I apologize up front, because this is going to be a long, rambling and confusing question, but here goes:

With a high degree of certainty, I can trace one branch of my family tree back to one Daniel Rich (1816 - 1890). For clarity, I will call him Daniel Jr., even though I don't know if that is accurate. The issue arises with his parents and his potential connection to one John Rich/Johannes Reich, which I will get to.

First, a brief map showing the geography of the area in question, the northern Vermont/New Hampshire Border region:

enter image description here

Now, the first half of the story, working backwards from present:

According to his death certificate, Daniel Rich Jr. was 74 years, 2 months and 28 days old when he died on June 30, 1890, which would make his date of birth April 2, 1816, in Lyme, NH (which is south of the area shown in the map above). [As an aside, note the cause of death - anthrax. I assume he farmed sheep]

enter image description here

Now, you will see that his father is listed as Daniel Rich as well, I'll call him Daniel Sr., born in Northumberland, NH, and his mother is listed as Nancy Marshall, born in Stark, NH. So far, so good.

Now, things start to get a bit difficult. I can't find a birth certificate for Daniel Jr. This area was still basically the frontier in 1816, so I'm not shocked by this. However, I also can't find any marriage license or birth records for Daniel Rich Sr. and Nancy Marshall. And they don't show up in the Census together either. However, there is a great deal of paperwork (marriage licenses of children, death certificates, Census, etc.) for one Daniel Rich and Sophia P. Chase. And, if you look on Find-A-Grave, you will find a Daniel Rich (1790 - 1868) who it was claimed was married to Sophia Prescott Chase around 1817 and who died in Northumberland, NH. But the list of children does not include anyone named Daniel.

So, what to do? Well, it turns out I may be able to approach it from the other direction. And so begins Part 2.....

The second half of the story, working forwards from the past.

Now, before anyone says it, yes, I know that one of the cardinal rules of genealogical research is that you don't start from some person you want to be related to and work your way forward trying to prove yourself right. However, family story has it that this part of the family is descended from John Rich (1729 - 1813) of Maidstone, Vt., who was a German immigrant born Johannes Reich. And, there is a great deal of information on him and his children thanks to this book: http://www.maidstone-vt.org/history. So, I figured I didn't have much to lose.

Anyway, John Rich had 9 children - 3 girls and 6 boys. Of the boys, one died as a toddler and one, named Daniel (of course!), died at age 20 with no kids. Of the 4 remaining boys, only 1, Jacob Rich (1770 - 1827), had a son named Daniel. So he is the only possible direct connection between John Rich and Daniel Rich Jr. from above. But, once again, I can't find birth, marriage, or death records for him.

But wait, there's more! In an effort to fill in the gaps, I read the article on Maidstone, Vt. in the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Volume 1 (https://archive.org/details/vermonthistorica01heme/page/n1061). You will note that this article is written by Moody Rich (1780 - 1873), who was Jacob Rich's brother and Daniel Rich's uncle. However, he only would have been about 10 years older than Daniel. Why is this age gap important? Because on page 1028, Moody recounts a tale of how the wife and daughter of Caleb Marshall escaped the Indians. And then he mentions that he later married that daughter, who I know from other sources to be Sally Marshall. And it turns out that Sally had a younger sister named Nancy Marshall (born 1792)! Now the book also mentions that that Nancy Marshall married George Washington Byron sometime after 1824, but it does not mention any relationship between Nancy and Daniel Sr.

Finally, the summary!

First, if you actually made it this far into the question, kudos, you are more patient than I am. Anyway, what do we have?

Known Ancestor - Daniel Rich Jr., son of Daniel Rich Sr. and Nancy Marshall

Suspected Ancestor - Daniel Rich, son of Jacob Rich, but married to Sophia Chase.

Connection - Moody Rich, younger brother of Daniel Rich, married to Sally Marshall, who had a younger sister named Nancy Marshall.

Which leads to several questions:

1. Is Nancy Marshall, the mother of Daniel Rich Jr., the same person as Nancy Marshall, sister of Sally Marshall?

2. Is Daniel Rich Sr. the same person as Daniel Rich, son of Jacob Rich?

3. If the answer to both of the above is "yes," what was the nature of the relationship between Daniel Rich Sr. and Nancy Marshall? There is no evidence that they were married, and both were married to other people shortly after Daniel Rich Jr. was born. A quick marriage followed by a divorce or annulment seems incredibly unlikely in 1816. An out of wedlock birth is certainly the most obvious possibility, but if that is the case, how likely is it that the resulting child would know not only his mother's real name, but also her place of birth (for the death certificate)? How common and accepted were out of wedlock children in early 19th century frontier New England?

