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Researching in Pennsylvania Part 2

   Last week I wrote about my research into my McDowell and Shaw lines in Pennsylvania.  I spent most of this week updating my databases, adding in images from the courthouse, library and cemetery, as well as expanding my research to the various McDowell collateral lines.  When you hit a brick wall, as I have with my McDowell family, researching collaterals, what Elizabeth Shown Mills refers to as your ancestor’s FAN club (Family, Associates, Neighbors) might provide additional insight.  

   There are, out on the Internet, a number of family trees that attached my Robert “Gate Bob” McDowell to Robert McDowell and Sarah McConkey in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  By researching all of the McDowells in Fayette, I was able to definitely determine it ain’t so!  I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that there was some type of relationship between the families, but Robert and Sarah were not the parents of my Robert McDowell.  

   As I wrote last week, the reason that my Robert was referred to as “Gate Bob” was because of the multiple Robert McDowells in Fayette County.  I  began by looking at all of the Robert McDowells in the various census records, then looked for probate and land records, and then death records and obituaries.  For those of you that have not researched in Pennsylvania, vital records did not begin on a statewide basis until 1906.  Being from New England where vital records go back into the 1600s, this was a surprise to me when I began my research.  There was a short period from 1852-1854 that an attempt was made to keep vital records, but marriage records only began in 1886 at the county level, and births and deaths in 1893.  Robert McDowell was not the only popular name…there were three William A McDowells and a few Johns as well.  

   Step #1, beginning in 1850 follow each McDowell family through all of the census records.  This allowed me to see where the families lived, their occupations and to determine a range of years for their deaths (based on when they disappeared from the census records, or their wives were listed as widows).  Also FindAGrave on Ancestry was a big help as most of the cemeteries in the area had been documented.  I saved each of the individuals to my Ancestry file without attaching them to my known relatives.  Should I eventually discover a relationship, I can connect them in.

   Step #2, I searched for probate records, both wills and administrations for any McDowells.  The records began at the courthouse in 1784.  Fayette was created as a county out of Westmoreland in 1783.  To find older records (land or probate) I need to research the records in Westmoreland.  Remember, records stay in the jurisdiction where they were created, so it’s important to know the name of the county in the year you are researching.  I was able to connect some of the individuals through the probate records.  For example, John mentioned a nephew William Annan, who I knew was the son of James, making John and James brothers.

   Step #3, while I was in Fayette, I used the local newspapersto look up obituaries for each of the individuals.  The Library had an obituary index which really helped, but even without it, I could use the information from FindAGrave to know when to search.  This was a goldmine!   The obituaries clearly identified the three brothers, Robert, John and James, who came from Mifflin County and settled in Fayette around 1844 and are the sons of Robert and Sarah.  A big hint was in the occupations.  My ancestors were waggoners, gate keepers and laborers.  The McDowells from Mifflin were lawyers, commissioners and large farmers.  They were also officers during the civil war, while my ancestors were privates.  Another bit of information found in obituaries was the children and siblings, especially when it gave the married name of the women and where the survivors lived.  If you can’t get to the locality, use the resources of the local library (Ask a Librarian) to see if they will email you an obituary.

   Although I haven’t solved my brick wall…who are the parents of Robert “Gate Bob” McDowell, I have narrowed down the possibilities to those individuals who were living in Fayette in the 1800 and 1810 censuses who had a male child about 10 years old.

   At the end of last week’s blog I said I’d write about the Shaw naturalization.  Since I spent all week on the McDowells, I’ll try to get to that next week.  

   Happy Hunting!


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© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017