Establishing a Death Date for Charles Carson

Carson Family Group Sheet (Pt. 4)

Fourth in an ongoing series that attempts to document the early days of my research on the Carson family of New Jersey as it originally unfolded. In this installment describing research conducted in 2002-2003, I established a tentative death date for my ancestor, Charles Carson.

I suspected that my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles Carson of Mercer County, New Jersey died at a relatively young age.

From prior research in the Federal census population schedules (highlighted in this post) I learned that he was 26 years of age in 1850, and age 36 in 1860. I estimated his year of birth as circa 1824 from those two records. The 1860 census was the last record in which he was found.

He was not among immediate family members by the time of the 1870 census. By 1881, his wife, Caroline Carson, was called a widow. Using all of this information, I can bracket his possible date of death as sometime after 1 June 1860 and before early 1881, a 20-21 year range. Thus, he would have been no younger than 35 and no older than 57 years of age when he died, depending on how early in the year he was born.

Can I narrow down that window of time?

Any American male aged 18-60 that disappears from a family in the first half of the decade of the 1860’s is a candidate for Civil War service. Charles was definitely in that age range.

Civil War service as a volunteer can be quickly verified by a look-up on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) website maintained by the National Park Service. With over 6.3 million names of soldiers indexed, representing participants from both Union and Confederate forces, it is one of my first stops when beginning new research on a potential soldier in the American Civil War (1861-1865). Names in this database were entered as found on the Compiled Service Records, created in the latter portion of the 19th century.


I clicked on Soldiers and entered basic search criteria:
First Name: Charles
Last Name: Carson
Side: Union

Search box detail. Click to enlarge this or any other photo.

Forty-seven soldiers named Charles Carson were included in my search results (including Colored Troops and Home Guards), but none saw service in a New Jersey regiment. I doubted with at least six children at home that he would have traveled to another state to join up.

I also ran a search for Charles Carson in the 1876 publication “Record of Officers and Men from New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865″….by Adjutant-General William S. Stryker and found no listing for any officer or soldier named Charles Carson. This volume is available in digital form from the New Jersey State Library at this link.

If Carson died between 1861 and 1865, it was unlikely the result of any wartime service unless, perhaps, he was a career soldier, as compiled military service records were not created for “Regulars”. Since I had no information that directly suggested service in the Civil War in any capacity, I decided to table this research angle. Even though this search yielded negative results, it was necessary to document that I did consider military service as a possibility.

What other information could I uncover that might suggest a death date for Charles Carson?

It was November 2002 when I turned to GenForum, my genealogy message board of choice (which has recently transitioned to a read-only archive of former queries and posts). There on the Kansas board I found a query posted mere weeks prior that mentioned both Furman Carson and his father, Charles Carson.1 I saw other names that I knew from my own research among the list of children, so posted a response.2 It was not long before I received a notification that a reader had responded to my query. We compared notes and in short order determined that our 2nd-great-grandfathers were brothers. Some of our family information meshed quite well, but some of it differed. For example, she identified our known common ancestor as Charles C. Carson, and showed his death in 1896, and not “before 1881” as my research indicated. My cousin also had information on the purported maiden surname of his wife Caroline.

How to resolve this conflicting information? With more research, of course! As I would learn, much of this information was provided to her by a third party, without source citations. I began to attempt to verify my new cousin’s alleged facts, but also continued to look for records that would support my hypothesis. I found it difficult to believe that Caroline’s husband Charles simply dropped off the grid between 1860 and 1896. I was aware of other males named Charles Carson living in the greater Trenton area in the mid to late 19th century, so figured the 1896 death date attributed to my Charles really was that of another man. But, I would have to prove this before dismissing it completely.

I next searched the 1880 U.S. census index to learn whether Charles Carson had reunited with his wife and children. He was not living in the household. In fact, Caroline Carson was again identified as a widow.3 I now had three independent sources that either suggested or stated outright that Caroline was widowed, certainly by 1880, but possibly long before that.

