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Don’t Forget Those Unusual Questions:
How an out of the ordinary question solved a puzzle


My great grandmother was born Emily A Tinder, called Emma, and married John J Thompson in 1883 in Hamilton County Indiana. They had five children with my grandmother Carrie in the middle. My father and his siblings remember Carrie saying she was orphaned young, though that was the time period where just the father dying made one consider the children as being orphaned. Also known, was that Emma married second, Ike Coats, by whom she had two more children. My father and his living siblings don’t remember Emma because she died in 1912, but they remember the name Ike Coats well, because Carrie’s half sister Sylvia visited with them often.

I had been unsuccessful in finding a death record for Emma Tinder Thompson Coats, and on a 1991 trip to Indiana, I was determined to find out all I could about her. Subsequent to her marriage in Hamilton County, they moved to Tipton County where 4th child Maude was born in 1888. In the 1900 census, Emma is over in Grant County. These are the counties I had focused my search on. I had even looked in Howard County because, per a postcard, her oldest daughter Lizzie was living in Kokomo in 1912 – which was the year I knew she had died.

Another reason for focusing on Howard County was because youngest child Harvey had died in 1912 and was buried in Crown Point Cemetery in Kokomo. A friend had recently found an obit for Harvey, and that obit said that he was born in Cass County. Although I usually search surrounding counties, I had never searched Cass County records because the farthest north I’d had them was in Kokomo, which is the center of the county. So I decided to include a side trip to Cass County along with my trip to Kokomo.

Whenever I go to a county to research, I go up and down all shelves in all available rooms in the courthouse. I’ve found some really oddball records this way. One type of record I’ve learned to check after exhausting the usual vitals and probates, is to check out the civil records. I found a never recorded land record that way once – because it was evidence in a lawsuit. So, I’m in Cass County looking up Thompson in the civil records and found the divorce record for Emma and John Thompson. Well, that was a real surprise. Details of the divorce aren’t important for my story, but in a nutshell, John had just plain split. Emma probably told the children he had died, which would account for the fact that Carrie thought she was orphaned.

Next I’m down in Kokomo, Howard County. It’s noontime and I go by the cemetery on my way to the courthouse. I knew the sun would still be shining when I got out of the courthouse, so I could take a picture of Harvey’s tombstone later; but something made me decide to stop by the cemetery office because it would close at the same time as the courthouse, and I expected to be at the courthouse til closing. I asked at the office for a map so I could find Harvey’s plot, the number of which I already had. I also asked if Emma Coats was buried there. No, but there are lots of Coats, including Ike. They are all in one general area of the cemetery. But there is one Coats buried in the same plot as Harvey; Goldie Coats who died in 1921. Well, I knew that this was the other half sister. So that is two. Well, I asked about all the other surnames I knew that were connected with the family. No luck. I’m ready to leave and get to the courthouse.

As I’m going out the door, I remembered that this cemetery had “lots”. I knew that most cemeteries who have lots usually have 6 plots per lot. So I turned and asked – “how many plots per lot? And who owned the lot?”

Well, she looks through a few cards and says, “There’s 12 plots per lot. The owner was an Emma Nickerson who died in 1912 and then the rest of the plots were sold to someone else”.

Whoa! Wrong last name, but an Emma who died in 1912??? And for some reason the name Nickerson sounded familiar. I didn’t have all my records with me, but it seems to me that I have a postcard that was addressed to Carrie and her husband in care of somebody named Nickerson. I thought I remembered that my aunt had thought that Nickerson was the name of the woman my grandmother worked for when she was growing up. Mighty curious.

On to the courthouse. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion in my head. John didn’t die, she got a divorce. Could she have divorced Ike Coats and married someone named Nickerson? I went straight to the civil records and found the divorce that proved my hunch was right. I subsequently found her marriage record to Aaron Nickerson, city directory entry, death record (she died of typhus), will, and probate. I found out that she had a restaurant, and was able to drive by where it had been, and drive by the house where she had lived.

All this because I had asked the unusual question of how many plots per lot, and who owned the lot. Oh, I know, you may be thinking that I would have also found out about the name Emma Nickerson when I later took pictures of the tombstone. Wrong! None of the three – Harvey, Goldie, nor Emma have a tombstone. So if I hadn’t asked an unusual question, I doubt I ever would have found my great grandmother Emma.