The Elusive Leason. It sounds like a magician’s stage name or something. Perhaps he should have been a magician. When I think of ancestors who have been a challenge to research, several names come to mind, but none have been more challenging than Leason Gilliland. I mentioned him once before. He is the ancestor that my grandpa had said worked on a steamboat and was away from home all the time. I have little idea where he came from and no idea where he ended up. He just disappeared.
In the beginning, all I had was a name on a pedigree chart. My grandparents had done some research, but I had no idea what it was or where it was. Honestly, I was a teenager at the time and really didn’t care very much. I just wanted the names. As I got older and worked with my grandparents more, I began to understand the importance of documents and researching things for oneself. The first piece of documentation that I found for Leason was the 1840 Census. Being a pre-1850 census, it didn’t yield very much information. What it did yield was Leason Gilliland (age 20-30), presumably a wife (age 20-30), and presumably two sons (both under 5). He was employed in agriculture and living in Hardin County, Kentucky.1
Agriculture to steamboating seems like a big leap to me, but I can’t totally discount it. The story was told to my grandpa by Leason’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth. It seems to me that if anyone knew what became of Leason, his wife or children would. And it would go a long way to explaining why he just disappeared. I discussed this with a co-worker and she suggested that perhaps steamboating was more lucrative than farming at this particular time and place.
I looked for Leason and his family members on the 1850 Census. I found that Zerelda Gilliland (31) and her children, Daniel (12), William (10), Ezra (8), and Mary (1), were living with Asa and Maria Loundsbury in New Albany, Indiana.2 I could not find Leason. I looked at the clues I had from this record. If Zerelda was 31 in 1850, she would have been 21 in 1840. If Daniel was 12 and William was 10 in 1850, they both would have been under 5 in 1840. The other children would not have been born yet. This all fit. Also, Zerelda and all of the children except for Mary were born in Kentucky.2 I was left with two questions here. How did the Gillilands know Asa Loundsbury? Did Leason die before 1850?
I researched Asa Loundsbury a little but could not find any obvious connection, so I moved on. I knew from other research that Serilda Gilliland married John Bridges in 1857.3 I looked for Leason in the 1860 Census anyway, just in case they got divorced. No luck there. John Bridges’ household included Zerilda Bridges (39), Daniel Gilliland (20), William Gilliland (18), Ezra Gilliland (16), Mary Gilliland (10), and Sarah Gilliland (6).4 This was a surprise. If Sarah Gilliland was born circa 1854, then Leason did not die before the 1850 Census. Why wasn’t he listed? Maybe he did hop a steamboat. He must have died before 1857 though, for Serilda to have remarried.
With all of this census research, I still didn’t have any real proof that Leason was the husband of Serilda or the father of her children. All of this was based on what Mary Elizabeth Gilliland told my grandpa. While I was doing some more research on Ezra Gilliland, I managed to find his death record. His parents were listed as Leason Gilliland and Cerelda Lone.5 I re-checked Mary Elizabeth’s death record, but her parents names were unknown by the informant. I have been unsuccessful in locating death records for any of the other children.
With nowhere else to go moving forward, I decided to move backward. I really had no way of knowing who Leason’s father might be since I don’t know when or where he died to begin to look for death records, obituaries, church records, or the like. I took a wild leap on my break last week and searched for all Gillilands in Hardin County, Kentucky on the 1820 Census when Leason, theoretically, would have still been living at home.
The only Gilliland in Hardin County in 1820 was James Gilliland (age 26-44), presumably a wife (age 26-44), what appears to be a mother or mother-in-law (age 45 and over), and children: one male 16-18 and two males under 10, and one female 10-15 and two females under 10.6 In 1820, Leason would have been under 10. Not proof, but a good lead.
