Sunday, February 23, 2020

It's Christmas . . . Again

Last week, I walked into an office at the college where I teach a beginning genealogy class. I had to pick up a new key for my classroom. It had been an entire semester since I needed to head to that particular office, so I was somewhat taken aback to see in February, just inside the door, what appeared to be a Christmas tree.

Now, I know all that Middle Ages stuff about taking down your Christmas decorations on Three Kings Night—or else having to wait until Valentine's Day (or something like that)—but I was rather surprised to see this holdout. It was, after all, almost a week after the day for hearts and flowers. The staff people giggled at my surprise, and explained their scheme to keep their artificial tree up all year: they change decorations each month to fit the holiday theme for that month. What may have seemed, at first glance, to be Christmas, on second take turned out to have a reasonable explanation. One good look at the tree confirmed the explanation: the branches were all decked out with hearts large and small, pink and red.

Likewise, I have a good alibi for claiming it is Christmas again for this post. It's time for my biweekly count, to check my research progress on the four family trees I keep. The count includes keeping track of how many DNA matches both I and my husband receive, fortnight over fortnight. Surprise, surprise, those numbers are up—thankfully! Not quite to the rapid pace of previous years, but I'm glad they are increasing again.

That, however, can only mean one thing: holiday sales must finally be hitting the match lists, since we are a bit over six weeks beyond the gifting season. And while the results for this two week period for both Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA were puny numbers for both of us, at 23andMe and MyHeritage, the results were almost back to our normal rate. That translates to an increase of sixty five at 23andMe for my husband and sixty six for me. Better yet, at MyHeritage, my husband gained 123 matches, even topping my 114. (I usually receive more matches each time than he does.)

Don't ask me what caused the about-face in results. While I'm sure the holiday sales bulge—thankfully still there, at least a little bit—had something to do with this uptick, I'm glad to have received matches that kept me busy in these last fourteen days.

Let's see how that improved the count for the trees I've been working on. First of all, you probably recall that the trees for the two dads in the family usually are stuck at the same count they've had for months. Not so this time, at least for my father-in-law's tree, where a new DNA match led me to add forty descendants to his Irish roots, bringing the total in his tree to 1,624.

While my own dad's tree is unfortunately still stuck at 658, if we keep getting more DNA matches, I'm confident that low number will warm up to something more promising. And that, in addition to some old-fashioned paper chases on the two moms' lines, has brought the totals up for my mother's tree and my mother-in-law's tree. In the past two weeks, that means seventy one new, documented names in my mother-in-law's tree, which now stands at 17,775 people, and my mom's tree gained an encouraging 167 names to now total 20,478. We're back to making progress, especially with plugging in these new DNA matches from the past two weeks.

Granted, that holiday bubble in DNA test results won't last forever, but it is always nice to receive these new clues to help guide a researcher through some difficult spots in the various lines. While there are many who are attributing all sorts of dark scenarios to the new uses of DNA tests, we have to keep in mind that some of these uses are also for good. Though it might not seem like an earth-shattering revelation—in comparison to the desperate need for some forensic uses, for example—for those of us who always yearned to learn more about our roots, these tools do bring us answers, as well.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Eeek! It's Almost March!

While some in the genealogy world will know exactly what I'm thinking with a comment like that, others will be saying, "So?"

Back in the first few days of the new year, word went out that one of the "dinosaurs" of early Internet genealogy was about it meet its demise. A fossil from the heydays of, the function of Mailing Lists once served to connect a community of avocational genealogists keen on pursuing their roots. Organized both by localities and surnames, the lists were places where people could electronically post queries and help each other with their search for missing ancestors. Those most interested in a particular subject could subscribe to that list to receive emails whenever someone else posted (or collect those posts conveniently into "digests" emailed to subscribers in a more manageable stream of information).

With the evolution of the web, of course other options sprang up, and eventually Rootsweb saw the decline of their Mailing Lists' popularity. But to say no one uses them now? I'm not sure. For one, I greatly value the obituary-finding service at one list I have subscribed to for nearly twenty years; the only reason I'll have to stop my subscription now is because someone else is making me.

When that word went out, back in January, the host's announcement was carried on several genealogy blogs. Here in California, blogger Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings published Ancestry's announcement, along with a few comments of his own. Dick Eastman, the man behind the "most popular online genealogy magazine in the world," ran the story, also with a copy of Ancestry's press release, on January 7, followed by a howl of protest from his readers, prompting him to analyze a suggested substitute service,, a few days later.

