I know a family historian shouldn't made assumptions - unless she's willing to keep searching to find information to support her assumption. I am and so I've made some assumptions.
1) That Thomas Smith is the father of Rebecca Smith Bartley, as mentioned in Rebecca's anniversary article. If so, Thomas Smith is my great-great-great-grandfather.
2) That Thomas Smith and his family lived in Butler County, Pennsylvania (assumed because Rebecca and her husband, Dixon Bartley, lived there).
3) That Thomas Smith was born in 1802 or before (because the anniversary article says that Rebecca was 68 in 1888 (born about 1820) and her father probably would have been at least 18 when he became a father (therefore born in 1802 or before)).
4) That Thomas Smith may have been born in Butler County, Pennsylvania, or may have been born in Little York, Pennsylvania, based on information in the anniversary article. (Little York may have been in York County, Penna, or not.)
5) That Thomas Smith was still alive in 1850.
Sometimes when we're searching for someone we know so little about, we have to start somewhere, even if somewhere is with assumptions. Based on the assumptions above, I searched the 1850 U.S. census in Butler County for Thomas Smith.
There were four Thomas Smiths in Butler County in 1850. One, in Clearfield Township, was born about 1836. One, in Butler Township, was born about 1832. I discounted both of them because they were too young to be her father. (Rebecca was born about 1820 and was about 30 in 1850.) The other two lived in the same home in Parker Township. The older was 57, therefore born about 1793; the other was 18, therefore born about 1832.
The older Thomas Smith in this family is within the age range to be Rebecca's father. The eight young people living with him, ages 4 to 24, could be within age range to be Rebecca's siblings. It's also possible that the 24-year-old female could have been a single, divorced, or widowed daughter of Thomas and that several of the younger children were hers. (I love the later census records that name relationship to head of household! Don't you?)
I also searched the 1850 U.S. Agricultural Census and found Thomas Smith living in Parker Township, Butler County, Penna. He is the same man as on the 1850 U.S. Census based on the names of neighbors.
Thomas either died or moved before the 1860 U.S. Census. I already searched the Butler Area Public Library Obituary Index but did not find an obituary for Thomas. If I knew his wife's name perhaps I could find an obituary for her. The library continues to add obituaries so I'll search again later. Perhaps the Butler County Genealogical Society will have some information.
Aside from those two sources, I'm not sure what my next steps should be. The Butler County Courthouse is not one of those cordial and generous courthouses where searches are willingly and helpfully performed, but I suspect I need to find more information from county sources.
Is there anyone out there reading this who can suggest my next step? Thank you!
1850 U.S. Census, Parker Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, Written Page 721, Printed Page 373, Dwelling 864, Family 872, lines 20-28. September 13, 1850. From FamilySearch.org.
Thomas Smith, 57 years, male, farmer, $2000 real estated owned, born Pa.
Thomas Smith, 18 years, male, Do [ditto]
Rachel Smith, 16 years, female
Nelson, 14 years, male
Eloira, 24 years, female
Rosannah, 10 years, female
Sarah J., 8 years, female
William A, 6 years, male
Martha, 4 years, female
________________________________________________________________1850 U.S. Federal Census, Non-Population Schedule, Agriculture, Written page 695, line 7. September 13, 1850. (From Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)
Thomas Smith, 90 acres improved; 210 acres unimproved; 2000 cash value of farm; 100 value of farming improvements and machinery; 4 horses; 5 milch cows; 2 working oxen; 4 other cattle; 30 sheep; 2 swine; 284 value of livestock; 90 bushels wheat; 30 bushels rye; 50 bushels Indian corn; 350 bushes oats; 70 pounds wool; 15 bushels Irish potatoes; 60 bushels buckwheat; 5 dollars value of orchard products; 100 pounds butter; 5 tons hay; 15 pounds flax; 2 bushels flaxseed; 20 value of homemade manufactures; 42 [?] value of animals slaughtered