Illegitimacy often poses serious challenges to tracing one’s roots. This is the roadblock I face with the third of The Three Sarahs.
Sara Rebold/Sarah Raybold, wife of Godfrey a Bender, was born 6 Sept. 1765 in Germantown township, Philadelphia.
Her death date is listed in the church registers of St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germantown. From the exact age in years, months and days recorded at her burial, I could easily calculate her birth date.
But finding a baptism record proved tricky.
I initially presumed that Sarah’s father was a Rebold/Raybold.
She shared a close relationship with her mother, Mary, who I learned was a young widow. It was only after finally figuring out to whom Mary had been wed did I realize that Sarah and her brother, George, were illegitimate children, born several years after Mary’s husband had died.
Still, I had a birth date to go by and the knowledge that the family was Lutheran and resided in Germantown at that time. That narrowed down the church to St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran.
I had hoped to find a baptism with perhaps a notation of who the father was or at least a sponsor or two to further investigate for a possible connection.
No such luck in locating a baptism. What I found instead was a 1780 confirmation record which gave Sarah’s age, further proving the 1765 year correct. Her father was noted as being Jacob Rehbold.
Since that was the name of her mother’s late husband deceased some five years prior to Sarah’s birth, I dismissed the notation as an erroneous recording by a new pastor who was unfamiliar with the timeline. The new pastor probably only knew that Mary was a widow of Jacob Rebold who never remarried and made the assumption that he was the father.
No additional clues could be obtained from George’s 1774 baptism, which occurred 13 years after his birth. No parents nor sponsors are noted and there is also no mention of his illegitimate status. He was, however, listed as being age 15, which is incorrect and can be proven by the baptismal registers for Jacob and Mary Rebold’s two sons, who were born in 1758 and 1760 and died in infancy.
Then I came across some crazy scandal that played out in the newspapers of the time, involving Sarah’s mother and brother-in-law, Anthony Hubbard. The man with whom they had a public dispute accused Mary Rebold of having bore two illegitimate children by her stepson.
What the… what?!?
Jacob Rebold was indeed a widower with five children when he married Mary. One of those children was his eldest son, Jacob.
Was this son Sarah’s (and George’s) father?
The elder Jacob Rebold left a will written in 1760, just two weeks before he died, which clearly states his son Jacob was not yet 21 years-old. Since he also wills his eldest (and already married) daughter to receive her share four years after his death, it would seem that the junior Jacob turned 21 in 1764.
Intriguingly, it also states a desire for his son and widow to keep the estate intact and raise the younger children together until the junior Jacob attains full age.
A recipe for illicit love?
The Rebold homestead was put up for sale in 1764, further indicating that is indeed the year the younger Jacob arrived at full age.
That would make him 21 when Sarah would have been conceived and 17 or 18 when George was. Their mother was 18 years older than her stepson. Kind of creepy, but not beyond the realm of possibility.
The junior Jacob Rebold later moved to the Southwark neighborhood, close to his full siblings and away from his step-family and half-sister.
So, I’m trying to figure out how to determine if this centuries old rumor is true and, if not, who then is Sarah’s father.
Her mother was fairly well-to-do and so she may not have been subject to any kind of bastardy trial, if such records exist.
George’s only son died young, so even if he and Sarah shared the same father there is no chance to trace the Y-DNA.
My next step will probably be to head to the Philadelphia City Archives to check the Court of Common Pleas appearance dockets and execution dockets to see if there is any record of case/action against Mary Rebold for having two children born out of wedlock.
It may be awhile before I can get an opportunity to do so.