Charles Rakestraw: Beginning Again (52 Ancestors #22)

Charles Rakestraw is my Floyd County, Indiana pioneer ancestor.  I registered for First Families of Floyd, Clark, and Harrison Counties through him last year.  This year, the Southern Indiana Genealogical Society asked me to talk about him at their July program, Stories of the First Families.  They also asked me to provide a photo of him or his tombstone for their display board.  I have no photo of him or his tombstone, which makes me wonder what I could give them instead.  The first family member of his for which I have those pictures is his grandson. I really want to represent him with a photo of some kind.  Since he was a ship carpenter, perhaps a New Albany steamboat that he could have worked on, or something to do with carpentry. Charles Rakestraw is an ancestor about whom I know a lot and nothing at the same time.  How is that possible?  He had a lot of new beginnings, but the details of his life after one beginning and before the next seem to be non-existent.

Birth – The Very Beginning

Charles was born circa 1800 in Pennsylvania to Joseph and Rebecca (Gilbert) Rakestraw.1,5,8  Joseph and Rebecca were Quakers, which ordinarily would mean that the Meeting minutes would have a record of Charles’ birth.  However, Joseph and Rebecca were also second cousins and were disowned by the Society of Friends for marrying a close relation. Currently, the chain of evidence I have that Charles was indeed the son of Joseph and Rebecca, and for his birth year and place, is:

  • Charles Rakestraw lived in New Albany, Indiana in 1840.  He was between the ages of 40 and 50.  There is a mark in the 30 to 40 column on the female side, which is presumably his wife.3
  • A 44-year-old “Sintha Rakestraw” appears on the 1850 Mortality Schedule.6  In 1850, Charles is living with a daughter and son-in-law.5
  • Charles Rakestraw married “Sinthy Irey” in Columbiana County, Ohio in 1821.7
  • Charles and Syntha are living in Hanover, Columbiana, Ohio in 1830.2
  • Most of Charles and Syntha’s children were born in Ohio; the others were born in New Albany.2,3,4,5
  • Rebecca Rakestraw’s last will and testament, dated July 5, 1841, lists a son Charles as an heir.8
  • Joseph and Rebecca moved to New Garden, Columbiana, Ohio before 1829.1
  • Rebecca gave birth to nine children in Northampton County, Pennsylvania and two children in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania sometime before she and Joseph moved to Ohio.1

It’s a work in progress, but I haven’t given up the search.

A Move to Ohio

Certainly, the Rakestraws were in Ohio by 1829 because Joseph died in the spring of 1829 and was buried in New Garden Friends Cemetery.1 According to William Walton, a cousin of Rebecca, Rebecca married Joseph in 1786.  They settled in Northampton County, where nine children were born to them.  At the least, they would have lived here seven years, if Rebecca would have had baby after baby.  More likely they were born every one or two years, so averaging that I’m using fourteen years, which brings us to 1800.  They then moved to Lancaster County, where they lived for about twenty years, which brings us to 1820.1 Depending on how long they actually did live in Northampton County, Charles would have been a teenager or young adult at the time of the move.

A Marriage

Assuming 1820 as the year for the Ohio move, Charles would not have been there long before his first marriage.  He married Syntha Irey on December 6, 1821.7

A Move to Indiana

Charles and his family moved to New Albany, Indiana sometime between 1835 and 1838.2,3,4,5  This is based on Lucinda, the youngest of the Ohio-born children, having been born circa 1835, and Elizabeth, the oldest of the Indiana-born children, having been born circa 1838.  They were most definitely here in 1840.3

A Death

Syntha died of consumption on December 11, 1849, which caused Charles to adjust his living situation.6  With three younger children, Charles needed to be sure they were taken care of.  His son William, age nine, was sent to live with an older brother, Milton.4  Charles and his two young daughters, Elizabeth and Minerva, went to live with his daughter Adeline and son-in-law, Henry Hardy.5

A Second Marriage

Charles wasn’t long in this situation before he re-married.  He married Dorothy Houston on October 19, 1850.9

The End, or Maybe Another Beginning

I lose Charles after his marriage to Dorothy.  He is not listed on the 1860 Census, which leads me to believe he died before this time.  I cannot find any obituaries or other records of death for him.  An obituary for Dorothy shows that she was still going by Dorothy Houston and does not mention Charles at all.10  There is a rumor that he was buried out at Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, but cemetery records have yielded no results and I can find no tombstone for him.


