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Winter Cleanup

Every December, I assign myself the task of updating my family tree on Family Search with the new information I have discovered during the year. I began doing this several days ago.

I started with myself, the only living person I have posted on this tree. For privacy reasons, everyone else I have added over the years is deceased.

My information, my parents’ information, and my brother Jim’s looked good, so I went back another generation following my research line for the year. My paternal grandparents’ information looked good, too. I made sure the data on all six of their children includes birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial as applicable.

I moved back in time again to the family of my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle. I found her linked only to her daughter (my grandmother). Yet I know she also had three sons with George Edmonds. I located the four of them in the Family Search database and linked them to my family. I have incomplete biographical information on George, but at least he now has a place in the Family Search tree.

After that, I moved back another generation to my research subjects for the year, my great-great grandparents John Davis Riddle and Olive Hall Dunbar. They had eight children. Their offspring are linked to their parents in the database, but many details of some of their lives were incomplete. For others, I found links to sources I had not explored.

It will take some time to work through all eight of these siblings on the Family Search tree. I will add information to what others have posted, and I can follow up on sources they have suggested. I can even contact the people who have posted interesting information to see if they are actively researching this line. In the past, I have learned so much from distant cousins.

Unfortunately, no one has added any information on the birth and parents of John Davis Riddle. Everyone else who is interested in this line must be stuck in the same place I am. In 2018, I was able to push back a few years into his life, but I had no breakthrough that would lead me to a previous generation.

The Family Search tree provides a great way for me to preserve my research. If my descendants do not want the database I have built, the notebooks I have kept, or the documents I have collected, I have a place I can keep the family tree. Family Search has pledged that they will not toss it out.

Census Work on the Riddle Family

The name of my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) does not appear on any index to the 1840 U.S. census. He would have been nineteen years old when it was taken.

That census was the last one where the government did not require an every-name enumeration. The heads of household are listed by name; everyone else is represented by a tick mark. The tick marks are categorized by sex and age. Beginning in 1850, the government changed the census format to include the name of every person in the household. Consequently, the early census records are much less useful than those taken later.

There are several reasons why John’s name would not have appeared in 1840. If he was not the head of a household, he would have been lumped, unnamed, with other males 15-20. If he did head a household, the enumerator may have missed his home. An census indexer may have inadvertently skipped him or been unable to read his name accurately due to poor legibility on the record.

So how do I find him? For many years, I did not even try because I had no idea of his whereabouts that year.

Recently, however, I found 1836-38 tax listings for a man who may have been him in Portage Township, then-Portage County, Ohio. In 1843, My John then married a woman who lived in nearby Stow, Ohio.

There is a good chance that when the census was taken in 1840, John lived in the same place where he had paid taxes in the 1830’s and would marry in 1843. I am in the process of doing an every-name search for him in the 1840 census record for Portage Township. Did any family have a Davis or Riddle surname? How many families included males 15-20?

Some pages are easier to read than others because they have darker ink or better handwriting. So far, I have carefully read two pages and found no familiar surname. Already twenty households include males the same age as John. In only one of these is the man aged 15-20 named as the head of household, so that must have been rare at the time.

If I do not locate his family in Portage Township, I may expand my search to the surrounding area. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires me to do an exhaustive search. That means I should look at Portage Township and any other townships that surround the town of Stow, the home of his John’s bride. This may take awhile.

 

No Easy Answers with J. D. Riddle

Years ago, my uncle Robert Reed sent me a document he had found among my grandmother’s belongings. I had asked him several times about the family history, so he thought to pass the item along to me when he came across it.

It is handwritten on large, heavy paper. It is in two parts, as if torn from a book. A Bible, perhaps, although the reverse sides are blank. It is titled Family Record. The sheets contain the names and birthdates of a set of my great-great grandparents, John Davis Riddle and Olive Dunbar, and their eight children. It also provides the names of the states where the parents were born, when they married, and when they died.

I do not know who might have written it. The beautifully-done cursive does not match that of my grandmother or her mother. The aunt who raised my grandmother was illiterate. The old, water-stained pages have no date, but the handwriting was done all at one time. Olive died in 1902, and since the papers include that event, the document must have been written after that but before I acquired it in 1978.

