Saturday, February 29, 2020

An Extra Day! Consider it a Gift!

Have you been considering a new project, but keep stalling out because you don't think you have enough time to even start it? What about all that catch-up work which, cleared away, would eliminate so much stress from your life? We all have plans and dreams that we, well, never got around to because we let the specter of "not enough time" badger us into taking no activity at all.

Today, however, is a gift: an extra day eased into your crowded calendar. It's Leap Day, leaping up to squeeze that needed margin into your life. Consider this calendared contrivance as a gift: extra breathing room in the midst of the 24/7/365 grind.

If you choose to accept that gift, what boost would you let that gift give to your day?

I, for one, would love to have a day filled with...nothing. I'd love to read a book, sitting outside with a cup of coffee and soaking in the gentle spring sunshine.

Or idly clearing out all those less-than-important messages that have filled up my email inbox over the past several years. My inbox needs breathing room, too.

Maybe even taking advantage, as one of the steadfast #NotAtRootsTech gang, of the free live streaming of some of Saturday's sessions. Or snagging some of the sales extended to those of us staying home instead of going to Salt Lake City (brrr).

Of course, the marketers have already filled our in-boxes with that "leap" revelation—and the coupons to go along with it. If you keep up on genealogy news, I'm sure you've already noticed genea-friend Thomas MacEntee's  emailed announcement about the rock-bottom DNA kit price for this weekend at MyHeritage ($39)—something to prompt anyone to find a way to get "a round tuit."

But the "round tuit" I better get hold of—and soon!—is the ticket to attend another event in Salt Lake City, at a much more temperate time. Come this May 20 - 23, the National Genealogical Society is hosting their annual conference in Salt Lake City. And here's the kicker: in a matter of only half a month more, the NGS early bird discount will fly away for those of us who don't seize this extra day now to make things happen.

While I've already managed to collect a list of possible things to do on this Leap Day that will more than fill the next twenty four hours, I'm sure you've already made a mental list of your own. Whether it's filled with family history pursuits or other peaceful gifts of time, consider this day a gift and carry on in like manner.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Getting the Right Isaac Brown

When one particular name keeps appearing in the important papers of an ancestral family for whom little else is known, it pays to ask a few questions. Like: who is this guy? And why was he in my ancestor's life?

That is exactly the task we'll embark upon, now that we've seen the name of Isaac Brown mentioned in the wills of both James Gordon and his wife's father, Simon Rinehart. We'll take some time today to see what can be found about this Isaac Brown of Perry County, Ohio—and then continue next Monday to follow up on the clues we've found.

Just as a review, we've already discovered that while James Gordon met and married his wife Sarah Rinehart in Greene County, Pennsylvania, she was actually born, in 1795, somewhere in Kentucky. We've also learned that several of the folks who lived in Greene County in the early 1830s all decided to make the move to the central Ohio location of Perry County. That Ohio county was the scene where, in 1840, Sarah's husband James Gordon drew up his last will and testament, and where her father did the same in 1853.

In both instances—and for unknown reasons—both men chose to include someone named Isaac Brown in their proceedings. Since inclusion of a name in a will is not a trifling matter—there is likely an important connection to be discerned here—it may be helpful for us to follow this trail. After all, we still don't know who Simon Rinehart's parents were, despite the well-known story in Tenmile Country of one pioneer with that same name—Simon Rinehart—who tragically lost his life at an early age. Furthermore, we have been unable to confirm the maiden name of our Simon's wife, thanks to conflicting information from different sources.

Of course, seeking an Isaac Brown in Perry County won't be as easy as it seems. In 1850, for instance, the county contained over twenty thousand residents, and stepping back a decade won't help our search much, as the population was barely one thousand residents less in 1840. Finding the right Brown—even if his given name were Isaac—will be a challenge.

And that, as it turns out, is what we are presented with: the challenge of finding the right Isaac. In the 1850 census for Perry County, there were no less than seven men with the name Isaac Brown in Perry County: three in Harrison Township, two in Salt Lick, and one each in Clayton and Pike Townships. Added to that was the eighth possibility: a gentleman going by the initials I.S. Brown, who might also be an Isaac.

However, if we consider that, in 1850, Simon Rinehart lived in Pike Township, we can start our hunt-and-peck procedure with this one candidate: the Isaac Brown whose census entry was listed not far from the page in which Simon's own entry was written.

Of course, nothing is ever easy. This particular Isaac, whom I thought would so conveniently fill the bill as brother to Simon's wife Ann—whoever she was—turned out to be born, not around Tenmile Country in Pennsylvania as would fit nicely with our plot line, but in Virginia.

Hint: Virginia does not fit the preferred narrative.

Moreover, pushing our tree-building luck ahead ten more years doesn't do much for any discoveries. While there was an Isaac Brown in the 1860 census, that Isaac's wife was not the same as the Catherine listed in the 1850 census—if, indeed, the abysmal handwriting was trying to communicate that message to us. In 1860, the wife was listed clearly as Cassa, not Catherine.

I tried pushing forward yet another ten years, selecting the older children, in case Isaac himself was no longer living, but I realized yet another roadblock standing between that questionable 1860 census and the decade beyond: the Civil War. That oldest son likely served in the Union Army by that point, and may have been lost to all by 1870.

Still, I took the children one by one, to see what I could discover about this Isaac Brown family, and followed the trail. It wasn't long until I discovered a middle name appended to one of those children which made me nearly shout out loud: it wasn't a connection to Simon's wife at all. It wasn't a Wise. Nor was it a Wiley. It was a Rinehart connection. With Simon, himself.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

When That Name Keeps Showing Up

Today, there are quite a few unanswered questions about Simon Rinehart, the man who was my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather. Though we know he was likely born in southwestern Pennsylvania about 1774, we don't know who his parents were, and thus have no idea of any possible siblings, either.