I pursued this lead and looked for James Gilliland on the 1850 Census to see who else might be listed in his household. For some reason, James was enumerated twice in 1850, once in August and once in October, both in Hardin County. I guess they moved between these months. They are enumerated first as the 228th family visited and then as the 549th family visited. The problem I have here is that some of the ages are vastly different in the span of just two months. What I do gather from these records is that James’ wife was Mary and a son, Thomas, was living with him or next door.7,8 Averaging the two enumerations, Thomas would have been born circa 1819, which means he would have been under 10 on the 1820 Census.
I knew we had some Kentucky books at work, so I checked the shelf and found two marriage record books for Hardin County, Kentucky in the early 1800s. I looked for James Gilliland and Thomas Gilliland. I found that James married Polly Morrison on October 4, 1808 and Thomas married Elizabeth LeMaster on June 30, 1838.9,10 James Gilliland gave consent for Thomas to be married, which would put Thomas under 18 in 1838.10 If he had been born in 1820, he could have been under 10 on the 1820 Census, 17 and almost 18 at the time of his marriage, and 30 years old on the 1850 Census.
I went home and told my dad about the new lead and what I had discovered. He called me back in the room a little bit later because he had done some searching with the new information and stumbled across Steven Butler’s website, which includes an interesting little history on the James Gilliland family.
According to this, James’ daughters were Letitia (1810) and Sarah (1811), which would put them in the under 10 category in 1820.11 This didn’t match what I found on the 1830 and 1840 Census for James Gilliland and family, so I set to work with a pile of census pages and copies from the Hardin County marriage books and filled in a Family Group Census Grid for James Gilliland. Luckily for me, most of James’ children were under age at the time of their marriage, which gave me a good idea of approximate birth dates to compare with the census records. After checking records, doing some math, re-checking records, and re-checking my math, I finally came up with what I believe is an accurate account of the Gilliland family movements.
What is really exciting to me is that Leason fits the unnamed son’s criteria! I can find no other evidence of possible parents for Leason and I can find no other evidence of a different son for James and Polly. It’s still not definitive proof, but it’s better than the thread I had in the beginning. I may never find any more on Leason Gilliland or his possible connection to the James Gilliland family, but I look forward to trying!
1. Ancestry.com. 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Year: 1840; Census Place: Hardin, Kentucky; Roll: 113; Page: 30; Image: 65; Family History Library Film:0007827.
2. Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1850; Census Place: New Albany, Floyd, Indiana; Roll: M432_145; Page: 301A; Image: 14.
3. Floyd County Clerk. Microfilm. Floyd County, Indiana Marriages Volume 4 (1857): p.485. Accessed 09 Jan. 2015, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
4. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1860; Census Place: New Albany Ward 6, Floyd, Indiana; Roll: M653_257; Page: 422; Image: 426; Family History Library Film: 803257.
5. Floyd County Health Department. Microfilm. Floyd County, Indiana Deaths CH-33 (1920): p. 54, record 300. Accessed 11 Feb. 2015, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
6. Ancestry.com. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1820; Census Place: Philadelphia, Hardin, Kentucky; NARA Roll: M33_23; Page: 8; Image: 15.
7. “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M657-T64 : accessed 17 December 2014), James Gillilan, Hardin county, Hardin, Kentucky, United States; citing family 228, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
8. “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M65W-7XK : accessed 17 December 2014), James Gillelund, Hardin county, Hardin, Kentucky, United States; citing family 549, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
9. Jones, Mary Josephine., comp. Hardin County, Kentucky Marriages 1793 to 1829. Vine Grove, KY: Ancestral Trails Historical Society, 1996. Print. p. 12.
10. Jones, Mary Josephine., comp. Hardin County, Kentucky Marriages 1830 to 1850. Vine Grove, KY: Ancestral Trails Historical Society, 1996. Print. p. 24.
11. Butler, Steven. “Biographies: James Gilliland.” Steven Butler’s Family History Website. N.p., 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 July 2015.
I really enjoyed reading this about the Gilliland family. I have been doing my own research for several years now on my family. I found your article very insightful as I reflect on my own research. I am a direct descendant of James Gilliland myself.