52 Ancestors: #19 Samuel Sampsell Could Not Read This

Samuel Sampsell/Sampsel (1798-??)

Since I wrote about my great-grandmother Catharine Sampsel Kaser two weeks ago, I have been delving into her father, Samuel Sampsell and the Sampsel family connection. I quickly discovered that part of the problem was that members of this family could not read or write.

Not everything you learn in doing family research is the stuff that makes for bragging about your outstanding ancestors.

Then I realized that the wonder is not that a poor farm laborer like Samuel Sampsell and his children did not learn to read and write, but that two generations later, my father finished high school and his children finished college.

Starting in 1850, census reports ask whether people can read and write. That made census and other records unreliable, dependent on the interpretation of the person who wrote down the answers.

The only piece of hard evidence I have for Samuel Sampsell is the 1850 Census. Somewhat less conclusive evidence is in the 1830 “chicken scratch” census. (The earlier census reports only had tick marks under columns designating number of males and females by age. No names except for head of household. No other specific information).

The Kaser Family Genealogy (which I refer to as G.B.–Green Book) lists Susan Klunge as Samuel’s wife. The death certificate of daughter Lydia Sampsell lists Susan Klunge as Samuel’s wife, but I have been unable to find anything else with her name. A birth record for a Susan Klug possibly is the same person.

Go a Different Direction

Since Samuel was not very evident in the records,  I resorted to the tried and true trick of research. If going in a straight line doesn’t get you where you want to go–go sideways.  I explored all of Catharine’s brothers and sisters, in hopes of learning more about her mother and father.  While, the journey did not prove particularly fruitful as to my great-great-grandparents, I did become acquainted with some interesting great-grand-aunts and great-grand-uncles, some of whose stories I will tell later.

At any rate, in 1850, Samuel is 52, living in German Township, Holmes County with the following others:

  • Lydia Sampsell, 28
  • Jacob Sampsell, 24
  • Daniel Sampsell, 20
  • Sarah Sampsell, 18
  • And a laborer named William Hartman, 24.

Samuel’s marital status is not shown on the 1850 census, but he is almost certainly a widower. Since there is  no woman near Samuel’s age, we can assume that Samuel’s wife died between 1834, the date of the birth of the probable last child, and 1850. Furthermore, his wife must have died fairly recently, because it would be very unusual for a man not to remarry if he had a farm to take care of and a brood of young children to care for.

An older daughter, Rebecca, married in 1830 (her father’s name is on the marriage record). And my great-grandmother Catharine, must have married about 1848, as her first child was born in 1849. Neither of them would be living with their father in 1850. According to others’ family trees, with so far no verification, two other daughters would also have been married and left the nest by 1850–Magdalena, born in 1822 and Susan born in 1824.  A son, Henry, born in 1831, is also unaccounted for in the 1850 census, possibly working for another family.

If the family trees are correct, my great-grandmother had eight siblings. That gives me a lot of people do research in my sideways approach to Samuel and his wife. The complete household list would be:

  • Samuel Sampsell (1798)
  • Susan Klug/Klunge (1796)–date not proved, wife
  • Rebecca Sampsell (1816) (married Jonathan Hummel and George Gonser)
  • Lydia Sampsell (1819)
  • Magdalena Sampsel (1822)
  • Susan Sampsell (1824)
  • Jacob Sampsel (1826) (Married Catharine Leavengood and had 9 children)
  • Catharine Sampsel (1828) (My great-grandmother, married Joseph Kaser)
  • Daniel Sampsel (1830) (Married Lucy____)
  • Henry Sampsel (1831)
  • Sarah Sampsel (1832 or 1834)

Rebecca could not read or write according to 1870 census, but not marked illiterate in 1880 census. Lydia could not read or write. Daniel could read, but could not write. According to several census records, my great-grandmother Catharine was also illiterate.

Because of laziness on the part of the census taker, the case for my great-great-grandfather’s literacy is inconclusive, although it is unlikely that Samuel, who was listed as a farmer on the 1850 census, but did not own land,  was illiterate. The person who recorded information on the 1850 census for German Township, Holmes County (Where daughter Catharine Sampsell Kaser and her husband also lived) did not mark anyone as “cannot read and write”, which is highly unlikely in a farm community where many men’s occupation is day laborer. And it is not logical to assume that a parent who could read and write would have as many illiterate children as Samuel had.

