Week 25: Broken Branch – Nancy or Not?

June Theme: conflict

The direct Ferree line from Daniel and Marie to my husband is clearly established and backed up by DNA. As usual, it is the wives whose lines get lost along the way.

Daniel and Marie Ferree were Huguenots who moved from the Palatine area of France to Steinweiler, Germany. I have only other researchers’ word on where they came from in France, but I had the opportunity to visit Steinweiler and the local archives when we lived in Germany for a few years. The Ferrees became citizens of Steinweiler on July 25, 1679.

Daniel died in 1687. For a decade or so, since William Penn’s recruiting trip to Germany in 1677, Germans were helping to populate the New World colony of Pennsylvania. Marie and her children began taking steps to emigrate in 1708. 

Whereas Maria, Daniel Fuehres (Feries) widow and her son Daniel Ferie with his wife and other six single children, in view of improving their condition and in furtherance of their prosperity, purpose to emigrate from Steinweiler in the mayoralty of Bittigheim, High Bailiwick Germersheim, via Holland and England, to the island of Pennsylvania, to reside there, they have requested an accredited certificate that they left the town of Steinweiler with the knowledge of the proper authorities, and have deport themselves peaceably and without cause for censure, and are indebted to no one, and not subject to vassalage, being duly solicited, it has been thought proper to grant their petition, declaring that the above named persons are not moving away clandestinely- that during the time their father, the widow and children resided in this place they behaved themselves piously and honestly-that it would have been highly gratifying to use to see them remain among us-that they are not subject to bodily bondage, the also paid for their permission to emigrate; Mr. Fischer, the mayor of Steinweiler being expressly interrogated, it has been ascertained that they are not liable for any debts. In witness whereof, I have, in the absence of the counselor of the Palatinate, &c., signed these presents, gave the same to the persons who intended to emigrate Dated Billigheim, March 10th, 1708 [L.S.] J. P. DIETRICH, County Clerk.

The Ferrees settled near Lancaster, PA. My husband is a descendant of Marie’s son, Philip, who was born in Steinweiler, but died in Lancaster. As we were driving through Steinweiler on our visit, my husband, who purely by coincidence was born in Lancaster, commented that if he had an accident and died in Steinweiler, he would surely confuse all future genealogists. (Thankfully no accidents. We’re confused enough.)

But oh, those wives ….

Particularly frustrating is my husband’s 3rd great grandmother, the wife of Reuben Ferree. It is claimed that her name was Nancy Wells. What information is available seems to mostly be one person copying another, and no one mentions any sources. It has been shared so often, and so long, that it has become accepted as fact.

Lancaster, PA, Mennonite records have a typed index card that names Isaac’s children and their spouses. Reuben’s spouse is listed as Nancy Wells.

I also have this really cool Ferree descendant tree that I purchased in Lancaster. It was created by a Ferree descendant, Jesse Witmer Landis, in 1913. She includes a branch for Rubin [sic] and Nancy Wells and states that they “went to Iowa,” but the line stops there. And of course, there is no reference list. Did she get her information from the Mennonite notecard, or vice versa? Where did it originate?

Here’s what I have primary documents for:

Reuben was born about 1794 in Pennsylvania to Isaac and Mary (Ferree) Ferree [who were first cousins once removed – meaning my husband is descended from two different sons of Daniel and Marie]. Reuben’s grandfather, Joel Ferree, names him in his will, probated 1801.

His name appears on the 1814 Rifle Corps (Pequea Rangers) in the 2d Bridage, 4th division, 98th Regt. P. M. on the 14th day of Nov’r A. D. 1814 – residence Leacock.

In 1820 Reuben’s father’s estate documents indicate that Reuben is a resident of Dauphin Co. The 1820 census of Mifflin, Dauphin Co, PA, lists him with both a male and female child under 10, and a wife between 16-25. This puts her birth as between 1795 and 1804. (The records I have for the children don’t include a daughter born by 1820. This census indicates that there IS a daughter – she must have died before 1830.)

1820 census – truncated to show headings.

The eldest male child, born 1819, was named Uriah Wells Ferree, giving credence to Wells being his mother’s maiden name. Notice that on the 1820 census, just a few lines after “Ruben Ferrie”, there is a Thomas H. Wells and a Thomas Wells. Perhaps these are relatives. (Researching them got me nowhere.) Reuben’s eldest daughter was born in 1823, and was named Mary. A common name, yes, but could it have been her mother’s also?

