The Shelbyville News
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.
IN THE CLERK'S VAULT
By John German, C.G.
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
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
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
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, the value of personal property, and
if a landowner, the location of that parcel, its value and the
value of improvements.
USING SHELBY COUNTY'S OLD TAX RECORDS *
For the historian these records provide an annual
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
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. 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. 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
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. 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
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
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.
Wednesday April 14, 1925
HUSBAND ASKS DIVORCE ORDER
William S. German, Fairland Blacksmith,
SAYS WIFE WAS WASTEFUL
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
Contributed by Barb Huff
The Shelbyville Democrat
Mrs. Will German,
of Boggstown, is suffering from pneumonia.
Monday, January 15, 1912.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming
The Indianapolis Star
SHELBYVILLE, Ind., Sept.
Friday, September 7, 1910
STORMS IN FREAK
GUISE CAUSE LOSS
Prankish Lighting at Boggstown
Spares Kitchen to Burn
Clothes on Line
TELEPHONES BURNED OUT
In Several Sections Death of
Stock From Fiery Bolts
Falls Heavily on Owners
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
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.
GIRL TOSSED TO FLOOR
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.
Greencastle Banner Graphic
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.
Feb. 23[?], 1906
Killed By A Train
The Mangled Body of an Unknown Man
Found on the Vandalia Tracks Near Fillmore
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
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
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
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.
Thursday, February 22, 1906
IS THE DEAD MAN GERMAN?
Man Dead Beside Vandalia Tracks
to Hail from Shelby County
THE TATOO MARKS THE PRINCIPAL CLUE
Red Hair, Weight and Height Also Coincide
Relatives Fear Worst
THE STORY OF HIS LIFE.
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.
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.
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