Breaking Through a Brick Wall

Finding the Family of Libby Sharp

Part 3

This is the third 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.

Harriet “Libby” Sharp Ehle and some of her children and daughters in law c.1910

In Part 1, I started with the information about Harriet “Libby” Sharp that I already had collected and went over the records again with attention to detail. In Part 2, I was able to begin to move from the known to the unknown by following hints in records and eliminating other possible suspects as members of Harriet’s family of origin. I was able to move from Michigan back to New York where Harriet was born. It’s now time to search New York records to answer some previously uncovered questions and determine who Harriet’s birth family was.

New York has a wonderful collection of State Census records that begin in 1855. This is perfect timing to fill in some of the gaps for Harriet who was born in 1850 in Rutland, Jefferson, New York.

1855 New York, State Census:

The Alexander Stevens family in Rutland, Jefferson, NY lists the following:

Stevens, Alexander        age 55   born VT                    Married                48yr resident of Rutland

                Lydia      wife       age 52 born CT                  Married                27yr resident of Rutland

                Irving     child       age 18 born Jefferson                                    18yr resident of Rutland

Sharp    Mary     niece     age 42 born Jefferson                                    20yr resident of Rutland

               Henry   laborer  age 37 born Jefferson    Married                3yr resident of Rutland

                Harriet E.  niece   age 4   born Jefferson                                  4yr resident of Rutland

1855 New York State Census for Rutland, Jefferson County

There is a LOT of information in this record! It lists the relation of each person to the head of household. The order and placement of the names suggest relationships. Mary is always placed after the Stevens family members, Henry is listed and then Harriet.

This Alexander Stevens family has been consistent in the various census records regarding the names of the family members, although Mary Sharp has not aged consistently. This is the second census in which Harriet appears living with this family and Henry Sharp was living next door to this family in the 1850 census.

*If this is the same Henry Sharp listed in the 1850 census, where are Susan, Jane, and Lydia A.? Why is Henry listed as Married when there is no obvious spouse listed in this record?

We already found these families in the 1860 US Census. We know that the Stevens family was living in Michigan without Harriet in 1860 and we have found Henry Sharp and family with daughter Harriet living in Rutland in 1860. Next we can check the 1865 NY State Census for further clues.

1865 New York, State Census:

There is only 1 Harriet E. Sharp living in Jefferson County, New York in this census. In this census, she appears living in Champion, Jefferson, NY with the family of John F. Peck.

John F Peck        age 40                   born Jefferson                                  Married 1x          Married now

Emily A Peck       age 27   wife      born Jefferson  3 children            Married 1x          Married now

Emily A Peck       age 6     child       born Jefferson

Joseph F Peck    age 3     child       born Jefferson

Martha S Peck   age 57   mother born Jefferson  1 child                   Married 1x          Widow

Harriet E Sharp age 14    niece     born Jefferson*

*Champion is near Rutland and Watertown in Jefferson Co NY.

Where is Henry?
Its 1865 – could Henry be serving in the Civil War? The 1865 New York State Census had some additional sections regarding service in the military. This time I’m looking for Henry and not Harriet.

1865 New York, State Census: Town of LeRay, Jefferson County – Section VII Deaths of Officers and Enlisted Men reported since April 1861….

Henry Sharp        age 40  Married                enlisted March 1864      2nd Artillery         Private

Died March 28, 1865 of sickness acquired in service          dependents: Wife, 8 minor children

1865 NY State Census, Section VII, part 1

This section of the census is for the town of LeRay in Jefferson County. Henry’s death was not recorded in the section for Champion where Harriet was living at this time.

1865 NY State Census, Section VII, part 2

This Henry has a wife and 8 (!!!??) children.

If this is our Henry, we can search in Civil War records to possibly learn more.

New York, Civil War Muster Abstracts, 1861-1900 lists Henry Sharp age 48 who enlisted at Wilna, Jefferson County, NY, private in the 2nd Heavy Artillery in Feb 1864, died March 13 1865 at General Hospital in York, PA of disease.

*The townships of Watertown, Rutland, Champion, LeRay, Antwerp, and Wilna are all close together in the east-central portion of Jefferson County, NY.

If this is the correct Henry Sharp, then he would have been serving at the time of the 1865 census and it would make sense that Harriet would be living with another family. Henry is listed as Married, however, and there is also mention of having 8 minor children. The presumed wife (Susan) in the 1850 census is not listed in the 1860 census. Susan may have died before the 1860 census. If this is so, the known children of Henry and Susan would be Jane, Lydia A, and Harriet (born 1850).

There is only ever 1 Henry Sharp listed in the NY census records in Jefferson county during this time period which would lend strength to the argument that these Henrys are all the same person. Henry is listed as living with Harriet E or Elizabeth in 2 census records.

1870 census – no Henry Sharp living in Jefferson Co. 2 others in NY, 1 in Aderondack and 1 in Monroe counties. Further research into these 2 men eliminates them as possible fathers of Harriet Sharp.

Questions: Susan, Jane, Lydia x2? 

What do we know about Susan?

™Susan (presumed) wife in 1850 age 27 born NY. No maiden name to search with so impossible to look for her family members or birth record.

No 1845 NY state census. 1840 US census only lists head of house by name. –

No marriage record found. No known church affiliation. No newspaper articles found.

–Possible that she died between 1850 and 1860. Search for death and burial information.

May have been the spouse not listed in 1855? Not found on any 1855 census in NY.

Look for other sources – search for Henry and Susan in local histories in Rutland, Jefferson County, NY

In Part 4, I search for local histories and resources to try to solve the mystery of Henry and Susan Sharp and whether or not they are the family of Harriet Elizabeth “Libby” Sharp.

Tips from today:

Again with the DETAILS! Pay attention and make notes. Seemingly insignificant things may be the clue you need to tie it all together.
Find ALL the records. Many people just stop if they can’t find someone on a federal census. There are state census records available for many states – the years covered and questions asked will vary. Census records sometimes have more than just the population schedule. Look for other sections!! Search military records, newspapers, church records, wills and probate, local histories, etc.
Research the PLACES and not just the people. Sometimes we need location as a context to understand the life of a person. There are hundreds of local history books out there that contain information not found in government records. *Hint* this will become very important in part 4

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