It is almost inevitable, that everyone doing family history or genealogical research, will eventually hit the well-known brick wall, when no trace or documentation for an ancestor's whereabouts can be found to complete the family tree. This is an acute malady brought about either by the lack of existing records or their destruction.
Some researchers have even jokingly suggested that this is proof for the existence of extra-terrestrials, since some enigmatic ancestor appears to have literally dropped out of the sky from another planet to the Earth, since no terrestrial records seem to record his nor her origin.
However, the following account, as recorded in Frederick Humphreys, The Humphreys Family in America (NY: Humphreys Print; 1883)*, aptly demonstrates why and how ancestors are frequently unable to be found, and without such information, may never be located. One wonders how many times such similar events transpired in American history and elsewhere. Under the heading of Buying a Baby, the following story is related concerning the story of the Hon. Noah Humphrey Osborn:
"When a young man, he engaged for some years, like many of his active and enterprising associates, in the business of selling clocks...In his vocation he called at a house in an obscure neighborhood in lower Pennsylvania or upper Virginia, and asked the woman of the house the customary question, if she would not 'like to purchase a clock?'
'Yes,' she replied, 'I would like right well to have a clock, but I have nothing to pay you with, unless you will take one of my babies. I have got plenty of children, but no clock.'
'Well,' said the dealer, willing to humor the joke, 'I have plenty of clocks, but no children. Which one of yours would you like to exchange for the clock?'
'Well,' said the woman, 'you may have that one,' pointing to a little stubbed, shoeless and hatless boy, some two years old.
'Well, my boy,' said the dealer, 'would you like to go with me and ride on the wagon and help take care of the horse?'
The boy was not at all averse; so, after some further bantering, the clock was put up in its place on the wall, and the dealer then said to the mother, 'I suppose you will let his clothes go with him--it is usual to give the halter when you sell the horse.' 'O, yes,' said the mother, and she got his meagre traps upon him and at the conclusion lifted him up beside the dealer on his wagon, without a word of regret.
The joke had now gone so far that the only way out, was to go through; so, with the little boy beside him, he slowly drove away, turning his eyes from time to time over his shoulder for some signal from the mother, to return with the child. But he looked in vain---no signal came.
He spent his first night in the immediate neighborhood, not doubting that by morning the mother would have relented, and that she would come or send for her boy. But no mother or word came. He washed, fed and dressed the boy, riding with him by day, and sleeping with him at night, frequently in close proximity to the parents' home, but they never came for the child.
After a time, the future Judge took the boy to one of his married sisters, paid his board and schooling, and when the Judge settled in life, he took the boy so strangely obtained and raised him in his family, as one of his own, giving him a fair education...
When the lad had nearly arrived at man's estate, the Judge told him the entire story, and said to him: 'You are free from all cast in your lot among them.' The young man did so, remained some weeks, but returned, saying he preferred to take his name and his chances in life with the kind, worthy and humane man who had been his fast and firm friend from early childhood; and so he has remained, always calling himself and being known by the name of his foster father." (p.1076)
The above account, illustrates the need to interview family members, as soon as possible. Alex Haley, the late author of Roots, who I had the opportunity of meeting and speaking to many years ago, made the apt comment, 'When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.'
I recall working on my 'ROLPH' family line, some years ago, and contacted a Rolph living in a mid-western city, hoping he may be related and have information I didn't possess. Though he was not a relative, he told an interesting story, stating, that his family name had been changed from 'Mikaravich,' to that of 'Rolph,' and that his grandfather had immigrated from Finland. When I asked, how they came to bear the surname of 'Rolph,' he didn't know. Without that significant information preserved in family lore, some descendant in THAT family would have endlessly looked for an English or German ancestor, but would NEVER find the right person, since the family name and ancestor was in reality Finnish.
Thus the need once again, to begin your family research TODAY! Don't wait until those relatives who are 'in the know' are deceased, and the vital data on the family's past becomes irretrievable.
*The above text is available at HSP. Call No. Fa929.2 H9267h 1883