That was January. This—soon—will be March. And it is the second day of March when the boom will be lowered and an online service constructed to serve thousands of family history researchers will be demolished. Oh, I know what's already been posted will be archived, but what does that do for connectivity? The plan doesn't leave much wiggle room for connecting with other researchers from the past.

Yet, is it really true that "no one" uses that service anymore? Here's one facet of the disappearing Rootsweb which did mean something helpful to people, even now: Cyndi's List. Since Cyndi Ingle first put together lists of genealogy sites in 1996, the collection has done nothing but grow and grow. It's grown so much, in fact, that she developed emailed lists to keep subscribers updated on what was new at Cyndi's List.

Well, guess what? Those email lists were hosted guessed it...Rootsweb. And now, by March 2, if she wants to continue keeping her followers updated, she'll need to find another venue for that service.

Apparently, she has. In an email sent out to her subscribers—yep, before March 2—she announced that the services would be migrated over to MailChimp. There are both pluses and minuses to the move, since the antiquated Rootsweb had some downsides which the more up-to-date services at MailChimp feature as a matter of course; but the move, which was already in the works, wasn't slated to occur until later. Let's just say she's going a wee bit hurrier than she had planned at the start.

As we stare down the entrance of March, the changes at Rootsweb may mean absolutely nothing to some, and an immense lot to others. Nobody likes change. A good many don't appreciate the lack of search functionality on substitute community sites for genealogy like those adapted to Facebook. Sites like may be a bit too uncomfortable a change for those who have relied on this one source for over two decades.

Regardless of individual reasons for preferring—or disliking—change, though, I see one overarching cause for alarm with yet another passing of an old bastion of genealogy: the eroding infrastructure which once enabled us to operate as a community of like-minded people. While social media may serve as an adequate substitute for these passing, early Web 2.0 pioneers of the genealogy world, we have to remember we are not just people wishing to connect, but researchers who want to go back and review our sources in a searchable, archivable collection—one which isn't here today and, poof!, gone tomorrow, like many entries posted on Facebook groups. While connecting with other researchers is vital, re-connecting with what those researchers said is also important.

Yes, onward and upward with progress is often good, but we, of all groups of people, need to remember how valuable preserving history should be to us—both the content and the process of what worked for us as researchers in the past.  

Friday, February 21, 2020

Retracing Those Steps Westward

When reports about an ancestor's mother's maiden name seem to conflict, it's time to entertain the possibility that perhaps there wasn't just one wife and mother. Perhaps there were two. Whoever Simon Rinehart married—either before leaving southwest Pennsylvania for what would soon become the commonwealth of Kentucky, or after arriving in Kentucky—we know one thing: her given name was likely Ann.

But was she a Wise? Or a Wiley? Reports about Simon's daughter Sarah claim her mother was a Wiley. A brief biographical sketch of her brother Jesse claims his mother was a Wise.

In order to determine just who married Simon Rinehart and braved the wilds of a new continent to give birth to his daughter in Kentucky by 1795, we need to first reconstruct the entire community of people who moved west. Perhaps some repeat appearances of specific surnames will reveal clues as to which families would be most likely in-laws to Simon Rinehart—and thus, parents of Simon's daughter Sarah.

We'll start reconstructing the trail with the one standard we know: the family of the man whom Sarah eventually married, James Gordon.

As I've mentioned before, James Gordon was the grandson of John Gordon, whose migrations were fairly easy to trace. After all, we've recently discovered that John was the son of George Gordon, appointed first sheriff of the newly-formed Frederick County, Maryland, in 1748. John and several of his children eventually moved, after the Revolutionary War, from western Maryland to Monongalia County in what is now West Virginia, where his son William married Mary Carroll in 1793.

Immediately after that, William and Mary—as well as others in the Gordon family—moved from Monongalia County to the southwest portion of the state of Pennsylvania. Originally settling in what was Washington County—in the region informally known as Tenmile Country after the waters flowing through the area—the land eventually became part of the newly-formed Greene County. Their son James—the one who eventually married Sarah Rinehart, the identity of whose mother we are still tracing—was born there in 1794, just before the official creation of Greene County in 1796.

Let's see if that echoes any of the migration stories for families with the same surname as Simon Rinehart's as-yet-unidentified wife. We'll start today with a family in the Tenmile Country descended from a man named John Wiley, one which echoes the path taken by the Gordons.

John Wiley—at least, according to the Tenmile Country history—was also born in Maryland, but eventually ended up settling on a branch of the Tenmile Creek. One name mentioned in conjunction with this John Wiley was that of the widow of Samuel Seals, who became John's second wife; Seals being a surname related to the extended Gordon family.