This gift told me for the first time the names of my great-great grandparents. From there, Olive’s lineage proved easy to trace. She came from Cape Cod, and her Dunbar family is well-documented in New England records.

John Davis Riddle, on the other hand, presents a difficult case. The document says he was born in Pennsylvania on May 21, 1821. Where in Pennsylvania, and to whom? This year I set out to answer this question.

As always, I tried to work backwards. This ancestor farmed in Michigan during the last half of the nineteenth century. Beginning with the 1850 U.S. census record, I found plenty of information on him, but nothing gave me a birthplace or the names of his parents. Pre-1850, we have no every-name census to use, and research becomes more difficult.

I turned to vital records, land records, and tax records, so now the question becomes whether the names I turned up belong to the same man:

  1. In 1849, J. D. Riddle first appears on the tax rolls for Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan. He lived there the rest of his life and was usually known by his initials, J. D. His gravestone there says he was born in 1821.
  2. On 9 September 1847, John D. Riddle and Olive, his wife, sold Summit County, Ohio land she had inherited. They conveyed it to my Olive Dunbar Riddle’s brother-in-law, George Tiffany.
  3. John Davis and Olla Dunbar were married in Summit County on 12 January 1843. The County marriage record says this John Davis was 31 years old. The family document deviates from this record in several ways. The county marriage record does not include the Riddle surname for this John. It says the couple married on the 12th, not the 13th of the month as my family document asserts, and it implies the groom’s birth year as 1811, not 1821. Still, what are the odds that another couple with such similar names would have married in the same county where my bride lived within a day a my couple’s marriage?
  4. John Riddle paid taxes in Portage (now Summit) County, Ohio in 1836-7 and again in 1838. Summit County was split off from Portage County after that. John the taxpayer lived in the Akron area that lies in the new Summit County. His land, 5-10 miles from where Olive’s family lived in Stow, Ohio, was close enough for them to meet. Yet my John Davis Riddle would have been just 16 years old when this John Riddle first appears on the tax list.

Are the 1849 Michigan taxpayer J. D. Riddle, the Summit County land grantor John D. Riddle, the Summit County groom John Davis, and the 1836-38 Portage County taxpayer John Riddle all the same man? As a hypothesis, I am assuming each of these records was created by my great-great grandfather. Unfortunately, none of them offer clues to his family or birthplace. I sure wish the scrivener of my family document had included a more precise birthplace.

I am running out of time this year to do any more research on this ancestor. In 2018, I have pushed back my his timeline by just 6-7 years. I have chased a lot of dead ends and come up with no DNA matches for this line. John Davis Riddle continues to hold his secrets for another day.

 

 

I Begin Wading in Tax Records

A couple of months ago I resolved to do some research in tax records for my Riddle ancestors. John Davis Riddle (1821-1896) was born in Pennsylvania, married in Summit County, Ohio in 1843, sold land there in 1847, and then relocated to St. Joseph County, Michigan.

I began my investigation by working backwards, as is usual in genealogy. Some of the Michigan tax records for St. Joseph County have been digitized, and I started there.

I found J. D. Riddle on the pages for Mendon Township for 1849. He paid $1.80 in tax that year on 80 acres in the N/2NE/4 of Section 12, T5S, R10W. The column heading above his name says Name of Owner or Occupant so I do not know whether or not he owned this land. If he did, I have not found a deed for it. I do have his deeds for other tracts in that section that he acquired in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Apparently, he always farmed Section 12, and then he later bought some land in the adjacent Section 13 as well.

This information jibes with other facts I have collected about his whereabouts during the pre-Civil War years. His eldest son, Isaac Newton Riddle (1849-1915) was born in Mendon Township. The family is listed on the U.S. census for St. Joseph County, Michigan in 1850. At this point, I have the Riddle family pretty well document from 1849 on.

My next step will be to see what I can find in the Ohio records for the 1840’s. I am still searching for a birth family for John Davis Riddle. I do not know how long he lived in Ohio. He turned 21 years old in 1842, so we have a 5-year stretch of time during which he was an adult and could have created records I can find.

When I get a chance, I will turn to Ancestry and Family Search to see what they have online. Tax records could hold some valuable clues.

What Was Their Status?

