The family of Henry Riker of Crawford County, PA

… continuing the research of Mary Jane Riker‘s family in Venango (and Crawford) County, PA.

In 1854, James Hancox, the husband of Mary Jane Riker, was appointed the guardian of Eliza Riker, daughter of Henry Riker, late of Crawford County. It seems like a good bet that Eliza is Mary Jane’s sister, but I need something to verify that. Although Henry is the person I am most interested in, searching the Crawford County probate indexes on FamilySearch for all Rikers seemed like a good idea.

There are just two Rikers listed in the Register’s Docket indexes:

First, Henry Riker’s will removes all doubt about whether he is Mary Jane’s father and confirms that Harvey, listed above, is his son:

Last Will and Testament of Henry Riker

“Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994″, FamilySearch; Crawford, Wills 1813-1853, vol. B, image 399, pp 304-205; Last Will and Testament of Henry Riker.

“… my will is that Mary Jane (now the wife of James Hancock) and Harvy, my youngest son have and share equal alike in my land and all other affects – fifty acres of Land lying in Troy Township Crawford Co. Pa… “

Both of these wills are shining examples of the research treasures that can be found in probate records, and both records have an astonishing amount of information. Using the information found in these two records, and what I previously knew about Mary Jane, I can begin to put together a picture Henry Riker’s family (and will need to develop a research plan!):

Henry Riker d. May/June 1848. His wife likely died before him, as she is not mentioned in his will. Henry owned 50 acres of land in Troy Township, Crawford Co. and part of lot 1306 Donation Tract.

Children of Henry Riker:

  • Mary Jane Riker, b. 22 Nov 1829 [likely Chautauqua Co.] New York, d. 14 Feb 1860, Cherrytree, Venango, PA of tuberculosis. Buried in Breedtown Cemetery, Cherrytree. Married James H. Hancox 6 Mar 1848. Children of James and Mary Jane Hancox:
      • Reuben Henry Hancox (22 Jan 1849 – 22 Nov 1938)
      • John Lewis Hancox (30 Jul 1850 – 12 Sep 1865)
      • Edward Hancox (22 Jun 1852 – 17 Jan 1908)
      • Maryette Hancox (17 May 1854 – 17 Nov 1927)
      • Almira Hancox (29 Aug 1856 – 21 Dec 1910)
      • Angelette Dagget Hancox (15 Jan 1859 – 31 Oct 1862)
  • Charles Riker, b. abt 1831. Served in the US Army in 1862 [Civil War]. Child of Charles Riker:
      • Francis Harvey Riker (bef. 1862 – )

 “… said brother is now a Soldier in the Army of the United States and case he should be slain or die and not return, I give the one third which I do hereby bequeath to him, to his son Francis Harvey Riker…” [Will of Harvey Riker]

  • Parthena Riker, b. abt 1833. Married ___ Banta. Children of Parthena Banta:
      • John Banta (bef. 1862 – )
      • Anna Marie Banta (bef. 1862 – )
  • Harvey Riker, b. abt 1835, d. bet. Nov 1862/Jan 1863. Lived in Steuben, Crawford Co. Likely never married and had no children.
  • Eliza Riker, b. abt 1837. Married [bet. 1854/1862] Martin G. Evans, and they lived in Ellicott, Chautauqua, NY in Nov 1862.
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From Brick Wall to Treasure Trove

Yesterday morning, the sum total of what I knew about my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Jane Riker, was as follows:

According to a family Bible, James Hancox and Mary Jane Riker were married on 6 Mar 1848. Mary Jane Riker was born on 22 Nov 1829, and died on 14 Feb 1860. In the 1850 census, the couple is enumerated in Cherrytree, Venango, PA, and Mary Jane is listed as being born in NY. Mary Jane then shows up on the 1860 census mortality schedule, confirming the death date in the Bible. She died of consumption at age 30. (James then marries another woman named Mary – thanks for the record confusion, 3rdgreat-granddad!)

While Mary Jane’s family wasn’t exactly a brick wall – my research certainly hadn’t met the measure of reasonably exhaustive – a check long ago of the basic sources turned up nothing significant. There are no other Riker families in Venango county in the 1850 or 1860 census. Yes, there are Rikers in New York – but where in NY do I narrow the search to? And the 1840 census is hardly helpful in knowing which of the thousand or so Rikers are my Rikers. So I put my Riker research on a virtual shelf, choosing not to pursue what seemed to be a fairly challenging research path. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I happened to note poor familyless Mary Jane and thought, “Hm. Maybe the reason there are no Rikers in Venango County is because they died.” While not the most heartening thought from a family perspective, from a records and research perspective, it seemed like a good route to follow.

