Monday, November 20, 2017

Easing Into the Week


It may sound strange to hear that I consider this upcoming week to be an easy one. ("What?! This week?") You may be thinking of the endless shopping list, the multi-day preparations ahead, the hordes of company about to descend on your altogether-too-small humble abode—or the many miles you will be driving (in the snow, uphill both ways). After the schedule our family has been through in the past few weeks, though, this week will seem like a vacation. And it will be.

You have to remember: I've had a rocky relationship with this holiday called Thanksgiving. Not that I'm ungrateful; on the contrary, my family and I have been overwhelmingly blessed over the years. It's just that, ever since I was a child, Thanksgiving was a lonely holiday for me. In later years, it also marked the time of sad memories of family members lost. Yet, even approaching one Thanksgiving season, there was the surprise of some particularly welcome genealogical news, when a fellow researcher pointed out my relationship to a line reaching back to the landing of the Mayflower.

Putting my Thanksgiving angst in more recent context, this has been a hectic month. Our family owns a small training company and several times in this past year, my husband has been privileged to speak internationally. The only down side is when he is gone for long periods of time to locations which are not exactly politically stable.

Let's just say it was good to pick him up at the airport this past weekend.

For just this small while—this upcoming week leading up to Thanksgiving—it will be nice to set aside all the classes that need to be taught, all the scheduling obligations, all the papers needing to be reviewed, and all those incessant meetings. While we love what we do, it's nice to have a break. Just cooking a turkey and "all the fixin's" will be a welcome reprieve.

As for our visits here at A Family Tapestry, it will be a time to sit back and relax, as well. Those frustrating Rineharts aren't yielding me anything further of interest—it is almost looking like I will have to go wrestle the truth out of that family in person, either in Ohio or Pennsylvania at a later date. Meanwhile, nothing exciting has appeared on the research horizon, as far as other family stories are concerned.

That doesn't mean I'll be doing a disappearing act, though. With the change of responsibilities at our local genealogical society, I've been doing a bit of thinking, and perhaps the fireside-chat mood this holiday week evokes will be the perfect setting to just sit back and start a conversation on the note of those thoughts.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ahead of the Holidays


It's almost time for that dreaded event: Black Friday. Yes, I know, it would be nice to actually celebrate a holiday (Thanksgiving, in case you—like commercial America—hadn't noticed) instead of sweeping it out of the way so a more "profitable" season could be ushered in, but that is how our culture currently works.

Despite the caricature that the gift-giving season has become, I've noticed some backlash. For one thing, the stores themselves are devising ways to encourage people to get their holiday shopping done early—ostensibly so the impact of frenzied shoppers won't hit the front doors all at once next Friday. After all, this American rite of passage can't be easy on the employees, who sometimes even have to leave their own Thanksgiving dinners early to appease the "demand" for early shopping.

The other trend is that shoppers are looking for ways to escape the crush, themselves. This is, after all, an insane way to go about purchasing well-thought-out gifts for cherished family and friends.

At the same time, for a culture in which many have more than they could possibly need—or use—it makes sense to divert the gift-giving urge to items other than commodities. It's been an interesting trend to observe: that of replacing the gift of gadgets with presents providing experiences or non-consumable entities.

Perhaps that is what is behind the groundswell of people gifting each other with subscriptions to services like Ancestry.com or "unique" items like the ethnicity reports that come with DNA test results. It's no surprise to see many genealogy-related companies join the clamor with pre-holiday sales; one of my best DNA matches from last year only tested because her husband gave her a DNA test just for fun the previous Christmas—he liked the holiday commercial. She had no tree posted online, but when responding to my email (one of the rare non-tree customers who actually did respond), told me she was willing to work with me on figuring out our impossible mutual ancestry. If it weren't for the lark of giving something "different" for the holiday season, I would have lost that opportunity.