Not only that, but the only details we do know about him are that he had a wife (or perhaps two) named Ann, and children named Sarah, Jesse, Hannah, Lucinda, and Charlotte. With those children's dates of birth spread over twenty three years and the family's travels spanning three states—Pennsylvania, Kentucky (where Sarah was born in 1795), and Ohio (where Sarah and her husband, James Gordon, settled, along with the rest of her father's family)—you would think a record somewhere would answer more of my genealogically-oriented questions.


I won't rehearse all the attempts I've already made on this puzzle; if you're curious, you can read the posts tagged Rinehart from the last couple weeks' work. There is, however, one last-ditch attempt to be considered: to look at the will of Simon Rinehart, which was presented to the probate judge in Perry County, Ohio, on March 8, 1853.

This is the will which, frustratingly, neglected to actually name Simon Rinehart's "beloved wife." The will was brief, consisting of three directives, plus the usual legal terminology. Signed by the testator's mark, as he couldn't sign his own name, it gave the name of the two witnesses as Peter Long and Matthew Brown.

The interesting point about this will, though, was that Simon named not one but two executors. One, of course, was his only son, Jesse, who at the time of his father's death would have been about forty six years of age. Despite Jesse's mature age, his father deemed it best to appoint a second executor, a man named Isaac Brown.

Now, if you recall, there has been no mention of a surname like Brown in all the wanderings I've made through the Rinehart family history, as well as that of the two possible maiden names for Simon's wife Ann. And yet, we know by experience that those names which appear for executors—and even witnesses—are not pulled out of thin air. Very few men trawled the neighborhood—or queried the guys hanging out, for example, down at the local pub—to see who might be up for executor duties, come reckoning day. Most men named in an ancestor's will were chosen for a specific reason, and that reason oftentimes was a family tie.

What was curious about one of the names presented in Simon Rinehart's 1853 will was that I thought it was vaguely familiar. Though it wasn't a name I recalled seeing in my mother-in-law's family tree, I did remember seeing a name like that in another recent will I had reviewed. I went back to look, retracing my research steps until I found it: the name of a witness to the 1840 will of Simon Rinehart's son-in-law, James Gordon.

The Gordon name, you might recall, had been one of those surnames showing up first in the colony of Maryland, then moving to Tenmile Country in southwest Pennsylvania about the time of the Revolutionary War, and, finally, on to Perry County, Ohio, by the early 1830s. Though Simon Rinehart's oldest daughter Sarah was born in Kentucky, her family had moved back to Greene County, Pennsylvania before the birth of her brother Jesse in 1806, thus situating Sarah to meet James Gordon and marry him there by the end of 1819.

Sarah and James Gordon had a large family, with seven of their children born in Pennsylvania before their move to Ohio by 1832. Though their eldest son, Bazil, had barely reached the age of majority before James passed away in 1840, James appointed him to be executor of the Gordon estate, along with Sarah as executrix. However, that document also included the names of two witnesses, one of which was, as I suspected, Isaac Brown.

Whether the two documents identify the same person when they name this Isaac Brown, I can't yet tell—though given that the dates of the two testaments were only thirteen years apart, it is quite possible they both refer to the same man.

The trouble is: we are now researching a man by the surname of Brown. While, agreed, we are not talking Smith or Jones, we are still challenging ourselves to identify who this Isaac Brown of Perry County, Ohio, might have been—furthermore, to see if we can figure out why both James Gordon and his father-in-law might have called upon this Isaac Brown to interject himself into the most personal of their financial affairs. That is a question which may take some time to unravel.

Above two insets are excerpts from, first, the 1853 will of Simon Rinehart of Perry County, Ohio, and second, the 1840 will of James Gordon, also of Perry County; images courtesy, free to access, following completion of sign-in for permission to log on.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

What to do When That Brick Wall
Really IS a Brick Wall

You have this brick wall, but you are determined to figure a way to research around the roadblock and get your answer on just who this ancestor really is. You try umpteen techniques to noodle your way beyond any mental blocks. You check all the latest updates on digitized records. Perhaps you even send a snail mail inquiry to a local repository, seeking advice. But not one clue surfaces. What do you do next?

While I have been stuck on the identity of the Simon Rinehart in my mother-in-law's tree for far more years than I care to recall, even my best attempt this time didn't shake loose any hints. I did learn quite a few details in this foray back into the realm of the Rinehart residence in Washington County, Pennsylvania—but not enough to securely identify both Simon and his wife (or wives) named Ann.

Of course, I'll keep working on this research puzzle in the background, but there are a few tasks to take care of right away, before letting this puzzle rest for a while and moving on to other projects.

The first, of course, is to broaden my horizons and get a bigger picture of the big picture. For Simon's foray into Bracken County, Kentucky, for instance, I could compose a timeline of county boundary changes, to understand exactly where his property once lay. I could, as well, research the overarching reason for why so many people—including several of Simon's friends and neighbors—seemed to be moving to such a remote place as Kentucky in the 1790s.

The big draw for land in Kentucky originated for many, likely, with the bounty land offer for those who served in the Revolutionary War in the original thirteen colonies. Where a soldier served did not match up with where the lands were awarded. For instance, because this portion of Kentucky was once considered part of Virginia's domain, when Virginia set up its bounty land program, the lands awarded were situated, for the most part, in the area which became Kentucky. Confusingly, though the paperwork may have been drawn up in Virginia, the records for these land warrants are now held in Kentucky, not Virginia.

