Friday, June 2, 2023

Moving Quickly From Known to Unknown


It may be fairly safe to say a rule of thumb in genealogy is to start with what you know, then move outward from known to unknown. Unfortunately, in the case of my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, that trip from known to unknown may unravel rather quickly. There is not much to know about the man.

My main sources of documentation on this Mathias Ambrose consist of a tax document from 1798, and his will, drawn up in Dublin Township of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1804, bringing to mind those wry sayings about death and taxes. With those two documents for my start, the details did lead me to his likely entry in the U.S. Census for 1800. But that's it.

Let's try our hand at reading that handwritten will, which thankfully was shared online by an subscriber—and downloaded to my computer so I could blow it up to a readable size.

The first thing I noticed was that Mathias' surname, as written in the will, looked more like Ambrosser than Ambrose. Two of his sons, John and Mathias, were also listed with their surname spelled this way, while later in the document, the son Mathias' surname was written as Ambross. Looking at the tax records, I could see that the name had been entered there as Ambroser. Further searches will need to consider all these variations as well.

Mathias' will names his wife, Barbara, and sons Jacob, John and Mathias, with the latter two designated as executors. While I'm thankful to have the detail of some daughters' married names, the handwriting introduces quite a bit of uncertainty. As best I can read it, his married daughters seem to include Margaret "Wallas"—which I wonder might be Wallace—Mary Mangel, Barbara Miller, and the two sisters who married two brothers: "Sussanah" and Elisabeth "Flower." In addition, another married sister has me totally stumped: is Catharina's married name Sands? Sando? Or Lands or Lando?

Besides the married daughters, mention was made of the two unmarried daughters: Magdalene "Ambrose" and Anna "Ambross." Besides them, Mathias was careful to attend to the needs of one minor, apparently a grandson, Jacob Mangel.

With that start—hey, at least there's a will—we are immediately launched into the unknown. Other than hoping to find tax or land records, there is nothing descriptive about the census records of that time period. And, given the number of daughters Mathias raised, I'm regretting the fact that women of that era were mostly invisible when it came to documentation.

For a next step, I'm torn between reviewing what can be found about the two migrating Ambrose daughters, Elizabeth and Susanna, and desperately pressing onward into the abyss. I am tempted, first, to get our bearings by re-acquainting ourselves with what can be found about the two Flowers brides before they left Pennsylvania for the new frontier of Ohio. After all, start with what you know, right? Perhaps in studying those two sisters once again, we can gain a lead to point us in the right direction.

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