Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Getting to Know the Gordons

Years ago, just after my husband and I were married, I felt it would be a thoughtful gesture to extend to my in-laws the same courtesy as I had done for my own, of building their family tree. When it came to my father-in-law's line, despite his untimely passing when my husband was just a boy, we were fortunate to have a dedicated family historian in my husband's Uncle Ed, the keeper of the family "stuff" which had been passed down for generations, so there, it was just a matter of adding to what was already known.

It was not quite as easy to research my mother-in-law's line. We started the process with a series of long-distance phone interviews. First steps, of course, involved the details which she could personally recall: her parents' names, where and when they were born. Successfully negotiating that series of interviews, we pressed on to her grandparents.

After that, the process bogged down. Lacking personal memories, my mother-in-law simply assumed the typical American story: well, they probably had just "gotten off the boat." In other words, they were likely recent immigrants.

How far from the truth that turned out to be. As I pushed back, generation to generation, I found myself still researching people living on American soil—American soil, that is, until it was merely colonial land and the dates faded back to the early 1700s.

Such was the case with her Gordon ancestors. In fact, she had Gordons on both sides of her family, and each side descended from the same ancestral couple: John and Mary Duke Gordon. Over the years, I met many other Gordon researchers, and together we pursued those Gordons backwards in time from Perry County, Ohio, to the Tenmile Country of southwestern Pennsylvania, and beyond that, to earlier residences in the colony of Maryland.

It became quite clear that, yes, there must have been a boat, but it didn't arrive on the shores of North America quite when my mother-in-law assumed it did. But neither I nor my fellow Gordon researchers were ever able to push beyond John Gordon or his wife, Mary Helen Duke.

It is apparently now time to revisit that saga. Not only am I finding several books which reference John Gordon and his descendants—and future in-laws, the Rineharts, who I am also pursuing among my Twelve Most Wanted for this year—but some of the very people with whom I used to puzzle over this challenge via genealogy forums have turned out to be some of the authors of research publications outlining some exciting findings.

If they are correct, that means we have some documented details pointing to John's parents, with information on not just their names and dates, but contextual descriptions of who they were and what life was like for them. And you know how I am about finding stories. Those wisps of paper containing the financial transactions and legal proceedings involving the Gordon family tell miniature tales of their own—in addition to pointing the way to the identity of John's parents.

The trick in finding out anything more about my mother-in-law's mystery Rineharts, in fact, requires us to sort out their corresponding Gordon connections. So, for starters, we'll trace our way back through each of my mother-in-law's two Gordon lines, starting tomorrow, using the growing list of books which mention their names.

When I started this journey, I had no idea my mother-in-law's insignificant ancestors would turn out to be people whom a researcher thought important enough to write about, but—thankfully—that is turning out to be exactly such a case.


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