Monday, January 12, 2015

Children, Parents, and Records to Identify Them

I've been musing on children and parents, prompted by one of the Genealogy Do-Over topics this week:  start with yourself, your birth, and go from there.  My mind can meander wide....  This post may seem far afield from family history but for me it seems to get to the nitty gritty of genealogy.  Please bear with me (if you choose to continue reading). 

Everyone has parents:  a mother and a father (though, admittedly, not every child grows up with parents).  Learning who those parents are is part of the challenge of family history.  In the past we relied on the honesty of the mother and/or father to identify themselves as the parents of the baby.  But truly, only the mother and midwife/doctor are present at the birth.  Only they can claim the mother's relationship to the baby.  Only the mother truly can name the baby's father, and only so far as her relationship with only one man (him!) goes.  In which case she can, with certainty, state the name of the father of the baby.

In past centuries, records primarily pertained to men:  pre-1850 census records, tax records, deeds, wills, etc.  In most of those cases women are an aside.  We are hopeful and think ourselves lucky to find a mother, sister, daughter named in the will of one of the males in her family -- one of our male ancestors, assuming the mothers have been accurate in declaring the names of the fathers.

In the mid-1800s some states and counties began recording births, including the names of the parents.  If we're searching for ancestors during that time period, we may be successful in finding recorded names for babies and parents.

For the most part, though, so much of genealogy seems hidden behind the wall of men in families.  Last year I spent some time researching Rebecca (Smith) Bartley's parents.  Thomas Smith was named as her father in a newspaper article and she was named as his daughter in his will.  In November or early December, another Smith descendant contacted me and invited me to join her and two others who are in search of Thomas Smith's wife and other family members.  Based on the information they've found, they suspect that Thomas Smith was married twice and that Rebecca was a child of Thomas and his first wife and that the other children were from Thomas and a second wife, possibly Martha Redick/Reddick.  They are descendants of Thomas and Martha.  If they are correct about Thomas having two wives, I would be a descendant of Thomas and his first wife. 

If Rebecca's mother was Thomas's first wife, how will I ever know her name?  How will I ever find who she is?  What records could there possibly be that would name her?  (Rebecca was born in 1820 before births, with parents' names, were recorded.)  Thomas Smith did not name her -- did not name either wife -- in his will.  Without some hint as to her name I am without hope of finding her.

That parent-child relationship is everything in genealogy.  We trust that the records accurately record the names of parents.  And then we sometimes have such a hard time finding those parents again.

Just some roundabout musings....

See more at Week 2 Genealogy Do-Over and Genealogy Do-Over at


Copyright © 2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. How about land deeds? Rebecca's mother could have inherited land from her father. Then if she and Thomas sold it, perhaps the mother's name would be on the deed or in the clerk's statement that she was questioned and agreed to the sale.

    1. Thank you for this suggestion, Wendy. I haven't done much with property records/deeds so this could be a great learning opportunity. I'll see what I can find.

  2. I like the land records idea Wendy had. You might also want to look at the neighboring families of Thomas' and the families that married into Thomas', like his sibling's spouses. It is possible Rebecca was named after her mother, especially if the mother died in childbirth. Are there any neighboring families that used Rebecca as a common given name? Do you know where Thomas' family originated? Do you know why they left that place (religious reasons? historical event?) to go where Rebecca was born? If so, I would look at other families that made the move with the Smiths and look into record sets corresponding with that migration, if they exist. Was Thomas indentured out or raised by anyone other than his family? If so, perhaps he married into one of those families. Have you looked into non-family members mentioned in Thomas' probate file, like the witnesses and people he owed money/owed money to him? Perhaps they are related. Maybe Rebecca's mother and Martha Red(d)ick were related? Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Leah! You've given me some great suggestions. I could be researching a few years (or more) to find answers to all the questions and follow the leads you've given. I obviously had not thought beyond the absence of birth and death records.

  3. Don't ignore other probate records. Either of their maternal grandparents may have left them something. An aunt or uncle with no children might also have left something to them, which could be years after these children were grown up. This is where the abstracts can be handy.

    1. Thank you, Mike. These are great suggestions, ones I had not thought about. I'll see what I can find.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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