Most interesting about this John Wiley, interjected in his brief biography in The Tenmile Country, was the note, "He joined the migration to Mason County, Kentucky." While that was not the same location as the tax record showing our Simon Rinehart to have lived, briefly, in Bracken County, it was interesting to see that John Wiley's oldest son, Elijah, eventually died in Bracken County, Kentucky. Not only that, but Elijah's wife was also a Seals. Another son, Hiram Wiley, also apparently moved to Bracken County.

Lest we get our hopes up about this John Wiley as a possible father of our mystery mother of Sarah Rinehart—who was born in Kentucky and lived, though only briefly, in Bracken County—let it be noted that while Sarah's mother's birth might well be within the range of possibility as a child of John Wiley, who was born about 1732, none of his ten listed children in The Tenmile Country were named Ann.

Still, where one Wiley moved, perhaps there were others. However, there also were folks in Tenmile Country by the name of Wise—the other possible surname for Sarah's mother. We'll take a look at that possibility on Monday.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Finding Fine-Feathered Friends

Oh, woe is me; I'm seeking non-existent ancestors.

How is it that an unsuspecting researcher (me) could be caught up in a quest to find a man who was never recorded in records in the lands of his forebears—or, worse, was mis-attributed as the son of someone who could never possibly be his father? How do you find such a person?

Perhaps I can blame it on my mother-in-law. After all, this is her line. Remember that John Gordon I so swimmingly could trace back to his early days in Frederick County, Maryland? Well, his grandson James can be implicated for his choice of wife: he it was who married Sarah Rinehart, supposedly born in Kentucky in 1795 to proud parents Simon and Ann Rinehart.

How did a man who lived in Greene County, Pennsylvania, find a potential bride who came from as far away as Kentucky?

Granted, Simon and Ann's daughter likely returned to Pennsylvania after their fling in the fledgling state of Kentucky. After all, Sarah Rinehart's younger brother Jesse was said to have been born in Pennsylvania, so they must have returned to their family's hometown before 1810.

Finding Sarah Rinehart, however—or her parents Simon and Ann—is not getting me any traction in trundling back to a previous generation. So, how to proceed when your research gets in a rut?

Since I already have been stymied with the conflicting stories of just who her dad married—was it Ann Wiley or Ann Wise?—I figured that might be an alternate route for my research to take. Birds of a feather, as they say. Or, to put it in more genealogically-friendly words, I could look for Ann's F.A.N. Club. Were there any Wises or Wileys in Tenmile Country?

You know the drill with the F.A.N. Club theory: people often did things in groups, so it pays to pay attention to the names of the folks in those groups. Migrations of long distances, or any other major changes, often were done by people in groups. Communities were built to stay together, especially near the frontier where strength in numbers could mean the difference between survival and those other, more dire, circumstances.

So our task—should we choose to accept it—is now to see if we can find any indication of families in the neighborhood of our Simon Rinehart, whoever he was, and see if their whereabouts harmonize in any way with Simon's own story. Since Greene County, about the time of the Rinehart family's return from Kentucky, only had about 8,600 residents, chances are likely strong that any Wises or Wileys living there would be connected in some way to the Ann who could have been Simon's wife.

Since I've already entertained the possibility that Simon might have been married twice—once to a Wiley and once to a Wise—it will be beneficial for us to check out both possibilities. And that is exactly what we'll take a look at, starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Time to Read Between the Lines

Sometimes, we struggle so much with our most difficult research problems that we get too amped up to see the obvious staring back at us. When that happens, it's time to sit down, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate what we can see about our case.

Let's take my problem case of the parents of Sarah Rinehart Gordon. Unfortunately for me, this particular Sarah—one of many with that given name among those in both the Rinehart family and that of the Gordons—was born far from civilization, in a time when birth records, if kept at all, were listed in a family Bible or noted upon baptism at the local church.

In Sarah's case, though, her parents had left their home in Greene County, Washington, and ended up somewhere in Kentucky by the time she was born in 1795. And yes, somehow, they ended up returning back to Greene County after her birth. Where such birth records might have been kept for her is a mystery which may remain shut to me and all other Gordon and Rinehart researchers.

Believe me, I've struggled with ways to find some trace of her family from those earliest years of their history. Sometimes, that struggle seems to do no more than to lock the puzzling researchers' minds to any possibility of seeing the answers laid plainly before their eyes. That's the reason for the pause to take a deep breath and reconsider.

