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As I delve deeper into the records of my Sillars/Sellars/Sellers ancestors in Albany, New York, USA, I am developing a much better picture of their lives there but numerous questions remain.

Here I would like to ask if anyone can provide an alternative interpretation to mine related to the household of Hugh Sellars in the 1855 New York State Census (Residence: Albany City, Ward 6, Albany, New York, USA, Line Number: 12, Sheet Number: 1).

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The family members in the household with my comments are:

  • Hugh Sellars, 52, Ship Carpenter, from Scotland, living in Albany for 3 years
  • Mary Sellars, 50, Wife, from England, living in Albany for 3 years - I am now convinced that this is not Mary Ann Risk because she married another Hugh Sellars on 15 Jul 1853 at Glasgow and they were both born in Renfrewshire, Scotland in about 1830 and have been traced through 3-4 censuses each - the 1865 New York Census records that both Mary and Hugh had been married twice
  • Harriet Martin, 32, sister-in-law, from England, living in Albany for 3 years - would this be more likely a sister-in-law to Hugh or Mary? There is a Harriett Foster, 44, from England, and 3 yo Caroline Foster, born in New York, living with Hugh and Mary for the 1860 Census so perhaps Harriet Martin married Foster in between.
  • Moody M. Hale, 54, son-in-law, Skipper, from U.S., native voter and owner of land - would this be more likely a son-in-law to Hugh or Mary? I think his age makes both unlikely. The identity of Moody M. Hale seems to be Moody March Hall from Cornish, New Hampshire and is described in this answer to Finding where US citizen owned land and/or was registered to vote in 1855?

  • Elizabeth A. Hale, 18, daughter, from England, living in Albany for 3 years - would this be more likely a daughter to Hugh or Mary or Moody? The name and age makes me think she is Moody's daughter. She seems too young to be Moody's wife and in the 1860 Federal Census for Albany I find Hugh Sellers, 25, Seaman, from Scotland, living with Elizabeth Sellers from England, and son William Hale, 3, born in New York so it seems like Elizabeth may have had an illegitimate child and then married Hugh, son of the first Hugh. Then in the 1865 New York Census I find Hugh and Mary Sellers both 60 with their "son" William H. Hall who I think must be their grandson.

In isolation I think the above 1855 census record is very hard to interpret so I am trying to place it in context with Albany census records for:

  • Hugh (senior) and Mary in 1860 and 1865 - I have not yet found them in the 1870 census but a directory says that Hugh was at 311 Washington avenue, Albany
  • Hugh (junior) and Elizabeth in 1860
  • Robert and Margaret in 1855 - Robert is another son who was living in the same Albany ward as Hugh (senior) that I am still looking for in the 1860 census when I think he may have been in New York City. A candidate record has been discounted in Seeking image from New York 1860 Federal Census Index?

My question here is probably best summed up as ...

Is there a more likely interpretation of the family relationships of the 1855 household than the hypothesis that I am formulating above?


These Q&As may provide additional background:

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    My rule of thumb is to search for other records involving these individuals, then to try to prove that the new records belong to different individuals. Trying to prove a particular hypothesis based on only one record is a good way to create a brick wall for yourself (as in my question How are the grandchildren related to the head of household in this census?. – Jan Murphy Mar 14 '15 at 19:15
  • @JanMurphy I think you are right to draw comparison with that question of yours. I think I'll research/ask about the identity of and relationships between Moody M. Hale, Elizabeth A.Hale and William H. Hall/Hale separately. – PolyGeo Mar 15 '15 at 0:00
  • Has anyone published the enumerators' instructions for this census? If you can find them, knowing how the enumerators were supposed to record the information might provide clues. – Jan Murphy Apr 3 '15 at 7:17
  • Thanks @JanMurphy - your nudge just led me to nysl.nysed.gov/scandocs/documents/nycensusinstruct1855.pdf which says "9. Relation to the head of the family. No entry should be made in this column opposite to the name of the head of the family, but opposite to every other name, write the relation to such head, as: "Wife," "child," "father," "mother," "aunt," "servant," "apprentice," "boarder," &c, &c, as the case may be." – PolyGeo Apr 3 '15 at 8:15
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With a nudge from @JanMurphy I went looking for and found Instructions For Taking the Census Of the State Of New York In the Year 1855; Issued By the Secretary of State, To the Officers Charged With the Duty Of taking It which says

  1. Relation to the head of the family. No entry should be made in this column opposite to the name of the head of the family, but opposite to every other name, write the relation to such head, as: "Wife," "child," "father," "mother," "aunt," "servant," "apprentice," "boarder," &c, &c, as the case may be.

My current hypothesis, for which I am still looking for evidence to try and disprove, or support, is that:

  • Hugh as the informant is more likely to have reported accurately than not
  • Hugh, Mary, Harriet and Elizabeth have all been living in Albany for 3 years so perhaps they all came to the USA together - perhaps Moody too.
  • Hugh is from Scotland while the other three are from England but Hugh and Mary are married so I suspect Hugh, being a Ship Carpenter, is more likely to have met Mary in England on his travels than the reverse. A large English port not too far from Glasgow, like Liverpool, might be a place to search more intensively for this marriage.
  • Harriet and Elizabeth do not seem to be Hugh's sister and daughter because I think I know all members of his immediate families.
  • I know little about Hugh's first wife and mother of his five children, Agnes MacCulloch, so possibly Harriet is her sister-in-law, but Harriet coming from England makes me think she must be Mary's sister-in-law.
  • I do not know Mary's maiden name, or that of her first marriage, so there is an outside possibility that Harriet may be the sister-in-law of her first husband.
  • Elizabeth is of the right age to be Mary's daughter
  • this would leave the hardest relationship to fit being that of a marriage between 52 year old Moody and 18 year old Elizabeth. Perhaps the easiest way to reconcile this is if the identity of Moody as Moody March Hall from Cornish, New Hampshire is as described in this answer to Finding where US citizen owned land and/or was registered to vote in 1855?. That suggests that he may have been quite a good or at least interesting catch (Farmer with Land, Inventor and Skipper) for a mother hoping that her daughter would marry well.

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