Already, my count of DNA matches has leapt almost double the usual biweekly amount at one company—Family Tree DNA. It couldn't possibly be on account of the holiday sales; that company only announced their flash sale last Sunday night. What went into that forty six person jump to give me 2,531 matches at FTDNA for today's tally? My husband's FTDNA count only went up by twenty five to total 1,613. I'm holding steady with that biweekly rate of eight new matches at AncestryDNA, as is my husband; where I currently have 769 matches, he now has 383. (I won't even go into the issue with my shrinking results at 23andMe, where once again, I lost eleven matches to drop to 1,138 matches; at least my husband only lost two this time.)

No matter how many matches I might have at a DNA company, one thing is sure: after the holiday bulge hits the lab at these respective companies, there will be a lot more matches than we've seen in the past several weeks. Sales certainly make it more interesting to explore those matches, mainly because in the increased number comes a greater possibility of finding a close family member whose tree actually parallels some of my family surnames.

In preparation for that—as well as a result of the research I've been tackling for projects on current branches of interest—I've been expanding the number of descendants' lines I can add to my database. Since I've been focused on my mother-in-law's Pennsylvania Rinehart line and its related Gordons, you'll find it no surprise to learn her tree was the recipient of most of my research attention this time. Right now, I've got 13,395 in her tree, up 186 from two weeks ago.

In comparison, my own mother's line went up a measly thirty eight to total 11,682. And absolutely nothing happened over on my father's line and my father-in-law's line. The problem with that is: if I'm hoping to find a link to help resolve those lines where I'm stalled, I'm going to need a more robust tree to start with.

In a way, right now, we are getting ready to "harvest" the holidays. Eventually, those anticipated DNA test sales will materialize as matches for all of us. The trouble is, unless we're prepared with records and tools to determine how those mystery test-takers match us, all we're left with are guesses. And I've spent a few years struggling with DNA guesses. From experience, I can tell you there's nothing more frustrating in genealogy than getting close enough to a breakthrough answer, knowing you have a DNA match but not being able to figure out why that person matches. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Partnering to Augment Our Reach


In the midst of the rainy weather that blew through my stretch of the west coast last Thursday, our genealogical society happened to have the privilege of hosting probably the most important speaker ever to appear in our local lineup: Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for Ancestry.com.

Of course, we bemoaned our fate of having our biggest day turn into our soggiest day, to date, of this season. Everything we had planned so meticulously to insure we were ready for the crowd that was sure to materialize for this learning opportunity seemed futile. There's no competing with yukky weather.

Things did not bode well for us from the minute, in mid-morning, that my power went out. A weather-related outage, it was an unscheduled annoyance which wouldn't be resolved, according to the utilities company, until after I had to leave my home to set up for the evening's meeting.

On the other side of the equation, our fearless speaker, traveling to us from her last engagement hundreds of miles away, had to scramble when her flight was diverted to another airport on account of the weather—and then landed later than anticipated. Hello, Bay area rush hour traffic. This was not in the itinerary.

Still, everything worked out, and we can now safely declare the event a success. In retrospect, I'm realizing this was an occasion which could not possibly have happened without one element—and facing the uncooperative weather has reminded me of the true support which bolstered our efforts. That key element was partnership.

Here's the thing: we are a small society—less than one hundred members. We may be situated in a city of three hundred thousand, but we have a lot of growing to do. More to the point, the facility which hosts our membership meetings provides a room which holds about thirty five people. A room that size would never do for a guest speaker of that magnitude. Nor would the facility's less than adequate technological capabilities; there is no way the wifi in that building would be up to handling a live demonstration of the Ancestry website.

What to do? The answer to that question—and likely to many challenges genealogical societies will face in upcoming years—is to seek innovative answers through partnerships. I'm not talking about formal, long-term arrangements, but simply the teamwork to put together an event that meets the needs of multiple organizations.

In our case, the answer to our quandary came quickly. We are a city which celebrates its ethnic diversity, and one such group had approached our society almost a year ago, asking us to help teach their members how to preserve their ethnic heritage through the skills inherent in family history research. Now that their native-language-speaking ancestors were all but gone, this association wanted to pass their heritage down to subsequent generations before it was forgotten entirely.