As for my Simon, his wife (or wives) named Ann, his daughter Sarah and his son Jesse, what is imperative is to be sure to write down all the records I attempted to find, and what the outcome was for each one. I need to document why each attempt failed so I don't repeat the same steps in the future.

On the flip side of those failures, I need to note any records I was not able to obtain, and state the reason why I think those would be helpful resources if I could find them. I also need to write out a research plan to take me from this point onward, when and if any additional documents surface—or when I have the opportunity to travel to where I can conduct research personally. After all, not everything is online...yet. I need to be prepared both for that eventuality and for alternate courses of action in case my dreams do not come true quite when I'd hoped.

Obviously, Simon did have a wife, and she did have one specific identity (unless, as we've guessed, he had two wives). Whether there are documents showing that identity clearly, I can't yet tell. I haven't found any. But another task is to keep an eye on any other names which do seem to surface on a regular basis when researching this family.

As it turns out, there was one family name which seemed to show up in a few family documents—a name which has, as far as I can tell, no family connection other than those unexplained appearances in family documents. We'll take a look at that name tomorrow, and determine whether it is a bona fide clue, or a genealogical red herring in the mix.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

None the Wiser

Let's just say that, back in 1883 when W. H. Beers and Company published the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio, they hadn't made an error in reporting that Jesse Rinehart's mother's name was Ann Wise. Never mind that Jesse's older sister Sarah claimed that her mother was named Ann Wiley; let's make this claim of Ann Wise our working premise, and find out what we can discover about that family.

We've already seen that there was a possible Wise family settled in the region of the Tenmile Country where Sarah and Jesse's father, Simon Rinehart, had returned after his brief stay in Bracken County, Kentucky, for daughter Sarah's birth in 1795. It was also encouraging to discover that this Wise family had some sons who had also removed to Kentucky in those same early years--though to a different county farther west than Simon's family had gone.

What else can we find about that Wise family? As it turns out—at least if we rely on old, published genealogies preserved for us in digitized form—there are quite a few claims of the progenitor's Wise descendants. Unfortunately, they may not be as reliable as we'd hoped.

I began my quest for older published material in the hopes that research written up nearly 150 years ago might be a bit closer to the truth than what could be found in the twenty-first century. An idea like that may be wishful thinking, but it also reflects on the logistics of human memory over the generations. After all, a man remembering his great-grandparents in 1883 can reach farther back in time than we can, recalling ours today.

First stop was a twirl through the search function at, where an entry for Johann Adam Wise (or Weiss) brought up several hits under categories such as "public member stories" and public "scanned documents." From there, I searched for the original source for each published item quoted or scanned. To find those originals, I had to use a combination of techniques. Sometimes, I could just search internally at websites such as Internet Archive or HathiTrust, while in other cases, I had to refer back to the book search at, or just put a passage from a book in quotes and run it through Google.

In the end, while I was glad to find several resources for the Adam Wise family of Tenmile Country (eventually Washington County, Pennsylvania), there wasn't much I could find that convinced me that I was on the right track for Ann Wise, mother of Jesse Rinehart.

For one thing, the genealogies seemed to contradict each other. Scrolling far down an Ancestry message board thread on the Wise family of Pennsylvania and Ohio, an entry dated 30 April 2007 quoted the line from one published genealogy, which included a daughter of Adam Weiss named Anna Maria. She, however, was placed as child of Adam's first wife, not his second, as did other genealogies.

Furthermore, this Anna was born in 1761; if she was the one to be slated as future wife of our Simon Rinehart, I'd consider it unlikely for her to be married to a man born in 1774, let alone mother of a first child in 1795. And if my hypothesis stands that this Ann was Simon's second wife, that would put her giving birth to son Jesse in 1806, when she was turning forty five. Not an impossible scenario, but highly unlikely for a mother giving birth to a first child.

That, however, was a reprint on a genealogy message board. What about genealogies in "real" genealogy books? came to the rescue with a fully-accessible reprint of The Descendants of Adam Wise, 1718-1781, compiled by Elizabeth Fischgrabe and Jacqueline Shidler Meyer in 1996. Disappointingly, the only entry (on page 6) for Mary Ann Wise, daughter of Adam, gave no dates of birth or death—let alone marriage—though it placed her just after her sister Mary, who was born in 1779.

That was in a book put together in 1996. What about earlier books? A brief pamphlet attributed to Henry Wise and originally published in 1921—alternately called "A Short Sketch of the Wise Family"—also mentioned another daughter following Mary (on page 4), whose name was listed as "Mariam." This digitized copy of the pamphlet included several hand-written insertions, one of which corrected the entry to read "Mary Ann." The next page followed with notes about what became of Adam's children, noting that "Abraham and Tobias, with their sisters Mary and Mariam settled in Ohio."

While that might sound a hopeful note—especially if Mariam really were Mary Ann, a.k.a. Ann Rinehart—it would still very much constitute speculation. Not to mention, Ohio was a considerably wide open territory; the proving of such an assertion would require inquiry into what became of not only this Mariam Wise, but at least both her brothers, as well.

A somewhat more encouraging note was sounded by the transcribed words of Adam Wise, himself—thankfully posted at Here, we spot the confirmation, at least, that Adam did have a daughter named Mary Ann, who lived, at least, past infancy. Given in April of 1781, not long before his passing, Adam noted in his will,
...Pay my two oldest daughters thirty pounds each hard money, viz: Mary and Maryann Wise, the youngest of which is to remain with [Adam's son] Peter one year....

