Finding family in New England wills and probate records
I have been spending a lot of time in New England records over the past few months. Finding the family of Harriet Elizabeth Sharp Ehle (the 2x great grandmother of my husband) opened up a huge new door to research in New York and beyond. (You can read the posts on that story under the heading “Ehle” on the home page)
After that initial research, I had found Harriet’s parents, Henry Sharp and Susan Gordon Sharp, and her grandparents, Thomas Gordon and Sylvia (King?) Gordon. In trying to go back further, I came across a lot of trees that listed parents for Thomas Gordon, but few listed any sources and some disagreed altogether.
I found that Thomas Gordon was buried at Lake School Road Cemetery in Jefferson County, New York. His wife Sylvia is buried there as well. The headstones are viewable on Find A Grave. This matches the information I had about his location based on census records. I searched the New York Probate 1629-1971 records for Jefferson County on Family Search. These images are not all indexed and it can take some digging to find the record you want. Thomas Gordon’s will can be viewed here.
Thomas Gordon’s will lists his wife, “Sylva”, and children, Wilbur C Gordon, Emily A Peck, Mary E Donelly, Harriet E Sharp, John M Gordon, Daniel Gordon and the location of each at the time of the writing. His will also lists the children of his deceased daughter Susan Sharp – and she is named as such – providing proof of that relationship for my tree. Her listed children are Martha J Brown, Lydia A Rawson, and Elizabeth Sharp (not yet of full age). This is another important link in the tree. The youngest child, Susan, is not listed which implies to me that she had died prior to the writing.
Thomas Gordon’s father according to many other trees and the New Hampshire Births and Christenings, 1714 -1904 records on Family Search was William Gilman Gordon. There was a son Thomas born to this man and, according to birth records, William’s wife was Nancy. There is a marriage for William Gilman Gordon and Nancy Poor in 1801, but this was several years after the 1797 birth date of Thomas. Some local history and genealogy books listed 2 or 3 wives of William Gilman Gordon with Nancy Poor being the last. William was said to have married Mary Shaw first, had one child, married Hannah Swain second, had 4 children with her before her death in 1799, and then married Nancy Poor in 1801 having 7 more children with her.
In the New Hampshire birth records, there are 12 children attributed to William G Gordon and “Nancy” between 1790 and 1818. The only time the surname POOR was used was in the marriage record from 1801. SO – it doesn’t make sense that this couple would have 5 children together before being married in colonial New England. “Nancy” can be a nickname for Hannah as well. A closer look at the images on Family Search shows us that these records are COPIES of the originals. They were done between 1905 and 1906. It is very frustrating to not be able to see the original records to see if there was any kind of error in the transcription. I could not prove it, but I am guessing there was at least 1 more wife prior to Nancy Poor.
I searched for a will or probate record for William Gilman Gordon but I have yet to locate one. I decided to look keep looking further back to William Gilman Gordon’s parents to see if they would shed light on any relationships. William’s father, Capt Thomas Gordon did have a will on file which leaves us another clue.
Capt Thomas Gordon wrote his will in April of 1817. In it he lists his (second) wife Mary, sons Ephraim (executor), and William Gilman Gordon, daughter Dorothy Brown, and grandchildren (Children of deceased daughter Mary Morrill) Dorothy Morrill, Zebulon Morrill, and Mary Gordon Morrrill, and he lists grandson Thomas Gordon.
Capt Thomas Gordon does not list his 2 daughters Betty and Hannah so I presume they are deceased without issue by 1817.
The will does not explicitly state that Thomas (the grandson) is the son of William. William does have several other children by his other wives by this point as well who are not mentioned. I am GUESSING that Thomas is named in the will because he would be the only grandson of Capt Thomas (other than Zebulon Morrill) who is an adult at the time of the writing of the will. Thomas would have been 20 years old.
Again, we have some interesting information, but we still don’t have anything tying Thomas Gordon (father of Susan Gordon Sharp) to his propsed father Willian Gilman Gordon. We do have a definite link between William Gilman Gordon and his father, Capt Thomas Gordon, so we are just missing the proof of the relationship between Thomas and William to tie this line together.
Working on faith that the local history may have been accurate and Thomas’ mother was Hannah Swain and not Nancy Poor, I started doing research into the Swain family. After fleshing out a tree for Hannah Swain, I started looking for wills and probate for her family in New Hampshire, Rockingham County. Her father Jonathon Swain is listed in the index but the images of the wills don’t begin until 20 years after his death. Hannah’s brother Levi, however, does have a will on file. In his 1839 will, Levi names his sisters as heirs after his wife, and he also lists Mary Gordon, Betsy Gordon, Thomas Gordon, and Hannah Judd. The relationship to these people is not stated – BUT – these are the children that were born to William Gilman Gordon and “Nancy”(in the correct birth order) between 1793 and 1799. Levi’s sister Hannah died in 1799 and so was not named herself in his will. After seeing those names listed, I have no doubt that Thomas was the son of William Gilman Gordon and Hannah Swain.
Using the wills and probate reocords from New Hampshire, I was further able to connect Capt Thomas Gordon to HIS father, also Thomas Gordon(1701-1772), and in the same will, Thomas Gordon names HIS father – also Thomas Gordon(1678-1762). After that, I could make one last leap to Alexander Gordon (1635 -1697) who was the founding member of the Gordon family in the English Colonies. He was a Scottish Prisoner of War and indentured servant and you can read more about him here.
It is amazing what you can find digging through wills and probate records! I have many hours of searching to do, but these types of records have proven to be a goldmine for making connections between family that are not stated anywhere else. Always check siblings, uncles, etc when looking too – you never know what you might find!