Many ancestors followed a typical life pattern of marrying and having a family. During harsher times, often one spouse died and the other then remarried. I can document most of my family lines along this predictable path.

An exception occurs with my great-grandmother, Laura Riddle, and her elder sister Tamson. Tracking them, particularly through the 1870’s and 80’s, has raised some unresolved questions about the status of their relationships.

 

Laura Riddle (1853-1933)

Laura had three sons with George Edmonds. Did she ever marry him? No record of a union has been found.

We have circumstantial evidence for a marriage. The 1877 birth record for the second son, Lewis, records his birth as legitimate. For all three sons, the mother’s name is recorded as Laura Edmonds. Laura was listed as the wife in the George Edmonds household on the 1880 U.S. census.

By 1884, however, George had gone on to marry a 16-year-old girl who lived across the state line, and Laura had resumed using her Riddle surname. Always after that, she described herself as single, not divorced.

Many women in these circumstances would have kept the same surname as the children. To save face, they often said they were widows. Not Laura. Why? Were George and Laura married or not?

Many years later, Laura lived in Nebraska and had a daughter with an unidentified man. We do not know her relationship to him, either. Was he a long-time acquaintance or a cowboy passing through the area? No records pertaining to this relationship have been found.

 

Tamson Riddle (1845-1922)

Tamson had an out-of-wedlock son named Aden in 1867. Her parents raised the boy as their own. Aden and Tamson appear in her parents’ household on the 1870 census, both with the Riddle surname. The identity of Aden’s father remains a mystery.

Tamson next appears to have had a relationship with a man named either Frank or John Blakesley or Blacksley. She had at least two children with him, Frank and Cora, during the 1870’s. Young Frank’s records give his father’s name as Frank Blakesley. Cora’s records say his name was John Blacksley.

No marriage record for Tamson and Blacksley has been found. He has not been located on any census or death record. Who was he, and what became of him?

Tamson finally married a man named John Williams in 1878, at the age of 32, and they had three children. The family did not enjoy a stable home for long. John Williams passed away in 1885.

By 1900, Tamson lived as a boarder in the home of Oliver Wilcox. She still lived there when the 1910 census was taken. Later that year, she married Wilcox. By 1920, they were living separately.

Tamson appears to have had relationships with 3 or 4 men or more. She married at least two of them, but what was her relationship to the others?

 

These sisters, Laura and Tamson, were the exceptions to the usual relationship patterns of the day. Five of their six siblings all followed the usual course with easy-to-find marriage records. The sixth sibling, Seymour, never married and had no family.

What led Laura and Tamson to stray from the common path? Their parents set a good example and had a long marriage. Their siblings did likewise.

Everyone who would have remembered these people and had knowledge of their circumstances is now gone. No one in my own household ever mentioned these matters. The secrets and explanations lie buried with Laura and Tamson.

Laura Riddle’s New Mystery

Our recent research trip to Nebraska revealed an unexpected mystery to solve. Although I thought I had a pretty good timeline for my great-grandmother Laura Riddle’s life, a review of the documents we retrieved exposed an unexplained gap.

I had assumed that Laura farmed on her land near McCook from the time she paid for a cash entry in 1885 until she filed on a homestead in Hayes County in 1892. I was very surprised to learn that she sold the land near McCook to her brother-in-law John Evert the same year she bought it. He, in turn, resold it in 1887.

If she had no farm, where was Laura living during the years from 1885-1892? Did she remain in the McCook area? Her oldest son, Francis, lived with a nearby farmer in 1886 and 1887 while he went to school, but where were Laura and the other two boys? And what happened to them after 1887 when John Evert resold her farm and Francis no longer appears in the school records?

Perhaps she stayed with her sister and brother-in-law, at least until the Everts sold out and moved north to Hyannis, Nebraska in Grant County during the late 1880’s. Did she go with them?

If only we could consult the 1890 U.S. census. Alas, it is long gone. For Grant County, Nebraska, we have a couple of substitutes, but Laura’s does not appear on them. She is not listed on the county directory for 1890 although both her brother Seymour Riddle and her brother-in-law John Evert are on the list. The other existing record for 1890, that of Civil War veterans, does not include women.

I believe I need to take another research trip, this time to examine the records in the Hyannis area. Perhaps newspaper or land records there hold some clues for Laura’s whereabouts before she claimed a homestead.

