Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Janesville Daily Gazette - Janesville, Wisconsin - 14 Oct 1881

I recently realized that my subscription to which I use for my genealogical research, came with some new perks. One of those was to a military site called Fold3 and another was to which as its name suggests, is a large archive of historical newspapers. Back when I was actively searching for ancestors, I had a separate subscription to NewspaperArchive (a competitor) but I let it several years ago because I just hadn't put in the time to make it worth the money.

Since was now included in my subscription, I decided to log in and take a peak to see if anything new popped up. My go to search was for information on my elusive ancestor Joseph Chicken Baker. The quick run down is that Joseph Chicken married right after the Civil War and changed his name to Joseph Baker for reasons unknown to me. To complicate things, he died in 1882 at the age of 35 for reasons unknown to me. Someday, I would love to know the reasons behind both of those events.

I've searched high and low for notifications of Joseph's death but have been unable to find anything conclusive. Years ago when I had a subscription to NewspaperArchive, I turned up the article below in several Iowa newspapers in 1882.

Despite my searches, I've never figured out who George Dyne was and if the Joseph Baker he murdered was my Joseph Baker. I've also never found out anymore about the murder. Although this little splurb was found in a local newspaper in Iowa near where Joseph lived with his family at the time, it was what was called a boilerplate article of news from around the nation that newspapers used to fill us column space. It most likely had nothing to do with my Joseph Baker who was a poor dirt farmer and had no real reason to travel to Chicago. I have never ruled this out but I find it unlikely.

Part of my searching has always had me search in the preceding and proceeding years of Joseph's death in case he died near them. His gravestone below doesn't list a death month or day, only the year, 1882. So when I typed in the search criteria into and got a hit I hadn't seen before, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't on a Joseph Baker that died but one that had been "dangerously injured" in mid October of the year preceding 1882. Could he have been injured and succumbed to his injuries a few months later?

Perhaps most intriguing was that the Joseph Baker in the article at the head of this post was working for the Forepaugh Circus of which I am pretty familiar with because I am currently reading a book about Topsy the elephant and the history of the circus here in the states with lots of pages covering the Forepaugh Circus as well as the Barnum Circus. Perfect timing. 

The book mentions that there were many accidents with the circus trains but doesn't list them all out nor any of the people hurt or killed in them. I have tried googling and searching for the fate of this Joseph Baker and perhaps information tying him to my family but have turned up nothing more on the subject. Like the Joseph Baker killed in Chicago, I think the odds are against this being my ancestor but I haven't ruled it out either one way or another. It certainly is intriguing.

Grave of my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Chicken Baker


Kelly said...

Fascinating! I wonder if, perhaps, the name change had something to do with an event from the war that he might have wanted to disassociate himself from?

The circus accident scenario sounds plausible. I had an uncle by marriage (born in 1898, I believe) who ran away and joined the circus when he was a boy. I wonder if it was the Forepaugh Circus? My brother and I were just discussing yesterday how we wish we could still sit down and talk with him. He had a remarkable life that we didn't truly appreciate when we were growing up. He was in both World Wars, graduated from WestPoint, and was a fairly high ranking officer on Patton's staff.

Ed said...

Kelly - the thought of an event during the war has crossed my mind but I haven't found any evidence thus far to back it up. I have his military records when his last name was Chicken and there aren't any clues within them. I also have the regimental history during his time in the military and there are also aren't any clues there as well. If I had to bet, I would say there was something that happened in his family because of the four Chicken brothers, one would keep the surname Chicken, the other (my 3rd great grandfather) would change it to Baker and the remaining two simply disappear leading me to suspect they too also changed their names. Of Joseph's children, after his death, two were adopted off to the brother who kept his Chicken surname and one of those kids would change his name back to Baker when he reached adulthood.

There are many relatives whom I wished I had talked to more about family history while they were still around but most predate my interest in family history. Those around now however, find themselves playing 20 questions all about family history whenever I'm around!

Vince said...

Check for localised outbreaks of infectious disease. I'm thinking cholera, or even malaria.

This is for the 1890s, but I can't see much difference in the earlier ones. And until the advent of antibiotics I doubt much difference after either.

Vince said...

Ed said...

Vince - Disease is always a possibility but usually you see the young and old in a family drop first and at 35, Joseph should have been in his prime. All his young children and his elderly parents survived that area. I can't rule it out though. Thanks for the link to that website. It is a pretty neat site!

Vince said...

Yes, I'd not realised the States has been so assiduous at collecting health data. And I noted from those maps that Malaria was rife in that east of Iowa. And wasn't that Chicken fellow from Ohio originally.

Ed said...

Joseph Chicken Sr. and Joseph Chicken Jr./Baker were from England and immigrated to Wisconsin via New Orleans and the Mississippi river so they didn't go through Ohio.