From that point, should I have the opportunity to travel to Washington County, Pennsylvania, I could consult any other remaining legal documents to see how the guardianship of these two daughters and others of Adam's younger children fared. At least, we now can tell that Mary Ann—whether she became wife of Simon Rinehart or not—was, in 1781, still a minor.

More, of course, could be determined by mining any documents which still might be preserved among the legal papers of Washington County, Pennsylvania. If I were in the area, you can be sure that is what I would be doing next. As it is, having no opportunity to travel through that region any time soon, I'll likely have to poke around the Internet and see what else I can access online to resolve the question of just who that Ann—or, possibly, Mary Ann—might have been.  

Monday, February 24, 2020

Getting Wise

The name's Wise. Ann Wise. She was the one who was supposed to be the mother of Jesse Rinehart who was, in turn the younger brother of Sarah Rinehart, the woman born in Kentucky in 1795 who returned with her father Simon to Greene County, Pennsylvania, and eventually married James Gordon there in 1819. This all happened before the whole bunch of them—Rineharts and Gordons—moved to Perry County, Ohio, by the time of the early 1830s.

Got that? Hopefully so, because that is all I know of Sarah Rinehart's mother, other than one report that Sarah's mother's maiden name was Wiley. And I don't know much more about her father, either, except that he was apparently not the same man as the Simon Rinehart that the history books indicate lost his life during the early days of Greene County's existence.

To make the research process more problematic interesting, years later, Sarah's kid brother Jesse apparently told the Perry County folks that his mother's name was Ann Wise, not Wiley, putting the skids on my progress even further.

In the hopes that there might have been a logical explanation for the conflicting reports of mother's maiden name, I thought I'd try to explore the "F.A.N. Club" in that southwest Pennsylvania region, to see whether there might be any families with either surname, Wiley or Wise. That tactic didn't provide any insights, as I discovered that, in Greene County in the early 1800s, there was both a Wiley family and a Wise family. Still, we checked out the Wiley family last Friday, and found some encouraging clues.

Today, we'll turn our attention to the Wise family of Greene County, to see if there are any tidbits to be found in that family's history. Once again, I turned first to the history found in the Tenmile Country book, where, conveniently, there was an entry headed, "The Wise Family."

As it turns out, there was not merely one family named Wise in Tenmile Country, but several. All apparently descended from one German immigrant said to have originated in Hesse-Darmstadt. According to the Tenmile Country history, this immigrant's name was likely John (Johann) Adam Weiss, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1748.

In a migration pattern sounding vaguely like one we've traced for both our Gordon family and that of the Wiley family, this John Adam Weiss—or Wise—removed from his landing place in the New World and settled first in Carroll County, Maryland. After twenty two years there, he, along with his second wife and family, moved to Tenmile Country, where he obtained four hundred acres of land. He remained there until his death in 1781.

According to the Tenmile Country history, Adam Wise had five sons by his first wife, with the final son born in 1763. He then (though not substantiated by other reports) had eight children by his second wife, Catherine—but none of them were named Ann. Tantalizingly enough, among those later eight children was one daughter named Mary Ann, though nothing was written about her history, not even to mention the date of her birth.

The Ann Wise we'd be seeking, if she turned out to be the first wife of Simon Rinehart and mother of Sarah Rinehart Gordon, would likely need to be born before 1777, which would be possible if she were the daughter of this Adam Wise. She also could have been the daughter of any of his older sons—a possibility which we'll need to check closely, as this family, like many others, favored naming children after older relatives. However, if my hypothesis holds—the thought that perhaps Simon Rinehart actually had two wives, the second of which would be this Ann Wise, mother of Sarah's half brother Jesse—she could well have been born much later than this.

Furthermore, as can be gleaned from another early history of Washington County, many in the extended Wise family opted to move further west to Ohio, land of opportunity sought by the Gordons and the Rineharts, hinting at the possibility of a community-minded move. Before dismissing this Wise possibility out of hand—after all, there wasn't much to be found on that Mary Ann Wise in the books I'd already checked—we need to explore the various branches of the extended family first. 

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.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What if it IS my Circus?

Sometimes, we run into messy stuff when researching our family history. Face it, if life can sometimes be messy, so can the narrative that flows out of our own family's history. And sometimes, the mess gets so confusing that we—or someone else following the same trail—can get thrown off track.

I've run into that problem before, most recently back at the end of last year, when I had two different genealogy companies yelling at me that I had the wrong wife for my Aaron Broyles. (No, as it turned out, I didn't; mine was long gone when the other Aaron—and the specific wife that had been mentioned—still lived in that other state everyone was insisting on.)

My response, once I put together my draft of a proof argument, was to just leave it alone. How could I first find all those other subscribers at two different companies who insisted otherwise, and then convince them of their error? I've often learned that no good deed goes unpunished, and I didn't want to try and prove that maxim wrong—at least, not in this instance. And, as my husband often likes to say, "Not my circus; not my monkeys." I left it alone.

But just this weekend, I ran across another messy research problem. It involved a fourth cousin once removed—removed far enough, that is, to be someone I wasn't personally acquainted with, but close enough to possibly show up as a DNA match to me. This woman's life story apparently included some sad or difficult episodes, and I'm sure there would be plenty to read between the lines of the few documents I was able to glean on her life's trajectory.

She was married at least twice, the first time to a man who eventually ended up in their state's "reformatory" institution, and the second time, when she was well into her thirties, to a man whom she left a widower when she died fifteen years later.