1880-caroline-carson-household-chambersburg-new-jerseyThe printout of the 1880 census household of widow Caroline Carson

Fast forward a few months to early 2003. The Old Mill Hill Society (OMHS) had a web presence at the time, consisting mostly of transcribed records like city directories and obituary indexes. Included among these records was something called the “Chronological Indexes”, a succinct listing of events in the local newspaper, published on New Year’s Day, which covered events of the prior year. Four Chronological Indexes were then online: 1856, 1857, 1863, and 1870. Like any good genealogist, I worked with what was available and reviewed them all. Imagine my surprise when I read this stark entry for May 1863:

“22. Charles Carson was injured in Hutchinson’s saw mill, and died on the 24th.”4

Charles Carson death in the 1863 chronological index

Could this be the first tangible clue that my Charles Carson died 24 May 1863 as a result of injuries sustained in a sawmill accident two days prior? It certainly fit within the timeline that I had already established. I was cautiously optimistic. I needed to learn more about this man and more about the accident that claimed his life. The fact that the entry was included in an annual roundup of news items meant that it was reported on or near the time of the event.

I made a new research plan with this last record in mind. My plan included locating the following items:

  1. The 1863 death record for Charles Carson in Trenton, New Jersey
  2. Any news articles regarding the accident and subsequent death
  3. A probate file in Mercer County, New Jersey for Charles Carson
  4. Hutchinson’s sawmill to learn if it was near the last known residence of the Carson family

Check back for a future installment to see how well I executed my plan.

Notes and sources:

1 Jean [Owens], “Re: Kansas surnames,” discussion list, 23 Oct 2002,, GenForum: Kansas Genealogy Forum (  : accessed 16 Nov 2002), message 12392.

2 Dawn Bingaman, “Re: Kansas surnames Carson – Hopkins,” discussion list, 16 Nov 2002,, GenForum: Kansas Genealogy Forum ( : accessed 16 Nov 2002), message 12547.

3 “1880 United States Census Household Record,” database, FamilySearch ( accessed 02 May 2003), entry for Caroline Carson, District 1, Chambersburg, Mercer County, New Jersey, citing National Archives microfilm publication T-9, roll 789, sheet 500A.

4 Franklin S. Mills, “Index to the Year 1863.” Daily True American (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 Jan 1864, transcription, Old Mill Hill Society website ( : accessed 11 Jun 2003). This website was located using the Wayback Machine and can be viewed today at this link:
Sharp-eyed readers will also note there was another Carson entry among the news items. See 9 May 1863: “Mary Ann, wife of David C. Carson, died in the 33d year of her age.”

Carson Family Group Sheet (Pt. 3): Charles and Caroline

This third installment in a chronology discusses how I identified the parents of Andrew, Charles and Furman of White City, Morris County, Kansas, and their brother, Wes, and summarizes what I knew of the family as of 2002.

In part two of this series, I first presented my research question, a relationship question seeking the identity of the parents of four Carson brothers, all of whom were thought to have been from New Jersey originally, and three of whom lived in the vicinity of White City, Kansas in the early to mid-1900s. Following additional research, I refined the question slightly:

Who were the parents of Andrew, Charles and Furman Carson, residents of Morris County, Kansas from 1900-1920, and their brother Wes, location unknown?

All research questions will govern both the sources consulted and steps undertaken to determine the answer to a focused question, and such is the case with my research. The first step described in my prior post was to consult the 1870 New Jersey census. I located a household in Mercer County, New Jersey that matched up with what I knew of the Carson family up to that time.1 The extracted information from that census entry appears below:

1870 census household for Caroline Carson

The fine print from the 1870 census form tells us that Census Day that year was June 1st, so this should represent the household composition and ages as of that date.

We do not have explicit statements of relationship in any Federal census before 1880, but we can hypothesize that Caroline was the mother of all the children listed with the Carson surname. The identity of Lewis Rainear and his relationship to the Carsons was a mystery then and remains so to this day.

When I filtered the information to include only those individuals named Carson, and re-arranged the list in chronological order, it became easier to see the regular spacing of the children’s birth years. To arrive at the estimated birth years, I simply subtracted the age from 1870. Although this basic method does not take into account all the many nuances (and correct estimates will encompass a broader range) this gave me a quick idea of what time frame I was dealing with. For a comprehensive discussion of age calculation, see the recent article by Dr. Barbara Levergood entitled “Calculating and Using Dates and Date Ranges” in the March 2014 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.


To gather more information about the Carson family, I looked for their 1860 census enumeration in New Jersey, since that is the stated birthplace of Caroline and all of her presumed children. One census household in 1860 looked very promising when compared with the 1870 census entry for Caroline Carson and children.


Composite image of the 1860 census household of Charles and Caroline Carson, West Windsor Twp., Mercer Co., New Jersey.2 Highlighted individuals were included in the 1870 enumeration. The “do” notation in column 10 means “ditto” and represents “New Jersey” as a place of birth, carried down from higher up on the page.

