If the facts don’t fit…

You may have noticed I haven’t been updating this blog as regularly as I’d intended (or indeed at all) over the past year. That’s partly due to lack of time and partly due to burnout caused by my day job as a genealogy librarian. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but it does sometimes mean that when I get home the last thing I want to do is dive back into my own ancestry.

However, recently I’ve done just that and jumped back into my own research in a big way thanks to the upcoming changes to AncestryDNA’s results. That combined with my plan to attend the Louisville Free Public Library‘s Genealogy Night tomorrow made me decide to focus more on my maternal grandmother’s family; they lived in Illinois for several generations but before that came from Kentucky and Tennessee and I have reason to believe might have been Melungeons. I’ll tackle that topic another time.

Today, however, I revisited an important genealogical lesson:

if the facts don’t fit, don’t force it.

I wanted to focus my research on my southern ancestors so I could make the best use of my time at LFPL, so I looked at what I was missing and decided to work from there. My 2nd-great grandparents on this particular line are Winnie Jane Rich and James Harvey “Doc” Goin. The Goins are the ones I believe are possibly Melungeon but all I had for Winnie were her parents’ names: Warren Rich III and Sarah Elizabeth McDaniel.


1900 U.S. Federal Census for the family of Warren and Sarah Elizabeth Rich.

1900 U.S. Federal Census for the family of Warren and Sarah Elizabeth Rich.1


In the 1900 Census, Warren and Sarah were living in Knight Prairie, Hamilton County, Illinois and had been married for 23 years, so that means they married about 1877. Using that date I found them together in 18802 living in McLeansboro, Hamilton County, Illinois and eventually living in Mt. Vernon, Jefferson County, Illinois in 1910.3 According to their headstone, Warren died in 1917 and Sarah died in 1933, so I went on to locate Sarah living with their daughter Anna Laura (Rich) Morlan and her family in Mt. Vernon in 19204 (although I’ve yet to find her in 1930).

Shared headstone of Warren Rich III and Sarah Elizabeth McDaniel in Oakwood Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

Shared headstone of Warren Rich III and Sarah Elizabeth McDaniel in Oakwood Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
/ Photo by Donald Rich on Find-A-Grave

Having successfully tracked the family unit I decided to turn my attention to finding Sarah’s parents. In her entry in the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index (1916-1947), her father is listed as Jack McDaniel and her mother is listed just as Denny.5 That suggested to me that her father’s first name was probably John6 and her mother’s maiden name was Denny.

Using those hypotheses I searched on Ancestry for a John “Jack” McDaniel marrying a woman with a last name Denny in the 1840s in Illinois and the first hit I found was for a John W. McDaniel marrying Elisabeth Denny on 7 May 1846 in Hamilton County, Illinois.7 Bingo!8

I then set out looking for John and Elisabeth in the census so I could find Sarah in the census years before 1880. Since Sarah and Warren didn’t marry until about 1877, I guessed that she may have still been living at home with her parents in 1870, so I started my search there.

John and Elizabeth McDaniel in Hamilton County, Illinois in 1870

John and Elizabeth McDaniel in Hamilton County, Illinois in 18709

I found John and Elisabeth living in Hamilton County, Illinois with the following household members:

  • Jesse McDaniel, male, age 22
  • Hosea McDaniel, male, age 20
  • William McDaniel, male, age 16
  • George McDaniel, male, age 14
  • John McDaniel, male, age 12
  • Adaline McDaniel, female, age 10
  • Laura J. McDaniel, female, age 4
  • Conger McDaniel, male, age 1

According to her tombstone Sarah was born in 1849 so she would have been about 21 in the 1870 census. Since there’s a 4-year gap between Hosea and William, I thought perhaps Sarah might have fit in there and wasn’t listed with the family because she was married and living with her husband (who must have died or gotten divorced before she married Warren). So I tried searching for the family in 1860 to hopefully catch Sarah while she was still at home.