 

No Biological Dad Found

My paternal grandmother, Grace Riddle (1896-1976) has an unidentified father. This man continues to refuse to make himself known despite my best efforts.

Grandma herself claimed ignorance of the man’s identity. Her contemporaries in the family told me they had no ideas as to who he might have been. Apparently, her mom, Laura Riddle (1853-1933), took this information to her grave.

Last week my husband/tech advisor and I made a trip to southwest Nebraska to investigate this mystery. I really did not expect to uncover any new information. Yet the Genealogical Proof Standard requires us to make exhaustive searches. Until I looked at local records, I could not claim to have been thorough.

From 1885 to 1933, Laura Riddle lived in four Nebraska counties along the Colorado and Kansas borders. My grandmother was born at Palisade (Hitchcock County) during the time her mother resided on a homestead just north of town in Hayes County. I do not know whether Grandma was born on the homestead or in town.

Before we left for our trip, I made a checklist of all the types of records and repositories available in the counties where Laura lived after she migrated from Michigan in 1885. Then we visited courthouses, libraries, a genealogical society, and an historical museum to look for sources. My husband/techadvisor worked out a timeline for us because many of the repositories in these rural areas keep limited hours.

We searched several types of records during our stay:

  • County and town histories,
  • Guardianships,
  • Land records,
  • Historic newspapers,
  • Paternity cases, and
  • School census records.

Neither of us found any mention of a father for Grace Riddle. Now, as the genealogist at the Southwest Nebraska Historical Society in McCook (Red Willow County) counseled, my best bet for identifying my great-grandfather will be a DNA match.

We did not come home empty-handed, though. Other information about Laura Riddle’s life turned up:

  • Her eldest son, Francis Edmonds (1876-1944), attended school near McCook in 1886 and 1887. During that time, he resided with a neighboring farmer, John F. Black, and probably worked on that farm.
  • Laura and her younger sons retired from their Dundy County homestead in 1923, earlier than I had thought. Her son Joseph (1880-1956) traded his portion of the ranch acreage for a house in Palisade. With the help of a town plat, we identified the address, visited the property, and took photographs.
  • Laura sold her share of the Dundy County ranch, also in 1923, to the same man who traded for Joseph’s share. She offered the man a mortgage, but he defaulted. She was forced to foreclose in 1928. The next year, she received her share of the ranch back via a Sheriff’s Deed. Ultimately, she resold her land in 1932.
  • Joseph outlived his mother and brother Lewis (1877-1935) by a number of years. By 1949, he needed a Guardian. The court appointed long-time family friend C. C. Cole to care for Joseph, and I picked up a copy of the guardianship file at the Hitchcock County Courthouse.

As we drove through these counties, we took time to visit the sites of Laura’s three homesteads in Red Willow, Hayes, and Dundy Counties. The Red Willow site lies just east of the airport. The Hayes land is on the high ground north of Palisade, currently inaccessible but viewable from a distance. In Dundy County, we drove for what seemed like miles along loose dirt roads (thanks, Google Maps!) until we reached the site. Upon our arrival, we learned of a much better road back to Haigler, NE, and returned to our lodgings by that route.

After completing this trip, I cannot think of any other records that might reveal my great-grandfather’s identity. I believe I have done a reasonably exhaustive search. Now I must turn to DNA testing in hopes of uncovering this information. With all the records I have about Laura, I have a good list of many of her associates. If a DNA match turns up, perhaps I will recognize a surname. If not, perhaps my great-grandfather was a passing cowboy rather than someone she knew well.

 

 

 

Give Tax Lists a Try

For some states and time periods, tax lists can provide good genealogical evidence. People who owned land or livestock had to pay annual taxes on these sources of wealth. Counties kept records of these payments, and these lists can work as a yearly census of residents.

For my own family and my search for the roots of John Davis Riddle, I am looking at tax lists for clues. I know this ancestor was born in Pennsylvania in 1821, and he married Olive Dunbar in Summit County, Ohio in 1843. I have no information on his family or his whereabouts before 1843. Perhaps tax lists can help me.

