Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Case Study: Adelaide’s Maiden Name

Sometimes it’s nice to have a family entirely contained within a single island the size of St. Croix.  From 1835-1911, 87% of the census respondents listed St. Croix as their birthplace. In the mid 1800s, most people didn’t travel from the island and lived their whole lives there.  This makes it possible to do things that are difficult in other places.  One key technique for research that doesn’t work as well elsewhere is “process of elimination”.  I used this process to find my 2nd great grandmother’s maiden name. In this post, I will show the process I followed and the value one can get by looking beyond the ancestors to other people in the document. Virtually all evidence I found was indirect evidence, but indirect evidence can be as compelling as direct sometimes.

The Problem

My great grandmother’s name was Hester Franklin van Beverhoudt (isn’t that a strange middle name for a girl?).  I found her in the 1860 census, age 3, living with her father Claudius and mother, Adelaide.  Adelaide and Claudius were listed as married in both the 1855 and 1857 censuses. The question was, how to find Adelaide’s maiden name.
Now, one of the best ways to find this information is to search the church records for a marriage record.  Lutheran baptismal records listed mothers’ maiden names (although the Anglican registers didn’t). I didn’t have access to the records at that time so I wanted to see what I could find from the census.  Turns out, you can get a lot from the census if you pay attention to all the fields and consider more people than just the parties in question.

In the 1855 census, Adelaide van Beverhoudt listed her place of birth as St. Croix and her age as 24, putting her date of birth at approximately 1831-32.  This means that she should have appeared under her maiden name in the censuses for 1841, 1846, and 1851.  So, I only needed to find someone named Adelaide who appeared in these years, but not in or after 1855.  Also, since Adelaide was listed as Anglican, I only included Anglicans. This would be my list of candidates.  Searching found 10 Anglican women named Adelaide born in 1831 or 1832 in the census:

Census Year
18351831Adelaide JegerCompany St. 44 & 45
18411832Adelaid McEnnelyQueen St. 07
18411832Adelaide PlasketWest End Quarter
18461832AdelaidQueens Quarter
18461832Sarah Adelaide JohnsonQueens Quarter
18461832Adelaide RobsonQueen St. 16
18501831Adelaide R KrauseNew St. 01 & 02
18501832Adelaide RobsonNorthside A Quarter
18551831Adelaid v. BeverhoudtCompany St. 52 B
18551831Adelaid PetersonMarket St. 26
18551832Adelaide R. KrauseNew St. 01 & 02
18551831Adelaide NathanPrince Quarter
18601831Adelaide v BeverhoudtPrince St. 19 A B
18701832Adelaide Beverhoudt*Queen St. 11
19011831Adelaid JacksonQueen Quarter
19011831Adelaide EdlinPrince St. 13
From this list, you can see that Adelaide v. Beverhoudt first made her appearance in 1855. So, Adelaide Jackson, Edlin, Krause, Nathan, and Petersen were eliminated since they appear in or after 1855.  This left me with Jeger, McEnnely, Plasket, Johnson, and Robson, along with the Adelaid without a surname.  Although this is not a long list, I decided to eliminate anyone with a plantation address (the Quarters), guessing that since the van Beverhoudts were merchants in Christiansted they would have mixed with city folk.  This left Jeger and McEnnely.
  • Adelaide Jeger was only listed in the 1835 census at age 4, living with James and William Jager.  In the 1841 and 1846 censuses, James and William still occupied the same address, sans Adelaide.  She probably died.
  • Adelaid McEnnely was only listed in the 1841 census, living with Maria Mcennely.  Neither appears again.  Maybe, but let’s move on.
1841-Queen St. 16-zoom (Medium)
1841 Census showing Adelaide Robson and family
Well, maybe I was hasty in throwing out all the estates so fast. Adelaide Robson lived both in town and at Estate Fountain in Northside A Quarter. So, I checked her out. In 1841 she was 9, living in Christiansted along with a brother and two sisters. They were listed as Moravian, so the 1841 entry wasn’t on the original list. The house was headed by Hester Franklin. That name looked familiar. My Adelaide had named her daughter “Hester Franklin van Beverhoudt”. The house was owned by Jos. Robson.  Was he dead? Were they orphans? Was Hester Franklin a woman who cared for the children after their father’s death?
1850-Fountain Northside A Quarter-zoom
Close-up of 1850 census showing Adelaide Robson and "Esther" Franklin at Estate Fountain
Then I looked at the census from 1850 when she was 18 years old living at Estate Fountain.  The census said she was “living with her father”, Joseph Robson. Apparently he wasn’t dead.  He was an Estate Manager, born in England.  The page also lists her sister Maria Robson, and  “Esther Franklin”, housekeeper.  This didn’t look like a caregiver any more.  She was living at the estate that Joseph Robson was managing. Was Hester Franklin Adelaide’s mother?  Later censuses showed that Hester lived with Joseph Robson until his death in 1859 and with his family after, but they never appeared to marry.  She was always listed as a “housekeeper”. She was Moravian, which suggests she was free-colored, while Joseph was an Englishman.  Possibly, but likely?