The 1830 census shows Reuben in Mifflin twp, Dauphin Co, PA. Enumeration of gender and age matches Reuben, his first five children, and a wife between the ages of 20-29, meaning she was born between 1801 and 1810. With the two censuses combined, it would seem she was born between 1801 and 1804 (assuming that we are still dealing with the same wife).

They had seven children who lived to adulthood, married, and had issue: Uriah, 1819; Thomas, 1821; Mary, 1823; Charles, 1827; James, 1829; Sarah, 1834, and Amanda, Dec 1837. All were born in Pennsylvania.

About 1838 the family moved to Ohio. Son Charles’s obituary says the family moved to Stark Co, OH when he was 10 – he was born in Feb 1827. A news item of March 1839 shows Reuben as a resident of Osnaburg, Canton, Stark Co, OH. (That news is a rabbit trail in and of itself. Reuben is accused and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. I can’t find any follow-up after the conviction. Did he appeal? He is not in prison in 1856, and likely not in 1840, either.)

The 1840 census is listed under Uriah’s name. They have moved a bit west, but are still in Ohio.

Home in 1840 (City, County, State): Brown, Carroll, Ohio
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 2 [James, 11; Charles, 13]
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 1 [Thomas, 19]
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 1 [Uriah, 21]
Free White Persons – Males – 40 thru 49: 1 [Likely Reuben, 46]
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5: 1 [Amanda, 3]
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 1 [Sarah, 6]
Free White Persons – Females – 40 thru 49: 1 [Likely Reuben’s wife, who would have been 36-39 based on earlier censuses, but close enough]
Free White Persons – Under 20: 5
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 3
Total Free White Persons: 8
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 8

Note: Daughter Mary was married in 1838 and therefore not listed here. Not sure why Sarah’s age is off – Perhaps just marked in the wrong column. I’m also making an assumption that the older man and woman are the parents, as names and relationships are not given. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. Uriah is apparently supporting the family. Uriah was a Methodist minister, as well as a farmer and shoemaker, and was preaching in Iowa by 1841. The rest of the family eventually followed. Although Uriah continued moving about, (riding circuit?) his siblings mainly stayed in Iowa.

Reuben appears on the 1856 Iowa census, living in Scott twp., Mahaska Co with his son James, and next door to his son Charles. (Charles and James were married to sisters Lucy and Minerva Middleton at that point.) The census says he is a widower and has lived in Iowa for 7 years – so he should be on the 1850 census, but I can’t find him. I can’t find ANY of the family in 1850, except Uriah, who is married with children and living in Ohio again. I cannot find Reuben on the 1860 census or any later record, although his children show up. My guess is that he died between 1856-1860.

1856 Iowa census: the column in front of birthplace is number of years in Iowa.

Son Charles’s obituary in 1908 (the details naturally coming from one of Charles’s relatives, who may not have had accurate information) says he was the son of Reuben and Mary Ferree.

The record for son James’s second marriage in 1897 says he was the son of Reuben Ferree and Mamie Wells. (Mamie is generally a nickname for Mary.) This is James’s second marriage, and neither of his parents were alive at this point, but surely James knew his mother’s name. (Although granted, if his mother died when he was still young, he may not have known her as anything other than Mama. “Mamie” might even be his memory of “Mommy.”)

James’s 2nd marriage names parents as Ruben Ferree and Mamie Wells

My tentative conclusions: Reuben’s wife was most certainly surnamed Wells, and first name possibly Mary/Mamie. Or Nancy. Nothing to prove or disprove it. If the 1820, 1830, and 1840 census are all the same wife, she was probably born about 1801 in Pennsylvania. She died between 1840 and 1856. If she died between 1840-1849, it was probably in Ohio. After that, it would have been in Iowa (or perhaps somewhere en route).

Some have speculated that Mary was a second wife. If that is true, then both wives are attributed with the surname Wells. (I personally don’t think there were two wives.) Another idea is that her name was Mary Ann. Nancy was often used as a nickname for Ann.

Or Nancy might not be her name at all.

Typing it on a card and filing it in the archives – or writing it on a very carefully created and preserved family tree a hundred years ago – is probably the equivalent of putting it on the Internet these days. Might not be fact, but it is out there now, and it’s probably a losing battle to challenge it.


1 Comment

  1. Barb LaFara says:

    I share your frustration with the Mennonite index cards and nicknames. But, you had me at Ferree. My German, immigrant ancestor spelled their name Laferre. Neither sound very German, but there you are… Thanks for sharing.


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