Telling my family's stories
Albert Andrew Moorehead/Moorhead/Muirhead was born February 28, 1855 in the old Revolutionary War town of Fort Edward, Washington County, New York. And that’s about all I know for sure about his biological start on this planet. He went on to marry Ellen Golden in Hanover, Illinois and have a bunch of children there, including my great-grandmother, Cora (Moorehead) Ritenour.
Somewhere before 1857, he was taken in by Thomas Moorhead’s family. They were an interesting family, with Thomas being born in County Monaghan, Ireland, and Margaret Skinner, his wife, coming from an old Scottish family near Aberdeen. By ‘taken in,’ I mean ‘adopted.’ We know this based on three different sets of evidence.
First, there was a genealogy done by the Laurence family back in the early part of the 20th century. Gordon Speer was kind enough to send me a page from it several years back. Underneath Albert’s name is written `adopted child.’
Second, on the 1880 census, only Thomas Moorehead and Albert are living on the Moorehead homestead in Hanover, Illinois. Thomas Moorehead was born in Ireland and his wife Margaret Skinner was born in New York. Albert’s father is listed as born in New York and his mother born in Ireland. He is also five years younger than the youngest Moorehead child, which is somewhat suggestive.
Third, people who remember Albert, such as Betty Jean Landers, remember hearing him confirm that he was adopted.
So. He was adopted. Yes. Now what? New York state has some of the most useless vital records of the 19th century. Jo Daviess county, Illinois, was fishy for quite some time and then, when they remodelled their courthouse, many records were somehow destroyed. On his marriage certificate, he lists Thomas and Margaret as his parents. The obituaries don’t name is parents. Nobody remembers him mentioning who they were. So there’s no paper trail and no oral history to help.
That would be the end of it, I guess, except for one very troubling/suggestive bit of information I managed to scrounge up. On the 1855 State Census, in Fort Edward, New York, the Moorehead family is all there. However, although the census was taken in June and Albert was born in February, there is no Albert in the household. Instead, There is a young woman named Jane Harris living with them, born in Ireland in 1830. She has an unnamed child listed under her, listed as four months old, born in Washington County, New York. This all fits Albert’s information perfectly.
So where is Jane Harris? Where did she come from? Where did she go? I don’t know. I have looked high and low and have found nothing. No birth, no death, no immigration. She is on no later censuses, and there is no record of her marrying (a Harris?) or remarrying. She appears on this census, and then she’s gone.
We have concocted a harebrained theory about this, based on circumstantial, suggestive evidence. Our theory is that this “Jane Harris” is actually Jane Moorehead, a relative of Thomas Moorehead (daughter of Robert and Hannah Moorehead, also of County Monaghan, Ireland). She came to New York, married a Harris (There are a bunch of Harrises running around Washington County). He either died or abandoned her. Thomas, being her cousin, took the child in that she could not care for, which was easy enough since she was already living in the house. She then moved to Jo Daviess County (along with Robert and Hannah Moorehead) and married a Michael Farrell there, had a few more children, and died in the 1870s. Robert and Hannah are buried in Log Church Cemetery, right near most of the other actors in this complicated story. Hence, Albert lived in Jo Daviess quite near his biological mother, who was his father’s cousin. The story wasn’t terribly exciting, from Albert’s point of view, and thus it wasn’t much of a topic of debate.
Of course, this is just speculation, and I’m not entirely sure, at this point, how I’ll be able to nail it down any further, since all the principle people are long dead and the county records departments are such a mess.