Finding Parents for Ethel (Penland) Ritchie

Brick walls in our ancestry can come in many forms, but they usually boil down to the inability to extend a lineage. Often, a thorough search of extant records can help break down this barrier. Sometimes, however, the solution can be much less arduous. Such is the case with Ethel Lee (Penland) Ritchie.

Ethel was born 6 November 1881 in North Carolina, and died 17 April 1901, probably in the Valley area of Rabun County, near her burial place at Wesley Chapel Cemetery in Rabun Gap.1 She was enumerated in the 1900 US census with her husband, T. J. Ritchie, and their son, Tom.2 Because of her birthdate, it was therefore highly unlikely that she could be found in a previous census with her family.

A search of marriage records in Rabun County yielded no marriage for this couple. From Tom’s death certificate, I knew his mother’s maiden name was Penland. She was born in North Carolina, possibly right across the state line in Macon County. I decided to check my copy of Macon County, North Carolina Marriages 1829 – 1939 by James E. Wooley, and found this: “Ritchie, J. T. 27 to Ethel P. Penland 17 1-18-1899 T. F. Glenn, M. G.”3

Many researchers, including myself, might have gone straight from this verification of Ethel’s maiden name to other records, such as census and probate records, in order to search for possible parental candidates. It just so happens, however, that I had recently reviewed a section on marriages in North Carolina in North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, and so I recalled this snippet, which I flipped back to for clarification:

…The names of the parents of the bride and groom began to be given [on marriage bonds] about 1867…4

On my next trip to Franklin, I visited the Register of Deeds office at the courthouse to search for the original marriage license. These have now been digitized and are searchable, which made the correct records fairly easy to find. And, indeed, the marriage license did name parents for both groom and bride, respectively, J. M. and Elizabeth E. Ritchie, and Erastus and Flora Penland. Additionally, the license indicated that Ethel’s father was deceased and that her mother was living. As I suspected, Ethel had been born in Macon County, and her mother resided there at the time of the marriage.5 I can now use this information to locate Ethel’s parents in census and other records.

One of the biggest hurdles a genealogist faces is when a 19th or 20th century ancestor was not enumerated on the federal census with their parents. There are work-arounds, as this post shows, and they often are as simple as knowing the laws regulating available records sets.

* * * * *

1. See Bill and Elaine English’s online cemetery transcription for this cemetery: Wesley Chapel Cemetery Inscriptions, Rabun County, GA

2. Thomas J. Ritchie household, 1900 US census, population schedule, Rabun County, Georgia, Tennessee Valley, ED 118, SD 9, sheet 9B, dwelling 159, family 159;, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2004; NARA micropublication T623, roll 218.

3. James E. Wooley, Macon County, North Carolina Marriages 1829 – 1939 (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1984), 114.

4. Raymond A. Winslow, Jr., “Marriage, Divorce, and Vital Records”, North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2nd edition, Helen F. M. Leary, editor (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996), 158.

5. The license contained other useful information such as the birth place and ages of the bride and groom, the names and residences of witnesses, and the name and affiliation of the person who performed the ceremony. Because Ethel was under the legal age, her mother gave consent for the marriage. Marriage license 2822 (digitized), T. J. Ritchie and Ethel E. Penland, Register of Deeds, Macon County, North Carolina.

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