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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.

 

 

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