The problem was this: in all the census records where I found her with the first husband—in 1920 and 1930—there was never any mention of children. But by the time of the 1940 census, suddenly she and her new husband had a fifteen year old daughter, listed with the surname of the second husband.

Obviously, my question was: who were the actual parents? This second husband had never been married before, and all previous census records showed him living alone with his own widowed father. All previous census records for the wife showed her living alone with her first husband—with no children. Could this have been an adopted child? A child of a now-deceased sibling of one of the adults?

Obviously, a lot can unfold in the space of the ten years in between two census enumerations. There is probably quite a messy story that evolved in a decade's time, in this family's case. Of course, I tried my hardest to piece together the story, looking in every direction, both time-wise and relative-wise.

This is just one instance of the many types of confusing research clues we may encounter as we piece together the stories of our own families over the generations. And it brings up a question. What do we do when we find others have got the facts badly jumbled? Do we just walk away with a shrug, spouting that old Polish saying, "Not my circus; not my monkeys"?

What if it is our circus?

Thinking this through, I had to go back and revisit the case of mistaken identities for the two Aaron Broyles men in my mother's line. Do I really just leave everyone else thinking they had those details right? Or do I speak up?

That's a question that came up in a family history workshop I was teaching yesterday. In the past, I would have just said, yeah, leave it alone. Forget those sayings about the monkeys; how about this one: you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Some people get really incensed about being approached, out of the blue, to inform them that they got something wrong. Especially if it concerns their own family.

On the other hand, the thoughtful people in my class yesterday wondered if there might be other ways to broach the subject and offer a correct version of the facts. And that is quite possible. After all, while we can't change someone else's tree, we certainly can exhibit correct documentation on our own tree. More than that, we can edit our entries to add brief statements on why we chose one version of the story over another one. After all, we do have control over our own public trees posted at such venues as And on the universal tree in places like, corrections can be made upon producing the determining documentation, so that all can benefit from that information.

While it still may earn you not much more than the ire of a total stranger if you go correcting other people's trees, the situation is far different when you make the case clearer on your own turf. By adding notes, comments, and listing resources on our own trees, we can publicly introduce others to our thinking process and provide evidence to support our contentions about specific family links different than the status-quo mistakes on other trees. In addition, that can become a way to flag the situation and bring it to the attention of researchers who don't, yet, even know about such a discrepancy.

People do take a look at other subscribers' trees. Though we can't necessarily make everyone look at our mini-proof arguments posted on our trees, by providing that information publicly, we are still making our contribution toward making the right lines of reasoning available to a wider audience. Hopefully, some people will be observant enough to take action and likewise correct their own tree.

While I don't—yet—think it is our responsibility to correct all the research wrongs in the world, I do see the pursuit of family history to be a collective effort. We do share what we've found with each other, even if passively (and perhaps even unwittingly). In that one small way, I've come to see I've needed a slight attitude adjustment to realize that, yes, in some cases, it is my circus—and by example, I can make that incremental contribution towards the collective betterment of the record-keeping for the family lines I'm most concerned about.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Easing Into Another Batch

Could an indexing project be as relaxing as mindlessly assembling a jigsaw puzzle? Depends. In my case, anything would be relaxing in comparison to the five-hour-long commute last night from a city that was only ninety miles from home. Once safely home after such a harrowing experience—and promising myself to never, ever, ever attempt a trip home from the Bay Area on a Friday preceding a three-day weekend—I thought I'd unwind with a little volunteer work online at

Truth be told, the real reason I headed to the indexing tab last night was because of something I had spotted a few days earlier. I had been trying to find resources to help me do some lookups of California records at To my surprise, last week I discovered a project which had been initiated by a neighboring genealogical society—a project which anyone could help complete with only a few minutes of volunteer work at a computer. Sure, I'd be willing to help my neighbors, so I made a mental note to go back to that link (yes, I saved it) during the time I had scheduled for indexing work later in the week.

By the time I got to check it out again, it was gone. All I got was an error message, as if it were a broken link or something. But how could that be? So I went back to my original notes, and tried to look up the collection in FamilySearch's catalog. Sure enough, there it was, now searchable. Poof! Another indexing project quickly dispatched.

I'm glad to see how quickly some of these indexing projects are completed. There is so much work still to do to make digitized record sets searchable. Since I couldn't work on that California record set anymore, I went back to my old standby: naturalization records in the tri-state area surrounding that major port of entry, New York City. This time, I concentrated on some very old records—well, as early as 1856—from Essex County in New Jersey.

Those early records don't contain as much information as later naturalization applications require—but I'll bet anyone searching for their immigrant ancestor from the late 1850s would be elated to find anything on such mystery ancestors. At least this is a start for those seeking to make the momentous jump "across the pond."

Likewise, because this particular record set was so sparse, as far as fill-in-the-blanks went, it was a blast to complete the indexing batch, so I did more than one batch. It was a breeze. It was a good feeling to know I'm helping someone else. And it hardly ate up any of my spare time. That's the type of volunteer project that's do-able for almost anyone—and I'm glad so many people have been willing to jump in and help. The end result makes it easier for all of us to delve further into our own family history.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Pause to Consider:
Love in Past Years

Happy Valentine's Day! Whether you have been dreaming of receiving one of those quaint, Victorian-styled tokens of true love fit for a queen, or gearing up to laugh at some Vinegar Valentines, today might be the time to consider what greetings your ancestors might have been sending in their own younger years.

One of the most prolific producers of such greeting cards and postcards, at least in London, was the concern of Raphael Tuck & Sons (and no, despite the man's birth in Prussia, I'm not related; just love to look at these old-fashioned prints). Raphael Tuck, familiar to some genealogists on account of being the originator of the three-postcard "oilette" series known as "The Marriage at Gretna Green," created a commercial art concern in Great Britain which spanned nearly a century as a family business, from 1866 to 1959, at the retirement of grandson Desmond Tuck.