So yesterday, I took the time to chill on the Rinehart mystery, and to cast a cool eye on the genealogical scenario. Thankfully, in that pause, I noticed a few things that may—or may not—turn out to be helpful clues.

The first is that I noticed the unusual spacing between the ages of the children in Simon and Ann Rinehart's family constellation. I can't tell, yet, whether Sarah was their oldest child, but I do have records asserting that she was born in Kentucky in 1795. From that point, the children's names I could find were for a son and three more daughters. Jesse, next born, arrived in 1806, back in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Following him were Hannah, Lucinda, and Charlotte. When I realized that those daughters were born in 1812, 1815, and 1818, respectively, it occurred to me that this was a far different pattern than what I could see for the other two children.

Normally, back in that era, it was easy to spot gaps in birth order, allowing us to draw such conclusions as the death of a child when the usual two-to-three-year pattern was broken. The birth years of the youngest three children in Simon and Ann Rinehart's situation are a good example of such a basic pattern.

The gap between Sarah and her brother Jesse, however, doesn't give us quite the same pattern. The gap between Sarah's 1795 arrival and Jesse's birth in 1806 is significant. Then, too, the gap between Jesse and the next sibling is also far greater than the typical two to three year spacing. What was going on in these gaps? Were these long time spans simply indicating missing children? After all, infant and child mortality in that era was far more common than what we experience in our own century.

However, keeping in mind the conflicting reports of mother's maiden name in Sarah's death record and Jesse's biographical sketch in a county history book, what we may be seeing is not a typographical error in the rush to publish a book of over one thousand pages. Could it be that Simon Rinehart's return to Greene County was for a specific—and likely tragic—reason?

While I'll need to seek documentation for such events to confirm this hypothesis, the least I can do for now is trace the Rineharts' trail from their wedding in Greene County before 1795, to Simon's return to Pennsylvania before his ultimate removal—with much of the Rinehart and Gordon clans—to Perry County, Ohio.

What I can find, for now, is the likely entry for Simon Rinehart in the 1830 census. That would be the last year he lived in Greene County—at least, according to his son's biography in a Perry County history book, years later. Tracing the birth locations of Simon's daughter Sarah's children can also provide a concurring timeline, as all of her children up until son Simon Rinehart Gordon were born in Greene County, but the next child—daughter Sarah Gordon—was born in Perry County in 1832.

The move from Pennsylvania to Ohio is far easier to explain than the earlier one from Pennsylvania to Kentucky and back home again: the extended family all thought it would be a good idea, and the move entailed a community of relatives all heading to the same location at about the same time. But the move in the 1790s to Kentucky and back?

Now I'm wondering whether something happened after the birth of Simon's daughter Sarah. Could it be that those conflicting reports of mother's maiden name were actually due to the fact that there were two different women married to Simon Rinehart? Could it be that Sarah lost her mother, shortly after her birth, and Simon and his infant returned home for help as soon as was possible? Could Ann Wiley have been Sarah's mom, and Ann Wise the mother of son Jesse?

Of course, it would be helpful to locate any marriage record to confirm that guess, but records at that early date were not kept at the courthouse. Pending any confirmation, though, I'll need to keep that hypothesis in my back pocket. This may be an alternate explanation for the conflicting reports showing up for two siblings in the Rinehart family.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Caught in the Net—and Still Struggling

Like an insect unwittingly caught in the spider's net and struggling in vain to regain its freedom, that's how I sometimes wrestle with those brick wall ancestors whose secrets remain stubbornly hidden from me. The case of the wife of John Gordon's grandson James is one of those immovable bricks blocking my research progress.

I first stumbled upon the fact that this wasn't going to be an easy find the same way we all do with every ancestor: I came upon her, step by step, from the people I already knew were in my mother-in-law's family tree. I had worked my way backwards in time until I got to my mother-in-law's great-grandmother, Nancy Gordon. Nancy, born in 1820, likely in Greene County, Pennsylvania, was the daughter of James Gordon and a woman called Sarah Rinehart.

James' family line we've already discovered, back at least two more generations, but Sarah's genealogy was a different story. Though her younger siblings were all born in Pennsylvania—Greene County figures as a strong possibility here, too—from the census records of the later decades which provide such information, we see that Sarah, herself, was born in Kentucky.

I was able to determine that Sarah's father's name was likely Simon Rinehart, and that her mother was either named Ann Wise or Ann Wiley. This was the first clue that details on this family were not entirely clear. Though I found records stating the Wiley name, an old history book of Perry County, Ohio—the place where the Rineharts and Gordons ended up after leaving Pennsylvania—mentioned Ann's surname as Wise.

