One of the things I find interesting about genealogy is how easy it is for me to develop tunnel vision. I find that I focus so much on one person or one line that I forget one of the basic rules: research your collaterals. What is more discouraging for me is that I often forget to research my matrilineal ancestors. A case in point is Mary Susan Henderson.
I don’t know why, but I’ve just never thought to myself, I need to research her. She’s always just been on the periphery. I have a tendency to think of her as Milton Rakestraw’s wife who remarried after he died, which is crazy. She is my fourth great-grandmother by blood. I have certainly researched more tenuous relations, why not her?
I had done a minimal amount of research on her that was required for the First Families project. Once I had moved on to her son, the rest didn’t matter to me. Until she came up again…
On May 25, 2015, my dad and I visited a few cemeteries for Memorial Day. While at Fairview, Dad said he would like to find Mary Susan Rakestraw’s grave. Knowing she had remarried to James Hand, I looked her up on the very handy (no pun intended) Find A Grave app on my phone. Dad had a vague memory of where she was and the app confirmed the location. Even so, we could not find her. Perhaps the stone is no longer there, or perhaps we couldn’t find it because the rows aren’t clearly marked. Either way, we left a little disappointed.
We next visited Mt. Tabor Cemetery. I checked the app and saw an open photo request for a Jacob Stites Hand, so I filled it. The requester contacted me, which sparked a conversation that caused me to finally realize that I had done almost no research on Susan after her first husband died. At this point, I really felt as though Susan was saying to me, “Don’t forget me.”
On the way home from the cemeteries, I looked at the entry on the Find A Grave app again. A partial transcription of her obituary was on her memorial page with the source citation NALS 28 Feb 1879 (Thanks, Sue!). That citation might not mean anything to most people, but I happen to work at the library in which the microfilmed newspapers are housed. The next time I had a break at work, I looked up the February 28, 1879 issue of the New Albany Ledger Standard and found her obituary. I saved a copy to my flash drive to look at later. I also saved a copy of the marriage record for James Hand and Mary Susan Rakestraw.
Then, as I prepared to write this post, I thought about what else I could possibly turn up on Susan. Working backwards, as I was taught to do, I considered death records. However, Susan died in 1879 and Indiana didn’t require death records until 1882. There were a handful of records before that date, but none were Susan Hand. I had her marriage records already, so I moved on to births. She was born circa 1830 in Kentucky, and the earliest recorded Kentucky birth (according to FamilySearch.org) was in 1852.
I thought about census records. The earliest I had for her was 1850. I am unlikely to find any earlier without knowing her father’s name, since 1850 was the first year that recorded everyone living in a household and she was married by that time. The latest I have is 1870 and she died in 1879. It then occurred to me that I had not checked the Fairview Cemetery indexes. I found her, though it yielded little new information.
As I read over all of my information to see how complete a story I had for her, I really focused on her obituary. It broke my heart a little.
“A poor woman named Mrs. Hand.” Did nobody know her given name?
I looked at her Fairview record.
She was buried by the county in a grave owned by her former father-in-law and former brother-in-law. This all gave me the feeling that she was poor and friendless at the end of her life. Although, one would think that since she had so many children that somebody would have taken care of her. I’m sure there is much more to Susan’s story than I will ever know, but I’m glad I finally took the time to research her.
Mary Susan Henderson
Born circa 1830 in Kentucky.3,5,6
Married Milton Rakestraw on March 8, 1845 in Floyd County, Indiana.1,2
Children with Milton: Francis Marion (1847), Charles H. (c.1848), and George William (c.1849).3
Married Jame Hand on April 16, 1857 in Floyd County, Indiana.4
Children with James: Elza (c.1858), Alice (1860), Annie (c.1861), Julia (c.1864), and Mary (c.1869).5,6
Died on February 27, 1879 in New Albany, Floyd, Indiana of consumption.7
Buried at Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Floyd, Indiana on March 1, 1879.8
1. Floyd County Clerk. Microfilm. Floyd County, Indiana Marriages Volume B (1845): p.147. Accessed 23 Sep. 2014, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
2. “Matrimonial Matters” New Albany Public Press 01 March 1882, Wednesday ed.: 8. Print. column 3. Accessed 12 Aug. 2014, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
3. 1850 United States Federal Census (database-online). Ancestry.com, 2009. Web. 12 Jun. 2011. Jeffersonville, Clark, Indiana. pp.313-314.
4. Floyd County Clerk. Microfilm. Floyd County, Indiana Marriages Volume 4 (1857): p.340. Accessed 09 Jun. 2015, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
5. 1860 United States Federal Census (database-online). Ancestry.com, 2009. Web. 16 Aug. 2014. New Albany, Floyd, Indiana. p.134.
6. 1870 United States Federal Census (database-online). Ancestry.com, 2009. Web. 15 Aug. 2014. New Albany, Floyd, Indiana. p.72.
7. “Deaths (Obituaries)” New Albany Ledger Standard 28 February 1879, Friday ed.: 3. Print. column 4. Accessed 09 Jun. 2015, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.
8. Clipp, Mary Cuzzort, Richard Clipp, Jackie Murray Nance, Wanda Perkins Stepp, and Shirley Wolf, comps. Fairview Cemetery, January 7, 1866 to December 31, 1880, New Albany, Floyd County. Vol. 2. New Albany, Indiana: Southern Indiana Genealogical Society, 1991. Print. The Indiana Southern Counties Collection. p.41.