March or Marsh?

One of the members of an online genealogy forum in which I participate recently posed the question, “How far back can you trace your maternal lineage (mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc…?”

Researching family history is something I put a few hours into several times a week, and each time I log into Ancestry.com or open up the Family Tree Maker application on my computer, I am presented with a graphic of my family tree. But I’d never thought to consider it from that angle. As it turns out, I can only trace my maternal lineage back to my 5th great-grandmother, Rhoda March … or is it Marsh? I say “only” because I’ve traced my paternal lineage back to my 9th great grandfather,  John Marsh of Braintree, Essex, England.

Here is the maternal lineage I have to Rhoda March/Marsh:

Great Grandmother, Laura Jane Tidd Feister(1883-1957)
2nd Great Grandmother, Delia Jane Rice Tidd (1854-1942)
3rd Great Grandmother, Martha Rebecca Bancroft Rice(1829-1918)
4th Great Grandmother, Mary G Conant Bancroft (1808-1872)
5th Great Grandmother, Rhoda March/March Conant (abt 1776-abt 1846)

The first vital record I came across for Rhoda records her marriage to Nathaniel Conant on Aug. 17, 1798. Her surname is given MARCH.

Conant March marriage record

Disappointingly, her parents are not listed on the marriage record. But that isn’t so unusual. Rhoda’s husband, Nathaniel, was the only son of Joshua Conant, who died in 1777 at the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War. I have yet to identify the surname of his mother, Mary.

Nathaniel and Rhoda had eight children:

When I found the birth record of their 4th son, Samuel Marsh Conant, it seemed a strong probability that his middle name reflected his mother’s maiden name. Naming patterns are something often seen in genealogical research. So, was it March or Marsh? I’d need to study more vital records to find some kind of consistency.

Five of the children are identified in birth records naming their father, Nathaniel Conant. But their mother is simply listed as, Rhoda. I have not yet found the birth records for Mary G., Jane E. or John P.. Mary G.’s death record identifies Nathaniel and Rhoda Conant as her parents, as does Jane E.’s 2nd marriage record. The death record for William lists her as Rhoda March.

I have not located a death or burial record for Rhoda. Her husband, Nathaniel, entered a 2nd marriage on 25 Nov 1847 to widow, Mariah Stratton Manning. Presumably, then, Rhoda passed away some time between the birth of her youngest child, John, in 1823, and Nathaniel’s remarriage in 1847.

Having just completed an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution tracing my lineage to Col. Joel Marsh, I had a lot of Marsh family lines stuff floating through my head. I search different Marsh family genealogies to see whether Rhoda would show up there. No dice.

To discover Rhoda’s parentage, knowing she was married in Londonderry in the year 1798, I searched the 1790 U. S. Census for the March/Marsh surname indicating a teenage female family member. Bingo! The 1790 Census record for the family of Samuel March (note the same name as Nathaniel and Rhoda’s 4th son) indicates 3 females. Unfortunately, the ages of the women is not recorded. However, with this information, I search for more records on this Samuel March of Londonderry.

It didn’t take long for me to locate Samuel’s will, dated 18 Feb 1800 in Londonderry. His will names a daughter, Rhoda. Here is the will, snipped into two parts from the county record books. Rhoda is named on the 2nd part, about half-way down the page with her sisters, Sarah and Abigail.

Samuel March will part 1 Samuel March will part 2

Mystery solved! Now I have the names of Rhoda’s parents and siblings.

But whether the surname is March or Marsh is still a question. In Samuel’s will and probate records, the spelling of the surname is recorded both as March and Marsh. Mostly March. Yet, the birth records for several of his children indicate Marsh.

So, March or Marsh? Historians and genealogists have found that it wasn’t until toward the end of the 19th century, when literacy became more widespread in the United States, that the normalization of word spellings came about. So, at one point another, families decided how they wanted to spell their names. In earlier times, it didn’t seem to matter over much. So, I’m going to let that particular issue go. I doubt this was something they lost sleep over, so neither will I!

Now on to the next mystery: who was Rhoda’s mother?

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