• Brigette Cook Jones

The Rittenhouse Connection


Mary Alice, the original Little Orphan Annie, was born a "Smith." However, the name -"Rittenhouse" plays an integral role in the story of her life. The Rittenhouse family moves in and through her life in many different aspects, and there are some mysteries involving this part of Mary Alice's family. **If you happen to know of any information - please let me know on my Tip Line.

Here is what I know:

The name Rittenhouse is most likely the maiden name of Mary Alice's mother, Ellen.

The name Rittenhouse is the name of the uncle who brought her to the Riley Home.

The name Rittenhouse is the name of the husband of one of her half sisters.

The name Rittenhouse is the name of the wife of one of her brother-in-laws.

Here is the issue: There is a very well documented Rittenhouse family tree - available on several websites for the family. BUT - this particular line doesn't seem to show up ANYWHERE on that tree. They are a bit of a mystery to me.

So I will take each point - and share with you what I know - and what I need to know:

Mary Alice's mother was very likely named: Ellen Rittenhouse Smith. I have located only 3 documents that refer to her:

One is a marriage certificate from Fayette County for an Ellen "Reddenhouse" and a Thomas Smith. I know this is Mary Alice's father's name; however, I am unsure if this is Mary Alice's mother's name. The "Reddenhouse" is obviously a misprint. The recorder spelled the name phonetically - and instead of "Rittenhouse" - it is recorded as "Reddenhouse." As there are no records of any "Reddenhouses" anywhere in Indiana at the time - - I am fairly certain this is a mistake.

The other two documents regarding Mary Alice's mother do not mention her mother's maiden name. There is a record for a Thomas and Ellen Smith in Union County, which is the county of Mary Alice's birth, in 1850 (the YEAR of Mary Alice's birth). The last document is a church record when Mary Alice joined the Friends Church in Philadelphia, IN in the 1880's. This record lists her parent's names as Thomas and "Nellie" Smith." If you read my previous blog post on Mary Alice's mother - you will see why I believe her name was Ellen not Nellie - -and this was another mistake.

I am fairly certain that Mary Alice's mother was a Rittenhouse. I believe she may have been from Fayette County. I am heavily leaning on the possibility that Ellen Rittenhouse's parents were John and Rachel Rittenhouse, originally from New Jersey. However, I cannot confirm this. The 1840 census - only lists the head of house, and the number of people in age categories and sex. There are no names. So unless I can uncover some other document that provides this connection - - I don't know. John and Rachel Rittenhouse do pop up in the 1850 census in Fayette county - so I am believing they may have died there, but can't confirm that either.

However, in some other records regarding Thomas Smith - - it was noted that he had a wife and child who were living in Fayette County near Laurel, IN (which is Franklin County). If you read my previous blog post about Mary Alice's mother - - you will see why I believe that John and Rachel Rittenhouse are most likely - Mary Alice's maternal grandparents - as Fayette County was also the county that Thomas and Ellen married.

John Rittenhouse was Mary Alice's uncle, and the man who brough her to the Riley Home.

It is repeated in several different publications and notations - particularly by James Whitcomb Riley himself that the uncle who brought Mary Alice to the Riley home was John Rittenhouse.

What is interesting is that originally I believed that John Rittenhouse was Mary Alice's maternal uncle (her mother's brother). However, I now know that he most definitely was a husband to a paternal aunt (her father's sister). Thomas Smith, Mary Alice's father, had a sister named Malinda Smith. She married a John Rittenhouse in Shelby County in 1841. This is very well documented, and is backed up by probate records from the Smith family.

When I went to the Shelby County courthouse to get a copy of John and Malinda Rittenhouse's wedding license - I discovered that he is listed as a "Jr" on the license. Therefore, IF Ellen Rittenhouse Smith is the daughter of John and Rachel Rittenhouse - - it is very possible that her brother was John Jr. In the 1840 census, there is a female of the right age for Ellen, and a male for the right age of John listed as children of John and Rachel Rittenhouse.

If this is correct, then we had two siblings from one family marrying two siblings from the other family: Thomas Smith married Ellen Rittenhouse and Malinda Smith married John Rittenhouse Jr. Again - I have not confirmed this - - but this is interesting.

Mary Alice is passed from her parents to her Grandmaw Smith in the mid 1850's, and later she then is sent to her Uncle John Rittenhouse and Aunt Malinda Smith Rittenhouse. These would be her oldest kin - and the ones that lived nearby. They had a large family with several children and could not afford another mouth to feed - so Mary Alice was farmed out to the Riley's to be a helper for Mrs. Riley while her husband was away fighting in the Civil War.

Mary Alice's half sister, Ellen, marries a Rittenhouse.

Thomas Smith, Mary Alice's father, marries a second time to a Melvina. They have three children: Ellen, John, and Susan. Ellen would be a half sister to Mary Alice - - same father - different mother.

The Smith family is living in Putnam County in 1860, and by1874 Ellen Smith marries a "Peter Rittenhouse." **Here is where it gets a little interesting - - Peter Rittenhouse is a son of John and Malinda Rittenhouse. So - Ellen and Peter - are first cousins on the Smith side. Do we sort of see a trend here??? Family marrying family? Smiths and Rittenhouses - Rittenhouses and Smiths...

Mary Alice's brother-in-law, David Gray, marries a Rittenhouse.

Mary Alice marries John Wesley Gray of Hancock County in 1869. John Wesely has 3 brothers and a sister. His older brother David Gray marries Mary Rittenhouse in Hancock County in 1862. This is the same time that the John and Malinda Rittenhouse (Mary Alice's uncle and aunt) were in Hancock County, and around the time that Mary Alice was brought to the Riley Home. Mary Rittenhouse was the oldest child of John and Malinda Rittenhouse. She was Mary Alice's first cousin (possibly a double first cousin), and she was also Mary Alice's sister-in-law.

Wow! Can you follow all of that?

It is very evident that there was a lot of intermarriage in between the Smiths and the Rittenhouses - -on more than one occasion. However, there are some loose strings that need to be answered...

Other than confirming the information that I blogged about previously on a post about Mary Alice's mother - Ellen Rittenhouse Smith -here is what I would like to find - - Can you help?

It would be very helpful, if I could confirm Ellen Rittenhouse Smith's relationship to who I believe her parents are: John and Rachel Rittenhouse. It would also be nice if I could clarify John Rittenhouse Jr - if he was also a son of John and Rachel Rittenhouse. Probate records may answer that question - - if there are any. Church records would most definitely help - - but I don't know what church this family attended.

John and Malinda Rittenhouse are a bit of a mystery. I find several records documenting their marriage in Shelby County, but cannot find them anywhere in the 1850 census. I know where they are in 1860, 1870, and 1880 - they disappear after that. John Rittenhouse has a weird Civil War record. It looks like he enlisted - - but his disposition (what happened to him or his service or lack thereof) - is not stated. I do not find a pension record, but there may be a tombstone request. I do not know where these two people died, and are buried. They disappear after the 1880 census. It would be helpful if this was all clarified.

Peter and Ellen Rittenhouse (Mary Alice's first cousin and his wife her half sister) have two children. They are all together in the 1880 census. Then in 1884 - Peter marries a Lucinda Foster, and he has children with her. Ellen Smith Rittenhouse died in 1882. I have tracked Peter to Tippecanoe County, and the St. Joseph County. He divorces Lucinda Foster - in there somewhere, and may have married a third time - -but I am unclear on this. I do not know where he or Ellen are buried.

Mary Rittenhouse Gray either dies or divorces David Gray. I don't know which - as I cannot document either. David Gray marries a second time to a Susanna Helms in 1867 - - so he wasn't married to Mary for long (five years). I do not find that they had any children at this time. I do not know where Mary Gray is buried either.

So - - You can see that this is an interesting family twist between the Smiths and the Rittenhouses - and the Grays come in there a little bit as well. I would most definitely like to figure out the relationship of the older family members - as they are more pertinent to my research. The younger family members would be nice - - but not as important to what I am trying to figure out at this time. Of course - - if any of this sounds familiar to you - or any of these people pop up in your family tree - - any info or tips you can provide would be Greatly Appreciated!


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