Of course, those of you who are privileged—or inescapably tasked—to work as part of your own family's business realize how much material can be gleaned from your occupational records and crossed over to your family history accounts, just as the line of ownership descended in the family business of Raphael Tuck & Sons has been detailed. Whether your firm became as well-known in your own occupational specialty as that of Raphael House, you can still share the story of your own family's success, both for its business history and for its family history.

As for those valentines wending their way to you—or making their way from your own anonymous hand—they may be as far afield from those quaint Victorian specimens or even those vinegar valentines of the 1840s onward as we are from those generations of our ancestors. But it's still fun to imagine what our great-great-grandparents might have slipped in the mail, or in a spontaneously-picked bouquet of flowers for a hopeful beau or belle. Hopefully, it didn't include vinegar.

Above: Undated and anonymous example of a "vinegar valentine," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Meanwhile, Chattering Away
in the Background

After this genealogy guinea pig bared her soul and confessed her more-than-disorganized research shortcomings yesterday, a few thoughts popped up and demanded a postscript. Today, they will have their moment in court.

No matter how organized a researcher hopes to be, the truth of the matter is that the minutiae of organization seldom makes for exciting scripts. First-I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that can be mind-numbing in its exquisite organization. For the most part, I spare you that detail. I am, after all, focused on the story, not the snooze.

However, much like the teletype machine in the old-fashioned newsroom, my research is chattering away in the background. Only rarely does the bell go "ding" to alert everyone of a breaking story. Meanwhile, center stage holds the unfolding of another story's account—while the real work is getting done behind the scenes.

That is the type of drudgery I mentioned yesterday: that relentless fine-tooth-comb cleaning process, with every step calculated to miss not a speck of misplaced conclusions. While that is necessary, it makes for boring copy. But if I don't keep at it—in the background, of course—I never get the chance to stumble across an interesting aberration which will alert me to that next fascinating family history story.

So, this week, while leading up to the story of how two Georges—and not the ones you had been thinking—might have been the namesakes for Georgetown in the Washington, D.C., area, behind the scenes, I've been methodically combing through the entire Gordon family tree.

I'm far from done with this process, of course. There were too many Gordons per generation to make this an easy exercise. But thanks to this periodic review, I do discover branches that were entirely omitted the last time I passed this way, or which now can be joined to the freshly-digitized historical records added to the online collections I frequent. Often, these updates lead me to new details, some of which even include a story or two.

Now that the Gordon story has led me back yet another generation, I'll add documentation to my mother-in-law's tree to connect John Gordon to his father George. Not that the story is now completed—finding George only dredges up further questions in my mind, of course—but it will take its place in the ebb and flow of research. At some point, I'll set it aside and let it rest until more can be found to bring me back even farther—to Scotland, perhaps. But I'm a firm believer in not banging my head against a wall; when the trail goes cold, it's time to switch tracks and pursue a more profitable course along another surname's line.

And for our current plans, that is exactly what we'll be doing. I mentioned one of the reasons I was delighted to find the Tenmile Country book is that it included some other surnames which intertwined with my mother-in-law's Gordon line. One of those lines was that of a family—or maybe more than one family—named Rinehart. Thankfully, the Rinehart line is mentioned in that same Tenmile Country book, and will be the family history we will turn our attention to, next week.

Meanwhile, like that teletype machine, you can be sure my check-the-records routine will continue to chatter away in the background while, on center stage, we roll out another family story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Who, Me? Organized?!

People who jump into the world of genealogical research eventually discover their crying need to become organized. There is a serious risk that the paper trail which once tantalized us can turn vicious and eventually swallow us whole—unless we have a plan, that is.

With that said, I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought that someone considered me to be organized. Who, me? Organized? I had to laugh when I saw a reader's comment on Monday's post about research journals. Janet was too kind when she characterized me as "very organized"—but her question about research routines does resonate with many of us, I suspect. So, I promised her I'd take some time to discuss that today—and I hope you will feel free to share your thoughts on this topic, as well.

But first, a caveat: remove any notion that you are reading the words of an organized person. If you want advice from someone like that, consider following certified professional organizer, Janine Adams of Saint Louis, who fell in love with family history several years ago and now not only blogs about life organization, but also has a separate blog dedicated to specific tips for genealogists, as well. Best of all, she has a continuing series called "How They Do It," which features tips from some well-known genealogists.

I suppose I should briefly explain why I don't consider myself a worthwhile example of organizational prowess, at least in the realm of genealogy. First of all, I am an autodidact, but not because of any personal choice; when I first wanted to learn about genealogy, there was no one to really help me learn. That episode occurred roughly at the age of eight, when my halting question to the children's librarian got me pointed in the direction of the adult section of the local library and to the spot reserved for those who were curious about their American-cousin chances of succeeding to the British throne. The verbiage in those pedigree tomes was far too dry for anyone of my tender age, and I soon gave up my desire to pursue the topic.

By the time I was able to strike out on my own, it was following my college years. By then, those general research skills applied to surviving term paper assignments did enable me some moderate success, but in truth, while that could be considered assembling the history of my family, it certainly wasn't adequate to compiling a thorough genealogical proof argument. By the advent of publicly-accessible online resources, even then, my learning was peer-to-peer based, with many of us sharing resources and thinking out problems collectively through online conversations, not necessarily focusing on the proper techniques of genealogical research.

