Thursday, November 2, 2017

Picking Up the Pieces

After surviving a month of earnest effort in my Fall Cleanup project, I've left a scattering of family history notes in my wake. That, of course, reminds me of my duty to clean up the mess I've unearthed in the process.

In particular, I've been reminded that there are two family branches for which I'd like to find some resolution. Both of them are from my mother-in-law's line. One was the Snider family, a name so common in the state of her roots—Ohio—as to make conclusive closure a near impossible feat. The other—and the one I'm more likely to pursue right now—was the Rinehart line.

Where the Rinehart surname entered into my mother-in-law's line was at the point of her second great grandmother, Sarah Rinehart. Sarah, of course, was a mystery—otherwise, why would I be writing about her?—and thus she's been left unattended, a name with very little detail, on our family tree.

I do know a few things about her, of course—and by using the word "know," I mean that I've managed to find some documentation on these few facts. Details about the end of her long life were easier to come by than those of her origins.

Like most of my mother-in-law's forebears, for instance, Sarah found her way to that rural enclave in central Ohio—Perry County—where her progeny eventually saw their genetic material interwoven with that of many other families. Thus, when I tackled this research problem back twenty years ago, I had plenty of online company with whom to commiserate over our collective lack of progress.

Because Sarah died in Perry County in 1876, she could conveniently be found in the three previous census enumerations. Notwithstanding the error in the Find A Grave entry for her year of birth—"in the 80th year of her age" would not yield the 1786 date rendered in her memorial—each of those census records seem to provide a similar record of her birth, which helps. The enumeration closest to the date of her death showed her birth to be about 1797. The 1860 census concurred, though the 1850 census placed it at 1798. Still, close enough.

What was interesting was that all three enumerations indicated her place of birth as Kentucky. Not unusual, you might think, for a pioneer family of that era. The difficulty, though, was that she married a man—James Gordon—who was supposedly a native of Greene County, Pennsylvania.

Of course, it doesn't help that I've not been able to unearth any record of the couple's marriage. Still, their oldest child—son Basil Albert Gordon, born in 1818—was consistently reported to have been born in Pennsylvania, as were the next six children. Only with the arrival of namesake daughter Sarah in 1832 was the birth reported as occurring anywhere else—in this case, in Ohio, not Kentucky.

In fact, the extended Gordon family once seemed to all live in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Perry County families being Perry County families, it may come as no surprise to learn that my mother-in-law's family had more than one Gordon in their roots, and this other Gordon, as well, hailed from Greene County, Pennsylvania.

My primary question, then, has always been: how did a Gordon from Greene County, Pennsylvania, end up deciding to marry a woman from Kentucky?

You would think, with a surname like Rinehart, that that would be an easy question to answer, but that has not been the case. For one thing, immigrant ships belching up endless streams of refugees from the embattled German Palatinate included many claiming that very surname—Rinehart—or its various spelling permutations. Secondly, earlier family histories—as we researchers twenty years ago discovered while compared notes—included family legends which may or may not be verifiable. Some of those stories were along the lines of "there were three brothers...."

Included in some of those earlier self-published histories were assertions that Sarah was daughter of a Simon Rinehart and Ann Wise—while still others insisted the mother's name was Wiley. One reported that Sarah was born in a place in Kentucky called Somerset—which is now in Pulaski County, deep in the southern portion of the state—and another claimed her birthplace was in Bracken County (which makes more sense, considering its original borders extended north to the Ohio River).  Sometimes, I wondered if those narratives were even talking about the same Sarah Rinehart as mine.

Since my Fall Cleanup has unearthed a file well over an inch thick with Rinehart resources and communication, my first step will be to review what others had shared about their research findings. I can consider that material to be trailblazing efforts; with today's online resources, it will be fairly easy to confirm—or reject—those twenty year old theories.

I suspect I may be tracing an immigration pattern for the proposed Rinehart families. Perhaps they started out from Greene County to settle in a promising area in Kentucky—then, seeing it, decided it made more sense to return home to Pennsylvania. While it may seem like a disjointed story to us from this two-hundred-year-removed perspective, it likely was a narrative that made sense to those entangled in the problem at the time. Hopefully, I'll be better equipped with this go-round to discover a timeline that makes sense to us, as well.



  1. Are you aware of Sarah's death register entry on FamilySearch? I ask because some lecturers have said repeatedly that Ohio's statewide death registration didn't begin until 1908, but the state ordered all counties to register deaths starting in 1867. FamilySearch has those record images for all or almost all counties, and they are searchable. Here is Sarah's record:

    Sarah's entry gives her age in years-months-days format, birth state, and it names her parents. Of course, age-at-death can be wrong, but it should yield a close approximation of the day and month of birth.

    1. Thanks for sharing that link, Marian. It turns out to be quite helpful.

      Yes, I was aware of the county registers predating the 1908 statewide mandate, but there was another wrinkle in the I'll explain in tomorrow's post.


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