1.  Walton, William, and Frank H. Severance. “Memoirs of the Captives.” The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83. Reprinted from the Original Edition of 1784. Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1904. 177-78. Print.

2.  1830 U.S. Federal Census, Hanover, Columbiana, Ohio, p. 486,

3.  1840 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany, Floyd, Indiana, p. 255,

4.  1850 U.S. Federal Census, Jeffersonville, Clark, Indiana, pp. 313-314,

5.  1850 U.S. Federal Census, New Albany, Floyd, Indiana, p. 421,

6.  1850 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule, New Albany, Floyd, Indiana, p. 325,

7.  Columbiana County, Ohio Marriages, Volume 2, p. 103,

8.  Last Will and Testament of Rebecca Gilbert Rakestraw, 5 July 1841.

9.  Floyd County, Indiana Marriages, Volume 3, p. 305, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room.

10.  Obituary, Dorothy Houston, New Albany Daily Standard, Wednesday 13 December 1871, p. 4, column 7,

Syntha Irey: The Synthesis of a Name (52 Ancestors #15)

The Rakestraws have always been a difficult bunch to try to track down, the women in particular.  Like her great granddaughter, Syntha (Irey) Rakestraw lived a short and mostly undocumented life.  Also like her great granddaughter, her name is different on every record.

Syntha was born on April 8, 1803.  Her father was Phillip (or Philip) Irey of Butler Township in Columbiana County, Ohio.  She married Charles Rakestraw on December 6, 1821.  The couple and some of their children moved to New Albany, Indiana sometime between 1832 and 1840.  I’m still not sure how many children they had, but I have been able to prove eight and have leads on two more.  Syntha died of consumption on December 11, 1849, and was buried at Fairview Cemetery on the 17th.  I don’t know whether or not she originally had a tombstone, but she currently shares a stone with her daughter, Rebecca Dowerman, who died in 1901.

The first piece of documentation that I ever found for Syntha was the 1850 Mortality Schedule, on which her name is spelled “Sintha.”  I had only “known” that she was married to my Charles Rakestraw because of a pedigree chart that my grandma had given me years ago.

1850 Mortality Schedule,

1850 Mortality Schedule,

With a piece of evidence in hand, Sintha is how I spelled it until someone saw it on my Ancestry tree and sent me a very nasty message about how I was spelling Syntha incorrectly and that I should have more respect for my ancestors than to spell their names incorrectly.  Luckily, this didn’t turn me off to genealogy, but it did turn me off to having a publicly viewable tree on Ancestry.

The next record I came across was the marriage record for Charles Rakestraw and Sinthy Irey.  Now, my grandpa always used to pronounce Missouri as miz-ur-ah and Sunday as sun-dee, so I can see how Sintha might have become Sinthy.  I still couldn’t figure out where Syntha had come from, though.

Columbiana County, Ohio Marriages, Vol. 2, p. 103,

Columbiana County, Ohio Marriages, Vol. 2, p. 103,

The next piece of the puzzle came when I borrowed the Rakestraw box of paperwork from my grandpa so that I could scan it all into my computer.  Among the papers was a copy of Phillip Irey’s will, which appears to have been part of a probate record.  For some reason, whoever copied it was only concerned with the will.  In the will, Phillip names his daughter, Syntha Rakestraw.

At last, I knew where Syntha had come from!  One day, while working, I came across a roll of microfilm labeled Fairview Cemetery Records, 1841-1864.  I thought this strange because the Southern Indiana Genealogical Society had indexed all of the Fairview Cemetery record books and their first index started in 1852.  So, like any history/genealogy obsessed, mystery loving librarian, I put the roll on and started to scroll through it.  I took note of some names and dates, doing a random sampling.  One of the pages that I happened to stop on was an interment record for a Mrs. Rakestraw who had been buried on December 17, 1849.  Even though this record said the cause of death was “old lady,” which actually made me picture an old lady beating her to death with a purse, and Syntha had died of consumption, I was sure this had to be her.  I included her name and interment date on my sample list.

Fairview Cemetery Records, 1841-1864, microfilm, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

Fairview Cemetery Records, 1841-1864, microfilm, Stuart Barth Wrege Indiana History Room

I began to go through the books on the cemetery index shelf to see if anything matched my sampling.  I finally found matching names in Persons Buried in the Ground by the City of New Albany, which was a transcription of records for burials at the State Street Burying Ground that were later moved to Fairview, and early Fairview burials.  Unfortunately, this didn’t clear up the Sintha/Syntha issue.