It wasn't until the last ten years or so that I've been able to access serious training on research techniques, mostly through workshops and classes offered in tandem with genealogy conferences and institutes. My collection of genealogy books has skyrocketed at the same time, revealing that persistent autodidactic streak.

That said, while I do have a research routine, you'd have to think of it in terms of its contrast with linear thinking; mine is omni-directional. Instead of simply moving from Point A to Point B, working backwards in time, my line of questioning when dealing with a new research goal first starts by reaching out in all directions. I learn to ask questions—questions about everything I'd want to know about an ancestor. Tracking the progress in answering those questions often takes the form of what is sometimes called mind-mapping.

Then, in pursuing any given research problem, I like to borrow a concept from the world of pedagogy: the contrast, in teaching, between "content" and "process." The content, in seeking information on a given ancestor, might be the details of that person's life: where she was born, where she lived, what childhood and adult life might have been like for a person in her lifespan and community. The process, by contrast, would be the methods I use to wrap my head around understanding that content. Where can I find my answers? Which resources would best address my questions about this research goal? How far afield of the basic B-M-D routine do I want to stray? How long will I have to look until I can read between the lines or find the story on that person's life?

Wandering down that "process" path can use up an inordinate amount of research time, but deciding whether the time expended is "worth it" takes a judgment call which only comes with the experience of doing it in the past. Perhaps there is a sixth sense, when it comes to sniffing out a story—and for me, it's not so much the vital stats I'm after when I research an ancestor; it's recreating that living, breathing person so I can better appreciate that person's life experience that I seek. Such a journey may lead to a government office, but it could just as well lead to a book—or to walking the very same path an ancestor walked to school, or work, or church.

Vital to that process is learning the skill of asking questions—which again requires me to put myself in that ancestor's shoes and follow that meandering, mind-mapping path. Every fact, if we think about it, can prompt further lines of questioning—if, at least, we are open to learning more about the context of our ancestors' lives and not just the surface content. Pursuing those questions can lead to what I referred to last Monday—that "research routine" checklist of go-to resources I can't fail to include. I have some sources I usually consider, and they do reach far beyond the first stops of or Books, journals, newspapers, manuscripts—even (maybe especially) those outside the field of genealogy—can yield much more information than those dusty government documents we are used to consulting.

While all that may seem a rather haphazard approach to research, I do have one aspect to the process which is strictly routine: I periodically review all my work, as captured in my genealogical databases. I regularly take a family line and start from one end of the surname—usually the progenitor—and work my way from parents to children and then to their children, taking each child in age order, to check whether any new resources can be found to add to what I've already discovered. I check the resources I've already attached to each specific person—census records for each decade of that person's lifespan, plus birth, marriage, and death records and corroboration—to make sure I haven't missed any available record. I step beyond that point to scour newspaper collections and other written material for additional mentions of that individual.

And then, I move on to the next oldest child and repeat. Yes, I work on each of the collateral lines as that is sometimes where I can break through a brick wall on a sibling. This may seem like a tedious process—especially considering I have two different trees which each contain roughly twenty thousand individuals—but in the review, I often spot areas which need additional support, or even outright correction.

Does all that sound like one big, hot mess? Now you see why I laugh to think anyone would consider me organized. But I tackle that approach relentlessly—sometimes, just working my way through Ancestry on my phone while standing in line at a store—and ultimately clean up a bunch of tangled research trash.

I've always liked that proverb, "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean; but much increase is by the strength of the ox." In other words, if you want something that looks organized—clean and always orderly in appearance—perhaps the only way you can achieve that state is when no work gets done. In order to tackle those unyielding research problems, sometimes you have to get down and dirty and wrestle the answers out. The brute force of the research process can sometimes get messy. And messy never looks "organized."

Just remember, after the project is finished, to put everything back away in its place—if your project ever gets done. And we all know that family tree is never completed. ;)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Curious About Some Georges

In the process of discovering that someone thought my mother-in-law's ancestor, John Gordon, was son of a man in colonial Maryland named George Gordon, I stumbled upon yet another set of articles on this man. This time, not only was successful merchant George Gordon fingered as the first sheriff of the brand new Frederick County, but he was also labeled as the possible namesake of what has become a quaint village enclave in current-day Washington, D.C., called Georgetown.

I'm not entirely sold on this theory, but let's reconstruct the story—and meet up with a few other Georges in the process. First of all, George Gordon was apparently a successful businessman and landowner in several counties in colonial Maryland. Much of his business was centered in a place called Prince George's County, created in 1696 and named after Queen Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark.

There, at the end of 1734, our George Gordon bought some property, called at the time by the unflattering moniker, "Knave's Disappointment." The parcel included one hundred acres, and apparently was next to property owned by another George, named George Beall. The land owned by both of these Georges apparently was enviably situated, being on the shores of the Potomac River, just before the fall line at the farthest point reachable inland by ocean-going vessels.

George Gordon made good use of this coveted position, building an inspection house upon some land already in use as a tobacco trading post. Other businesses quickly grew up around his business, transforming the location into a thriving port in colonial Maryland.

A few years later—in 1748, to be exact—the provincial Maryland government thought it best to carve portions out of Prince George's County to create the new county of Frederick, where successful businessman George Gordon was promptly named its first sheriff. However, not long after that, someone in government cast a lustful eye on the prospering port area, and by 1751, the provincial legislature in Maryland authorized an offer that couldn't be refused: the purchase of sixty acres from the two Georges. Thus, the immovable specter of eminent domain saw to it that the deed was done.

