When I began working on my father’s maternal ancestry, I fully expected to hit a brick wall at some point. Even with my admittedly superficial grasp of early American history, I knew that there weren’t going to be many records of the French scout who’d married an Indian girl.
Our knowledge of this line (I was told) traced to the French and Indian War of the mid-1700s, when a young French soldier named (probably) DeRoche met and fell in love with a young Seneca (presumably) girl. When the war was over, they settled down in New York and lived happily ever after.
It was such a romantic story to me as a child — sort of a cross between a James Fennimore Cooper tale and Cinderella.
I was proud of this ancestral line, too. Like my Swedish or Irish or Mennonite ancestors, they’d carved out a life and future in the young United States. And I can remember conversations in which my uncles and grandmother talked about our “looks”, attributing this or that feature to (variously) an Indian, French, Irish, or German ancestor.
It was all just part and parcel of who were were. In later years, I even found that one of my cousins went to college on a partial Native American scholarship.
The family knew that sometime in the intervening 150 years or so, our name was changed. DeRoche, we were taught, became DeRock — still kind of French-sounding, but more anglicized. Nobody ever said why, but I have several ancestors who changed their names, so this never seemed even slightly odd.
So off I went into the records of New York State… and I began with the most accessible documents of all: the US Census.
But I hit the expected brick wall far sooner than I’d anticipated; it was almost immediate. I wasn’t even close to finding this distant couple when the trail went cold. In fact, I couldn’t move past 1900, and my great-great-grandfather, with any certainty.
Yup — there they were in Delaware County, New York, right where they were supposed to be. And yup — the census confirmed that my gr-gr-grandpa was born in that same state in the mid-1840s. The ages of his kids, living in the household and nearby, even matched up to copied data from his family bible.
But prior to 1900, there wasn’t a trace of them anywhere. Not in that town, or county, or state…. nowhere in the United States at all.
This, btw, is my great-grandfather, ca 1910.