In his 1838 book, “Letters from the West Indies”, Sylvester Hovey describes what he calls an “iniquitous and disgusting” practice of “taking colored or black women as housekeepers; but who are, to all intents, wives, except in name and respect.”  He goes further to say, “This custom is very general among managers and overseers of estates…” My situation, of 1832, looks like a textbook example of this practice.  I was pretty convinced that Hester Franklin was the mother of the Robson children.

Hypothesis Testing

So I had a working hypothesis that Adelaide was Adelaide Robson, daughter of Joseph Robson and Hester Franklin, sister to Bridget, Maria, and Joseph F Robson.  What I needed was a way to connect this family to Claudius van Beverhoudt.   Although Fountain is only a 20 minute drive from Christiansted, I don’t think they had a car. 
1857-Northside A Quarter-zoom
Close-up of 1857 census showing Lousa Beverhoudt at Fountain
The connection was found in the 1857 census for Fountain, two years after Hester van Beverhoudt made her debut in the census. In addition to Joseph Robson and Hester Franklin, I found an unexpected name:  Louisa van Beverhoudt, age 17, Lutheran. Claudius van Beverhoudt had a younger sister, about 17 years old, Lutheran, named Louisa Eliza, who was not living with the van Beverhoudt family in 1857.  This was the same girl. Claudius’ sister had a job with Adelaide Robson’s father.  Coincidence?

I then turned my attention to Marie Robson, Adelaide’s sister.  She married a Thomas Moorhead and lived in  the Robson family home in Christiansted by 1857. Thomas is listed in the 1857 census as being a member of the “Swedenborgian” church, also called the “New Church”.  This caught my eye because I knew that Claudius van Beverhoudt’s family were also members of the same church.  Since the church was very small (less than 50 people), Claudius and Thomas certainly knew each other.  Another connection.
So, my indirect evidence was:
  1. Adelaide Robson appeared in each census up through 1850 but not not after.
  2. Adelaide Robson lived with a woman named Hester Franklin and gave that name to her daughter.
  3. Adelaide Robson’s father, an English estate manager, listed Hester Franklin as a “housekeeper” yet lived with her until his death.  She then lived with the Moorheads in the Robson family home.
  4. It was common practice to form families with unmarried couples, listing the mother as “housekeeper”, particularly among the English estate managers.
  5. Adelaide Robson’s father was manager of Estate Fountain, where Claudius’ sister was found about two years after the marriage.
  6. Adelaide Robson’s sister Maria married Claudius’ co-religionist, Thomas Moorhead .
  7. Claudius’ daughter, Hester Franklin van Beverhoudt, was born in 1857, so the marriage must have been around 1855 but before the census in October.


From this evidence, I determined that Adelaide Robson was the daughter of Joseph Robson and Hester Franklin and  was my 2nd great grandmother.  I estimated that she and Claudius were married in late 1854 or early 1855. I recorded this information in Family Tree Maker and assigned a special source I use for “Estimated Fact”.  I wrote up my proof argument in the citation to support my assertion.


Subsequently, I was going through records at the National Archives (NARA) in College Park, where the Virgin Islands records (RG 55) are kept, and discovered Claudius van Beverhoudt’s marriage record for January 29, 1855.  The bride was listed as Adelaide Robson and one of the witnesses was one Thomas Moorhead. I later found that Thomas Moorhead and Maria Robson were married a year later, and Claudius was witness to their wedding.
1855-Claudius v Beverhoudt-Adelaide Robson-44-zoom
1855 Marriage record of Claudius van Beverhoudt and Adelaid Robson from Bassin (Christiansted)
It’s great when all the detective work gets vindicated.


  1. This is fascinating. Being used to US censuses, I never thought of looking for everyone with the same first name. Great that you only found 10. It must have felt great to come across the document at NARA validating your arguments. Nice piece of work.

  2. In my research of Estate Fountain, I came up with the same questions regarding the relationship between Hester Franklin and Joseph Robson. I suspect that your quotation hits the heart of the matter. Hester and Joseph were parents of Adelaide.
    Census information is so valuable as a tool to relationship possibilities