John Dowling and B. Cole, State Printers, 1843), p. 208.
   2 James S. Hester, revisor, "The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana", vol. I (Indianapolis, J. P. Chapman, State Printer, 1852), p. 107.
   3 Ibid., p. 251.
   4 Maurice Holmes, "Shelby County Miscellaneous Records, 1833 - 1863", II (privately printed, 1988), pp. 173-217.

The  Shelbyville  Republican
Wednesday April 14, 1925
William S. German, Fairland Blacksmith,
Has Filed Cross-Complaint
          William S. German,  a blacksmith at Fairland, defendant in a complaint for support filed against him by his wife,  Mrs. Maude German,  has filed a cross-complaint in the Shelby Circuit Court, in which he asks for a divorce. Ed K. Adams is his attorney.
          The cross-complaint states that the couple was married September 30, 1903, and separated February 7, 1925.  They have one daughter, Mary German, age twenty, who now lives with her father.
          Mr. German says that his wife neglected her household duties and that she did not wash dishes for days at a time.  He says that she refused to cook or mend, and also charges that she wasted materials which he bought her for household use.  The husband says that his wife permitted meat to spoil and wasted bread and that she threw away cooking utensils.
          The husband alleges that his wife gossiped about him to the neighbors and that she told them that he was intimate with other women and that he refused to support her or to buy clothing for her.  He denies all of the charges made by his wife.
Contributed by Barb Huff

The  Shelbyville  Democrat
Monday, January 15, 1912.
Page One
          Mrs. Will German,  of Boggstown,  is suffering from pneumonia.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming

The Indianapolis Star
Friday, September 7, 1910
Page 5
Prankish Lighting at Boggstown
Spares Kitchen to Burn
Clothes on Line
In Several Sections Death of
Stock From Fiery Bolts
Falls Heavily on Owners
SHELBYVILLE, Ind., Sept. 6--(Special)--
          One of the worst storms that ever passed over the village of Boggstown occurred last night between 9 and 10 o'clock, when an electrical display lasting for some time did considerable damage.
           Mrs. Thomas Johnson had during the day hung the family washing on a wire clothesline in the summer kitchen.  A bolt of lightning struck the kitchen, and passing along the wire, burned all the clothing from it.  The building was only slightly damaged.
          At the home of William German, the chimney was torn away, lightning passing through a corner of the roof and knocking the plastering from the walls.  The 6-year-old daughter was lying on the bed and she was thrown across the room, while Mr. German, who was standing near, was thrown to the floor.  Almost every telephone in the little town was burned out and it will be three or four days before the system is entirely repaired.
Contributed anonymously

