If it weren't for a research goal I'm working on this month, I'd never have stumbled upon some interesting history. Near misses these are, as you'll see, and not exactly my mother-in-law's family. But you can glean some fascinating stories on the way to discovering the truth about your own family history.
One goal I have for this month is to examine my mother-in-law's matriline. It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyways—that mother's mother's mother's history is the same for my husband as it is for his mother. Thus, the test results for my husband's mitochondrial DNA are burning a hole in my genetic genealogy pocket, so to speak. I want to see how far back I can go on that matriline and verify it with a paper trail.
However, I'm stuck at one point: my mother-in-law's eighth great-grandmother. If you think that is too distant a relationship to be picked up by a DNA test, you'd be right—if we were talking about an autosomal DNA test. But a mitochondrial test is different. I want to see just how different it might be.
The only problem I have with that research scenario is that I'm not exactly sure what the name of that eighth great-grandmother might be. If I follow the trail back to that generation—which, by the way, I can do on two separate lines (this is colonial America in the 1600s, after all)—I can spot her husband's name. Not, however, do I have a solid clue as to this woman's own identity.
I have a couple rabbit trails I've followed, though. One leads to the Honorable Robert Ridgely, our mystery mother's husband, who was named as father of one Charles Ridgely, sometimes referred to as Charles the Planter. I know this only because of his son by the same name, called Charles the Merchant—or, more conveniently, Charles Ridgely II.
That particular Ridgely family of Robert's grandson, the younger Charles, just happened to be the scions of a property-holding line which once included Hampton Hall. That, however, was the other brother in the Ridgely line of my mother-in-law. She descends from the younger Charles' brother.
That property, by the way, is now known as the Hampton National Historic Site, part of the U. S. National Park Service.
Of course, that little rabbit trail did not lead me to the answer I was seeking: who was Robert Ridgely's wife? I had one other lead to chase after. Though Charles Ridgely's brother was part of the paternal branch of my mother-in-law's fifth great-grandmother Rachel Ridgely, Robert Ridgely was an ancestor on the maternal side of that family as well.
There he was again: Robert Ridgely. But who was his wife?
This requires us to be willing to go down yet another rabbit trail. And you know I'm good for that. It turns out that whoever Robert Ridgely's wife was, she—like so many other women of that time period—had been married more than once. In fact, she had been married three times.
It turns out that I had run into information on that third marriage before—but that was a detail which I had long forgotten. Back when I was exploring another potential connection for my mother-in-law—this time, involving some men around the beginning of our country's history, by the surname Carroll—I had checked the wives and children of three men named Charles Carroll.
It is to this eldest Charles Carroll that we need now to return. This particular Carroll was first married to a woman who had been a widow—twice. Her second husband had been a Maryland man by the name of Underwood. But her first husband? That was the name which made a difference. It was Robert Ridgely—the same Robert Ridgely who had been father of Charles the Planter and grandfather of Charles the Merchant.
Though that wife's maiden name is apparently under dispute, with at least two different names being proposed, at least we now have her given name. That name was Martha—maybe a Smith, maybe a Hawks (though I find no substantiation for that). Whatever her maiden name might have been, at least I now have a partial identity to list for this eighth great-grandmother. And a speck of the minutiae of American history to discover in the process.