Once we had shared that educational opportunity with this other organization, we got to know them better—well enough to feel comfortable asking them if they were interested in partnering with us in other educational outreaches. Can anything make more sense than blending groups which seek to preserve their heritage with genealogical societies mandated to preserve local family history?

It was thanks to this ongoing partnership that we were, months later, able to bring in a well-known speaker and host her presentation in a top-notch facility (a lecture hall at a university in our city).

Every group is different, of course, and the potential for partnership must be viewed on a case by case basis. But it is as clear to me as the next day's sparkling sunshine against the raging storm of our event's evening that the only way our event could have been a success was if we were able to pool our resources and talents with another group sharing mutual goals.


Friday, November 17, 2017

If You Can't Find One Family,
Look for Another


Granted, I'm chasing myself in circles, trying to piece together the story of Sarah Rinehart Gordon, my mother-in-law's second great grandmother. Sarah's father, Simon, supposedly came from Greene County, Pennsylvania, but Sarah herself was born in Kentucky—and we found the tax records to confirm her father Simon (or at least someone with that exact name) was in Bracken County there. By the time I found Sarah in Perry County, Ohio, the home of my mother-in-law's family, she was married with several children.

So how did that Kentucky girl find a Greene County Gordon to marry? And what brought them all to Perry County, Ohio?

All of Sarah's first seven children were born in Pennsylvania—Greene County, specifically, was listed as the birthplace for some of them. Only with daughter Sarah, born in 1832, did the rest of Sarah's children report their birth as happening in Ohio.

It's obvious that, despite a birth in Kentucky, Sarah and her parents returned to Greene County. That was, after all, where she met her future husband, James Gordon.

In fact, Gordons were there aplenty to chase in that county in Pennsylvania, and the same book in which we searched in vain to discover Simon Rinehart's place in the Rinehart lineage in Greene County just happens to have plenty of Gordons to talk about, too. At the bottom of page 436 of Howard Leckey's The Tenmile Country and its Pioneers, we can easily spot James Gordon, firstborn son of William Gordon and Mary Carroll. As for James' marriage, the book simply reports that he "married Sarah Rinehart."

It would have been a nice gesture, in the midst of all that genealogical detail, if he had chosen to extrapolate on that entry just a little bit more. After all, in a county full of Rineharts—not to mention, full of women named Sarah Rinehart—one would think it would help to differentiate between two people claiming the same name in the same place.

Perhaps that's what makes this chase called genealogy so challenging—and yet so compelling. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Scoring a Triple D


If I can't find any further documentation about the Simon Rinehart I'm seeking—no, not the one ambushed by Native Americans back in Greene County, Pennsylvania, but the one who moved from there to Perry County, Ohio—I'll try a different approach. I'll look for any records which can verify that at least two of his children had his name and his wife's name mentioned in their own death records.

Of course, I'm still trying to make this second approach work. Despite finding Simon's daughter's death record, it contained a name for her mother which did not agree with a published report of that daughter's brother's parental names. And then, I couldn't even find the actual death record for that same brother, leaving me to wonder about editorial inaccuracies in published works.

Thankfully, though, Simon had more than two children. In his later years—like, those years when the census enumeration actually included the names of all family members, not just the head of household—Simon's census record included the name of three younger Rinehart women: Hannah, Lucinda, and Charlotte.

The difficulty was that these three thirty-something spinsters had some marks against them. For one thing, in the 1850 census, the blot on Charlotte's name was that she was listed as "idiotic." Likewise, that same label persisted in the 1860 census. While I can't yet locate the three sisters in the 1870 census, the one sister I can find in the 1880 census, Lucinda, was labeled as "insane."

Realizing that family members of an ancestor were seen in a less than sterling way can be a deflating discovery. Of course, the wide variety of diagnoses that could have been lumped into such labels in that time period don't necessarily constitute our understanding of those labels today. In addition, options left open to family members for dealing with such health issues in that century were drastically limited and often not adequate to address the individual's treatment needs.

