Breaking Through a Brick Wall

Finding the Family of Libby Sharp

Part 1

This is a series of blog posts based on a presentation I did for my local genealogy group in 2018. After 20 years of searching for this family (and many years by others before me), I ran across a podcast on Ancestral Findings discussing the use of negative evidence in genealogy. You can read/listen to it here:

That podcast gave me some ideas for looking at information in a new way. I followed up with some videos on YouTube from Crista Cowen – Ancestry’s Barefoot Genealogist – discussing indirect evidence and the Genealogical Proof Standard. (Great videos BTW).

Where “Libby” fits in my husband’s tree

The first step – and I cannot stress this enough – is to go BACK through everything you ALREADY have on whoever it is you are searching. I have found that I look at records now in a completely different way than I did in my beginning days of researching. I was more concerned with entering data and just growing the tree with names and dates and I didn’t really pay attention to the small details in some of the records. So this is what I started with:

My husband’s grandmother Gertrude knew her grandmother Harriet (called Libby). Gertrude’s father, CF Ehle, passed down a family tree and some photographs to Gertrude. The Ehle family history is well documented and goes back to Colonial NY.

Harriet died when Gertrude was 5 years old.

Ehle tree as was passed down to me

When I inherited the family history from Gertrude, the only information that was given regarding Harriet was her name as “Libby Sharp” and a few photographs of her with the family. I knew the name of my husband’s great grandfather CF Ehle, and the names of his 5 brothers and sisters: Henry Elton, George Burton, Myrtle Eliza and Mabel Helen (twins), and Elmer David.

I had already collected census records on this family in Minnesota from 1895 up until the deaths of both CS Ehle and Libby so I went over each one in reverse chronological order and made notes of my findings. In other words – I read ALL the information in each record. I didn’t stop with just names and ages. Don’t overlook state census records!

CS Ehle and Libby

Census records working backward in time list the following CS Ehle family in MN:

1905 MN Territorial and State Census: Hennepin part 6, City of Minneapolis ward 6-7

Ehle Chas S         M/53yrs old/born WI/father York State/mother York State          MN resident 28yrs

Harriet E               F/54yrs old/born York State/father York State/mother York State MN resident 28yrs

Henry Elton        M/24yrs old/born MN/father York State/mother York State   MN resident 24ys

Geo B                    M/14yrs old/born MN/father York State/mother York State   MN resident 14yrs

1900 US Census:               Minneapolis Ward 12, Hennepin, Minnesota

Charles S Ehle   HEAD  W/M/JUN/1852   47yrs old / Married 24 years/born WI/father NY/mother NY

Harriet E               wife  W/F/ Aug/1850      49yrs old/Married 24 years/born NY/father NY/mother NY    Mother of 10 children/6 living

Elmer D              son    W/M/Sept/1876   23yrs old/Single/born MI/father WI/mother NY

C Fred                   son     W/M/March/1879 21yrs old/Single/born MI/father WI/mother NY

H Elton                  son     W/M/Feb/1881  19yrs old/Single/born MN/father WI/mother NY

Myrtle E               dau     W/F/ Sept/1883   16yrs old/Single/born MN/father WI/mother NY

Mable H               dau     W/F/ Sept/1883   16yrs old/Single/born MN/father WI/mother NY

George B             son      W/M/Aug 1890    9yrs old/Single/born MN/father WI/mother NY

1895 MN Territorial and State Census: Hennepin Part 5, Minneapolis Wards 6-7

Ehle Charles S    43yrs old/M/W/born WI               18yr resident of MN 

Ehle Harriet E     44yrs old/F/W/born NY

Ehle D Elmer       18yrs old/M/W/born MI

Ehle C Fred         16yrs old/M/W/born MI

Ehle H Elton        14yrs old/M/W/born MN

Ehle Mable H     11yrs old/F/W/born MN

Ehle Myrtle E     11yrs old/F/W/born MN

Ehle G Burt         4yrs old/M/W/born MN

Ehle Homer F     24yrs old/M/W/born WI               13yr resident of MN

Wick Mary           25yrs old/F/W/born Norway

*Homer Ehle is a brother of CF Ehle

As it turns out, I had a lot of clues to start looking for Libby’s family in the information I had sitting on my computer for years. I just never REALLY looked at it before. The Minnesota and US Census information is consistent in stating her name as” Harriet E.”, her place of birth as NY, her year of birth as 1850/51, and her parents birth place as NY. The census also shows she has been married to CS Ehle since about 1876 and that her oldest 2 living children were born in MI. (I have been unable to locate this family on the 1885 MN state census but they should be there – son Elton born MN 1881)

If the oldest children were born in Michigan before 1880, then it makes sense to look for the family there next.

