Letters to the Editor | Bureau County Republican

Letter: Genealogical Societies offer exciting and sometimes hard histories

I am new to Princeton. That is to say, though I now live here, I grew up elsewhere and moved here only a few years ago. But my family lore held that sometime in the past, a great-grandfather Moseley of mine moved from Princeton, Illinois, to Lake City, Iowa, married there, and subsequently begot my grandmother Frances and her brother, my great uncle Fred, both of whom I remember from when I was about five.

In 2004, for no particular reason other than curiosity, my brother and I first visited Princeton, and discovered that Oakland cemetery is chock full of dead Moseleys, some of them undoubtedly relatives of ours. We also discovered that there is an historical museum right here in Princeton as well as a genealogical society.

With the help of people at the historical museum and the genealogical society, we also discovered that great-grandfather Moseley’s mother was a daughter of Austin Bryant, one of four Bryant brothers who, with their mother and sister, moved to Princeton from Massachusetts in the 1830s, when Princeton was just getting started.

We also learned that each of those four brothers eventually built a lovely brick home, all of them still standing, and all but Austin’s continuously occupied and well maintained. Austin’s brick home at that time was derelict, occupied by coons, and in ruinous condition.

From someone, possibly at the genealogical society, my wife Judith and I learned who owned the Austin Bryant ruin. We contacted him, and arranged a visit to the house. The owner was not interested in selling the house at that time, but several years later, a person from the genealogical society telephoned Judith and me with the news that the property was on the market.

Judith and I bought it, had it repaired, and several years later moved in. And we stayed in touch with our new-found friends at the historical and genealogical societies, making it easy to find out more about my ancestors.

I learned quite a bit about each of the four Bryant brothers, as well as about the Moseleys, many of whom seemed to have contributed positively, publicly or privately, to the evolution of Princeton. But not every ancestral tale need be positive.

People who seek acquaintance with their ancestors risk learning things about them that may be interesting, but not necessarily flattering. Such a tale came my way via both the historical and genealogical societies.

One of the four Bryant brothers who moved to Princeton in the 1830s was Cyrus, who served as the first Circuit Clerk of Bureau County when, in 1837, Bureau County was formed. Cyrus had a son, Marcus, who died in 1876 when he was only 33, leaving his wife Kezia a widow. Kezia later got involved somehow with a man named Daley, then age 20.

At some point, Mr. Daley allegedly told stories about Kezia that “cast odium upon that lady’s reputation” according to a Dixon newspaper, stories which prompted Kezia’s brother William McGinnis, on Monday, June 16, 1884 to come down from Dixon, confront Mr. Daley somewhere on South Main Street here in Princeton and, after a few words, to fire two shots into Mr. Daley’s head, wounding him gravely but not fatally.

For this, William McGinnis was charged with attempted murder. He stood trial in Princeton the following September, was found guilty, sentenced to six months in the county jail and fined $500.

In addition to this criminal trial, McGinnis also stood trial in a civil suit brought by Daley. Though Daley prevailed in both the civil and criminal trials, it is not clear that he won much public approval, one newspaper account suggesting that Daley “had got no more than his deserts” and another that justice might have been better served had McGinnis been hung for poor marksmanship.

David W. Peterson – Princeton