“Oh! Susanna…” No, thankfully, not Mr. Foster’s “Susanna”! Rather, this particular “Susanna” is one who has been bound up in the ‘primordial soup’ of my Chesapeake Bay ancestry for (at least) the last six generations. The identity of my Susanna has only come to light within the last several years. No one had ever heard of her before. She had been all but forgotten – since her death in 1863.
Oddly, the most evident clue that Susanna ever lived at all was hidden in plain sight. Her son, my great-great-grandfather John Henry Record, completed his pension application stating that his father had died when he was four years old – an event which coincided with his being “bound out.” He wrote these statements in the 1890s, and reading his words through the years it was generally assumed (given these terrible circumstances for a four-year-old boy) that his mother must have also been deceased at that date. In fact she was not.
John’s mother, recently determined to be “Susanna,” was very much alive in 1844 and making some difficult choices. It’s unclear if she participated in or was forced to endure the placement her elder sons Thomas and John (then aged 12 and 4) in the “prosperous” Eastern Shore Maryland household and family of Stephen and Rebecca Carroll Andrews. It is clear that the boys are not living with her in 1850.
She had found a suitable home (and work) for her sons Thomas and John with the Andrews family, while finding security for daughter Leah and infant son George in a life with Mr. Neal.
And while the family dynamics are more than jumbled, by 1850 “Susanna Rickards” has necessarily moved on, as the wife of Cyrus Neal. In 1850 Susanna is found living with Mr. Neal, her daughter Leah (age 15), and son George (age 6). Susanna had done well for herself. She had found a suitable home (and work) for her sons Thomas and John with the Andrews family, while finding security for daughter Leah and infant son George in a life with Mr. Neal.
Knowledge of Susanna might not have come to light at all had it not been for the Civil War service records of her son George. Buried in the records of my great-great-grandfather’s brother “George W. Rickards” (aka Records, Ricketts, Richards) is a letter from his mother. The letter is written to George from her death bed, and she begs him to obtain a furlough to visit her while he can. The image quality is very poor, so I have transcribed Susanna’s letter below. It is a tragic letter so commonplace for those times, but it is also one that helped tie up loose ends in confirming the connection of the siblings to their mother – Susanna.
“25th August 1863, Williamsburg Dorchester County
Dear George I received your letter a few days ago, and was glad to hear that you are some better in your sickness, but I am sorry to tell you that I am almost gone to my long home never expect to get off my bed alive any more, I got William Tod to go over to Leah Ann yesterday, and I should like to see you once more before I die, if you can come do come quickly or it will be too late, I feel sure that if you tell your commanding officers how it is, how that Cyrus my husband, how that you are also away in the army all gone, John gone too, myself hanging on by a thread, that surely they would let you come, if only for a few days to see me & then return again to your duty, show this letter to your superiors to confirm what you say, and though soldiers yet they are men, and I know that they will let you come, & for Mercy’s sake come quickly. Your affectionate mother, Susana Neale”
None of this was known ten years ago – if indeed it was known within the last one hundred. Oral family tradition contained no clues about any “Susana.” It was only known that my great-great-grandfather John had a sister Leah – and that the name had repeated itself in a later generation. Census records had revealed brothers Thomas and George also living (at various times) in the Andrews household – but it was the double enumeration of “Leoh Richits” and “Leah A.R. Neal” in 1850 that led to any clue at all about the name of “Susan,” mother of the four children. It is at this point that the clues in brother George’s military service file fell to me out of nowhere. Finally, the children’s mother had a name.
A marriage record for Susanna to anyone named Records, Rickards, or even Neal has not been found, and there is no proof of her maiden name – only family stories. Y-DNA tests point to the children’s father (that of my great-great-great-grandfather) as “Levin Rickards, of Sussex County Delaware,” but this hasn’t been confirmed the old-fashioned way. I have questions about Susanna’s relationship to the Andrews family and can’t help but wonder just who was “William Todd” to Susanna.
Still, there is much here to be pleased about. While I don’t understand all of her decisions, I respect Susanna most for taking care of her children – somehow in the midst of her uncertainties, she made sure they could all read and write. For now the old ghosts are revealing themselves as best they can. And, yes, needless to say there is still a lot of work to be done in discovering the identity of Susanna Neal/Neale.
 “Mr. Foster” refers to American songwriter Stephen Foster.
 Susanna (_____) (Rickards) Neale was born ca. 1812–18, probably in Maryland, and died about September 1863. The date of her death is presumed from the date of her letter to her son George W. Records. No record of her birth, marriages, or death has been found.
 Susanna’s son and third child, John Henry Record (1840–1915).
 Per Ancestry.com: “For the greater part of the 1800s, orphans and children in families too poor to care for them were apprenticed or bound out to a trade. Sometimes a family would do so voluntarily, but in many instances, the matter would be brought up in the County court.”
 Stephen Andrews (1801–1878) and his wife Rebecca Carroll Andrews (1807–1906). Mr. Andrews is described as a “prosperous farmer of Dorchester County” in the Maryland Manual published by the Office of the Secretary of State for 1907, p. 285.
 “Susanna Rickards,” her presumed name at the time of her marriage to Cyrus Neal(e).
 The date of birth for Cyrus Neale is enumerated with a range of years from 1801 to 1825. He may be confused with a son of the same name, with both father and son serving in the Civil War. His date of death has not been fully researched.
 U.S. Census Record 1850 for District 2 Dorchester County, Maryland, household of “Susan A. Neal.” Susanna is curiously listed here as head of household with (husband?) Cyrus shown as ten years her junior.
 George W. Records (1843–1864); his birth year is approximated from his age at time of death: “This man was admitted to Post Hospl. Fort McHenry Md. Feb. 9 64. and died therein of Pneumonia, Feb. 13.64” (military service records of George W. Rickords provided courtesy of Barbara Williamson, Dorchester County, Md., July 2011).
 Leah Record Flickinger (1893–1974).
 Leah (Rickards) (Fisher) (Stack) (Peart) Milligan (1836–1913) is believed to have been enumerated twice in the 1850 census. She is shown as “Leoh Richits” in the (District One) Dorchester County household of Charles Lyons, age 15, probably working as a servant or nanny to his three young children, all under the age of six. She is shown again as “Leah A.R. Neal” in the (District Two) Dorchester County household of her mother “Susan Neal,” age 15, living there along with her brother George.
 J. R. Witcraft’s Todds of the Eastern Shore Maryland (Philadelphia: Dispatch Publishing House, 1912) may hold a key to William’s identity; however census records show there were nine men named “William Todd” living in Dorchester County in 1860. There are several references to members of the “Rickards” family in this work.
4 thoughts on “Oh! Susanna!”
There must be something about Susannas! My great-great-grandmother by that name was a mystery, even to her own son, who was three years old when she died.
Thanks Pamela – I hope you had better luck with your Susanna! 🙂
Love these family stories, Jeff!
It must have been very difficult for women at that time when their husband died. How would they support themselves and children? Sounds as if she did the best she could and that she was still connected with her son, your 2x great grandfather. Congrats on finding her!