1880 US Census:               Saranac, Ionia, Michigan

Ehle, Charles S                   W/M/ 27yrs old/ Married/ born WI/father NY/mother NY

Elizabeth              wife       W/F/29yrs old/Married/born NY/father NY/mother NY

Elmer                    son         W/M/3yrs old/Single/born MI/father WI/mother NY

Frederick             son         W/M/1yr old/Single/born MI/father WI/mother NY

The census consistently shows that Harriet had her oldest 2 children in Michigan, the oldest (Elmer) born around 1877. Her marriage year has been consistently reported to be about 1876.

Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 lists the following marriage in Grand Rapids, Kent, Michigan:

Date of Marriage:            November 23 1875

Full Name of Bridegroom and Bride, Maiden Name of Bride if Widow:     Charles Smith Ehle

                                                                                                                                       Harriet Elizabeth Sharp

Residence of each at time of Marriage:  Saranac


Age of each in years:      23


Birth Place of Each:         Racine Wis

                                            Rutland NY

Occupation of Bridegroom:         Moulder

Name and Official Station of Person by Whom Married:                Sidney Beckwith Rector at St Paul’s Church

Witness to Marriage:     G A McDonell    Residence:          Grand Rapids

                                                A A Stephens                                     Grand Rapids

Date of Record: Mar 23 ‘76

This would appear to be the correct marriage record for CS Ehle and Harriet Sharp. The age and place of birth match for each couple and the date of the marriage is consistent with the later census documents.

With the new information of a complete middle name and a more specific birth location, it is possible to search in the census for earlier records. However, not having the names of any other members of Harriet’s family would make it impossible to know if the correct family had been identified. Before searching other census records (for a needle in a haystack), I looked through the birth records of the Ehle children to see if any additional information about Harriet could be found.

Minnesota, Births and Christenings Index, 1840-1980 records the following:

Name:  Harriet Elizabeth Sharpe

Gender: Female

Age: 33

Birth Place: Watertown, New York

Spouse: Charles S Ehle

Child: Myrtle Eliza Ehle

Name:  Harriet Elizabeth Sharpe

Gender: Female

Age: 33

Birth Place: Watertown, New York

Spouse: Charles S Ehle

Child: Mabel Helen Ehle

Name:  Harriet Elizabeth Sharpe

Gender: Female

Age: 40

Birth Place: Watertown, New York

Spouse: Charles S Ehle

Child: George Burton Ehle

I was unable to locate any other birth records for Harriet’s children online. The new information of her birth place as Watertown, New York and the alternate spelling of her surname should be included in any further searches for her parents.

*Watertown and Rutland are less than 10 miles apart in Jefferson County, NY

It is not known when Harriet moved from New York to Michigan, so both states should be included in an 1870 US Census search.

Death record for Harriet Elizabeth Ehle was ordered from Minnesota Vital Records office. Her death occurred 10 June 1916 (CS Ehle died 22 March 1910 in MN). Her oldest son Elmer was the informant on the death record. He stated that Harriet was born 15 August 1850 in NY. Her father’s name is listed as Henry Sharp born NY and her mother’s name is listed as unknown born NY.

Since I don’t yet know when or how Harriet got from New York to Michigan, I need to look in both places. I will start in Michigan because it has a smaller population and it is the last known residence for Harriet. Next up is the 1870 US Census in Michigan…

Tips from today:

Start with what you have already collected.
Details matter! Pay attention to occupations, witnesses, sponsors, locations, etc. This can really help if you have a relative with a common name and you need to sort out who belongs to your family.

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