Family Search (familysearch.org) has some Ohio tax lists online. I plan to search those records beginning with 1849 (when the Riddles left Ohio) and then work backwards to see if I can locate any likely Riddle families in Summit and the surrounding counties. I will also search for Davis families because my ancestor oddly signed the marriage register as a Davis instead of a Riddle when he married.

If I can locate my ancestor on one of these lists, I can then follow up with a search of other county records kept during the same time period. If he owned real property, his transactions will be in land records. If he had only valuable personal property, at least his name should appear on a list. In either case, I can look at marriages and probates for those same years for more information about him.

If he had little of anything, I will not find his name. I will be out of luck with tax lists as a clue for this genealogical problem.

Dead Ends, Genealogically Speaking

Earlier this summer I reported hearing from a new research contact. The person suggested a location to search for information about my 2nd great-grandfather, John Davis Riddle (1821-1896).

I know nothing of this ancestor’s origins, other than a purported Pennsylvania birthplace. He ultimately settled and died in Mendon, Michigan.

Three of his children and grandchildren married into the nearby McClish family. The McClish researcher suggested that I search for my ancestor in Washington County, Pennsylvania because the McClishes had once lived there. I took a look recently.

Using the U.S. census and cross-referencing with family trees posted on Family Search and Ancestry, I investigated several Riddle families who lived in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio in the 1820’s, 1830’s, and 1840’s. I found no likely candidates for my John Davis Riddle.

I did eliminate a couple of Riddle families who resided in Washington County, Pennsylvania during that time:

  • Samuel Riddle (1759-1825) who married Martha Johnson. This man moved his family from Pennsylvania to Mahoning County, OH around 1803, long before my ancestor was born. Although his children were born in Pennsylvania, they grew up and were married in Ohio. No one seemed to remain behind to father my John Davis Riddle in Pennsylvania in 1821.
  • Samuel Riddle (1794-1879) who married Jane Turner. This family remained in Pennsylvania. Their son, John Aiken Riddle, was born in 1846. It seems unlikely they would have an older son also named John.

I also eliminated a Riddle family living in Ohio during the 1840’s when my John Davis Riddle resided there:

  • Thomas Riddle (1781-1823) who married Minerva Merrick. This family lived in 1840 and 1850 in Geauga County, OH. They began their pioneer journey from Massachusetts through Pennsylvania until they reached Ohio. Geauga County is a bit northeast from Summit County where John Davis Riddle was married in 1843. Thomas’ son John Adams Riddle was born in Massachusetts in 1814 and lived until 1884. Again, it seems unlikely they would later have another son named John.

One family bears more investigation. Samuel Riddle (1795-1857) who married Margaret Scott comes from a large Riddle family in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

I have not completed my research into these Washington County families. If my John did come from this place, he will not be so easy to find.

Cast a Wide Net and Reap the Rewards

Professional genealogists often exhort us to publish our research. Doing so preserves it for posterity in case no one in the immediate family wants it. Making it widely available can also work as “cousin bait” for distant relatives whose families have saved information we may not have.

Over the years, I have tried to do this using various ways including online trees and a blog. This summer I have connected with previously-unknown cousins in three ways.

My Heritage

Although I am not an active user of the My Heritage site, my husband/tech advisor is. He posted my family tree there for me. Another genealogist spotted it and recognized the name of my second great-grandfather, John Davis Riddle. Several members of her husband’s McClish family married Riddles. She has given me a clue for a location to search for the birthplace and family for John Davis Riddle.

FamilyTree DNA

One of my brick wall ancestors is my purported 2nd great-grandmother, Katherine Stillenbaugh. I have long suspected that she was a member of an extended German family, the Stilgenbauer/Stillabower clan, who lived south of Indianapolis. This summer I took time to search the online trees of my close matches at Family Tree DNA. I discovered that I match a proven descendant of this family. Next I hope to figure out where my ancestor fits into this group.

My Blog—Genealogy Jottings

Last week a Dunbar descendant left a message on my blog. Since then, we have corresponded and exchanged information. We learned that we both descend from Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) and Rhoda Hall (1784-1850). I hope we can continue to collaborate in our research on the Dunbar line.

These strategies of posting online trees on DNA test sites and writing a blog about my ongoing research all preserve my work. They also have proven a means of finding new information about my family. Although they all take time away from the joy I receive in doing research, they all pay me back with new discoveries.