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.