Tag Archives: Orr family

James Orr: Possible Irish Connection (52 Ancestors #11)

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coat-of-arms-of-irelandConsidering my estimated 45% Irish DNA,1)AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, 18 March 2015. you’d think that writing a post for “Luck of the Irish” would be a piece of cake (or a piece of Irish soda bread). Not the case. And, yes, I realize it’s just an estimate and that “Irish” DNA might not be specifically from the Emerald Isle. But good grief, 45%?! You’d think I have one line that just screams, “Hey! We’re Irish!!”

My challenge with identifying an Irish ancestor is that so many of them who supposedly came from there did so in the mid- to late-1700s. That’s not exactly an ideal time for finding records on either side of the pond. So there are lots of family histories and county histories saying “His father was from Ireland” with nothing to back it up.

Such is the case with James Orr, my 5th-great-grandfather. Correspondents and SAR applicants give his birth as “Ireland.” Sometimes they’re specific (sorta) and list it as “Northern Ireland.”

What I do know is that he married Mary Dale, probably in Maryland. They eventually moved to Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where James died circa 1815.2)Will Abstracts 1785-1815 Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

References   [ + ]

1. AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, 18 March 2015.
2. Will Abstracts 1785-1815 Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

Susan Orr Skinner: A Lesson in Family Dynamics (52 Ancestors #50)

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Martha Harris was married twice, each time to one of my 3rd-great-grandfathers. Her first marriage was to William Orr. After his death, she married John Starkey, himself a widower.

To quote Douglas Adams, “This is not her story.”

I’ve mused before about how strange/odd/unusual/funny/weird that it is that Martha married two of my ancestors. (And, yes, I’m also thankful that she didn’t have children with the second husband. That could have potentially made for a pretty awkward family tree.) Apparently, some wrinkle in my brain has been musing on this, too, because it suddenly hit me that it may not be all that odd. In fact, it might be perfectly logical.

Susan Orr was born in 1850, the daughter of William Orr and Martha Harris. She married George Skinner in Perry County, Ohio on 2 March 1869. Together, they had 10 children. Unlike George’s mother (the oft-married Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillen) and most of George’s siblings, George and Susan stayed put in Perry County.

When you’re raising 10 kids, you need all of the help and support you can get. That help wouldn’t have come from George’s side of the family; they had scattered across Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. It stands to reason that Susan would have relied upon some assistance (even if only getting advice) from family nearby — including her mother.

When Martha Harris Orr married John Starkey, she didn’t just gain a husband — she gained several step-children. This also means that Susan gained several step-sisters and step-brothers, including my great-great-grandfather Peter Starkey. Since they were all living nearby, it seems logical that Susan would have interacted regularly not only with her mother, but also with her step-siblings.

Realizing this possible (even likely) family dynamic, it makes me wonder if that is how my great-grandparents met. Did Clara Skinner (daughter of Susan Orr Skinner) and Edward Starkey (son of Peter Starkey, Susan’s step-brother) meet at gatherings of the extended family? Is Susan actually the link between my Starkey line and my Orr line… and that it really isn’t odd that Martha was married to two of my ancestors, because in doing so, Susan’s children would have interacted with the children of her step-siblings.

When Martha Harris Orr married John Starkey, Susan Orr and Peter Starkey became step-siblings.

When Martha Harris Orr married John Starkey, Susan Orr and Peter Starkey became step-siblings.

A Genealogical Lesson

Ancestor charts are great ways to visualize our family trees. But they can also prevent us from seeing some relationships. When we look at an ancestor chart, we see our relationships to those who are listed. But sometimes it’s not about us. When the tree twists and turns, as it does in this case, we need to consider how those people relate to each other.

Susan Orr wasn’t just my great-great-grandmother. She was also the step-sister of my great-great-grandfather Peter Starkey. Realizing that relationship makes other things so much clearer.

Charity Courson: Phantom Ancestor (52 Ancestors #46)

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SmokeCharity Courson feels like a phantom. This woman who is supposedly my 4th-great-grandmother is everywhere and nowhere all at once. Countless trees (both online and offline) list her as the wife of James Orr and the mother of William Orr. Some trees even list her as the daughter of Benjamin Courson. Most give a specific year of death: 1829, 1830, 1832; take your pick.

