When I discovered and confirmed the identity of my third great-grandparents recently, I was extremely excited. My husband had the fortune of a distant relative on his mother’s side that was a genealogist. Without any effort on his part, we had the history of one side of his mother’s family back to Europe in the 1600’s. So to say that I was elated to have information that went clear back to the early 1800’s for one side of my father’s family was a vast understatement.

Needless to say, I wanted to know more about my third great-grandparents and their family. To start, I wanted to get a complete list of the children that I knew about. Based on the 1850 and 1870 US Census data, Samuel was estimated to be born about 1804, and his wife, Rachael was likely born around 1811. I ignored Adam Neff and the other Neffs from the 1880 Census for now, not knowing if they had any kinship with the Gochenours. Based on ages in the census, the Gochenour children were:

  • Mary C Gochenour – About 1832 – Female
  • Caroline Gochenour – About 1835 – Female
  • Elihu H Gochenour –  About 1838 – Male
  • Luviza Elizabeth Gochenour – About 1840 – Female
  • William A Gochenour – About 1843 – Male
  • Angeline Gochenour – About 1846 – Female
  • John W Gochenour – About 1849 – Male
  • Silas E  Gochenour – About 1852 – Male
  • James J  Gochenour – About 1855 – Male

When I started looking at the ages and birth years of these children, I came to a realization, and did a quick look back at this 1870 US Census:

Luvisa and Georgianna Chrisman 1870

I had set aside the Neff records when I started looking at this, but now I focused in on one person: Mary C Neff. Her age appeared to be 37, which would mean she was likely born in 1832 or 1833. This would put her at an age almost identical to Mary C Gochenour. Perhaps this was coincidence, but what if it wasn’t? What if both Mary G and Mary N were the same person? Could Mary Gochenour have married Adam Neff?

Back to my favorite site for West Virginia vital records I went and looked a while. In the end, I searched under Grooms named Adam and Brides named Mary in Lewis county and hit the jackpot!

Clip Marriage Records Neff and Grochenour

The two records for 1850 are for the pair I was looking for. One record is the marriage license, while the other one is a statement from the minister that married them. Adding  extra credibility, the bride’s father, Samuel, had given consent. The wedding date is August 17, 1850, which means Mary and Adam were married about a month after the census was taken.

Then, I started thinking of the 1870 census data again. Columbia, who I felt was very likely Adam and Mary’s daughter, was 19 at the time. This would put the estimated year of her birth as either 1851…or 1850. That made me wonder more; exactly when did Mary become pregnant?

Shotgun Wedding

“Shotgun Wedding” by wood carver Andy Anderson


How often has a shotgun wedding taken place? While that may be uncertain, the concept of a forced marriage because a girl got “in the family way” has been around for a while. In times when a child being born out of wedlock carried with it not only social stigma, but could even affect (in some places) things like the right of inheritance, there certainly was reason to get the parents to tie the knot before the baby was born. Even then, some people will speculate, as in this, a favorite comeback of mine from “Dear Abby”:

Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know
Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.

I know I am characterizing myself as Wanting to Know My curiosity is whether or not social pressures might have influenced the timing of this marriage. Legitimacy issues that were prevalent for centuries started waning in the late 20th century. While there may be some places in the world where they still exist, many nowadays hardly raise an eyebrow when a baby comes before a wedding (or without a wedding at all, for that matter). Had Mary been born one hundred or so years later, would it have made any difference in her choice to marry?

To find out when Columbia was born, I was not going to be able to search for birth records in Lewis County. Why? Because Columbia was born before 1853. Why did that make any difference? You see, Lewis County records are only available from 1853 forward. To be thorough, I did look for all sorts of variations in all counties for Columbia, but, as expected, I found nothing.

I was not sure when Columbia died, and whether she was married or not at the time. I did a search in the Lewis County marriage records, and after a few false starts, I found a record for a Corambia V Neff that married a Cornelius V Rollins in 1871. Looking into it further, the parents for the bride were Adam and Mary Neff. Unfortunately, the marriage record did not have a date of birth, so now I turned to a search for a death record for Columbia V Rollins.

While I was able to find a death record, it was a ledger and not a death certificate. It did not list date of birth. So birth record and death record were strikes. Where else could I turn?

Fortunately, I got a hint from Ancestry for a record on FindAGrave. It was there that I found the date of birth:


So, Columbia was born May 6, 1851. This was almost exactly nine months from the date of her parent’s wedding. So, it might not have been a shotgun wedding, but it must have been one heck of a wedding night.

So, some of my curiosity was settled about the Neff family. I still wondered where Adam might be, since by 1870, he was no longer in the household. Had he perhaps been a casualty in the Civil War? It was a question that I would likely have to visit at another time, as my searches for Adam after 1850 have yet to discover a likely match. So, my next goal was to explore the Gouchenour family further to see what else I might be able to find.