Tuesday, May 16, 2023

When Ancestors Simply Vanish


The trouble with researching the women in our distant ancestry is that they simply seemed to vanish. There were rarely more than three specific moments in a woman's life when her name might be mentioned. One, if she was born to a church-going family, might be the recording of her name in baptism. The second would be if she became someone's wife. The third—and only if she were fortunate to be closely related to a male relative who had enjoyed a measure of success in life—would be if she were bequeathed a legacy in the recorded will of a significant close male relative.

Not every woman could claim those three opportunities for public recognition, of course. And that becomes the beginning of this researcher's troubles. Last month, for instance, while I found a woman on my mother-in-law's matriline who bore her husband eleven daughters, the hoped-for research bounty has been agonizingly slow in its discovery. I'm still working on that matriline gold mine, but don't hold your breath for any breakthroughs just yet.

Likewise, this month, despite discovering the names of two more sisters—same matriline, more recent generation—they likewise have vanished. Even after finding the name of each one's husband, they still have disappeared without a trace.

That leaves me examining all the possible reasons why someone who settled in one location might no longer be there. Yes, they could have died and been buried without any grave marker. They also could have moved west. The husband could have died, leaving a destitute widow to remarry—and then move elsewhere. Or, as luck might have it, these women and their identified husbands could have slipped through the cracks, still in town but somehow omitted from the records we genealogists tend to frequent.

Getting back to the main research goal I set for myself this month—finding more information on Lyman Jackson, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandfather—he, too, could have been an ancestor who simply vanished. If it weren't for information shared with me by other family researchers and the collaboration of other subscribers at Ancestry.com in particular, that would indeed have been the case.

Lyman Jackson was apparently a man who didn't stay settled in one place for long. When you have an ancestor like that—moving, perhaps, just in time to evade the decennial enumeration—it can be hard to trace his trail. Fortunately, paying attention to the tip that Lyman Jackson might have been a D.A.R. Patriot, I was able to follow that otherwise invisible route taken by a man born in Connecticut, who served in the armed forces in both Massachusetts and New York, yet settled in Pennsylvania and claimed a son who died in Ohio—and apparently had another son who settled even farther west.

To trace the unfolding travels of Lyman Jackson, we'll begin as most genealogists would: at the end of the story. Thus, our first stop tomorrow, in reviewing Lyman Jackson's history, will be in a tiny township of Erie County, Pennsylvania, known as Conneaut. There in 1830, we find a man by that same name who was well into his seventies, living with an unnamed woman who was most likely his wife, Deidama.

Perhaps they hadn't vanished, after all. It's just that, had it not been for services like Ancestry.com, organizations like D.A.R., or even the helpful collaboration of fellow genealogists, Lyman and his wife Deidama could just as well have been yet another example of many other such vanishing ancestors. 

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