I don't expect anyone to actually know the answers to these questions of course, but I was hoping I might get some good suggestions on how I might approach finding the answers to these questions.

  • 1
    One possibly-promising source of information might be the probate records for the Marshall family (and Sophia Chase's father as well). You might be able to learn who the daughters were married to at the time the will was written, at least. And if there's any possibility that the names on the death cert aren't correct, that's less likely than with a will. – cleaverkin Dec 12 '18 at 0:19
  • Also the Rich family - if Daniel Jr. was born out of wedlock, I suspect he would have been raised by his maternal grandparents, even if his mother later married. He would have been about 11 when Jacob (his presumed paternal grandfather) died, and it's possible his grandfather provided for him in his will. – cleaverkin Dec 12 '18 at 0:31
  • Regarding the bit near the end: "how likely is it that the resulting child would know not only his mother's real name, but also her place of birth (for the death certificate)" -- keep in mind that the death certificate was not filled out by the deceased! The information was provided by a freshly-bereaved relative and recorded by a physician (with likely execrable handwriting) before being entered on the certificate. – JPmiaou Dec 12 '18 at 1:15
  • You are certainly correct that the deceased didn't provide the information, a relative did. But that relative presumably learned it from the deceased. In this case, I actually have three different death records for Daniel Rich, and they all list Nancy Marshall as his mother. There's obviously no guarantee that that information is correct (or independently obtained), but it's also pretty clear that it wasn't someone mangling the name of Sophia Chase (the one good thing about this case is that the female names are not similar). – Jack Dec 12 '18 at 2:17
  • The probate idea is a good one. Unfortunately, it appears Caleb Marshall died relatively young, in 1800, when Nancy was about 8. I also can't find a probate record for him online. His wife, Zeuriah, may show up in the 1820 Census (the first name is hard to read), and there is 1 male in the house under the age of 10. George Byron and Nancy Marshall are even more of a black hole. The only mention I can find of them is in their daughter's death certificate (born 1831). – Jack Dec 12 '18 at 4:07

I know that one of the cardinal rules of genealogical research is that you don't start from some person you want to be related to and work your way forward trying to prove yourself right.

Not at all. This is a common technique for getting through brick walls. There is nothing wrong with starting with any given person and finding out all you can. It's only a problem if you make assumptions not supported by the evidence, or if you come to conclusions with insufficient evidence (same as for all genealogical work).

As for your questions, as you already know, there just isn't enough evidence. Either you have not found the relevant documents, or they don't exist (because they never existed or because they were lost/damaged/destroyed).

Could Daniel Rich Sr. and Nancy Marshall have been unmarried parents? Unlikely they'd be listed like that on a birth certificate if she had a husband. Any child she bore would be assumed to be the child of her husband (that's been the law in the US for a very long time and still is). If she were not married, then maybe...

I recommend a wide approach. Research whoever you can with the relevant surnames in that area and time period. Keep careful notes (a good genealogy program, I use Family Tree Maker) which allows you to record unlimited individual facts and match them with sources is pretty much essential). Record all facts, even misspellings, incorrect dates, addresses, etc. Just be super clear on the sources and add notes if/why things are wrong.

Eventually, you should be able to put some of these facts together and prove another link in your chain. It will be slow exacting work.

If you have not done so already, and it's logistically possible, go to the area and spend some time with the local archives, in cemeteries, and walking the properties you have legal access to.

  • 1
    Just to be clear, at the time Daniel Jr. was born (1816), I don't think that either Daniel Rich or Nancy Marshall were married to anyone. I know Nancy married in 1824, and based on the dates of birth of Daniel's other children, I believe he married Sophia in 1817. My working theory is that Nancy and Daniel had some sort of fling, for lack of a better term. – Jack Dec 12 '18 at 2:10
  • That makes a bit more sense. I got lost with the dates from your question. – Cyn Dec 12 '18 at 2:24
  • Completely understandable! It was a rather long and rambling question. – Jack Dec 12 '18 at 2:36

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