John and Elizabeth McDaniel living in Hamilton County, Illinois in 1860

John and Elizabeth McDaniel living in Hamilton County, Illinois in 186010

On the plus side, I was right that the 4-year age gap in the children indicated a missing daughter. Unfortunately, the missing daughter’s name was Diannah and no matter how I squinted at the handwriting, I couldn’t make “Sarah” out of “Diannah.” I did a search in the 1850 census to see if I could find the family group and make sure it wasn’t a case of the census taker mis-hearing a name or having egregiously bad handwriting, and (unfortunately for me) I found that in 1850 her name was spelled Deanna.11 Definitely the same person from 1860 but definitely NOT my ancestor.

There is nothing so frustrating for a librarian as an unsuccessful search. I tried going back to Ancestry and redoing my first search for Jack and “Denny”‘s marriage and was overwhelmed with irrelevant results. At that point I decided that instead of searching the marriage databases specifically, I would search for Sarah in the Public Member Trees and see if anyone else had figured out who her parents were. I should note here that I have Public Member Tree “hints” turned off on my personal Ancestry account because the majority of the time the results they wanted me to add were trees which had no source citations except other member trees, which is not a reputable way to do research. However, I was frustrated with all of my previous searches and decided to give the public trees a shot.

And sure enough, all of the first results I found listed Sarah’s parents not as John and Elizabeth, but as … Andrew Jackson McDaniel and Jane Denny. No wonder I didn’t have any luck searching for John!

I didn’t want to take the public tree results as gospel so I returned to my marriage search, this time looking for Andrew Jackson and Jane. In the same Illinois Marriages index I found an Andrew J. McDanell marrying a Jane Denny on 20 January 1848 in Hamilton County, Illinois.12 From there I’ve tracked down “Jack” and Jane from 1850 – 1870 to fill in the gaps for Sarah’s census timeline and found his tombstone on Find-A-Grave:

Footstone for Andrew Jackson McDaniel in Sparlin Cemetery in Seneca, Missouri.

Footstone for Andrew Jackson McDaniel in Sparlin Cemetery in Seneca, Missouri. / photo by Judie on Find-A-Grave

Next on my list is tracing “Jack” and Jane forward in the census years and then finding their parents. Wish me luck!


  1. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MSWW-9G1 : accessed 21 April 2016), Warren Rich, Knights Prairie Township, Hamilton, Illinois, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 130, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,240,304. 

  2. “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXJ2-GLN : accessed 21 April 2016), Warner Rich, Mcleansboro, Hamilton, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district ED 26, sheet 530B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0210; FHL microfilm 1,254,210. 

  3. “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MKDN-7HS : accessed 21 April 2016), Warrene Rich, Mt Vernon Ward 3, Jefferson, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 105, sheet 14A, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,374,307. 

  4. “United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJ4X-K6N : accessed 21 April 2016), Sarah E Rich in household of Chester Morlan, Mount Vernon Ward 3, Jefferson, Illinois, United States; citing sheet 10A, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,820,376. 

  5. “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQ2H-QQF : accessed 21 April 2016), Sarah E. Rich, 28 May 1933; Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield; FHL microfilm 1,674,525. 

  6. Kimberly Powell, “Matching Up Nicknames with Given Names,” About.com Genealogy, accessed 21 April 2016, http://genealogy.about.com/od/first_names/fl/nickname-given-name-equivalents.htm 

  7. “Illinois Marriages to 1850,” index, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2086 : accessed 21 April 2016), John W. McDaniel and Elisabeth Denny, 7 May 1846. 

  8. …or so I thought 

  9. “United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M64S-S4Z : accessed 21 April 2016), John Mcdaniel, Illinois, United States; citing p. 8, family 56, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 545,724. 

  10. “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MX4J-1Y5 : accessed 21 April 2016), John Mc Daniel, 1860. 

  11. “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M85R-NR2 : accessed 21 April 2016), John Mcdaniel, Hamilton county, part of, Hamilton, Illinois, United States; citing family 814, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). 

  12. “Illinois Marriages to 1850,” index, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2086 : accessed 21 April 2016), Andrew J. McDanell and Jane Denny, 20 January 1848. 

One thought on “If the facts don’t fit…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *