top of page

Whatever Happend to Little Orphan Annie's Mother???

Grave Stone with question mark and spray.gif

I have been researching Little Orphan Annie since 2005, and this is the one thing that has eluded me. What happened to Mary Alice Smith's mother?

If you have never read any of my posts or information, you will need to know that the real Little Orphan Annie - was actually an Orphan "Allie" - as in "Alice." Mary Alice Smith was the little girl who came to live at the Reuben Riley Home in Greenfield in 1861, and she would be the one who would inspire the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, to write the Little Orphant Annie poem and one other on the same topic. She would live with the Riley's less than a year, and would then be placed by relatives in a different home - closer to them.

However, this part of the story begins much earlier - with Mary Alice's parents.

Based on all of the information that I have - I am very positive I have Mary Alice's father firmly established. His name was Thomas Smith. I am fairly certain about his whereabouts from very near his birth to his death.

However, anyone who has ever done genealogy research will tell you that women's history is much harder. This is because in many cases - it isn't recorded or is always tied to a man - a father or a husband.

In regards to Mary Alice's mother, I am fairly certain that her name was Ellen (Rittenhouse) Smith. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to support this theory. Furthermore, it doesn't help that the last name that I am researching is an extremely common one - "Smith."

It is very well established that Mary Alice Smith was born in Union County, Indiana on September 25, 1850. However, birth certificates were not required by the state of Indiana until 1886 so Mary Alice had none. Luckily, the 1850 census in Union County does list only ONE Thomas Smith. He is young - 20 years of age, and is listed as living with his wife "Ellen" who was 23. The only problem with this information is that there is no child listed in the census with Thomas and Ellen, but I think I can explain this. Even though the census was recorded in October 1850 - the instructions at the top of the page tell the recorder to only list those persons in the household as of April 1st. Based on this information, Mary Alice would not be counted.

I also have found a probable Marriage License for Thomas and Ellen Smith. It is in Fayette County, Indiana and dated October 18, 1849. It is between an Ellen Reddenhouse and Thomas Smith, but there is no other information. Marriage applications, which would list parents and nativity, were not requried by the state of Indiana until 1886. The only other informaion that this document can possibly tell us is that this is more than likely the county of residence of the bride. Most of the time - unless there was a situaton where two people ran off to get married - the marriage license was always taken out in the home county of the bride. This was customary.

The only other piece of evidence that I have about Mary Alice's mother is a church record from when Mary Alice joined the Friends Church near her home in Philadelphia Indiana. This record is a bit of an anomaly. Everything is correct with the vital records of Mary Alice's other records - birth date, birth location, husband's name, and place of residence - with only two excpetions: her marriage date is given as 8/2/1869 and it really is 10/2/1869; and her mother's name looks to be "Nellie."

My explanations for these discrepancies is that the marriage date was misheard by the transcriber: "August" and "October" - both have the "O" sound at the begiinning. The rest of the date is correct. "Nellie" can be explained the same way. Mary Alice may have said "Ellie" - and the transcriber heard "Nellie." The reason for these mistranscriptions - is found in the situation in which they were recorded. I do know that when Mary Alice joined the Friends Church in Philadelphia - she was among a group of people who were joining all together. This was the establishement of a new church meeting - and there was probably a line of people, and people talking in the background. There were several names that were put in that book that day - and over the din of this noise, and the rush to get everyone in the book - there were small mistakes made. Since the bulk of the inforamtion is correct - -and the misinformation is very close to the correct information - - I believe we can still go with "Ellen" or "Ellie" as the name of Mary Alice's mother.

Since there were no vital documents in the state of Indiana until 1886, I knew that Mary Alice would not have a birth certificate, and would not have a marriage application herself. However, I was hoping I would hit pay dirt with her death certificate. Mary Alice died in Marion County, Indiana in 1924, and I requested the docuement. Death information is always provided by the surviving family members. In Mary Alice's case - she outlived her husband and all of her children except one - so we know that Dollie Gray Marsh Young was the provider for Mary Alice's death certificate information. Unfortunately, Dollie did not know her mother's history very well. She gives Mary Alcie's father as "unknown Smith" and mother is "not stated." This was NO help at all.

This is all I have on Ellen Rittenhouse Smith, and I do believe it is "Rittenhouse" not "Reddenhouse." This was a spelling error by the Fayette County clerk - as there are no Reddenhouses - anywhere.

Right now - we know Ellen Smith married in 1849 in Fayette County.

We know the family was in Union County in 1850 - by the census records.

However, Ellen Smith virtually disappears from records at this point with only a brief refernce:

In early 1851, Thomas Smith got into some trouble and spent some time in jail. The records from his incarceration state that his "wife and child were lilving in Fayette County near Laurel." Furthermore, Thomas states in his intake papers at the Soldiers Home in Lafayette towards the end of his life that he spent 14 years of his early life in Fayette County, Indiana.

Right now my theory is that due to Thomas' incarceration, Ellen had to return home to her parents as she would not be able to farm on her own. This would be Fayette County - the county where she married. Now, Laurel, IN is in Franklin County - but it is very near the Franklin/Fayette County line. The townships immediately above Laurel in Fayette County - would be either Columbia (north east) and Jackson (northwest).

In the 1850 census, there are only two Rittenhouse families living in all of Fayette County, Indiana. One is John and Rachel Rittenshouse. They are 69 and 66 years of age respectively, and both born in New Jersey. They have one son living with them - Nathaniel who is 21. The other family is William and Lavinia Rittenhouse. They are 27 and 29 respectively with William being born in Ohio, and Lavinia in Indiana. Obviously to have a 23 year old daughter in 1850 - Ellen's parents are likely John and Rachel. This will only hold true - if Elllen's parents were not missed by the census taker in 1850.

So - right now I am working on the theory that due to her husband's incarceration - Ellen Rittenhouse Smith would return to the home of her mother and father - John and Rachel Rittenhouse in Columbia Township of Fayette County. And, I believe she died there.

I can find no record of Ellen Smith marrying anyone else. Thomas Smith would remarry in 1855, and his first child was named, "Ellen" - I believe a namesake for his first wife. I can't imagine naming a child after a woman who divorced you or left you. Mary Alice states that by the age of 4, she was sent to live with her paternal Grandmother in Hancock County, Indiana. If her mother died - and her maternal grandparents were even older than her paternal grandmother, or by 1854 they had died as well - - this was how she ended up with Grandmother Smith.

The question remains - what happend to Ellen Smith?

With the records that are online - I have not been able to uncover a burial in Fayette County around 1854 for Ellen Smith. I also cannot find death information for John and Rachel Rittenhouse, and they do not appear in the 1860 census.

So right now -it looks like Columbia Township in Fayette County - may hold that answer. It would also be helpful if I could find probate records for John and Rachel Rittenhouse - as this may list family members who would inheirit John Rittenhouse' estate - and include Ellen if she was still living at the time. A trip to Fayette County is in order.

Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Black
  • Pinterest Basic Black
Recent Posts
bottom of page