That little bit of confusion is only a warm-up to the problem of determining just who Sarah's father really was. Although Sarah's brother's biography in the Perry County book states their father's given name was Simon, it is not necessarily an easy feat to rush back to early 1800s Greene County records to find any information on a Simon Rinehart. And there's a specific reason for that.

You see, the Rinehart family of the late 1700s in Greene County, Pennsylvania, was indeed comprised of several brothers, one of whom did have the name Simon. The problem was, this Simon was married to a woman named Sarah, not Ann. A trifling detail, though, compared to this other one. Though Simon and his wife had four children—none of whom was named Sarah—apparently, in the process of trading lands with another settler in that frontier region of southwest Pennsylvania, Simon Rinehart was ambushed and killed by natives. The estimated date of that tragic death was about 1781.

Problem: our Sarah Rinehart, daughter of Simon, was not born until 1795. She obviously was daughter of a different Simon. But which one? I've struggled to sort out all the possible Simon Rineharts from Greene County. Sarah's dad and mom did return from Kentucky after her birth to settle in Greene County, presumably because they had family connections which drew them back home. But none of the other Simons born to the extended Rinehart family there fit the parameters for the right Simon.

And so, I continue twisting in the wind, struggling like the unfortunate insect to free myself from a sticky research problem—which means it's time to take this research mess out of its dark corner of the electronic file cabinet and shake it up with some brainstorming tactics. While we may park our messiest research problems in a buried file folder, after its hiatus, we may discover new resources that could lead to some answers—or at least fresh clues that give us more to work with, and bring us closer to answers. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

There's Always Another Puzzle

It is indeed a joyful moment when a family history researcher can break through a brick wall to discover the preceding generation in a direct line. As you can image, I held a private celebration (translation: happy dance time) when I discovered the proof argument concerning that brick wall on my mother-in-law's Gordon line last week.

All is not smooth sailing for the Gordon genealogy, however. There are some sticking points in that extended family tree which keep bumping into another family named Rinehart. The Rineharts, like many others in that pioneer bunch of settlers who moved from Maryland to the western end of Pennsylvania and, finally, on to the state of Ohio, spent a good deal of time together in what was once the wild environment of the frontier of southwest Pennsylvania.

Those Rineharts, incidentally, found themselves at the center of a tragic episode in what was to become Greene County, Pennsylvania—but that is a story I'll save for a later day. Suffice it to say, for today, that I'm still puzzled about just how all these Rineharts were connected, if they were related to each other at all.

This week, let's take a look at one of the Rineharts who directly connected to my mother-in-law's Gordon line. That's the easy part to explain. After we settle those formalities, we can jump off to the wilds of the unknown part of this genealogy.

Last week, I talked about my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandfather, John Gordon. He, it turns out, was the son of the George Gordon who once owned the land that became half of Georgetown in what is now Washington, D.C. From John's first marriage came at least nine children, not the least of whom was my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, William B. Gordon.

This William B. Gordon, like his father, was married more than once. But unlike his father, he left enough of a legacy for his many researching descendants to track the lines of both wives. That, as I mentioned earlier this month, was how my husband eventually became his own cousin: a descendant of one Gordon half-sibling married a descendant of another half-sibling.

In the case of today's discussion, our direct line ancestor was William B. Gordon's eldest son by his first wife, Mary Carroll. This son, born in 1794 just after the family had settled in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the couple named James.

Now, fast forward a respectable twenty-five years, and we find young James marrying a woman in Greene County by the name of Sarah Rinehart. Now, understand there is no problem with a Gordon marrying a Rinehart; in fact, there were others within the extended Gordon family in Greene County marrying members of the Rinehart family. It's just that this particular Rinehart, while born to a father whose name—Simon—might seem familiar to people of the time in Greene County, actually came from a Rinehart line which may not have been related to the rest of the Greene County bunch.

One confusing detail is that this Sarah Rinehart was not born in Pennsylvania like all the other Rineharts, but came from somewhere in Kentucky. When you realize that her birth was in 1795, you realize this must have been a very unsettled part of the continent at that point.

Another confusing detail involves the maiden name of her mother—was it Wise? Or Wiley? If you follow the paper trail for the children born to Sarah's parents, records can be found for each of those possibilities.

Blending that all together leaves us with a very tentative collection of clues. We'll see tomorrow, for instance, why Sarah Rinehart's father, Simon, is not likely to be the Simon Rinehart known by the folks in Greene County, Pennsylvania.
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