Once details begin to connect

It’s easy to overlook details that don’t fit the picture as you see it, but don’t rule out their importance. Over time, you may find they point you in a whole new direction and open some unexpected vistas.

With Orphan George, for instance, I’d been sent some Chester County tax records as well as two land purchases in Lancaster County. Only later – much later – did I realize the land wasn’t in Lancaster County as we know it today but rather in what is now Adams County and the tax payments showed when he was and wasn’t present in Chester County. I might have considered the property as an investment, unlikely as that now seems, but another stray detail came into play. The two parcels adjoined Moses Harlan, and young George had earlier signed a Quaker marriage certificate for Moses’ daughter. The plot thickened when I considered how close the Quaker Hodgson and Harlan families were in Lurgan, Ireland, before Orphan George’s mysterious arrival in America.

When I put all the parts together, I concluded that Orphan George and his wife Mary relocated to what’s now Adams County for about two decades and raised their family there before leaping once more, this time following the Great Valley into Guilford County, North Carolina.

The Adams County settlement also brings another, seemingly stray detail to life: a Robert Hodgin shows up there from Manchester, England, and he and his wife (and later widow) parallel Orphan George’s migration southward. Are they related? Another point for further research.

The upshot is that piecing these details together places the family on the frontier long before their move to North Carolina, rather than having them remain safely, maybe even comfortably, in the Brandywine country of Pennsylvania.

Another set of details adds immensely to our understanding of Robert Hodgson of the Woodhouse. A Quaker report mentions his occupation as butcher in Durham county, England. In Rhode Island, he’s the town registrar of cattle, reflecting some knowledge of domestic livestock. Rhode Island, in turn, prospered in its exportation of meat and hides to Britain. Robert made multiple trips to England, many as a recorded Quaker minister, but could secular business have also been part of his agenda? The leather connection continues with his son, Robert, whose occupations included cordwainer as he settled in Pennsylvania. Cordwainer, as I was reminded, means shoemaker.


Are there any details you initially overlooked that later directed you to new conclusions? Where do you put the pieces of the puzzle that don’t seem to fit anywhere? What makes you return to them? Or do you?