Then, last year, I decided to research my Rakestraw line to prove that they were here before December 31, 1840 to get a certificate from the Southern Indiana Genealogical Society’s First Families Program.  In so doing, I had a hard time proving that Milton was the son of Charles and Syntha.  I had to use a lot of siblings to prove connections.  One of the records I used was Rebecca Dowerman’s death record.  She was Milton’s sister, and her death record listed her parents names as Chas. Rakestraw and Cynthia Irey.  Cynthia.  Well, I guess I can see how that happened.  The informant may not have really known Rebecca’s mother’s name, or they might have said Syntha and the clerk heard it differently.  We all know how easily names can be butchered.  I still had no second source for proving how to spell her name.

After I had completed the research for the First Families Program, I made plans to go to Fairview and try to find Syntha’s tombstone.  My dad went with me.  He said he remembered visiting a bunch of ancestor’s graves with his mom and he thought he could remember where they were.  We did find a tombstone for Rebecca Dowerman with Cyntha Rakestraw also listed on it.  So, now I also had Cyntha in the mix.

Tombstone, Rebecca Dowerman and Cyntha Rakestraw, Fairview Cemetery, photo taken by Melissa Wiseheart, 1 September 2014

Tombstone, Rebecca Dowerman and Cyntha Rakestraw, Fairview Cemetery, photo taken by Melissa Wiseheart, 1 September 2014

Tombstone, Rebecca Dowerman and Cyntha Rakestraw, Fairview Cemetery, photo taken by Melissa Wiseheart, 1 September 2014

Tombstone, Rebecca Dowerman and Cyntha Rakestraw, Fairview Cemetery, photo taken by Melissa Wiseheart, 1 September 2014

A different name for every source.  In case you are having a hard time keeping track, here are the variations:

rakestraw, sintha 1850 mortality schedule crop copy

Rakestraw, Charles - Columbiana County, Ohio Marriages, Vol. 2, p103 copy

Last Will & Testament, Philip Irey, 1841

Dowerman, Rebecca - Floyd County, Indiana Deaths, Book H-4, page 50 - part 5 copy

2014-09-01 14.48.07 copy

I finally settled on Syntha because, in the absence of corroborating sources, I broke the name into parts and synthesized it in the most logical way I could think to.  I most frequently saw it spelled with an “S” instead of a “C.”  I most frequently saw it spelled “yn” over “in.”  I most frequently saw it spelled “tha” over “thy” or “thia.”  So, S-yn-tha.  Syntha.  It coincidentally agrees with the person who had rather harshly corrected me, but that didn’t influence my decision.  I’m always on the lookout for records and would be excited to see if something finally agrees with one of these spellings.

Rebecca Gilbert: Quaker Daughter, Seneca Daughter (52 Ancestors #07)

Rebecca Gilbert is my favorite ancestor to research.  I feel close to her, not because we have any similarities, but because she is the first ancestor of mine who had a story that I could read.  All I had in the beginning of my research was a pedigree chart from my grandmother and a handful of notes.  One day, after Sunday lunch, my grandpa told me he had a book about my sixth great grandmother, Rebecca Gilbert.  The book was Captured by the Indians:  The Seldom Told Stories of Horatio Jones and the Benjamin Gilbert Family by George Henry Harris and William Walton (2003).  He lent it to me and, as I read and learned about what she had gone through, she became real to me.  She was no longer just a name on a pedigree chart.  I wanted to learn more about her, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to start.

A few months later, I was helping a patron at work who wanted to research Native American ancestry.  It was then that I noticed a smallish, red bound book with gilt lettering on the spine, which read, “Gilbert Narrative.”  When the patron had finished, I took my break and went back for the book.  The book was The Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, 1780-83 by William Walton and Frank H. Severance (1904).  This one included a copy of the original text, plus an illustration of Benjamin being led off by Indians, a photograph of the Gilbert homestead in Byberry, the ancestry of Benjamin Gilbert, memoirs of the surviving captives, a family tree for Benjamin’s children, and historical notes.  It should have contained a map of their travels, but it had long since been torn out.

Suddenly, I had more information about my sixth great grandmother.  It had been right under my nose for two years.  I spent my breaks over the next week reading this book and writing things down.  This reprint also included a bibliography of all related publications.  Since this book differed so much from the one my grandfather had shown me, I wondered what other editions might reveal.  I began my search for these other books.  Luckily, Internet Archive had digitized some of them.  They have recently added the original as well.

Each one has something to add to the story, whether for the best or not.  Before I begin the story I should note that the family were Quakers and they never used the names of the days of the week or the months of the year since most of those names were derived from the names of pagan gods.  They also had an old and new style of dating, which can be confusing at times.  I’m writing the dates here exactly as they appear in the text.

The basic story of the Gilbert family is that the family were surprised at about sunrise on the 25th day of the 4th month, 1780 by a party of eleven Indians.  These Indians were Rowland Monteur and John Monteur (Mohawk); Samuel Harris, John Huston, and John Huston, Jr. (Cayuga); John Fox (Delaware); and five unnamed Seneca.  They raided and burned all of the buildings on the property.  They took captive fifteen people:  Benjamin Gilbert and his wife, Elizabeth; their children, Joseph, Jesse, Rebecca, Abner, and Elizabeth; Jesse’s wife, Sarah; Elizabeth’s sons from a previous marriage, Thomas and Benjamin Peart; Benjamin Peart’s wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter, Elizabeth; Benjamin Gilbert’s nephew, Benjamin Gilbert; Abigail Dodson, a neighbor’s daughter; and Andrew Harrigar, a hired hand.

The Indians bound their hands and forced the captives to walk northward toward Fort Niagara.  The journey was difficult, with little rest and not much to eat.  Andrew Harrigar managed to escape on the tenth day.  On the 24th day of the 5th month, Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Butler secured the release of Benjamin and Elizabeth Gilbert and their son, Jesse.  The rest of the captives were given over to various Indian families.  Rebecca and her cousin, Benjamin, were given to Rowland Monteur and his wife, who was the daughter of the Seneca Chief Siangorochti (Sayenqueraghta) and a Cayuga mother of high rank.  They lived with the Seneca on Buffalo Creek (Buffalo River), about four miles from Fort Erie.  They were adopted into the family of Siangorochti as replacements for family members that had been killed.  The story, according to William Walton, another of Rebecca’s cousins, is that Benjamin was happy in his new life while Rebecca suffered much and only wanted to get back home.

Another account, given by Rebecca’s fourth great grandson, Everitt Kirk Harris, states that “she was reluctant to leave her adopted relatives and customs.”  This account was passed down through the family.

Regardless of the conditions, there are some facts.  Benjamin Gilbert, Rebecca’s father, died on the 8th day of the 6th month, 1780.  Her adopted father, Rowland Monteur, died in September of 1781 (according to Severance’s notes).  Rebecca and Benjamin were released on the 1st day of the 6th month, 1782, and sailed for Montreal two days later.  They were the last two members of the Gilbert family to be released.  The entire surviving Gilbert family arrived in Byberry, Pennsylvania on the 28th day of the 9th month, 1782.

Walton’s third edition gives a synopsis of Rebecca’s life after returning home.

Walton, William.  A Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, Who Were Taken by the Indians in the Spring of 1780.  Third Edition.  Philadelphia:  Printed by John Richards, 1848.  pp. 222-223.

Walton, William. A Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and His Family, Who Were Taken by the Indians in the Spring of 1780. Third Edition. Philadelphia: Printed by John Richards, 1848. pp. 222-223.

Rebecca’s will names only nine children:  Elizabeth, William, Joseph, Rachel, Rebecca, Hannah, Charles, George, and John.

Last Will and Testament of Rebecca Rakestraw, 5 Jul 1841

Last Will and Testament of Rebecca Rakestraw, 5 Jul 1841

I feel as though I have a complete story for Rebecca.  I am, however, left with a question.  Why are only nine of Rebecca’s eleven children named in her will?  Only three possible reasons come immediately to mind.  Either the person who wrote the synopsis was incorrect and there were only nine children, the other two children died without heirs before the date of the will, or Rebecca did not count them as her children for some reason.  Even though I have a fairly complete story for Rebecca, I continue to look for information.  One item on my bucket list is to follow the path that Rebecca and her family followed.  At the very least, I want to see the monument in The Seneca Indian Park in Buffalo, New York.  I found an image of the plaque recently.

First White Women Monument, Seneca Indian Park, Buffalo, New York,

First White Women Monument, Seneca Indian Park, Buffalo, New York,