I have been back at work the last two weeks - unusual for the semii-retired - but the time-suck has been Ancestry.com. We re-upped for six months in hopes of putting this to bed for good, not having to bother with it anymore. It's a lot of point/click/check numbers/hit return sort of work, maddening in its tediousness. One comes to resent the Puritans for being literate and keeping good records - not to mention the obsessive nature of their descendants. Where records are more scant, such as with my Swedish ancestors, lines trickle out in the mid-1700s. My Scots-Irish ancestors were also less assiduous of keeping track of such unimportant matters as births, deaths, and marriages. But nearly all of my Puritan lines are going back to an immigrant ancestor around 1630. That's an extra five generations, numbers of course doubling each time.
I have gotten more careful the last few days. I found myself accepting parents for Earls of Oxford in the 14th C, but finding when I tried to confirm data through Wikipedia that there had been disputes about bastardy at the time, resolved not by witnesses and records, but by papal decrees. Look, if they didn't know who the father was then, why am I putting any energy at all into trying to guess it out now? What are politely called "non-paternity events" were very uncommon in Puritan culture, but over that many generations even small percentages add up. I have also found that record keeping deteriorates badly once the Atlantic is crossed around 1600. One starts to find a suspicious number of people living to be more than 100, or of girls marrying at 13 and giving birth at 15 (not among the Puritans they weren't. In some cultures yes, but not that one. Couples married late , after they had become a bit settled. Massachusetts average for 17th C: 26 y/o for men, 23 y/o for women). Or different dates of birth and death - different by 12 years or 37. Women giving birth at 53. Sorry, these are different individuals with the same name. I also don't trust any researcher who tells me that one of my ancestors was born in Connecticut in 1616. I have decided that once I cross the Atlanitc I stop.. Born in a town in Devonshire? Fine, book closed. Not enough reliable past that.
So we have done my wife's Dutch ancestors and their scandals, and my Swedish and Scots-Irish and half of the English. We have her Irish ancestors, which I think are going to dry up very quickly, and then a whole flock of my other Puritans, including my Mayflower ancestors and Sons of the American Revolution and all that good stuff. Those illustrious ancestors come from the lines that were the least respectable in the 20th C. The ones who went to jail or abandoned their families have the best ancestors. There's a sermon in that somewhere. I found out today that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost are distant cousins. This is hardly surprising, as there were only about 20,000 settlers of New England who went on to have about 10 kids per generation, so we're all tenth cousin to somebody up here. I haven't hit any crossing lines yet, but I'm still going. Pedigree Collapse has got to hit soon.
I am descended from two Salem witches that escaped execution, Mary Perkins Bradbury and Sarah Town Cloyce. I should revisit my contention that the sorcery accusations were bad science more than bad religion. Soon, perhaps.