You’d think with an unusual name like “Straughen” that it wouldn’t be difficult to identify my ancestors, but it hasn’t been easy!
My 2nd great-grandfather Isaac Straughen (pictured at the top of this post) was born in 1817 in New Jersey. He reported in the 1880 census that his father was also born in New Jersey. Isaac married Mary Ann Davenport on February 5, 1846 in Penns Grove, New Jersey. Together they had 12 children and lived the remainder of their lives in the same city. Isaac died in 1889 and Mary Ann died in 1904.
I have found no documents for Isaac that mention his parents or siblings. So how could I go about identifying his parents?
First, I needed to locate some candidates. In 1840 Isaac is 23 and a head of household in the census. Also in the household are a male 15-20 and a female 50-59. I hypothesized that this household represented a death of Isaac’s father and he was living with his mother and younger brother.
Going back 10 years to 1830, I would expect to see Isaac in a household at 13 years old. I find four Straughen/Straughn families in New Jersey in 1830, all of them happen to be in Upper Penns Neck, which is where Isaac lived as an adult. Perfect. I now have four candidates for Isaac’s father: Stephen, James, Benjamin and George. I used blank census form printed from Ancestry to analyze the tick marks representing members of the household.
Of the four, neither George nor Stephen’s households have a male who is really old enough to be Isaac’s father or a woman the right age to be his mother. The tick marks in the household of George, Stephen and Benjamin also don’t line up with members of Isaac’s household in 1840. This leaves James as the strongest candidate. The members of the household are consistent with the hypothesis that Isaac’s father died between 1830 and 1840, leaving behind Isaac, another son and a widow. There is also female teenager in James’ household in 1830 who does not appear in Isaac’s household in 1840, but she likely would have married in that time and left the household. Stephen and Benjamin also both appear in the 1840 census and account for most of their tick marks from 1830, but James and George do not appear in the 1840 census that I can find.
No census records for New Jersey exist for 1820 or 1810 so it is impossible to continue using the census as a research tool in this case. How could I confirm the scenario that appears to be playing out in the census?
Next I opened up the FamilySearch collection of unindexed digitized images for Salem County, New Jersey Probate files. I browsed the relevant sections of the collection and found some noteworthy pieces of information
Benjamin and George both had wills that mention children, but did not mention an Isaac Straughen. If they weren’t already out of the running, this would have sealed their fate.
Stephen is not mentioned in any of the probate indexes that I searched.
Then I struck gold! I found a bond for James’ estate with Isaac as the primary person signing the bond. George Straughen is also listed on the bond, along with a David Wiley. It was dated December 1839. This again supports the story building here. Unfortunately I was unable to find any other probate documents for James. He is not listed in the court minutes or will books.
With no other death or birth records to rely on, this is these two censuses and one probate document are the most proof I can assemble at this point. Based on the evidence I have assembled so far, I believe that James Straughen is the father of Isaac Straughen.
So we have established a probable father for Isaac, but who was his mother? To answer that question I have even less to go on. I put out a search for records mentioning James’ wife. She is not mentioned in the probate records or any census that I can find. The only record I was able to find was a record of a marriage between James Straughen and Mary Johnson. Therefore, at this point, I can only say that Mary is likely to be the mother of Isaac.