The “Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994” image database has been on FamilySearch for well over a year now – and while I’d looked though it for other families before, I made my first clunky perusal of the Venango county index book looking for Rikers. A note here, to the Venango County Courts: why in the world did you pick this weird indexing system??


“Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994,” FamilySearch; Venango, Will index 1800-1968 N-R, image 7.

I think I read the instructions five times before I got it:  You take the first l, m, n, r, or t after the first letter of the surname (so for RIKER, this is an ‘r’), and use that column, then the row depends on the first name of who you are looking for. And that’s fine if I am looking for Mary Riker – section 114. But if I don’t know the first name and want to find all the Rikers? Section 14, 24, 34, etc. What a pain. Could you not have gone for something just a little more alphabetical by surname? Other counties do normal things like group all ‘Ri’s together. But I digress…

There are exactly two entries for Rikers in the Venango County Will index 1800-1968:

  • Henry Riker, heir Eliza Riker – (OC) Appt. vol. 1 p. 350
  • Mallie S. Riker of NJ – Reg. Docket vol. 15 p. 150

Since the Orphan’s Court book is online and the Registers are not – I crossed my fingers and looked in volume 1:


“Pennsylvania, Probate Records, 1683-1994″, FamilySearch; Venango, Orphans’ Court records 1806-1865, vol. 1. image 223, page 350; Petition of Eliza Riker.

“Petition of Eliza Riker minor daughter of Henry Riker late of Troy township Crawford County over the age of fourteen years praying the court to appoint a guardian to take care of her person & estate – wherefor 25 April 1854 the court did appoint James Hancox guardian.”

While there are a few scenarios where James Hancox could become the guardian of a minor with the same name as his wife – the most logical one is that Eliza is Mary Jane Riker’s sister. Yay, a solid lead to follow! Next stop, Crawford County…

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Thoughts About Copyright

I am not a copyright lawyer, nor do I ever intend to be one, but I think a basic understanding of copyright is necessary for any genealogist (or anyone, really) who intends to publish. I was trying to explain copyright to someone the other day – not in terms of ‘items published before 1923 are in the public domain’ or anything specific, but with the following simple analogy:

Think about the shared refrigerator at the office at work. People put their lunches or snacks or sodas or whatever in it. It’s lunchtime, and you look in the fridge. There’s a sandwich in a brown bag that is clearly marked ‘Sandy’. THIS IS NOT YOUR SANDWICH! It’s pretty clearly Sandy’s sandwich. There is a Tupperware container of grapes with no name on it. Hey, free grapes, right? NO! THESE ARE NOT YOUR GRAPES! Finding out who brought in the grapes might take some effort, but YOU KNOW THEY ARE NOT YOURS!

To begin with you know one of two things about the work (book, image, recording, presentation, article, document, etc.) you have:

  • 1) You created the work and therefore it is yours to do with as you please, or
  • 2) You did not create the work and therefore it is not.

That first step is pretty simple. If you did not create the work, it is your responsibility to investigate and determine if it is subject to copyright before you publish it, and, if it is, to acquire permission from the owner before you publish it. Copyright law can be murky, and there are some guidelines for Fair Use, but I see so many people simply ignore that first step entirely. Just because an image is online, that does not make it yours. Just because a document mentions your family, that does not make it yours.

Please do not be the guy in the office who eats Sandy’s sandwich and Jack’s grapes just because you see them and want them. Everyone hates That Guy.

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In remembrance of D-Day

In remembrance of D-Day, some photographs taken by my grandfather, Earl B. Cox, during WWII

B-17, Germany, 1945

B-26 over Germany, 1945

Ottis L. Rose and Lynn Dofflemyer in front of a C-47, 1945

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Always Read the Collection Notes

Today’s lesson re-learned – always read the collection description before diving into the index (or the records themselves). I’ve searched the index of the Alabama County Marriage database on FamilySearch dozens of times… and was of course missing finding hits in a full 59% of the collection.

Alabama, County Marriages, 1809-1950


This collection of marriage records for Alabama counties includes: a) indexed records with images; b) indexed records without images; and c) images which can be browsed but do not have searchable indexes. The indexed records without images display a message “Image is Unavailable” when you attempt to view the image. The browse records are grouped by film number / digital film number (DGS). Each film is arranged by county, volume and date. Currently this collection is 41% indexed. Images will only be available for 84% of this collection when it is complete. Digital images and indexes will be added as they become available.”

Browsing the collection requires looking up the film number for the county and year you want to search – but that’s an easy couple of steps… that I should have been taking all along.

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