Thursday, February 6, 2020

Gordons on the Other Side

Do you sometimes begin to feel surrounded by duplicate names in your family tree? Those are not always a case of over-zealous parents naming their children after a beloved relative. Sometimes, those "duplicates" are really signs that you have a form of pedigree collapse. If two first cousins married, for instance, the result would mean their children shared six, rather than eight, great-grandparents. One couple on that tree holds two different positions.

While this scenario, in our day, may seem strange—or frowned upon—the fact is that many families included such situations in prior centuries. There were many contributing factors to such arrangements. For those in cultures with limited transportation—for instance, where walking was the primary form of travel—an eligible bachelor might be limited to a day's walking distance for his choice of bride. Likewise, among island populations or other groups restricted by geography, choices for potential spouses would be limited. The same effect was seen in communities built up by recent immigrants, where culture and language influenced associations and, thus, marriage choices.

Whatever the reason was in my mother-in-law's heritage, it turns out she was the recipient of genes from two sides of the family which turned out to descend from one couple: John and Mary Duke Gordon of colonial Frederick County, Maryland. Yesterday, we outlined the line of descent for the Gordons on her paternal side; today, we'll take a brief look at her maternal Gordons.

In both cases, the Gordon lines descend from John Gordon's son, William B. Gordon. Born in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1772, William was the one who gradually meandered westward, through Monongalia County (in what was then still Virginia), to Greene County, Pennsylvania, and finally to Perry County, Ohio.

In Monongalia County, William met and married Mary Carroll—the one who has me wondering about any possible connection with the Carroll who was the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence—and then promptly moved to southwestern Pennsylvania. There, his wife gave birth to at least eleven children, before dying (probably of exhaustion) in 1812. Among those eleven children was her oldest son, James, from whom my mother-in-law's paternal Gordon connection descended.

Complicating matters was Mary's death at the point of her youngest child's tender toddler age. Her bereft husband promptly went out and did what any reasonable man of that era might have done: found himself another wife.

Enter the second Mary, and the saga of how my mother-in-law's maternal line became related to the Gordons, as well. Just as the first Mary's eldest son became the Gordon progenitor on her paternal side, the second Mary's eldest son was to be the patriarch from whom her maternal line descended. This son—William H. Gordon—was born in Greene County, Pennsylvania, in 1817. Along with those in his father's entire family still alive (with the exception of one married daughter by that time), William H. Gordon immigrated to Perry County, Ohio, where they may have arrived as early as the 1830s.

William H. Gordon has not been the easy research subject one might have hoped. There is, indeed, a headstone erected "in memory of" William Gordon junior in 1840, but there are circumstances making me wonder whether this is the right descendant of a patriarch also known by that name. In addition, this William Gordon lost his young wife—I think—and their second son (also, helpfully, named William) at about the same time. The sole survivor of that small family was a boy they named Adam Gordon—the one who, eventually, became my mother-in-law's maternal grandmother's father.

And thus, with the marriage of my mother-in-law's father and mother, we see reunited another family: the lines of the two half-brothers who both claimed William B. Gordon as their father.

Above: Portion of pedigree chart showing Adam Gordon's father William H. Gordon, his paternal grandfather William B. Gordon, and his great-grandparents John and Mary Duke Gordon, originally of Frederick County, Maryland.


  1. I constantly have those moments in my tree where I know I have heard that name before! Brothers and sisters who marry brothers and sisters, cousins marry cousins. Makes for some interesting line graphs.

    1. Sometimes, I think it would be a more effective way to diagram these connections by drawing them as a network, rather than a straight-lined pedigree chart. Examples like the ones you mentioned can make for some messy diagrams!


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