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.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you think so, Far Side. I think I need to keep my mind open to this possibility.

  2. I think you might be on to something. :)

    1. Thanks for your vote of confidence, Linda. That is encouraging. I'll keep researching this possibility--while still keeping my mind open to the chance that this hypothesis may turn out, in the end, to be wrong. Best of all possible worlds, huh?


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