A timely blog post by professional genealogist Amy Johnson Crow, "Do You Have a Defective Ancestor?" addresses such issues from both a historical and genealogical perspective. One suggestion was to look for the special census schedule that expanded upon that category focused on health issues. That schedule was known as the "Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes"—handily shrunken down to the abbreviation, the DDD Schedule.

Though poor Charlotte, the "idiotic" daughter of Simon and Ann Rinehart, was nowhere to be found by the time of the 1880 census, her sister Lucinda was listed that year, so I thought I'd check out her entry in the DDD Schedule.

Unfortunately, as I found out, not all states provided the federal government with their records from the extra schedules taken along with the regular enumeration. Still, I gave it a try since Ancestry.com includes a copy of the 1880 DDD Schedule in their holdings. Yet, in browsing the collection's holdings, after selecting the state of Ohio, the listing of available counties that popped up did not include Perry County.

It would have been interesting to see what additional information could have been found for Lucinda in the DDD Schedule, but I have to remember my original reason for pursuing additional documentation: I wanted to find a record of her parents' names. Of course, I'd also like to find an entry for either Hannah or Charlotte, as well—though finding the right Hannah will be a challenge, since that was one of the favorite names in the extended Rinehart family.

Even if Lucinda was the last of the remaining Rinehart siblings, it was difficult to locate a death record for her. My first clue was an entry at Find A Grave—without the customary headstone photograph—but for dates it included only years and one of them seemed wrong. However, the entry also indicated the burial was in Perry County, in a section of the cemetery reserved for charity or "infirmary lots." The dates given were a birth in 1820 and a death in 1900.

Remembering the death records in the holdings at FamilySearch, I went back there to see if I could find an entry for Lucinda Rinehart. Under the spelling for Lucinda "Rhinhart," the entry contained the same year of birth (1820) but a full date of death: June 2, 1900. Her place of death was given simply as "infirmary." No marital status was indicated, so I didn't even have that hint to help determine if I had the right Lucinda Rinehart. And her place of birth was listed as "U.S.A." Clearly, there was no close relative available to provide the details of this abandoned woman's connections to family life.

Appreciative, at least, for the exactness of the full date of death, I followed the line for Lucinda's entry to the point on the second page where her parents' names would be listed. Sadly—and I had noticed that trend when I was searching for her brother Jesse's entry in the 1880s—it had been a habit in that county to omit collection of this information, despite a heading on the form clearly provided for that purpose.

So, was this the right Lucinda? Or not? Once again, history's record-keepers have cheated me out of an answer to my family history questions. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

About Those Old Genealogies


What is it about things that are claimed to be "old" and therefore more valuable than the same item from our own time period? Perhaps that makes sense to value an antique piece of furniture or artwork from a prior period of history. But family trees? Though some people get excited to find an old genealogy about their family, I've learned it is quite possible for diligent genealogists of prior centuries to make just as many mistakes as those of our current century.

The only difference, in finding an "old" genealogy of a family I'm researching, is that I can check out what my fellow researchers of a hundred years ago might have heard about their roots. But those grandmothers of the early eighteen hundreds, say, who passed along the family lore to their younger generations certainly didn't have the opportunity to check out those family legends against the proof in the digitized documents we can so easily call up today.

Your eyes may have lit up when you saw me mention discovering an old history book about the families living in western Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. After all, the Rinehart family which still keeps me in the dark about their origins were once from Greene County, Pennsylvania. And other researchers have also felt sure that my Perry County, Ohio, Rineharts were indeed once residents of Greene County.

Taking a look at the entry about the Rinehart family in this book—The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families—does show us one useful detail, at least. Looking over the Rinehart genealogy detailed in those pages, beginning at page 322, gives us a clue that that family liked to re-use the same names, generation after generation. They nearly wore out the use of names like Simon and Jesse. Cassa, Sarah, and Hannah were winners in the name-after contest, too.

