THE WIVES OF JOHN DAVIS NORRIS, 1754-1838

 

While no marriage certificates have been discovered revealing the names of John D. Norrisís wives, information from a few sources have proven to be helpful, especially with respect to the second wife.

 

In the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress, there is an original copy of a genealogy by Harry Alexander Davis.It is titled The Norris Family of Maryland and Virginia.In that four-volume work, I found information that listed two wives for John D. Norris.According to Davis, the first wife, Elizabeth Rigdon, died in 1800, and, the second wife, Nancy Ann Walker, died in 1845.

 

THE RIGDON NAME AND THE QUESTION OF SOURCE

 

Further details on John D. from that source showed a confusion of information on his family and put at question the name of Elizabeth Rigdon.The names of children and the birth dates and places for the children made it clear to this researcher that children from different families had been mixed into Davisís listing for John D. and his first wife (some were the children of Johnís brother, Joseph, Jr.) Of the ten children Davis listed, only one was actually correct, and that child was with Johnís second wife, not the first one.Of the nine in error, one was named Elizabeth Rigdon, which should have added to the authenticity of Elizabeth Rigdon as Johnís wife.But the child is listed as being born at a time after Elizabethís death and before the children to the second wife began to be born.Further, she was listed as marrying a man in Maryland at a time long after John D. was settled in Pennsylvania.And, Davis credited her with purchasing land from a brother, whose name is not one of Johnís sons.How names of the children were determined is unclear.Some were the names of children of Johnís brother, Joseph, Jr. , and some apparently were from other Norris families in Maryland.

 

The accuracy of this family data is made more questionable by other things found in Davisís volumes.In what was a monumental effort by Harry Davis to gather information on a very large Norris family, there are other places in the volumes that have errors.Earlier researchers than myself, looking at other branches of the Maryland & Virginia Norris family, put notes in various places in the volumes stating what was wrong in the research, and what the correct information was.In our Norris branch I found a family of children who were assigned to the uncle and aunt of the birth parents.

 

In truth, our Norris family is not from the Maryland and Virginia Norris group at all.We had long suspected we were not related, and one of my cousins in east Tennessee decided to get the issue settled.He had the DNA testing done for himself and someone known to be from that larger family.The result: we are unrelated, but somehow Davis wove us into this larger Norris family.

 

For those of us interested in finding the name of Johnís wives, there was independent verification available for the second one. Based on information that was first at hand for me, there was some confusion, since I had the name of Ann Rigdon, not Elizabeth Rigdon, from an early source and without a death date at the time.That, along with the last will and testament of Ann Norris, widow of John D., written in 1845 erringly led me to an early conclusion that Ann Rigdon was the second wife, meaning that Nancy Walker was the first. That did not jibe with the Davis statement I found later.He listed the Rigdon wife with the first name Elizabeth and with her death 45 years before that of Nancy Ann Walker.

 

THE NANCY WALKER CONFIRMATION

 

While I still had the name of Ann associated with Rigdon, a question was sent to me from another researcher. It stated that in A Standard History of Ross County, Ohio, 1917, Nancy Ann Walker was listed as dying in 1845, and if that was correct, how could she have been the first wife instead of the second?This information on year of death agreed with that of Davis, which helped confirm Nancy as the later wife.The Ross County source led me to wonder if Nancy had moved to Ohio after the death of her husband and was living with a child or grandchild.I looked at Ross County on Map Quest and saw that next to the county seat was the township of Springfield.Now, Springfield Township is where Annís will states she was living.Was that Springfield Township in Huntingdon County, PA, or was it Springfield Township, Ross County, OH?A look at the Ross County history cleared the issue.The History, which was focusing on citizens of that county in the early 1900s, was writing of one Joseph M. Norris, and simply stated that John D. Norris and Nancy Ann Walker were the grandparents of Joseph M.It further noted that Nancy Ann had died on June 9, 1845, but did not state or nor did it imply that the death was in Ohio.For me, question answered!The Ann Norris, widow of John D. Norris, was Nancy Ann Walker Norris!

 

Frequently, folks come to be known by their middle name, often from early childhood.It was as common in the early 1800s as it is today.Ann may have been the only name by which she was ever addressed.The will states that Ann made her mark for a signature, indicating to me she may not have learned to write or was too ill to sign. Ann died on the 9th of the month, and the dating of the will leaves out the exact date in June in which it was written.This makes one a bit suspicious of whether the will was written by someone when Nancy Ann was on her deathbed and who only knew her by the name of Ann.

 

And so we have the possible name of Johnís first wife: Elizabeth Rigdon.However, the confusing list of children that Davis assigned to the first marriage, along with other questionable data, such as Johnís family moving back and forth between Maryland and Pennsylvania, make it difficult for me to state with total confidence that Elizabeth Rigdon was John D. Norrisís first wife, although that seems to be the correct name.

 

The second wife was surely Nancy Ann Walker.Two sources list her name and agree on her date of death, and the names of children listed in her will agree with childrensí names assigned to her in other sources.††

 

ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY

 

Having stated that I found substantial errors in the work of Harry Alexander Davis, I must say a good word about his great effort.The sheer volume of the research is remarkable. The Norris Family of Maryland and Virginia was already a very large family 100 years ago when Davis began gathering his data.His work has valuable information on many branches of that family, including not only names and dates, but also personal vignettes by family members from earlier generations.In addition, he traced the 1630 Norris immigrantís line back nearly a millennium to early England.It is unfortunate that errors sprinkled throughout detract from the work.

 

A lesson to be learned is that one cannot believe everything that one sees in print.The common mindset is that words found in print and on the Internet are considered truth, or they wouldnít be there.In fact, data may be incorrect for one of several reasons.The most common causes of error that I have found: making assumptions about relationships, miscopying information, typographical errors and incorrect information (even from immediate family). Making correct family connections is often not an easy task, and it is advisable to try to verify what one finds in print.

 

 

Ron McCall

August,2012