Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Cruising the Neighborhood


Some tasks are better accomplished in person. Research is no exception to that observation. When it comes to locating potential ancestors who lived in the early 1800s, the most complete search may only be done in person, cruising the neighborhood, so to speak—if we can determine just where that "in person" work should be done.

For Mathias Ambrose of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, his apparent last days were lived after he signed his will on October 11, 1804. Fortunately for us, a generous research angel posted a digital copy of that will at Ancestry.com, so we can glean the names of all Mathias' descendants. Following those cues, however, is proving more difficult from our long-distance vantage point than we might have guessed.

Not everything is posted online, as every researcher comes to realize at one point or another. Barring the ability to hop a plane and fly cross country, the other option is to try and read between the lines of the documents which are currently accessible online.

For Mathias' oldest son, Jacob, we saw yesterday that there were some data points which we could glean. But when we try to follow the trail of Mathias' two other sons, John and namesake Mathias junior, we don't do quite so well. To complicate matters, eldest son Jacob apparently named a son after his father Mathias, as well as another son after himself. With the broad age estimates of those early census formats, great care needs to be taken to ensure we are not confusing any of the named-after descendants of the elder Mathias.

While Mathias' son John seems to have disappeared from census records shortly after his father's passing, there were signs of the younger Mathias. The 1810 census record for Pennsylvania's Bedford county reveals a household for a Mathias "Ambroser" which included one male and one female within the age bracket labeled twenty-six through forty-four, putting this Mathias birth year anywhere from 1766 through 1784. Included in that couple's household were three girls and a boy under ten years of age, and one older boy between the ages of sixteen and twenty five.

And yet, after the 1810 census, there was no sign of any Ambrose men other than the eldest brother Jacob and, eventually, his sons. I tried different resources to flush out any sign of other Ambrose family members. I searched at FamilySearch.org for marriage records in Bedford County, simply under the surname Ambrose, and then using its many variants. I tried, also, searching through Find A Grave for any burials linked to that same surname in Bedford County with no results in that time frame. A third attempt was to search for any Ambrose settlers arriving in Perry County along with their married sisters Elizabeth and Susannah, but found no results to that query, either.

There were a number of hints on Ancestry.com indicating that this Mathias may have retained one of the other versions of his surname that had been applied to some of the records in Bedford County—Ambrosier, for instance—and migrated to another county in Ohio. That certainly could be possible, considering the disappearance of that name from census records in Bedford County. I would be interested to see whether any descendants of that potential branch would show up in DNA tests. Barring the discovery of any other records to connect the younger Mathias in Bedford with the supposed one in Ohio, that might be the only way to validate such a conjecture.

As for the rest of Mathias Ambrose's family back in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, I suspect the most promising way to further this line of research will have to be by a rubber-meets-the-road approach. In other words, going in person to the repositories of any records still remaining from that time period, reading through the documents, line by line as has been done by researchers for all those years before the wonder of computer-assisted searches made our quest so streamlined. Some things never change.

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