Breaking Through a Brick Wall

Finding the Family of Libby Sharp

Part 2

This is the second in a a series of blog posts based on a presentation I did for my local genealogy group in 2018. Using some techniques for evaluating indirect and negative evidence, I was finally able to break through a 20+ year old brick wall in my husband’s family. This is a summary of the research and my process of working through the information.

In Part 1, I started with the information that I had already collected on the family of Harriet “Libby” Sharp Ehle. I went back through all the records and paid specific information to ALL the details that were included in various census, marriage, and birth records.

I placed the information in reverse chronological order to make changes from record to record more clear. I discovered that I had a good start at discovering something about Harriet’s family of origin having found all that I could back to her marriage record in Michigan. It is time to move on to census records in Michigan to try to find her before her marriage.

1870 US Census:

There are 3 “Harriet Sharps” in this census in Michigan.

1.Harriet Sharp b 1850 NY living in Owosso, Ward 2, Shiwassee, MI with Levi Gregory family.

Elizabeth Gregory (presumed wife) born England

Ida Sharp age 16 born NY

Fredk age 1 born MI

2. Harriet Sharp b 1849 NY, school teacher, living in Jackson, Ward 2, Jackson, MI with John Conley family.

Ruth (presumed wife) born PA

Clarence age 10 born MI

Edith age 7 born MI

Mary Corothers age 23 born MI

3. Harriet Sharp b 1846 MI living in Perry, Shiawassee, MI

Presumed wife of Thomas Sharp born England

Ann Sharp age 45 born England

Mary Sharp age 31 born MI

Emma Sharp age 13 born MI

There is 1 “Elizabeth Sharp” living in Michigan in the 1870 US Census born 1853 NY in Keene, Ionia, MI with Alexander Stevens family.

Lydia (presumed wife) age 66 born CT

Irvin age 34 born NY

Mary Sharp age 50 born NY

*Note that one of the witnesses of the marriage of CS Ehle and Harriet Elizabeth Sharp is listed as AA Stephens. Saranac, the residence listed for CS Ehle and Harriet Sharp in their marriage record, is in Ionia County.

There are no “Libby Sharps” listed in the 1870 US Census in MI that could be found.

Family of CS Ehle and Harriet Elizabeth Sharp ca 1900

So – how do I know which – IF ANY – of these ladies is MY Harriet Sharp? After all, I still do not know when Harriet moved from New York to Michigan. The answer is that I need to research ALL of them further to try to rule them out as suspects. I do know when Harriet married her husband CS Ehle, when she moved to Minnesota, and when she was having her children. The obvious place to start would be 1880 US census records for Michigan.

I eliminated the following with the 1880 US Census in MI (Harriet – listed as Elizabeth – was married and living with husband and oldest 2 sons in Ionia County, MI in 1880):

#2 Harriet Sharp, school teacher, born NY 1849 is now living as a boarder in Saginaw, MI.

#3 Harriet Sharp born 1846 MI is living in Perry, Shiawassee, MI with spouse Thomas Sharp.

I couldn’t find a match to Harriet #1 in the 1880 census, so I looked to marriage records.

The following was eliminated with the Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952:

#1 Harriet (A) Sharp born 1851 NY living in Owosso, MI married Joseph Martin 4 Nov 1874, further married Morris Jackson 9 June 1878 in Owosso.  In the 1880 US Census, this family is living in Corunna, Shiawassee, MI.

So the first 3 suspects have been eliminated with further research. The remaining contender is Elizabeth Sharp living in the home of the Alexander Stevens family in Ionia County. Based on ages and order of the family listed in the 1870 census, it appears that Elizabeth was possibly a daughter of Mary Sharp, age 50, who was also in the home. Family relationships are not explicitly stated though, so be careful making assumptions.

1870 US Census Michigan

Since I can’t yet determine for certain that this is the correct Harriet for my tree, I will look for this family in the 1860 US Census in Michigan. I am still suspicious that this is our girl, however.

The 1860 US Census shows the Alexander Stevens family with Lydia, Irving, and Mary Sharp living in Keene, Ionia, Michigan. Harriet Sharp is not living with the family in this census.  Harriet would have been 10 years old at this time. This is an example of negative evidence. If Mary was Harriet’s mother, as a 10 year old child you would expect to find them living in the same home – especially because all of the other family members from the 1870 census are still together. It’s now time to move on to New York and see what can be found.

The 1870 US Census in New York revealed 6 candidates for our Harriet on an initial search. Through similar research methods as above, all 6 were eliminated as possibilities. That leaves me with only Elizabeth Sharp in Michigan as my current suspect. We know that Harriet was not living with the Stevens family in 1860 in Michigan as a 10 year old girl, so perhaps she was still in New York.

1860 US Census:

There is 1 Elizabeth Sharp living in Rutland, Jefferson County, New York. She is living in the home of Henry Sharp age 42 born NY (This is also the only Harriet Elizabeth or Elizabeth with Henry Sharp listed in the home as presumed father).

Lydia Ann (presumed wife) age 23 born NY

Anna A age 4 born NY

John M age 3 born NY

Benjamin A age 1 born NY

*The age difference between Lydia Ann and Harriet is 13 years so this would add doubt as to whether Lydia Ann could be Harriet’s mother.

Since Harriet was born in August of 1850, she will most likely NOT appear in the 1850 census, however, since she was born in Rutland/Watertown, New York, her family will most likely appear there.

1850 US Census:

There is only 1 Henry Sharp family living in Rutland, Jefferson County, New York.

Henry age 33 born NY

Susan age 27 born NY

Jane age 7 born NY

Lydia A age 3 born NY

1850 US Census Rutland, Jefferson, New York

As expected, Harriet Sharp is not found on this census. This Henry still could be a match. He is in the right township at the right time. He has aged appropriately from the 1860 census. The only other name in common is Lydia A.  The Lydia Ann listed in the 1860 census was listed as 23 years old while this Lydia A is 3 years old. 

*Lydia A in this census is 3 years old. Could the Lydia Ann of the 1860 census be this person and the census taker was incorrect in transcribing her age? Are these 2 separate people?

It is important to look at the whole page when searching the census, 2 doors down from the Sharp family, we find the family of Alexander Stephens, wife Lydia, and children Althea and Erwin, and Mary Sharp.

This lends strength to the argument that the Harriet Sharp living in MI with this family is the right Harriet Sharp for our tree and that this Henry Sharp should be further considered as a potential father to Harriet.

Is it possible to find any more information about Harriet that can help us jump to her parents? Vital records in New York for this time period are very limited. No BMD records were found for any of the family of Harriet Sharp. I also did a newspaper search and could not find any further information on this family. No religious affiliation is known and church records for the area are very limited – none found. However, New York DOES have state census records that begin in 1855 which I will explore in Part 3.

Tips from today:

Details matter!! In trying to sort out people with similar names in a location, it is the little details that give the biggest clues.
Don’t discount something right away because it doesn’t make sense right now! Save the information in case further research sheds new light.
Don’t be afraid to research someone else’s ancestors to find yours! It is NOT wasted time if you can eliminate suspects and narrow your search.
Take notes and put events in chronological order! I did not find all these records in the order I present them here. The story of someone’s life makes more sense in the context of time and location. Personally, I find writing it all out makes more sense to me. Some people use spreadsheets. Use whatever makes sense to you.

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