25 February 2013

Running Them Through the Sluice Box: Continuing to Filter the Records for Anna & Robert

mining, hydraulic mining, history, Colorado, Breckenridge, genealogy, Rocky Mountains, Hamilton, Sadler, Summit County, Ancestral Journeys
Hydraulic Placer Mining, ca 1935.
Image courtesy of the Denver Public
Library Digital Collections, Denver,

Have you ever seen how a sluice box works?

The sediment is poured into the top, and water runs over it, like a stream. This allows for the larger, heavier pieces of earth to be retained in the different sections, and the smaller sediment to eventually be washed away. 

This seems to me the next logical step as I search for Anna & Robert Hamilton of Breckenridge, Colorado. They arrived here during a mining boom, and I've been “panning for genealogical gold” for several months.

In past posts, I've explored the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Federal Census records for the family; I've examined my original source, and created some initial questions I wanted to ask. I think it is time to pause, and reassess my timeline and research strategy on the Hamilton’s. We already know quite a bit about the first few years of their marriage, so let’s take a look at all of that, and outline what we don’t know.

Going back to that “original source.” Sandra F. Mather, PhD authored They Weren't All Prostitutes and Gamblers; The Women of Summit County from 1859 to the Turn of the Century. (Summit Historical Society, 2009). In the ending chapter, Dr. Mather introduces us to Anna (Sadler) Hamilton and her husband Robert. Anna kept a journal, and those were examined in order to compose this chapter. From this text, I began to create a timeline of Anna’s life.
  • 2 Sep 1862, birth, Grundy County, Illinois
  • 1870, census, Vienna Township, Grundy County, Illinois
  • 1880, census, Vienna Township, Grundy County, Illinois
  • 1884, teacher’s certificate issued, Grundy County, Illinois
  • 11 Feb 1885, marriage, Grundy County, Illinois to Robert Hamilton
  • 1885, Colorado state census, Summit County, Colorado
  • 13 May 1885, property, purchased a horse in Summit County, Colorado
  • Jul 1885, illness, Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado
  • 1888, property, owned mining claims in her name, Summit County, Colorado
  • 1904, property, sold mining claims
  • Probably before 1915, death
Although property records can be excellent to utilize, it is not necessary to reside on the land, or in the area, of the property in question. It is possible that Robert purchased this land on her behalf… and a million other “what if’s?” Because I do not have a solid chain of evidence, I am summarizing that I essentially lose Anna’s trail in 1885 when the Colorado State Census was conducted.

However, Robert’s timeline does provide more clues…
  • Cal 1857, birth, Canada
  • 1880, census, Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado
  • 11 Feb 1885, marriage, Grundy County, Illinois to Anna Sadler
  • 1885, Colorado state census, Summit County, Colorado
  • 1909, residence, Oxford, Nebraska (per newspaper article in Summit County Journal)
  • 1910, property, Denver, Denver County, Colorado
  • 7 Feb 1911, property, Summit County, Colorado (per newspaper article in Summit County Journal. Language of article implies that he resided on his ranch, as well.)
  • 1912, property, Denver, Denver County, Colorado
  • 8 Aug 1913, residence, Weld County, Colorado
  • Abt 1915, residence, Denver, Denver County, Colorado
  • 1916, property, Summit County, Colorado

A couple items to note:

SCJ 24 Jul 1909 p5 Visiting From Nebraska

The article dated 1909 indicates that Mr. Hamilton, his wife and children were visiting Summit County at the time from Oxford, Nebraska, where he operated a highly successful “large stock farm.” This is the only indication I have that the Hamilton’s ever had any children.

Also, the 1911 article indicates that his ranch was “down the blue,” a local term indicating the Blue River. This could have meant north of present day Silverthorne or south of the Town of Breckenridge. If he went north, he still would have been in Summit County for several miles, but going south means either Park or Lake Counties, depending on how far he went. If he went south, it would have made more sense for him to do business in growing Leadville, rather than coming back to Breckenridge. 

Here is what I do not know:
  1. Robert’s actual birth date and location. I have an estimated year based on other record sources, and a country. His father, William, was born in Ormstown, Quebec, in 1830, and arrived in the U.S. in 1881, well after Robert’s birth.
  2. Death dates and locations for both Anna and Robert. Anna’s father, John, was listed in The History of Grundy County, Illinois (Munsell Publishing, Chicago. 1914. Pages 896-897); and this text indicated that Anna had already passed at the time of printing. I have absolutely nothing to give me an idea of when Robert may have died.
  3. Did Robert and Anna have any children? If so, where and when? 
  4. How long were they in Nebraska? Did Robert stay in the cattle industry? He easily could have moved his operation to Colorado and had success.
There appears to be a good deal of information on other member’s of their families… The Sadlers' in Illinois are fairly well documented, as is one of Anna’s brothers that became a politician in Colorado. The Hamilton’s are also represented well. I have been able to track down descendants from both families and inquired if they knew anything of either Anna or Robert. All that has been confirmed was that they existed. Nothing more. 

Next steps.

  • I am going to follow a bit of my own advice, and look into Livestock Brands for both Nebraska and Colorado. There is a chance that I can at least identify Robert’s residences.
  • Vital records from family members in Illinois and Canada may provide clues, as well.
  • Religious sources may be helpful here, also. My first goal will be to determine the Hamilton’s religious preferences while here in Breckenridge. The options in 1885 were fairly limited, and I happen to know that historic records have been preserved fairly well. Even if I cannot pinpoint a particular denomination, it will not take long to examine the available materials, and at the very least, exclude that as an option for more information.

Just a bit more on the parents…

Robert’s father was born in Ormstown. Anna’s father was born in Ormstown. Robert’s mother’s maiden name was SADLER. Anna’s maiden name was SADLER. Both families eventually had connections to Grundy County, Illinois.


Oh, I don’t think so!

[Sandra F. Mather, PhD., is the author of at least ten books, all discussing the history and geology of Summit County, Colorado. She is a volunteer for both the Summit Historical Society and the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.]


  1. If Anna had passed by 1914, and Robert was visiting Colorado from Nebraska in 1909 . . with wife and children . . . Could Anna have died from her 1885 illness? Then Robert married again and had children? Maybe as the husband, he had some kind of legal control over her mining claims after she died? So he sold them in 1904 and, wanting to start a new life, moved to Nebraska?

    Are there medical records of Anna's illness in 1885? Local obituaries? You've probably looked at both of these. I'm just wondering if she died young. (That would cause her to disappear from the records!)

  2. Mariann, I think its absolutely possible that Anna died much earlier, and Robert could have married again. I would imagine that her property would have transferred to him upon her death... unfortunately, I can find no indication of any of that happening. However, my brain is certainly open to the possibilities!
    Her illness is indicated by her journal entry and a small blurb in the local newspaper indicating that the local doctor visited the home the day after the journal entry. As far as I know, the physician's records left town when he did (after controversy when he killed the local saloon keep over the other man's wife!). I've not been able to find any other public record of the medical cases in the area... but that doesn't mean I've stopped looking, either!
    Thanks for the suggestions; its nice to have someone take another look at it all.
    ~ Jen


Please comment! I would love to hear your thoughts!