The difficulty was how hard it made it to sort out which Rinehart family might be the correct line for this Simon Rinehart I've been seeking. Yet, if I kept my bearings by insuring that other details about our man were also represented, it would still be possible to not be led astray by all those same names in the Rinehart extended family.

The trouble with all those Simons, however, was not in how many of them there were, but in how nobody among the whole of them shared the same details our man would have to have. For instance, there is no Simon listed with a wife named Ann. Furthermore, if this Simon was father of our Sarah Rinehart Gordon, he would have to be a man born at least twenty years before Sarah's arrival in the late 1790s. As far as I can tell, no Simon mentioned in The Tenmile Country contained the full complement of those requirements.

What complicates matters is that this same Greene County is the one in which I found several of our family's Gordon relatives, too. It is obvious the Gordons from Greene and the Rineharts from Greene lived close enough to each other to know each other well. In addition, despite the distance between the two counties—Greene, where the families once lived, and Perry County, Ohio, where some of the Gordons and Rineharts eventually settled—I am able to find a cluster of those same families in Perry who once were neighbors back in Greene.

There are so many names, it almost makes me want to sketch out this Rinehart family line, as detailed in The Tenmile Country. Better yet, to enter it all into a test tree database in my Ancestry.com account. I've got to come up with a way to examine the narrative for gaps. After all, Bruce Anderson found some missing segments, as I mentioned yesterday. There may be more.

The most glaring false start is the Simon Rinehart reported in Tenmile who lost his life during an ambush out on his frontier property. Obviously, he couldn't be the one who ended up in Perry County. None of the other Simons mentioned in the book would match the age and dates, though. Could there be other branches of this family who were not included in the genealogy in this book? Or does our Simon Rinehart coincidentally come from the same county, but not the same Rinehart family at all?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Never Try to Reinvent the Wheel


The beauty of those old online genealogical forums was that they became a gathering place for like minded researchers to puzzle over the same challenges. There, we could hash things out together and find out who had already tried an approach without gaining any answers. Eliminating those failed attempts before repeating them, we could collectively spend our time focusing on solving the problem through newer—or at least untried—approaches.

The best of those ideas lay, harvested, in my old file folder for Rinehart. After having that resource tucked away for nearly twenty years, it was time to stop spinning my wheels and review how others had already attempted to solve the problem—and failed—and avoid those paths, while checking out the ideas rendered on possible better approaches.

Although the collection of ideas I had stashed in that folder presented a mishmash of several researchers' notes, the review was worth it. Among other things, one man pointed out what he felt were some glaring errors about our Rineharts in those published histories of the late 1880s.

In a 1981 paper which the author, an Ohio man named Bruce Anderson, entitled "The Rineharts of Perry County, Ohio," the comparison was made between what was known about those Perry County Rineharts and the Rineharts back in Greene County, Pennsylvania. The author prefaced his observation with this explanation,
I was tracing my family tree and had come to a dead end on Thomas Rinehart. I noticed that there were only four Rineharts in Perry County in 1840 and none in 1830.

The conclusion the author came to was that those hard-to-find Perry County Rineharts were back in Greene County in 1830. Granted, the material Bruce Anderson was able to access at that time probably didn't afford him as many varied resources as the documents we can now find online, so he didn't provide a completely satisfying argument. But he did reintroduce one resource I had forgotten about: Howard L. Leckey's The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families.

While it is true that Anderson compared several details similar in the families of both locations—Ohio and Pennsylvania—he still didn't point out exactly where he would have placed Simon on the Pennsylvania Rinehart pedigree. However, what notes he did provide helped me get inside another researcher's head and explore his insights into our common research problem.

In some ways, I do miss the camaraderie and exchange of ideas between researchers during that earlier phase of online research. Those emails we exchanged allowed us to bounce research ideas off each other. While I may not have any research partners for this current Rinehart quandary, just having that thick file folder in which I saved all those twenty year old comments may help me figure out how to resolve my research question on how my Ohio Rinehart family connected with the ones in Greene County, Pennsylvania. At least it will keep me from being tempted to try reinventing the research wheel on this problem. 
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