Despite howls of protest from the other George—Beall wrote a note of protest over being forced to accept his share of the £280 offered as price for the land (not to mention, the two lots each of the Georges were to select for themselves, over and above the sale price mandated)—apparently, both men accepted the offer that could not be refused, and moved on with their lives.

The land, laid out in plans for a town, eventually was called George Town. Because the town's survey was completed in 1752, during the reign of King George II, it had subsequently been presumed that Georgetown was named in his honor. However, oddly enough, another thought had been circulated—at least it was noted, over one hundred years ago—that perhaps the community was given its name in honor of some other Georges. According to a 1901 government publication by physicist and District historian William Tindall,
The general supposition is that the town was named in honor of George II, then the reigning sovereign of Great Britain, but it is also contended that it was named as a compliment to the two Georges from whom the site was obtained.

Could the lovely Georgetown indeed have been the namesake—at least partially—of my mother-in-law's fifth great-grandfather? Someone had once mentioned that possibility to me, but back then, I had dismissed it immediately from mind. It seemed like one of those family fables which get blown far beyond reality. I never even considered it to be more than hearsay until I recently found the idea drawn up in a post online by a fellow Gordon researcher at Memoir: Tales of Our Past, and thanks also to discovering the Corinne Hanna Diller article published years ago by the Maryland Genealogical Society.

Whether Georgetown owes its name to a king, a queen's consort, or two unfortunate Georges who learned they just couldn't fight "city hall," one thing is certain: I'll never think about that place quite the same, from this point onward. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Genealogy Journals:
Forgotten Resources

You may think your ancestor was just an obscure farmer, minding his own business on the outback of some forsaken state, but chances are promising that, whether you know it or not, that ancestor may have been written about by someone else. Whether it was the journal of a local business owner, seeking to reconcile his books by reviewing the monthly pluses and minuses of his customers, or the journal published by a lofty academic organization, somewhere out there, your ancestor's name—and details on his life—may be featured in print.

Never forget to look at those printed journals. At least, I should have known better.

No longer hot on the pursuit of the roots of my mother-in-law's ancestor, John Gordon—I had given up the chase long ago, fooled by the consensus that nothing more was known about the man, other than that he had come from either Scotland or Germany—it was a case of mere serendipity that I took a second glance at possibilities. More specifically, it was thanks to another Gordon researcher's entry that popped up in the hints at Apparently, someone had discovered that John Gordon had parents. A novel idea.

Now, keep in mind that this John Gordon was born about 1739. While it would be terribly old fashioned of me to assume that he, too, might have had parents, there was apparently a lot of confusion about just where old John might have originated. Even his headstone—placed at the Gordon family cemetery in his memory years after his passing by family members wanting to settle the score on this question—confuses the issues by blending the two conflicting family fables about John Gordon's origin.

And that was where I left the fray, years ago.

But now, with this new hint popping up, I learned about another resource where someone claimed to have solved the mystery: it was an article in a journal.

Finding journal articles about one's surname seems to be a rather straightforward process. I happen to have a limited subscription to Findmypast, which conveniently provides a search engine for PERSI, the Periodical Source Index. However, in this quest, I was working backwards. From a hint at Ancestry leading to an obscure website, I learned about a journal article promising to name John Gordon's father. It was cut and pasted onto that website—a practice I abhor, not only because it violates copyright protection of those who work hard to provide such articles but because it makes it harder to find the source of the article.

Resolved to find the original version of the article, I headed to PERSI to search for the original publication. Problem One: there was no such article with the title as given in the pirated copy.

Next, I thought I'd try searching by the name of the author, Corinne Hanna Diller. I was pleasantly surprised to see that author's name, vaguely remembering having discussed specific family history details with someone by that same name via online genealogical forums well over twenty years ago. Even that attempt, however, didn't seem to produce any results.

Finally, I resorted to searching in PERSI by the location featured in the article: the Gordon home in Frederick County, Maryland. That's where, among the possible hits, I saw the article I was seeking—or at least one with a similar title: "George Gordon, Sheriff, 1748-66." At Findmypast, I could pay to access the article. Or, cheapskate that I am, I could search for another resource.

Since I still couldn't find that article listed at, I headed to the website of the publisher of the journal article, the Maryland Genealogical Society. There, the Society conveniently listed all the articles published in its Journal and Bulletin in a freely-accessible file. There, on page seventy, I finally found the entry—and with the title as it had been listed in that original resource: "George Gordon—Sheriff of Frederick Co." As confirmed by the PERSI entry, the article had been published in the summer of 2000.

If all I want to know is the identity of John Gordon's father, why concern myself with this article on someone named George? The reason is simple: in an exquisitely-detailed proof argument, Corinne Hanna Diller laid out her reasoning for why she believes John's father was George Gordon. The article provides source after source of records and documents showing multiple connections—financial, legal, and social—linking the two Gordon men. Not only that, but the records pointed me to the fact that this John Gordon served in the Revolutionary War, which I cross-checked with the D.A.R. Patriot file where that same John Gordon has been listed.

While I still seldom consult journals—genealogical or otherwise—for my family's ancestral names, I have benefited greatly from the few entries I have followed through on checking. The smart thing, of course, would be to add that resource to my research routine, and regularly check on the oldest surnames I'm struggling with. Even if the majority of those names come up with a null set as the result, the few times I've been able to locate an article, the results have been spectacular.

On the other hand, it still just awes me to realize that someone else out there was that fascinated with an ancestor of my family to go to such lengths in creating such a well-researched article. After all, I'm still persuaded that—even if they didn't just "get off the boat"—those ancestors were just simple farmers, minding their own business out on the edges of a pioneer community.
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