What I Know About my Great-Great Grandfather

Samuel was born in Centre County Pennsylvania, and had moved to Ohio by the time that Catharine was born in 1828. The rest of the children were born in Ohio, and he seems to have stayed put in German Township, Holmes County, Ohio, bordering Coshocton County. He was listed as farmer (although not owning a farm) in the one census, and his sons are listed as laborers. He was widowed by the time he was in his early 50s and apparently did not remarry. I do not have a death date or burial place.

Living Among the German Immigrants

Although Sampsel is a British name, the Sampsels lived in Pennsylvania German immigrant territory and apparently attended the same Reform church (German branch of Calvinism) that most of the Pennsylvania and Ohio (Coshocton County and northern Holmes County) settlers attended.

However, their illiteracy was not because they spoke German, as was the case with my father’s Kaser ancestors. Samuel was born in Pennsylvania, and by the time the children came along, the church was changing to English in its sermons and church-run schools.

Illiteracy in Samuel’s Day

By 2008 a UNESCO study reports, 98% of Americans were literate. When Samuel Sampsell was born, that figure was 60%. But the figures for America as a whole were distorted because New England may have been had highest literacy rates in the world–and Boston was listed at 100%. People  in rural areas were much less likely to be illiterate, and my Sampsell ancestors were day laborers in rural areas, few owning land until the 2nd generation after Samuel. They saw no need for reading and writing, and their children needed to help support the family rather than spend time in school.

Although I did run into other Sampsel/Sampsell families in Ohio that included judges and elected officials, my father’s grandmother Catharine Sampsel’s family had much humbler–and less educated roots.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Paul Kaser, who is the son of
  • Clifford Kaser, who is the son of
  • Catharine Sampsell (Kaser), who is the daughter of
  • Samuel Sampsell

Research Notes

The “Kaser Genealogy” (aka Green Book or G. B.) referred to is The Kaser History: A History of Dates and Other Interesting Facts (1994) edited by Deborah D. Morgan and others. Out of print. I obtained information from a cousin who owns a copy of the book.

Census records from 1830 (German Twp, Holmes Co, Oho); 1850 (German Twp, Holmes Co, Ohio; 1860 (German, Holmes, Ohio) 1870 (Millcreek, Coshocton, Ohio and Union, St. Joseph, Indiana, 1880 (Millcreek, Coshocton, Ohio and Liberty , St. Joseph, Indiana) , 1900 (Fremont, Isabella, Michigan and Crawford, Coshocton, Ohio)  *

Michigan Death Record for Daniel Sampsell, 1908, and for Lydia Sampsell, 1905, Isabella County, Freemont Township, Michigan*

Ohio Death Record for Jacob Sampsell, 1909, White Eyes Twp, Coshocton Co, Ohio.*

Holmes County Marriage Records, pg. 177, Marriage record of Rebecca Sampsell and George Gonser, May 1836.*

 Pennsylvania Births and Christenings 1709-1950, Birth Records and Christening for Susan Klug, 17 April 1796 at Christ Lutheran Church, York, York, PA Accessed at family search.org  Pennsylvania ODM G.S. film #Q974.841Y1VZY V5-6.

Find A Grave website for some death records and burial places.

*These records accessed at Ancestry.com.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

I am a grandma and was named for my grandma. I've been an actress, a political strategist and a writer.I grew up in various places, went to high school in Killbuck, Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University. My husband and I moved to Arizona after graduation and have three adult children. I love to travel and read. I ponder family as I cook. Look for my DNA profile on Ancestry.

3 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: #19 Samuel Sampsell Could Not Read This

  1. Herb Anderson

    Hi Bunny…I remember 2 brothers named Sampsel that went to school in Killbuck in late 30 early 40 they were very poor ( you felt sorry for them ) and lived near town as you turn right leaving Killbuck on 62 going South you turned right towards Glenmont and they lived left on hillside near road…I belive one was named Sam maybe a year or two ahead of me…..Herb

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Yes, there was a Sampsel family in Killbuck when we lived there, and may also be. But there are several different Sampsell families and I have had a lot of trouble figuring out which ones are actually related to my father’s grandmother. There was another Sampsell family in another part of the state that had some doctors and other community leaders.

  2. Kerry Dexter

    No doubt the Sampsells had a lot of knowledge about land and weather and other things they needed to know. Interesting to think of them teaching their children but with no written words at all, though — a challenge even to pass on recipes, I’d think.
    However, it’s not that long in the great line of history that in many parts of the world, writing things down was thought to be something that’d interfere with memory…


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