The problem is that not a single one of these trees that I’ve seen have a source beyond “GEDCOM file,” that is, if they have any sources at all.

Now, I’m not a source snob. I will consider the information in online trees. There’s too much valuable information to just ignore them out of hand. But no sources anywhere?! This really isn’t giving me a lot to go on.

It doesn’t help that Licking County, Ohio (where she probably lived) had a major courthouse fire in 1875. There are sources that I can — and should — examine. I just haven’t had a chance. Ancestors like Susan Tucker Kelley seem to take my time.

You’ve heard of “brick wall” problems. I think I’d feel better having her as a brick wall. That would be more substantial than being a phantom.

William Orr: Proof of Murphy’s Law (52 Ancestors #35)

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I’ve written before about Murphy’s Law in genealogy: your ancestor will die in an area one year before they started keeping death records. If Murphy’s Law had a poster child, it would be my third-great-grandfather William Orr.

Several sources list him as dying in Licking County, Ohio in 1850. I have a letter from a woman I corresponded with in my earliest days of research which claims this date. Several online family trees list 1850, as does his memorial on Find A Grave. The problem is that I’ve yet to find a source for the date.

But wait, if he died in 1850, he should be on the mortality schedule, right?

He appears in the 1850 census in Bowling Green Township with his wife, Martha, and their five children. He was a farmer with $1200 in real property. Being alive in the census kinda prevents you from also being in the same mortality schedule. (I’m sure it’s happened, but not with this guy.)

In 1860, Martha is head of the household in Bowling Green Township, with four of the five children. She is without any real property and only $50 in personal property.

So if William died between 1850 and 1860, just look for probate. Well…. there’s the matter of the 1875 fire at the Licking County courthouse. We’re not talking about some little spark. No, this was a fire that destroyed a lot of the court records. (The Licking County commissioners have put together a list of the court records that survived. It’s a short list for pre-1875 materials.)

But wait, what about that Find a Grave record? Could we just look at his tombstone or request a photo of it? Not so fast. William is supposedly buried in Courson Cemetery. According to Robert Sizelove, who has been working on documenting Licking County cemeteries, Courson Cemetery “was one of the more difficult to locate.” Few stones still exist. Of course, William’s is not among them.

So, let’s recap:

  • William supposedly died in 1850, but lived too long to be listed in the mortality schedule.
  • A major fire took out probate records for the time we think he died.
  • The cemetery where he is reportedly buried has only a few remaining tombstones and his isn’t there.

But there are still some possibilities for getting a better idea of when William died:

  • Land and tax records. Most of those survived the 1875 fire. Tax records could be especially useful, as we might be able to find when the land goes from being taxed on William to being taxed on his heirs.
  • Voter lists. When does William stop voting?

William Orr. Considering the timing with how he fits in with the existing records, I’m surprised his last name isn’t Murphy.


This is pretty much how I feel when researching William Orr.
Photo by Alex Proimos. Used under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC 2.0. No changes were made to this file.

The Twist in the Tree: Martha Harris Orr Starkey (52 Ancestors #18)

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It’s not unusual to find a female ancestor who has married more than once, especially those whose husband died while there were young children at home. What’s unusual about Martha Harris Orr Starkey, my 3rd-great-grandmother, is that I descend from both of her husbands. (Does that make me my own grandma?)

Martha Harris was the daughter of William and Mary (Myers) Harris. She was born in 1817, likely in Licking County, Ohio. Around 1839 (based on the age of her first child), she married William Orr. William died in 1850, leaving Martha to raise five children under the age of 10. One of those was infant daughter Susan, who became my great-great-grandmother.

Between 1860 and 1870, Martha had remarried John Starkey. John was a widower, his wife Mary having died sometime after 1860.

Here’s the twist: John Starkey is my 3rd-great-grandfather through his son Peter.

My tree showing Martha Harris with her first husband William Orr and her second husband John Starkey.

My tree showing Martha Harris with her first husband William Orr and her second husband John Starkey.