Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Workday Wednesday - What was a "Book Agent"?

Over the past month or so, I have been holding off on new "research" in the form of looking for new records, and instead focusing my research on a more in-depth analysis of records that I had obtained in my early genealogy work.  I made the mistake early on, as I suspect many new researchers do, of getting the data I wanted from a record and moving on too quickly without fully analyzing the record.  Going back into some of these previously documented sources is proving to be incredibly interesting, enlightening and in some cases, it is providing me with new mysteries.  The 1880 occupation of Curtis Washler is one such mystery.
Curtis Washler was my Great Grandfather on Dad's side.  He and his wife, Christiana, were married in 1877.  When I first found them in the 1880 Census, Curtis and Christiana were living with her parents, Isaac and Mary Ann Farver on their farm in Jackson Township in DeKalb County, Indiana.  Nothing in the Census record was particularly "unusual" other than Curtis's occupation.  As you can see here, Curtis's occupation is listed as "Book Agent."  Hmmm...Book Agent...what on earth is a Book Agent?  I can safely assume that this is not some sort of literary career in this instance simply because there isn't anything else that I have found to date to indicate that Great Grandpa Curtis was involved in the literary industry.  The next Census available (1900) shows Curtis as a farmer in Concord township (on what has been the family farm since that time).  Leave it to Murphy's Law to put this mystery smack around the lost 1890 Census!

The only other clue that I have actually confuses the issue even further.  In History of DeKalb County, Indiana : together with sketches of its cities, villages and towns ... and biographies of representative citizens : Also a condensed history of Indiana (Chicago : Inter-State Publishing Co., 1885), Curtis is listed as being the proprietor of a saloon in St. Joe, Indiana.  I have a hypothesis that somehow "Book Agent" is perhaps related to the operation of the Saloon (maybe something to do with gambling?).  It should be interesting to follow this trail and see just what a "book agent" was in 1880.  I have the feeling that once I find the answer to this question, it will definitely rate another blog post!

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