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Don't Believe Everything

We love family lore. We want to believe the rich history of our ancestors, and stories of days gone by. Stories told by ancestors, passed on by our ancestors, passed on by us. We tend to believe what we were told. This is a story about how wrong ssumptions and stories can go in the opposite direction, sometimes far from truth or mix of truth and lore.

The photograph is of my great-grandparents, Esther Uline and Charles Rehm, presumably on their wedding day, 20 November 1907.[1]

Charles William Rehm was born 26 March 1884 in the small farming village of Wynantskill, New York. He died 3 June 1953.[2] According to his obituary:[3]

“Born at West Sand Lake, he was the son of the late William

and Louise [Louisa] Myers Rehm.”

Shortly thereafter Charles’ birth, his father left Louisa. Eleanor, Charles’ daughter, said he never discussed his father. Charles’ mother, Louisa, took that information to her grave. Eleanor and family thought that his middle name “William” represented the name of his father. Therefore, all believed that William Rehm was the father.

Of course, Charles’ death certificate confirmed that William Rehm was named as the father.

Indeed, there was a William Ream [Rehm] living in the same town in 1870, son of Aleck [Alexander] and Margaret:[4]

By 1900, William Ream, a widow, was living in the next town nearby Poestenkill with his two sons, Roscoe and Freddie:[5]

Roscoe who was born December 1888 and young Freddie January 1894. At some point before Roscoe’s birth, William married Mary Linga.[6] Mary died in 1898, thus not appearing on the 1900 census.

At first, it seems a timeline could work like this:

William Ream and Louisa marry 1880-1884.

They have a son, Charles William Rehm, born 26 March 1884.

William leaves Louisa and marries Mary Linga between 1884-1888.

William and Mary have Roscoe Rehm in 1888.

Freddie was born 1894.

Mary Rehm dies in 1898.

With a new family, William was never involved in Charles’ life, even though he lived nearby.

That is what the family believed. That is the family story that was passed on.

However, Charles Rehm’ marriage certificate reveals an entirely different picture. He stated on his marriage certificate that his father was John Rehm, not William.[7]

Surprise! Surprise!

Weigh the evidence: the family descendants, 2-3 generations removed from the time of the event and informants on Charles’ death records assumed that William was the father. The reality is, they really had no idea and no proof of the identity of Charles’ father. But the story was logical and so that is the story they told their descendants.

Now, there is the conflict of evidence: the marriage certificate. Charles, the son, identified his own father as John Rehm. The marriage document was created for an official reason. It would appear that the evidence weighs heavily in favor that John Rehm is Charles’ father.

John Rehm was in the same family in 1870 as his brother William [refer back to 1870 census.] and that Charles’ middle name was in honor of his uncle, William Rehm.

In 1900, John, widow, was still living in West Sand Lake with his mother Margaret, also a widow, and most likely his daughter, Mabel Rehm, born in 1890:[8]

It is unknown at this time, who is Mabel’s mother, possible wife of John, but it is known that John never remarried after 1900.

So we have two brothers, near in age, living in the same town, who are possible fathers. The next step is to find the marriage records of all concerned. Louisa, Charles’ mother never remarried.

While we want to believe family stories, sometimes we must follow the facts. Sometimes, we must take into account what is easy to believe versus looking deeper, searching for the truth. This example is a good reminder not to believe all of the family stories you hear.While some stories may be true, some, as in the case of Charles W. Rehm, we have to do our part and pay attention to those tiny details and ALL of the facts. We have to be open to what we learned from our ancestors, but more importantly, find the truth, even if it is not what we were told; even if it is not what the rest of the family believed.



[1] Photo album of Esther Uline Rehm, in personal possession of author.

[2] New York State, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death record no. D3777 (1953), Charles W. Rehm, City of Albany.

[3] The Times Record, “C.W. Rehm Rural Mail Carrier, Dies” 4 June 1953, p. 25, col. 7, image,

[4] 1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Rensselaer County, New York, Sand Lake, p 61, p. 288(stamped), dwell. 473, fam. 526, Aleck Ream [Alex Rehm]; image,, citing NARA microfilm series M593, Roll 1083.

[5] 1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Rensselaer, New York, Poestenkill, p. 6B, 7A, ED# 51, dwell. 134, fam. 155, William Ream [Rehm]; image,, citing NARA microfilm series T623, Roll 1151.

[6], image, memorial # 85987955, William F. Rehm (1858-1927) and Mary A. Linga (1868-1898), Hillside Cemetery, Poestenkill, Rensselaer County, New York; Tombstone photo by Alysia.

[7] New York Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage certificate no. 27828 (1907), p. 1, Charles W. Rehm and Esther Almira Uline, Troy, New York.

[8]1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Rensselaer, New York, Sand Lake, p. 224 [stamped], Sheet 11 A, ED# 55, dwell. 231, fam. 240, Margaret Rehin [Rehm], image, (accessed 11 Jan 2011), citing NARA microfilm series M593, Roll 1151.

#NewYork #Wynantskill

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