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Researching in Pennsylvania

   Who is the father of Robert McDowell, born abt 1800 in Pennsylvania?  That’s my brick wall.  The problem I’ve run into in the past is that there are multiple Robert McDowells.  My goal was to see if I could separate them.  Since we were driving from Connecticut to Nebraska, why not stop in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and see what I could find.  I originally thought about stopping at the Pennsylvania State Archives, however, they’re closed on Monday, the day we would be driving through.  So Uniontown was the place.  Did I mention, I was traveling with my husband who is “not into dead people.”  That always puts a damper on things, but he had a bunch of books to read, so I dropped  him off at the hotel and headed for the courthouse.  My plan was to spend the two hours before it closed looking for probate files, then head to the Pennsylvania Room of the Uniontown Library on Tuesday.  

   I collected quite a bit of information at the Courthouse, however, there was nothing specifically that told me anything about my Robert McDowell.  I did get wills from some of the other McDowells and I was able to confirm that my McDowells were not the ones born in Mifflin County (which a number of online trees have claimed).  The Mifflin McDowells were lawyers, land owners and accountants...mine were wagonners, laborers and gate keepers.  If you’ve hit a brick wall, sometimes you’ll need to research everyone of a particular surname in the area.  Ruling some people out, will help narrow down your options.  I’ll continue to work on this and let you know if I break this wall!

   The week before my trip I had gone onto the Uniontown Library site to check the catalog and discovered that the Pennsylvania Room was scheduled to be closed the week I was scheduled to be there as the Librarian was going on vacation.  I called and spoke with her and explained that I was looking for information on my McDowell and Shaw families.  She indicated she would pull whatever she could find and to ask someone to let me into the room if it was locked.  It turned out she had nothing on the McDowells, but there was a small folder on the Shaws.  What it contained was a photocopy of a page titled “Record of the Shaw Family” by John S. Ritenour.   There was a note stating it was among papers purchased at an estate sale and donated to the Library in Jan 1985.  The introductory paragraph stated the infomation was from the Shaw Family Bible and it named the children of Robert Shaw and Jane Downey, natives of Ireland.  They had six children, one of whom was William, who I thought was my gg grandfather.  The author was likely descended from the youngest child, David D. Shaw, as his children were also named in the article and the seventh, Elizabeth Augusta Shaw married William M Ritenour.  

   According to this article, Robert Shaw (son of Robert and Jane Downey) married Ruth Haney, my gg grandmother, not William.  He lists William as a deputy sheriff of Fayette who died single.  My first reaction was, he got that wrong, but the more I studied it and other sources, I realized that I got it wrong!  In the 1850 census, (the first census to list all of the members of the household, but without relationships) William (an Inn Keeper) and Ruth Shaw are listed with Ruth’s children including Robert and Margaret McDowell, married within the year (my great grandparents).   So I started looking at other sources.  I found the obituary of Margaret McDowell which states she was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Shaw.  Margaret died before death certificates were issued by the state, but her siblings died later, and each death certificate states their father as Robert Shaw.    

   So here’s the lesson…always keep an open mind and do an exhaustive search of the records (rule #1 of the Genealogical Proof Standard).  

   In my next blog, I’ll let you know about an 1820 naturalization that gives me the county in Ireland of my Shaw ancestors!  

   Happy Hunting!


Don’t forget the special indexing event with FamilySearch this week.  I’m trying to do a couple of batches each day.  Even if you only do one, it’s a chance to give back to an organization that provides us with wonderful resources for free!


One week left to take advantage of the Ancestry DNA Promo!

(It ends on Aug 17th)


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017