Like every genealogist, I have my share of so-called brick wall ancestors. Ones for whom a paper trail is scant or missing.
On my paternal grandmother’s side there are three such ancestors, each with the given name Sarah.
The origins for two of “The Three Sarahs” have long been a mystery with very few clues and even fewer records to assist in figuring out their background. The third Sarah was an illegitimate birth, with no record of who her father may have been.
This post concerns the Sarah for whom I have the least amount of information.
Mr. Brown, you’ve got a mystery wife
Sarah E. (maiden name unknown) was first wife of Samuel S. Brown, a lumberman and, later, proprietor of the Duncan House in Milroy, Mifflin Co., PA. She died at a young age, after bearing three children.
According to her grave marker in Milroy’s Woodlawn Cemetery, Sarah was born 12 Aug. 1852 and died 26 Aug. 1877.
This closely matches an all too brief death notice found in the Lewistown Gazette newspaper which gives the death date as 27 Aug. 1877 and Sarah’s age as 25 years and 16 days.
Her maiden name was missing from the death certificates of her two daughters and erroneously listed as Studer on that of her son.
I say erroneously because Studer was the maiden name of Samuel S. Brown’s second wife, Rebecca.
The error is understandable considering that the children were quite young when Sarah died. Rebecca was probably the maternal figure they best remembered, especially since she was also the mother of their two half-siblings and Studer was likely a name heard while growing up as being connected to the family.
Still, it is a clue regarding a potential maiden name… so I had to check out whether there was connection. After all, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a widower remarried to his deceased wife’s sister.
However, my research thus far has disproven connection to the Jacob and Theresa (Miller) Studer family, parents of Rebecca. Census records of 1860 and 1870 show no daughter named Sarah, though there is an intriguing gap of several years between Rebecca and the next oldest child – a gap that would be a perfect fit for Sarah’s age.
So… what else is known about the mysterious Sarah E. besides her birth and death dates?
It is highly probable that Sarah was of Pennsylvanian Dutch ancestry like her husband. That’s not a given though. Based on some of his siblings’ marriages, it would appear theirs was the first generation to wed spouses from different ethnic backgrounds.
She was also likely from Huntingdon Co., PA, but possibly from a neighboring county, like Mifflin, where she and Samuel moved after marriage.
Unfortunately, records from the 19th century are hard to come by in this region.
The LDS Family History Library catalog has very few church records for Huntingdon Co., and none for Lutheran or Brethren denominations, which would be the first place to check for a marriage register.
The wedding would have occurred circa 1870.
First-born child, son Jefferson William Brown was born in Aug. 1869, according to his death certificate – which would indicate a marriage likely in late 1868. But Sarah would have only been 16 in 1868, which seems a bit young. And I’m inclined to believe Jefferson was born a year or so later, as he is listed as being born in 1871 in most census records.
The only substantial clue found thus far is a marriage notation for a Sarah Martin and Samuel Brown in a compilation of Mifflin County marriages. Originally published in the Lewistown Gazette, the marriage occurred 24 March 1870. Sarah Martin was noted as being from Lewistown and Samuel Brown from Huntingdon County.
It sure seems like a good fit, but whether this couple is indeed my Sarah and Samuel remains to be proven.
I cannot find this couple anywhere in the 1870 or subsequent census records. My Samuel Brown was enumerated in his parents’ household (Huntingdon County) in July 1870, a few months after when this wedding would have taken place. It’s possible Sarah was also residing there but omitted in error…
There is also no Sarah Martin in Lewistown in 1870, nor in 1860.
My paternal aunt is the only direct-line maternal descendent of Sarah among my close relatives. I’ve been contemplating whether a mtDNA study would be of any help in tracking Sarah’s origins…
Or would an autosomal DNA test be more helpful?
1.”Grave marker for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Find A Grave (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012)
2.”Death notice for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Lewistown Gazette, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, USA, 5 September 1877.
3.”Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-19440“, jpeg image, Ancestry.com (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2014)