Sunday, September 7, 2014

Choosing Rebecca's Birthdate - Church Record Sunday

Rebecca (Smith) Bartley's birth date has been uncertain from the time I discovered her name as my great-great-grandmother.

Her gravestone at Bear Creek Cemetery gives a birth year of 1817.

But I settled on 1820 for the following reasons, and June because of the census records.

The calculated birth year from her and her husband's golden anniversary article suggests a birth year of 1820.  (Rebecca and Dixon married on July 10, 1838; in July, 1888, Rebecca was 68 years old; therefore she was born in 1820.)

Census records for 1850 through 1880 all point to a birth year of 1820.  (She was 30 in 1850; 40 in 1860; 50 in 1870; and 59 in 1880.)

Then along came Rev. Charles Althouse's church record book on Pennsylvania and New Jersey Town and Church Records on Ancestry, and I learned another birth date.

One interesting thing about this record is that Rev. Althouse noted date of the funeral and age at death, but not the date of death.  Other sources tell me that Rebecca died on December 29, 1899.

Because it may be too small to read, this is a transcription of Rebecca's line in the book.
     Funeral Date         Dec. 31, 1899  
     Name                     Rebecca Bartley
     Text                      1 Thess 4-14
     Age                       80 years, 6 months, 14 days
     Fee                       [blank]
     Cause of Death     cancer of the stomach
     Cemetery              Bear Creek

Using the age Rev. Althouse noted for Rebecca, 80 years, 6 months, and 14 days, and her date of death, I can go to my RootsMagic date calculator and find that Rebecca was born on June 25, 1819.

Accurate?  Exact?  True?  Maybe or maybe not.  Does it matter?  I love putting a "real" date in the birth box in RootsMagic, but it's not essential to me.  As long as I record the various birth dates and their sources, I'm comfortable choosing the most-likely-to-be-accurate birth date.

One last thing about this record is that Rev. Althouse chose I Thessalonians 4:14 as the basis for his sermon at Rebecca's funeral.  It reads,
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
He must have been confident that she was on good terms with her Savior.


Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Hello Nancy, I have so, so much to learn about researching my family tree, and I’m really grateful to have found your blog. Every time I feel stumped (and it happens a lot!) I meander on over here and read a couple of your posts, and that is enough to get me going again.
    I hadn't heard of the RootsMagic date calculator, but I intend to search it out now and what a good idea to look up the basis for Rebecca’s sermon, I would never have thought to do that – but I will now.

  2. The church records you found are so interesting and give so much information. My favorite part though is learning the Biblical text selected for the sermon. What a gift!

    1. I think these church records are interesting for several reasons. First, of course, to find the details of age and scriptures for the funeral sermon. And second, because I can see who my ancestors probably associated with both in the community and at church. The census gives me geographic but the church community might be an even more closely-knit community.

  3. I tend to think that the dates may not be exact, but they probably accurately reflect about how old she was. . . and from my perspective that's okay. :)

    1. Yes, Sheryl, about is better than nothing though I admit to liking exact when I can get it -- but then one never really knows for sure.

  4. I wonder about the gravestone- why it would be so different. Perhaps the stone engraver read a 7 in the directions when it was really a 9. Even in this day and age, one has to double check and make sure the gravestones are done correctly. We had to have one item on my father's stone corrected.

    1. I wondered about that, too, Kathleen. The words and numbers that were given to the engraver were probably hand written and I know sometimes people make closed circles on their nines which can make them look like sevens.

      That's too bad about your father's marker but good that you caught it. Was it expensive to have it changed? Could they make the change on-site or did they have to remove it?

    2. It was not expensive, for us, at least. It was an added bronze plaque that identified him as a veteran and gave the dates of his birth and death. His birth year was wrong, but I think the funeral home bore the cost of having it re-made. And we had to double check and sign off on the paper work for the stone cutting twice! I guess they weren't taking any more chances. I can imagine that mistakes were made in times past and that there wasn't much anyone could do as it would have been too expensive to make changes.


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