North Hills Genealogists take aim at 1790 Census
A Ross Township man is trying to learn whatever he can about western Pennsylvania residents listed in the first U.S. Census, taken in 1790.
Rich Hayden, a member of North Hills Genealogists, is spearheading an effort to find out more about the 37 heads of household listed in the area from the north side of the Allegheny River to the shore of Lake Erie in the inaugural census and their descendents.
“This was the frontier,” said Alyssa Scalise Powell, the charter president of North Hills Genealogists when it began in 1990 and now a board member. “Going westward, 1790 (census records) didn't exist.”
It was her idea to get North Hills Genealogists involved in a project similar to those that genealogy groups in New England are pursuing. Powell tapped Hayden to take on the local 1790 Project.
“There's no magic here, just lots of legwork,” Hayden said.
He begins with records from the first census, then moves on to the next to find out what happened to people. If that fails, he checks tax records in “places that weren't states yet, or north to Mercer County.
“You just need to know the common migration patterns at the time,” he said.
A trip to the courthouse always is in order to see if people's names turn up in lawsuits, Hayden said.
His goal, he said, is to “fix a person to the land in time.”
Many of the people listed in the 1790 Census died in a massacre by Native Americans later that decade or left the area, Powell said.
Hayden is learning about people's relationships and travels and eventually plans to put the details into a presentation.
Brothers Marcus and Samuel Hulings came early to this area as Indian traders from central Pennsylvania.
Charles Rector and Luke Chapman came from northern Virginia and likely were related to one another. Rector married Sarah Chapman in 1782. Rector and Luke Chapman were on the 1782 tax list of assessor Michael Cresap in Hampshire County, Va.; both disappeared from the lists shortly afterward.
“At that time, Virginia claimed all of southwestern Pennsylvania below the Ohio River and encouraged their citizens to settle here,” Hayden said, “but Rector and others, like Elias Thomas, moved on to Kentucky. Some moved again into Ohio and Indiana.”
Families often traveled and settled in groups.
“We were a restless nation at the time,” Hayden said. “There were brighter horizons and more opportunities.”
A retired research chemist and someone who loves puzzles, Hayden began research into his own family and traced his ancestors to Germany in the 1500s.
“I'm a true American mutt,” he said.
Among his direct ancestors are Col. George Woods, who surveyed the city of Pittsburgh in the 1700s, and George Wood, a Quaker from Derbyshire, England, who received 1,000 acres from William Penn, founder of the Pennsylvania colony, in the late 1600s.
For Hayden, what is most important is not the kinds of people from whom he has descended, but finding glimpses of how they dealt with life.
A relative from another line, Daniel Lakenan, traveled from London to Fredericksburg, Va., as an indentured servant in 1772. Another indentured servant on board kept a diary, which Hayden read. Lakenan's journey, too, was detailed day by day.
He found a relative who was a politician in St. Louis and co-inventor of the Plains rifle. A generation or two later, another relative knew Mark Twain as a boy.
Interest in genealogy seems to ebb and flow, Powell, of Marshall Township, said. The availability of information on the Internet has brought another surge, she said.
“We need connection in this mobile society,” she said. “We want to hang onto our roots and belong to a family.”
It's just a matter of figuring out the stories that everyone has. She recommends individuals record personal histories by answering questions such as “Where were you when President John F. Kennedy was killed?” or “Where were you when 9/11 happened?”
The history will transcend dates on a calendar.
“We all have a birthdate and a death date,” Hayden said, “but what's important is what we do with the (in between).”
Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.