In the census: Neighbors & Family

I rely on census records to tell me a lot about my ancestors, and to see a snapshot of their households in particular points in time. I also try to browse their neighbors to see who they lived near, who they could have known, and who they may have done business with. I’ve found some valuable information and a few remarkable coincidences this way!

I recently uncovered one of these amazing coincidences while doing some research for my first cousin’s side of the family. While looking at some state census records, I happened to find two of our ancestors living just houses away from each other! Because most of my roots run deep in DeKalb County, IL, this would not be extremely surprising if this occurred in DeKalb County. However, these two families lived in a rural township in Fillmore County, Minnesota at the same exact time!

(Click on the images to view larger.)

Moses Ousley and his second wife, Maria, are listed at the very end of this page of the 1875 Minnesota State Census for Sumner Township, Fillmore County. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
On the next page, Moses Ousley’s children Elizabeth, David, Alva, Mathilda, and Minnie are listed on the same page as Lucy Fish and her children, Cyrus and Rebecca. This is a page of the 1875 Minnesota State Census for Sumner Township, Fillmore County. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
In 1875, my 4th great-grandmother Lucy (Caul) Fish was living with her daughter and son-in-law in Sumner, Fillmore County, Minnesota. My cousins’ 4th great-grandfather, Moses Ousley, was listed just five houses away! Several of Moses’ children, including my cousin’s 3rd great-grandmother, were living in the same township. They were all farmers. The two families never intermarried, but they would have certainly known each other and may have socialized together. About 100 years later in DeKalb County, Moses’ 3rd great-grandson would marry my aunt, who was Lucy (Caul) Fish’s 3rd great-granddaughter!

I know a little bit about the Fish family, and how they ended up in Sumner, Minnesota. My 4th great-grandmother, Lucy (Caul) Fish was a pioneer woman as a young woman. She was born in New York in 1803, and grew up in New York or Ohio. She married my 4th great-grandfather, Lathrop G. Fish, in Ohio in 1824. They had four children in Ohio, and then moved to Michigan in about 1836-1837. The family prospered in Michigan, adding two more children, and purchased pieces of land to grow their farm every few years. Lathrop was elected Overseer of the Highways in 1842 and Director of the Poor in 1843. In about 1845, they decided to continue moving west, and moved their family to Kane County, Illinois, and then to DeKalb County, Illinois. They had one more daughter in Kane County, and their farm prospered. Tragedy struck in 1866 when Lathrop died of an unnamed sickness. Lucy never remarried, and lived in the households of several of her children until her death in 1878. Her daughter, Rebecca, married John Lillie in about 1860. His family was from Canada, and they moved to Fillmore County by 1857. The Lillie family was one of the earliest settlers in the township, arriving within the first five years of its settlement. Rebecca also moved to Sumner Township, Fillmore County when she married John Lillie. In 1875, her mother Lucy Fish and her brother Cyrus Fish happened to be living with them on their farm. Lucy likely died at their home in 1878. Some of her other children and their descendants remained in DeKalb County for generations.

Like the Fish family, Moses Ousley also originated from back east, and moved his family west as a young man. He was born in Clinton County, Ohio in 1819, and married Nancy Ann Moon in 1845. They lived for several years in Clinton County, then moved to Indiana soon after Nancy died in 1853. He married Maria Ballinger in 1854 in Miami County, Indiana. By 1865, they had moved the family, which now had seven children, to Minnesota. They settled first in Houston County, then in Fillmore County, where they were living in 1875. His daughter, Mary Emily Ousley, married William Davidson in 1867. William was also a farmer in Sumner in 1875, listed on the next page in the census. The Ousley/Davidson families continued to disperse through the generations. Some continued to move west, and some settled in Wisconsin. Their descendants didn’t live in DeKalb County until about 1945.

The two families wouldn’t cross paths again until 1967! What a lucky find, which was found by simply checking out the neighbors on the census records!

Census record of William and Mary E. (Ousley) Davidson
Moses Ousley’s daughter Mary Emily married William Davidson. They lived in the same township as her family, and the Lucy Fish family. (Image source: Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)
Lesson learned: Looking for your ancestors in the census? Don’t forget to look at their neighbors!


  • “History of Sumner Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota.” Ray’s Place, Accessed 30 Jan 2018.
  • “1875 Minnesota State Census, Fillmore County, Sumner Township.” Minnesota, Territorial and State Censuses, 1849-1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

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