Part Three: Tearing Down Brick Walls – Spence Family Mystery

Finally a Breakthrough?

My Spence line has been a challenge.  Going into my research on this line I had very little knowledge about this branch of my family.  My Grandmother, my connection to this line is still alive and her mind is intact even at 89 years old, but sadly there just isn’t a lot of family knowledge about her father’s family.  Although my Grandmother reports that her own mother was very interested in genealogy and loved history the passion was not passed down to her only daughter so much information was lost to time.

I have spent hundreds of hours scouring records trying to find the pieces that fit the puzzle I had been given.  Most of my sessions have ended in frustration and more questions than answers.  Finally I think I have had a possible breakthrough in my hunt.

The basic facts I started with were sparse.  I pulled the few details I could out of each record and tried to put together a picture of the events.

Evaluating Evidence

My first basic facts started at the cemetery.  I know where my Great-Great Grandfather is buried without a doubt.  He is buried in a small rural cemetery on land that according to my Grandmother was donated by him prior to his death.  He has a marked grave with his name, birth and death dates all clearly legible[1].  Starting with this information I tracked down every census and vital record I could locate and conclusively determine was the correct James Spence and began extracting further clues.

James was married at least twice although records for only one marriage have currently been located.  He was head of a household with Emily Spence in 1880 census in Ottawa County, Ohio[2].  His oldest two children (Emma and William) report Emma Jane Davis as their mother through life on legal documents.  His second marriage was to Anna Dorman, who his youngest four children report as their mother on legal documents.  Of note, Harry Spence, 3rd child of James Spence was born prior to the marriage of James and Anna so is likely the child of Emma.

I have currently only located two documents recording the possible identity of James’s parents.  One is his marriage record to Anna[3].  He records parents James Spence and Jane Davidsen.  There are no parents recorded for Anna.  The other document is the death record of James Spence[4], his daughter Emma is the informant and she provides a name of John Spence and no mother’s name.  In reconciling these contradictory documents I have given more evidence to the parents recorded by James himself as opposed to secondhand information provided by Emma about an event that happen before her birth and involved people she did not apparently know.

Summarizing the Clues

James Spence is buried in the North Brinton Cemetery in Isabella County, Michigan.  His grave is marked and his headstone is legible, he died in 1940.  His date of birth was 1853 and he was born in Canada.  His parents were James Spence and Jane Davidsen, both of Irish birth.  He was married at least once and had children with two women, Emma Jane Davis and Anna Dorman.  He had six known children, 3 with Emma Davis named Emma Jane Spence, William J Spence, and Harry Spence;  with Anna Dorman he had Mary Ann Spence, Margaret Ellen Spence, and Thomas Spence.

James and Jane Spence of Simcoe County, Ontario

After countless hours of fruitless searches I finally had what I think is a huge breakthrough in research.  At least it is currently the strongest lead found and I haven’t yet located information to rule it out.  Starting on the 1851 Canadian census[5] I locate a couple of Irish birth named James and Jane Spence living in Simcoe County, Ontario.  By the time of the 1861 Canadian census[6] this James and Jane Spence also record a son named James born in 1854.  The 1871 census[7] shows the family again, with James still in the home.  The 1881 census[8] shows an elderly James and Jane Spence still in the same place, son James is no longer noted in the area.  This would correspond with my ancestor being located in Ohio in 1880.  Currently, my assumption is that this James Spence is my ancestor.

Looking Closer…

The demographics of this Spence family match up with my James Spence but there are smaller clues that also help point to this being a successful match.  James and Jane Spence had several children, one of which was named Thomas Spence.  Thomas Spence later went on to settle in the United States…in Michigan, the same place where James later settled when he came to the United States, although they settled hundreds of miles apart in different parts of the state.  Another detail of note regarding Thomas Spence is that my James Spence named one of his sons Thomas.

Only DNA Can Tell For Sure

Are James and Jane Spence my Great-Great-Great Grandparents?  Currently my guess is yes.  I am going to continue researching this family and hope that at some point I can conclusively declare that yes these are indeed my ancestors or no they are definitely not my ancestors.  At this point it may take DNA testing of living members of the family to give the evidence needed to successfully answer this question.

 

 

[1] http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=15977253&ref=acom

[2] Year: 1880; Census Place: Danbury, Ottawa, Ohio; Roll: 1056; Family History Film: 1255056; Page: 441C; Enumeration District: 069; Image: 0382 Ancestry.com

[3] Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 Ancestry.com

[4] Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1950 Ancestry.com

[5] Year: 1851; Census Place: York, York County, Canada West (Ontario); Schedule: A; Roll: C_11760; Page: 121; Line: 23 Ancestry.com

[6] Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1072 Ancestry.com

[7] Year: 1871; Census Place: Gwillimbury West, Simcoe South, Ontario; Roll: C-9960; Page: 39; Family No: 141 Ancestry.com

[8] Year: 1881; Census Place: Gwillimbury West, Simcoe South, Ontario; Roll: C_13250; Page: 72; Family No: 336 Ancestry.com

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