Breaking Through a Brick Wall

Finding the Family of Libby Sharp

Part 4

This is the fourth 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 focused on records I had already found to gather more clues to Harriet “Libby” Sharp’s family of origin. In Part 2, I sorted through possible matches to find Harriet and her family in Michigan and then New York. In Part 3, I began to put together a family of origin but ran into several confusing twists. Now, having exhausted available census, BMD, newspaper, and other records, I am looking into local histories in New York in hopes of finding more clues.

We left off with possible father of Harriet, Henry Sharp, dead in 1865 in service in the Civil War. Presumed mother Susan from the 1850 census in NY is another puzzle. She is not found in the NY State Census in 1855, and in 1860 Henry Sharp and daughter Harriet are living in the home with a possible second wife (or older sister) and 3 younger children. At this point, census records are exhausted and there are no other church or government records that I can find online. I have to look next at local histories.

Jefferson County has a great online local history page through the GenWeb. The page has a search which covers all content, or you can browse by township or by record collection.

One such collection is the Bartlett Cemetery Inscriptions which posts transcriptions of many, many graves in the county. Among them is the grave of Susan B, wife of Henry Sharp, aged 29 years 10 months at her time of death on 8 July 1853. She is buried in the Felts Mills Cemetery in Rutland.

Find A Grave also has a photograph of her stone on their website. hThis is the only grave for an adult Susan Sharp, wife of Henry, found in Jefferson County.

This information fits with Susan missing from census records after 1850 but who then is the wife of Henry in the 1855 census? Is Lydia Ann on the 1860 census a second wife or a mistake on the part of the census taker?

Time to do some collateral research on the possible siblings of Harriet to see if we can confirm the parents and learn more.

Collateral research on Lydia A. using the birth date from the 1850 census revealed the following: (I chose Lydia to start because the name is more unique than Jane)

An search for Lydia A. Sharp born 1847 in Jefferson County New York with father Henry Sharp resulted in the image of a death certificate from Ashtabula, Ohio for a Lydia Ann Rawson maiden name Sharp born in Watertown NY on 3 Aug 1847 to parents Henry Sharp and Susan Gordon.

The birth date and place for Lydia Ann Rawson matches the information on the child Lydia A. listed in the 1850 census for the Henry Sharp family, including mother Susan. Lydia was not listed with Henry Sharp in 1855 NY State Census. Where was she living? If Susan died in 1853, where was Lydia Ann living after that? We can search for her in the 1855 NY State census.

1855 New York, State Census: Philadelphia, Jefferson County, New York

Thomas Gordon              age 58   born N Hampshire           Married                8yr resident of Philadelphia

Sylvia Gordon    wife       age 54   born Vermont                   Married                8yr resident of Philadelphia

Mary Gordon     child       age 14 born Jefferson                                                    8yr resident of Philadelphia

Lydia Ann Sharp    grandchild   age 7    born Jefferson       

1855 New York State Census

1855 census shows Lydia Ann living with her grandfather Thomas Gordon in another township in Jefferson County. The last name of Gordon matches the information provided on the death certificate for Lydia Ann Rawson stating her mother was Susan Gordon.

There was a Lydia age 23 living with the Henry Sharp family in 1860. Is this the same Lydia?

1860 US Census: Wilna, Jefferson County, NY

Wilbur C Gordon              age 25                                   born NY

John Fulton                        age 31   Married                born NY

Mary L. Fulton                   age 19   Married                born NY

Lydia A Sharp                     age 14                                   born NY

1860 US Census Wilna, Jefferson, New York

*This family appears next door to the family of Thomas Gordon age 62 born MA and Sylvia Gordon age 59 born VT.

*Also next door is family of Harley Derby which includes Martha J. Sharp age 16, servant, born NY.

If this child is Lydia Ann, the daughter of Henry and Susan, then the Lydia Ann listed in 1860 living with Henry Sharp in Rutland and listed as age 23 can not be the same person as the Lydia Ann listed in the 1850 census with this family.

Lydia Ann the older may be a second wife.

If Susan Sharp (Gordon) was indeed the wife of Henry Sharp and the mother of Lydia A and Harriet, and if Susan passed away as suspected in 1853, it is possible that Henry married again to Lydia Ann between 1853 and 1860. The oldest child (not present in the 1850 census) listed on the 1860 census is Anna A who is 4 years old in 1860.

*Anna A’s birth date estimate is 1856 based on the 1860 census. If that is the case, assume marriage of Henry Sharp to Lydia Ann occurred about 1855.

 NOTE: Henry Sharp was listed as Married in the 1855 NY census but no wife was listed in the same, or neighboring, homes on that census. Daughter Harriet is living in the home with him at that time, and presumed daughter Lydia A is living with Thomas Gordon and family in a neighboring township listed as grandchild to Thomas (assume Susan was his daughter).

The evidence now suggests that there are 2 women called Lydia Ann associated with this family. Lydia Ann born in 1847 appears to be the daughter of Henry Sharp and Susan Gordon based on her death certificate and census records so far.

Who is the 2nd Lydia Ann?


1850 – Henry & Susan with Jane, Lydia A #1, Harriet E in Rutland

1853 – Susan dies

1855 – Henry with Harriet E living with Stevens family in Rutland (married, no spouse)

1855– Lydia Ann #1 living with grandfather Thomas Gordon in Philadelphia, NY

1860 – Henry & Lydia Ann #2 with (Harriet) Elizabeth, Anna A, John M, Benjamin A in Rutland

1860– Lydia Ann #1 living with Wilbur Gordon next to grandparents in Wilna, NY

1865 – Henry dies in Civil War

In the next part, I will sort through Lydia #2 and how she fits into this family.

Tips from today:

Details! (See all previous posts on this point)
Research locations as well as people – especially if you are stuck. Local histories can be more helpful than other records sometimes.
Don’t discount information that is confusing or doesn’t seem to quite fit. Save the info for later and look at the whole picture. If I had looked at any ONE of the records discussed in this search, nothing would have made sense as family members of my Harriet Sharp. It’s only by taking all these pieces together that the puzzle starts to take shape.
Use collateral research! Search for siblings, aunts, uncles, etc of your direct relative – you never know what you might find that can help you in your search on your own branch of the tree.


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