Greencastle  Banner  Graphic
Feb. 23[?], 1906
Killed By A Train
The Mangled Body of an Unknown Man
Found on the Vandalia Tracks Near Fillmore
            Tuesday morning the mangled body of an unknown man was found on the Vandalia tracks one mile this side of Fillmore.  When he was killed and who he was no one could tell from his persons.  His cap and a small portion of his trousers was all that was found of his wearing apparel and some tattooing on his arms was all the marks of identification that were visible on his body.
            He was literally cut to pieces and portions of his body were picked up for some distances along the track showing that he had been run over by a long freight train or several short trains had passed over his body. His arms were cut off near the shoulder, his legs badly cut and torn up, his head crushed in on top and his chin and face nearly cut away. Coroner King was called on the case and spent some time examining men along the interurban track to see if they knew any thing about the man.   His body was gathered up and taken to the morgue of Lynch & Beckwith to be prepared for burial.
            In further pursuing the investigation, Tuesday afternoon, Coroner King made the acquaintance of one of the contractors on the interurban line and this man said he believed he knew who the dead man was.  He said he thought his name was  Erwood  and that his relatives lived at Elizabethtown.  The contractor said he had employed Erwood at one time in road building and from the description of him from the men at the camp he was satisfied that this was the same man.  The coroner telegraphed a brother of the dead man at Elizabethtown and the brother got in communication with the contractor by phone and he was soon convinced that the dead man was his brother.  Wednesday, Fred L. Erwood, brother of the dead man and a  Mr. Reep  came from Elizabethtown and from the tattoo marks and the portions of the clothing, were able to identify him as  Forest Joseph Erwood.
            The brother said he had not seen his dead brother since last November and that he did not stay at home much of the time.  He would travel about from place to place and obtain work.  He belonged to the regular army at one time and since quitting the service he has not been at home only occasionally.
            The men at the railroad camp where Erwood went say he must have been killed about eight o’clock Monday night.  They say the man came to their camp about six o’clock that evening and stayed a short time and then went north a few hundred rods and then back to the Vandalia tracks.  About eight o’clock the men at camp heard an engine give shrill blasts of the whistle as if something was on the track and they believed that it was this train that killed the man.  Next morning the interurban men went to the Vandalia tracks and found the portions of the man’s body strewn along the rails.
            The brother and cousin were certain that the body was that of Forest Erwood from the tattoos as they were very distinct and this portion of the arm was not cut up much.  The tattooing was done in red and purple ink and the most prominent one was that of a woman with a wand in her hand and a scroll at her feet with a wreath around her head and a robe thrown over her shoulders.  The work was neatly done and showed the hand of an artist.
          Arrangements were made for burial of the body in this city and Wednesday evening the brother and some cousins accompanied by a few people took the remains to Forest Hill Cemetery where a grave had been prepared and the remains of the roving man were laid to rest.  The man’s parents are dead and he leaves only a brother and some cousins and distant relatives.
            Coroner King has been successful in finding relatives of strangers who have been killed in this county during his term of office.  There is something strange about men who travel about on freight trains in that they do not carry anything that will identify them in case they are killed.  Men who travel about this way seem to care little for themselves and do not provide any means by which their friends can be notified if they are killed.  Dr King has always taken the slightest clue that has presented itself and by persistent effort has been able to locate friends of relatives of every one who has been killed here.
Transcribed by Sheila Rooker and contributed by John German

The  Shelbyville  Daily  Democrat
Thursday, February 22, 1906
Page 1
Man  Dead  Beside  Vandalia  Tracks  Supposed  
to  Hail  from  Shelby  County
Red  Hair,  Weight  and  Height  Also  Coincide --
Relatives  Fear  Worst
          Early yesterday morning in the mangled body of a man was found along the Vandalia tracks several miles east of Greencastle.  Just how or when he was killed is not known.
          No letters or articles were found by which the man could be identified.  But the belief is becoming strong that the man was  David German, formerly a resident of Shelby county.
          The only clew to his identity is that his tattooed arms were found in fairly good condition at the side of the track.  On each of the arms is a finely executed head and bust of a woman, which has attracted not a little attention at the morgue of Messrs. Lunch & Beckwith, at Greencastle.  The man is supposed to have been of medium weight and height; but owing to the fact that the remains were so badly mangled and were scattered along the track for a distance of two miles, the exact height and weight can not be ascertained.
          This description coincides exactly with that of David German.  The description of the tattoo marks tallies exactly with the marks on German's arms.  Today, Mrs. Rebecca Hensley, of west Hendricks street, in this city, a sister of Mr. German, telephoned to the chief of police at Greencastle, asking him the color of the man's hair.  The chief answered that it was red.  Mr. German had hair of that color.
          The Greencastle authorities have made an examination in the effort to find out how the man met his death.  The theory prevails that he fell from a car of one of the Vandalia flyers.  The engineers of all of the night trains have been examined and without exception they assert that no man was seen on the tracks in front of any of the trains.
          David German was forty-two years of age.  He was born and reared in Sugar Creek township, and was the son of  Mr. and Mrs. Joseph German, who reside at present in Boggstown.  Two brothers of the man supposed to be dead, are  Joe German, a farmer residing near Boggstown, and  William German, a decorator and paper hanger of Boggstown.  One sister, Mrs. Rebecca Hensley, lives in Shelbyville.
          Nine years ago German left this county and has been traveling through the South and West.  Nothing has been heard from him since last August, but for the last few months he has been expected home.  He had no wife or children.
          The father arrived in Shelbyville this afternoon, intent on going at once to Greencastle.  However, on account of his nervous and physical condition, he was induced to remain at home.  The sister, Mrs. Hensley, will leave this evening to view the fragments of the dead man.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming for John German

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