According to the obituaries of two of his children, they were born in Illinois in 1869 & 1871 placing Joseph there four years after the end of the Civil War. One obituary went on to say specifically in Colchester, Illinois. However, there is no census record in 1870 to back that up nor is there one that I can find anywhere in the United States. I tried requesting the birth certificates of the two children from McDonough county (home of Colchester), but was told they don't exist. This isn't all that surprising as before the mid to late 1870's, reporting births was not common or mandated. I plan to someday swing by to look through courthouse deeds to see if I can find something to tie them there but due to their nomadic existence and the one census record that I have on the family, Joseph's occupation was as a farm laborer and thus not likely to own land.
This brings me to the one census record I do have which finds them in 1880 living in Parkersburg, Iowa in Butler county, a town nearly wiped off the map a couple years ago by a gigantic F5 tornado. There Joseph aged 34, his wife Frances aged 32, live with most of their children Frances age 11, Robert age 6, and Charles age 5 and a saloon keeper named W. H. Beckwith aged 43. Missing are Mary who would be born later that year and my 2nd great grandfather John who at age 9 was nowhere to be found. I still have yet to find him in any census record for 1880. I can deduce from the birth states of their children that the family moved to Iowa sometime after John was born in 1871 and before Robert was born in 1874 and until recently had always assumed that move was to Parkersburg. However, an obituary of one of the children says that there was a stop in Fayette county (two counties east of Butler county) before they reached Parkersburg. I have requested birth certificates for the Iowa born children in both counties and again have come up empty.
Two years after 1880, Joseph Baker would be buried in a quiet corner of Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls in Black Hawk county, the county between Butler and Fayette counties. When census records resume, his now remarried wife and two sons would now reside in Cedar Falls and would do so the rest of there lives. Joseph's two daughter's Mary and Frances would marry and move out of state. The remaining son Robert would live in West Union in Fayette county from before 1910 until after 1930 according to several newspaper articles and yet not once of the three census records covering that time list him. Disappearing from census takers evidently runs in the family.
So what happened to Joseph Baker that he ended up six feet under 35 years after being born? One newspaper article may hold the answer. It says in its entirety, "George Dyne has been arrested in Chicago for the murder of Joseph Baker." Although the article was published in two papers, one on 23 September 1882 and 20 September 1882, both the same year my Joseph Baker ended up buried in Cedar Falls, both papers are in a county halfway across the state from Butler, Black Hawk or Fayette counties. What would he have been doing there? Had he moved? To make matters even iffier, there was another Joseph Baker that lived in Palo Alto county where the articles occurred during that same time frame but he had been born 10 years before my Joseph Baker and lived until sometime after the 1910 census, more than 28 years after the article in the paper. There are also several Joseph Bakers living in Chicago at the time so were these papers merely reporting news from that area? If so, why don't other papers, including some in Chicago at the time report the same story? I have not found any more articles in either newspaper earlier in the year of 1882 to further explain that single sentence. Just another mystery that remains unsolved at this time.
What all this pontificating boils down to is that I have little clues to go on and have exhausted any resources that can be accessed via internet or snail mail. What remains is that I must schedule quality time in the courthouses, libraries and genealogical societies in five counties scattered across two states to try and find any more clues that might solve some of these mysteries or at least give me more fodder to pontificate on future blog posts. As always, if you stumble upon this post via some search engine result, drop me an email through my linked address on the left sidebar and let me know what you know, or if you have any suggestions on where I should look next, I'm always open to advice.