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Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 8/21/2002

The Saga of Thomas Chaney, Part III: The Wife!

This week our Thomas Chaney pre-1850 census study continues…

For those readers that missed it, you can click here for:
Part I
Part II
Thomas' census images.

Daughter Hagan is named in the biography of Thomas Chaney. It is possible that this name is actually Hagar (female), Megan (a little more doubtful based upon the other names in the family), or something else. I'll have to keep the variants of this name in mind. If this child was a female and never married I may have difficulty locating further information.

Girl 8?
Last week we discussed girl 8 and listed some possible ways she was related to Thomas. She could also be Thomas' stepdaughter, which would mean that Thomas had more than one wife. Our analysis continues with the oldest female in Thomas Chaney's household, the person who likely is Thomas' wife.

Thomas' Wife?
We'll assume the oldest female listed in Thomas' household is always his wife.

In 1810 this person was born between 1765 and 1784.
In 1820 this person was born before 1775.
In 1830 this person was born between 1760 and 1770.
In 1840 this person was born between 1760 and 1770.

In summary, if these entries are referring to the same person they indicate a female born between 1765 and 1770. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there's no indication thus far that Thomas had multiple wives. Of course, if Thomas had more than one wife, they easily could have been approximately the same age. If this is the case, the change in a wife would have been "hidden" by the use of age categories in pre-1850 census records.

According to the 1820 census, the last four children in Thomas' family were born between 1810 and 1820. This conclusion is based upon the fact that the 1830 census for Thomas indicates no children under the age of ten. Given traditional family planning during that era, it would be reasonable to begin our analysis of these four children, with years of birth roughly in 1810, 1812, 1814 and 1816. These years are only approximate and are starting point. If Thomas' wife was born as late as 1770 (which would be consistent with all the ages listed for her in the census), she would be 46 at the birth of her last child. Giving birth to a ninth or tenth child at the age of 46 would not be unheard of.

Oldest Female Assumptions
We made the following assumptions in order to analyze the oldest female in Thomas' household:

1) She was the mother of all his children.
2) She was born in the last possible year that would be consistent with her age as listed in the 1810 through 1840 census.
3) The four youngest members of Thomas' household were born as early in the 1810s as possible with a two year spacing.
4) There were no multiple births.

According to the 1810 census, children in Thomas' household were born as early as 1794. A mother born between 1765 and 1770 (as we think Thomas' wife was) could easily have had a child born in 1794. Actually, if the woman listed in all the censuses with Thomas is the same one and is in fact the mother of all his children, one could reasonably think she was born closer to 1770 than to 1765. A wife born in 1770 would have had her first child at the age of 24. A wife born in 1765 would have had the first child at the age of 29. Given the era, a first child at 24 is more likely than a first child at 29. But of course, anything is possible. Keep in mind that we are still assuming all the ages as given in the census are entirely correct.

Back to Girl 8
Does girl 8 mean a second wife for Thomas? Is girl 8 Thomas' stepdaughter? If girl 8 is Thomas' stepdaughter that could explain why she suddenly "appears" in the 1840 census entry for household. But she could also be a granddaughter, neighbor girl or another relative who is living with Thomas for the first time in 1840. The appearance of girl 8 in and of itself is not enough evidence to warrant an additional wife for Thomas. The situation would entirely be different if we had the name of this girl 8 and were using post-1850 census records. There are simply too many other reasonably potential ways to explain the sudden existence of a child within the household to infer a second marriage from this sole piece of evidence. There's a difference between what is possible and what appears reasonable based upon the evidence at hand.

Possibly Reasonable?
In family history we often deal with possibilities. Possibilities must be balanced with a sense of what is reasonable. It is possible that Thomas had a different wife in every census —it is not likely (at least without other evidence being located).

I have not located Thomas with absolute certainty in any pre-1810 census. Assuming one believes in such things, it is possible Thomas was dropped by aliens from a spaceship into the Pennsylvania mountains. What is more reasonable is that Thomas is listed somewhere I have not looked, "hiding" under an unusual surname variant, living with his parents, or missing from the census altogether. While the UFO story may be cute it likely is not the solution to my problem.

The Same Thomas?
We've indicated that these census entries are all for the same person —Thomas. One should not take my statement on faith or conclude that entries are for the same person without some reasonable evidence. I have two reasons for thinking these census entries are for the same man. The first is that the entries are all from the same township (Southampton Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania). The second is that the ages are consistent with the entries being for the same head of household.

I am assuming Thomas is the oldest male in each of the household he heads. The following years of birth are inferred from the ages of the oldest male in the four census entries for Thomas Chaney.

1810 Census—born between 1765 and 1784
1820 Census—born before 1775
1830 Census—born between 1760 and 1770
1840 Census—born between 1760 and 1770

Conclusion: Thomas was born between 1770 and 1775.

Of course, census ages for an individual are not always consistent even when we are certain it is the same person listed in two consecutive census enumerations.

When all the information from the 1810 through 1840 census for Thomas is analyzed, it seems fairly reasonable these entries are for the same man. Everything ties together fairly nicely, except for girl 8. We should consider ourselves lucky if there is only one unaccounted for inconsistency. If there were many children appearing and disappearing from the records, or if the head of household's year of birth changed significantly from one census to the next, then we might have to re-consider if the entries were all for the same person.

What Else Should I Do?
For the purposes of this analysis, we narrowed in on individual: Thomas Chaney. This study was not complete. As a part of a complete study, research should also attempt to determine what other contemporary Chaney families there were in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. In order to learn something about the larger family and Thomas' possible origins outside Pennsylvania, we should look for other Chaney families in the area as well.

In an upcoming article, we'll look at Thomas' will and his entry in the 1850 census.




Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2002, by the author on his website with permission.