Obadiah Case and the hazy past

Obadiah_Louisianna_Case_burned2Obadiah. The name shows up more than once in my family history, but today’s focus is my 3rd great grandfather, Obadiah James Case, who was born on this date 219 years ago … at the dawn of the 19th century. Thomas Jefferson became president that year, and Abraham Lincoln had not yet been born.

Getting to know Obadiah — to the extent I have — has been a gradual process. I know little other than a few facts of his life. Nobody alive during my lifetime was alive during his. However, the more I learn, the more I see him as key to the westward migration of this line of my family.

ObadiahAncestor2Besides, Obadiah is probably the most frequent “common ancestor” among my DNA matches on Ancestry (example at right). When a distant DNA cousin turns up on my dad’s side, our connection can frequently be traced back to Obadiah. This is not uncommon for ancestors born in America when the country was still relatively young and families were still relatively large. Obadiah was the great grandfather of my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Clausen Hendrickson.

He was born in 1801, likely in Tennessee or Kentucky. Like I said … hazy.  Federal Census forms indicate Tennessee as his birth place, while less formal sources sometimes say Kentucky. I need to research whether those borders were shifting at the time. Still, finding my ancestors in these regions came as a total surprise to me, and I have long had on my agenda a potential blog post for my “Genealogical Surprises” series on that “Kentucky root.” They clearly lived among a community of people who were gradually moving westward into the prairie.

The best theory of Obadiah’s genealogical origins so far is that he descended from a group of English Puritans who settled the community of Southold on the north fork of Long Island in the 1600s before later generations began migrating westward. There is a fair amount of evidence for this, including DNA support, but certain links remain unverified, so the research continues.

Obadiah’s parents were Separate Case and Lydia Moore Case. He lost his father when he was just a young child, and yes, his father’s name was Separate Case. Or Seperate. Or Seprate. The best, and really only, theory I’ve heard of his father Separate’s given name points to Scripture:

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord …”           (II Corinthians 6:17 (KJV))

The theory is that Obadiah’s immediate forebears were involved with the Separate Baptist denomination that began in Massachusetts but grew strong in places like Kentucky and Tennessee. If so, they would be the only Baptists I’ve discovered in my ancestry thus far. However, Obadiah had not only a father, but a brother, a son, and a nephew who received the name Separate. Subsequent generations in my line of descent from this family were Nazarene, then mainline Methodist, so it is a plausible evolution.

In 1825, Obadiah married Elizabeth Louisiana (“Louisa”) Royalty, granddaughter of a Revolutionary War soldier who had migrated with his family from Virginia to Kentucky after the war, a common scenario at the time.

Obadiah and Louisa’s young family continued the westward migration begun by their ancestors. Some of their children were born in Kentucky, some in Indiana, and most in Iowa. Obadiah’s family finally settled in far eastern Iowa, near the Mississippi River. An 1848 land record places Obadiah in Iowa just two years after it attained statehood. The 1860 Census places the family in Elk River, along the Mississippi, in Clinton County. Obadiah appears in the agricultural schedule for Elk River that year with a farm valued at $1,200 and various amounts of livestock, wheat, corn, and oats.

Obadiah and Louisa had about a dozen children, including my ancestor Joseph Case. I could stay busy for at least a year exploring the stories of Obadiah’s children. It is highly likely that one of his younger sons, Beniah (Benaiah), died in the Civil War as a Union soldier from an Iowa regiment … six years before Obadiah himself passed on.

migratorygroupIt’s always challenging to write a profile of a person you’ve never met … and that nobody you’ve known in your lifetime has ever met. However, the more research I do, the more real Obadiah becomes to me. His family’s migration story runs through the generations … culminating in Iowa, where most of his children were born, where he is buried, and where a new chapter of family history takes root. The story starts putting real people to my late father’s DNA results that place him with an American westward migratory community (see above). Obadiah was one of the key figures in this movement for my family.

Louisa_Obadiah_cropA few years ago, I made my first trip to eastern Iowa and visited the little McClure Cemetery in Charlotte, Iowa, where Obadiah and Louisa (Louisiana) are buried. With them in that cemetery were a few ancestors related through other lines. The gravestones were very old and mostly unadorned — a few were even broken — but Obadiah and Louisa had a symbol on their shared grave marker that was fairly common for the era — pointing skyward, hope of heaven.

I have no reason to think Obadiah’s life was filled with anything other than the common struggles of his era. I’m grateful for his courage and fortitude, and that of his family, in forging into new and relatively unsettled territory, while realizing also that, like men of every era, he no doubt had flaws that, for now anyway, are lost to time and grace.

Happy Birthday, Obadiah James Case. Rest in perfect peace.

This is the twelfth in a series, Birthday Profiles, which includes descriptions of ancestors on the anniversary dates of their births. It is one good way to slow down on gathering data and focus on individuals in their totality.

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