Note the points of commonality when the data are correlated between the two census years.


The 1860 census revealed two other possible family members: a male head of household named Charles Carson, and an older boy, 13-year-old John W. Carson. These two additions may be Caroline’s husband and the elusive Wes Carson, identified by my grandmother as a brother of Charles [Jr.], Andrew and Furman Carson. Note that a presumed daughter (Amanda) is missing. If she was 11 years of age in 1870, she likely would have been a part of the household in 1860 as a girl about one year of age.

I next turned to the 1850 New Jersey census and located this entry for Charles and Caroline Carson in adjacent Monmouth County.


Composite image of the 1850 census household of Charles and Caroline Carson, Upper Freehold Twp., Monmouth Co., New Jersey.3

Extracted household information:

Dwelling 219, Family 219
Charles Carson, age 26, male, labourer, born New Jersey, cannot read and write
Caroline Carson, age 21, female, born New Jersey, cannot read and write
Wesley Carson, age 4, male, born New Jersey

I updated my table with this new information.


Census research on Charles and Caroline Carson as a couple ended at this point since both would have been too young to have appeared as heads of household in their own right in 1840.

Beyond census research, in 2002 I had located one additional record that mentioned Caroline Carson and a presumed daughter by name, living at the same address in Chambersburg: an extracted entry from the 1881 Trenton City Directory.

Carson, Amanda, 112 Madison, Chamb’g
Carson Caroline, widow, 112 Madison, Chamb’g4

Other names of interest from this city directory, which probably represent the entries for the other children of Caroline Carson, are as follows:

Carson Andrew, laborer, h Fillmore n Clinton, Millham
Carson Furman, farmer, h 1212 Broad, Chamb’g
Carson John W., wool worker, h 826 Hamilton, Chamb’g5

It should be noted this same directory also contains two entries for Charles Carson. One of them is probably the listing for the son of Charles and Caroline, but the other entry is likely for yet another man named Charles Carson living in the vicinity. Our Charles Carson was supposedly dead by 1881.

Carson Charles, laborer, bds 622 Second
Carson Charles, wool worker, h 170 Lamberton6

Having analyzed the information contained in each of these sources, and after careful comparison of that information, I was able to make these statements which can be crafted into research questions and be proved or disproved by further research.

  • Caroline and Charles Carson likely married about 1845, possibly in Monmouth County, New Jersey where the couple resided in 1850.
  • Charles Carson pre-deceased his wife. Caroline Carson was called a widow in 1881, but Charles was not present in the census household in 1870. Given the fact that no children appear to have been born to the couple after about 1861, it is possible that Charles died closer to that date. Caroline was still a young woman of child-bearing years, and it is unlikely she would have abruptly stopped having children if her husband was still present in the household. Examine the possibility of Civil War service for Charles Carson.

In the period represented by the 1850 – 1870 censuses, the Carson family was found in three townships in two counties. The townships of Upper Freehold, West Windsor and Hamilton are contiguous although they span county borders.


Research on this family is on-going, and much additional information has been gleaned in the past twelve years. In my next post I will discuss how I found others researching this family, and how we determined the date and circumstances surrounding the death of Charles Carson. If you have information on this family you would like to share, please use the associated comment form found by clicking on the title of this post.

Sources and credits:

Image credit: Topographical Map of Mercer Co., New Jersey by F. W. Beers (1872), courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection online at via a Creative Commons 3.0 license. Annotated by the author to mark townships of interest.

1 1870 U.S. census, Mercer County, New Jersey, population schedule, Hamilton Township, p. 82 [stamped], dwelling 270, family 268, Caroline Carson in Lewis Rainear household; digital image, ( : accessed 21 Dec 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication M593, roll 871.

2 1860 U.S. census, Mercer County, New Jersey, population schedule, West Windsor Township, p. 89 [penned], dwelling 676, family 696, Charles Carson; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Jun 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication M653, roll 697.

3 1850 U.S. census, Monmouth County, New Jersey, population schedule, Upper Freehold Township, p. 351 [stamped], dwelling 219, family 219, Charles Carson; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Jun 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication M432, roll 457.

4Fitzgerald’s Trenton and Mercer County Directory (Trenton, N. J. : Thomas F. Fitzgerald, 1881), 135; Trenton Historical Society ( : accessed 22 Jun 2014).

5 ibid. 135, 136.

6 ibid. 136.