Thursday, September 28, 2017

These Old Walkin' Shoes: Who Are You?

Who doesn't love a mystery? Any genealogist will tell you, half the fun is uncovering something that you weren't expecting, and we all have those skeletons in the closet despite what grandma says.  Today, I will tell you the story behind the parentage of Sarah Allen, my paternal great-great-great grandmother. Her story was a mystery that took a long time and a lot of hands-on research, but finally the deep, dark secrets were revealed.

 About 15 years ago I decided that I should start researching my Dad's side of the family. My grandmother had tackled a good portion of my Mom's side. Now it was time to start compiling Dad's family. This research would be all new and fresh. I had to ask questions of my Dad and his aunt to get started.

With the internet, it became easier to get started. Especially helpful was the Orleans County Gen Web site ( This site, in its infancy at the time, had a nearly complete listing of cemetery records from all across the county. I was able to compile a great deal of information in a short period of time. The next step was to verify the data. (Sources are critical in genealogical research).

Once I started filling names into the family tree, I checked additional records to nail down immigration dates, marriages, and occupations. A unique source for me was a series of family trees that were included in 1976 history of the Town of Yates where my family was from.

I had traced my family back to a John Jacobs who had married a Sarah Allen. The Allen surname is a fairly common one, which could be an insurmountable task for a novice researcher like me. I dove in and plowed ahead. Initially, I looked at family trees included in the 1976 book.

There was an Allen family in the book whose patriarch was Simon Allen. Simon was born in 1799 and was married to Elizabeth. According to the notes, there were 7 children born to this couple. Between child #1 and child #2, there is a gap that could have been filled with a missing child. The years were perfect for Sarah Allen to fit neatly into that gap. However, she was not listed as a child.

The next piece of data was that Sarah declared she had been born in Herkimer County in the 1855 NYS Census. Additionally, Child #1 and Child #2 on the Allen family list were stated to have been born in Little Falls, Herkimer County, New York. I started to believe I had found a connection.

On the Orleans site, there used to be a section where you could connect with someone who was researching the same surnames you were. Of course I sent an email to the man working on the Allen family. His reply was short and blunt -- "Sarah Allen is not a part of this family." That was it. All my research seemed to have been for naught. I tried to pick up other threads to lead me to the parents of Sarah Allen. No matter where I looked, it appeared that Simon and Elizabeth were definitely the right avenue. Now, how could I prove it?

The Orleans County Gen Web had a transcribed listing of the censuses. I poured through them looking for answers. Nothing jumped out at me. I took a break from researching this particular line for what ended up being a couple years.

Finally, several years ago Family Search ( started posting actual photos of the censuses. Ancestry did the same. I decided to look at the real census rather than the alphabetical, transcribed lists. Once I found John Jacobs with his new bride in the 1850 census, I finally had my answer.

In the 1850 census, John Jacobs and his wife Sarah were listed in the Town of Yates as living next door to Simon Allen. The value of the land was listed as $0 with the land being a gift from S. Allen. There was my answer. Once Simon's daughter, Sarah, was married, she was given a small piece of land as a wedding gift. As to why Sarah is not listed in the family tree for Simon and Elizabeth, it is unknown.

Interestingly, John and Sarah's daughter-in-law, Sarah Russell was quite a bit of a mystery as to her date of death. For some reason, the Sarahs wanted to be mysterious. Thanks to so much data being out there waiting to be culled, the answers can sometimes be found a lot easier than they used to.

My biggest pieces of advice? Don't give up. And don't leave any stone unturned. You never know what secrets are lurking beneath.

Craig Bacon loves searching for family history. He likes finding new stories and proving old legends right or wrong.