The challenge with researching those ancestors born in the 1700s is the lack of widely-distributed digitized records trumpeting their existence. Sure, there are a few notable exceptions to that dilemma—think Family History Library in Salt Lake City, for instance—but for the most part, when seeking documentation of those distant relatives, if it is still available at all, be prepared to pack up and travel to the source.
The source, for most of John Gordon's life, would be the area in Pennsylvania known as the Tenmile Country. Ten Mile is not just a place, however—though there is a community specifically called by that name there—but a region. That region encompasses the state's southwestern counties of Washington and Greene, a location with a decided ambience all its own.
It's an area, at least for my mother-in-law's family, full of family history. That history, claimed by descendants of my husband's fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon, can be hard to come by, especially for a researcher like me, isolated on the opposite side of the continent.
Sometimes, given the challenges of researching that time period and remote location, it helps to have access to books. Books, the way-finders for genealogists of a previous century, still come in handy. I still leap at the chance to snatch up a used genealogy or history book if I can—thus, my serendipitous discovery of, and subsequent ownership of, the book by historian Howard Leckey called The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families.
I've come back to that book time and again, from inter-library loan days of the nineties to bookstore purchase of just a couple years ago. Now, it looks like I'll be pulling that book back off the shelf once again.
Granted, genealogy books can contain errors, but it's the trailblazer aspect I'm after at this point. I can double-check for errors once I've been pointed in the right direction to locate actual documentation. Right now, my task is to trace the lines of descent of John Gordon's nine children and compare those to the ancestral lines of the 165 DNA matches showing on my husband's ThruLines® readout at Ancestry.com.
Right at the start, exploring the descendants of John Gordon's daughter Elizabeth tells me I need to search for some documentation. Sure, the Leckey book tells me John's daughter Elizabeth was born in 1761 and eventually married Christopher Guseman. And yes, from there I can see that their daughter, also named Elizabeth, married James Wells and had children, as well. But from the daughter of the next generation, I can't piece together any record corresponding with what these DNA matches assert.
I like to confirm DNA matches at Ancestry, especially given their system now for linking and identifying. However, it means very little to assert that two people are connected through a specific line of descent, if there is no record to confirm the names and dates claimed for these relatives. That, as it turns out, is my particular struggle. Especially in a family known to have intermarried, believing that a DNA match is proof alone that a pedigree chart is correct gives me little solace. I want to see the paper trail.
Yes, books are helpful—as a guide. But at some point, though we consult such books as these, we do need to turn to available records to bolster our claims. With all these multiple generations of Gordons, there is more than one way to find our way back to that fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon.