Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rebecca J. Ratliff: Frasher, Moore, or Both?

*Note: The mystery has now been solved! Rebecca J. Ratliff is the daughter of Richard Ratliff and Matilda Jasper of Buchanan County, VA, as explained in this follow-up post. I will leave this post here for reference and continuity purposes.*

I was extremely close to my mother's maternal grandparents growing up. My Papaw Zack passed away when I was 18, and my Mamaw Madge passed away on March 9th of this year. I grew up hearing so many amazing stories about their parents and all of their colorful personality traits: Papaw's mother's love of squirrel hunting, Mamaw's father once working as a teacher in a one-room school house, and Papaw's father working at the same company as one of my other great-grandfathers are just a few of the stories that our family still tell fondly at gatherings.

My mother's maternal grandparents, Rev.
Earnest Zacharias "Zack" Hunt and
Madaline Eva Moore Hunt.
 So naturally, when I started my genealogy research, I was eager to find what I could about their lines. I was able to go back fairly far with all of their lines except one; for the longest time, Mamaw's paternal grandparents were a complete brick wall with me. I knew their names and their approximate dates from the death records of their children and their marriage record, but I could find nothing whatsoever indicating who their parents might be. I tried every record type, exhausted every resource and database - nothing. And as any genealogist knows, brick walls like this nag at the back of your mind, just begging to be broken down.

Here is what I knew: Mamaw Madge's father was John Harmon Moore, born on March 16, 1888 to Josiah B. Moore and Rebecca J. Ratliff Moore (who had been married on February 3, 1887). He married Mamaw's mother, Nora Maggie Shawver, on March 6, 1922. They had 11 children together, of which my great-grandmother was the eldest. He passed away on July 5, 1957.

I begged my Mamaw Madge to try to remember anything about her father's parents that might help me in my search. She said that her grandmother died when she was very little, and that the only time she ever saw her father cry was when she died. She also said that her father never talked about his family. "Please, just try to remember. Anything can help." She thought and thought, but again said that she knew nothing about them except their names.

Josiah and Rebecca's marriage certificate was my best clue as to who Rebecca's family might be. It indicated that Josiah was 62 years old and Rebecca was 35 years old at the time of their marriage in 1878, that Josiah was born in Pocahontas Co., VA and Rebecca was born in Pike Co., KY, that they were married at "the residence of Catherine Radcliff [a misspelling of Ratliff]" in Clay Co., WV, and that the minister performing the ceremony was the Rev. R. W. Moore.
John Harmon Moore and Nora Maggie Shawver Moore with
seven of their children.

This information allowed me to infer that Rebecca was born about 1852, and that Catherine "Radcliff" was in all likelihood some sort of relative. But what relation? Mother? Sister? Sister-in-Law? Aunt? Niece? Cousin?

A quick search of the 1880 census told me that there was only one Catherine Ratliff (no Radcliffs at all; the misspelling theory proved correct) in Clay Co., WV. She was the wife of William Ratliff, who was born about 1847 in Kentucky. The age and birthplace indicated that William would be about the right age to be Rebecca's brother. Since the marriage certificate indicated that she was born about 1852, I checked the 1860 census for a family named Ratliff with two young children named William and Rebecca. And sure enough, I found one: Pike Co., KY, correct last name, and two children with correct names and correct ages. The record indicated that their mother's name was Lydia, but that Lydia was a widow. A search of the 1850 census found the same Lydia Ratliff with many of the same children (some had undoubtedly married and moved out; Rebecca wasn't born yet) in the household of one William Ratliff.
The marriage certificate of Josiah and
Rebecca Ratliff Moore.

Well surely these are my people! I thought. I was able to easily search marriage records and find that Lydia's maiden name was Ford. I then did a Google search for the term "William Ratliff and Lydia Ford KY" to see if anyone had already researched this line. I was in luck! Someone had.

However, it was at this point that a major wrench was thrown into my research. According to this other researcher, the Rebecca Ratliff who was the daughter of William Ratliff and Lydia Ford married a man named Nathan Frasher in Wayne Co., WV on November 4, 1869. This couple were the parents of no less than 13 children. Again, this was easy to prove true.

I was so angry that I could scream. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I did scream. HOW could this be possible? There was only one Rebecca Ratliff in the correct age range in Pike Co., KY during the time when Rebecca would have been young. I had checked all alternate spellings - there were none. This Rebecca had a brother named William who had apparently married a woman named Catherine Rowe and moved to Clay Co., WV. How could this Rebecca possibly be anyone other than MY Rebecca?

I was so disgusted that my research hadn't panned out that I put it away for a few days. But during that few days, I began to think about a few things about the entire situation that sounded odd. Was it not unusual for a woman to wed for the first time at age 35 in the 1880s? Perhaps she had been widowed, and Ratliff was her married name. And yet, the circumstantial evidence was quite compelling that the William Ratliff who had be the husband of Catherine was indeed our Rebecca's brother, as has already been explained at length. But I began to check the marriage records for all of William's brothers, just to be safe. Just as I suspected, none of them had married a woman named Rebecca.

I began to look at the records that the other researcher had compiled for Rebecca Ratliff Frasher. She did indeed have thirteen children with her husband Nathan, and with a mixture of excitement and horror I realized that the youngest of these children was born in 1886 - the year before my Rebecca married Josiah Moore.

Death certificate of Rebecca Ratliff Moore. I believe estimated
age/DOB to be incorrect; she could not have been born in 1849
if she was 35 years old in 1887.
Could it really be possible that these two women were one in the same? I again went over all of the census records and Rebecca's marriage and death certificates. There just very simply was not another Rebecca Ratliff, Radcliff, or Radcliffe in Pike Co., KY who was in the same age range at the right times. I had a death certificate for Rebecca Ratliff Moore, but there was no death certificate for Rebecca Ratliff Frasher. In the 1900 and 1910 censuses, Rebecca Moore listed her father's birthplace as District of Columbia (1900) and New York (1910), and her mother's birthplace as Tennessee (both). A check of the 1860 census told me that there was no one named Ratliff, or Ratcliffe, or Radcliffe, born in DC, NY, or TN, and who had a child named Rebecca in the entire state of Kentucky.

There are census records for Rebecca Frasher during the times when Rebecca Moore was married to Josiah Moore, but this doesn't necessarily mean anything. The information could have been given by family members; she didn't necessarily have to be present at the location when the census was taken. There is even a grave marker for Rebecca Frasher, next to Nathan's: she apparently died in 1928, mere months after Rebecca Moore.

When I did my ancestry DNA test in February of this year, I plugged in William Ratliff and Lydia Ford as Rebecca's parents, to see if I would get any shared ancestor hints. I did in fact have several matches who also apparently descend from William and Lydia, and I match several of them in the Ratliff DNA circle. So either I am correct and my Rebecca is in fact the daughter of William and Lydia, or she is some very close relation to them that has yet to be uncovered. There is no other explanation. 

I have tried and tried to refute this theory, but all fingers keep pointing back to Rebecca Ratliff Frasher and Rebecca Ratliff Moore being the same person. It would certainly explain a lot: why there is no death certificate for Rebecca Frasher, why there are not two Rebecca Ratliff's of the same age from Pike County, KY, and why my Grandpa Moore never talked about his family.

If my theory is correct, the full scenario would have to go like this: Rebecca Ratliff marries Nathan Frasher and lives in Wayne County, WV with him for many years, in which time they have 13 children. Sometime in 1886-1887, she leaves her family for whatever reason and joins her brother and his family in Clay County, WV. She marries Josiah Moore in 1887, moves to Kanawha County, WV, and has two more children before she passes away in 1927. Her first family learns of her passing awhile later, and places a grave marker next to her first husband's in Wayne County.

If anyone has any solid information or records that can refute this theory and lead me in the direction of my Rebecca's correct lineage, please let me know. To be completely honest, I would very much like for this theory to be proven wrong.

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