Wednesday, March 13, 2019


I have been back at work the last two weeks - unusual for the semii-retired - but the time-suck has been  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.


james said...

Is there a "conservation of respectability" law in there somewhere?

Donna B. said...

Tedious time-suck. Yep, that describes genealogy for me!

I wasn't all that interested in it until my oldest daughter was assigned (in high school) to do a project involving research using original sources. Retrieval of documents, interviews, etc. She thought genealogy would be the easiest. She got a good grade, but 36 years later, we're still working on the project.

Murph said...

Donna B., yup. And just when you think that you're confronted by nothing but brick walls, a new primary source appears that gives you another rabbit hole to disappear into.

Mine just recently was a small 1897 probate notice in the Baltimore Sun archives, that led me to a 1897 Will, found in the Maryland State Archives, which had names that led me to newspapers dot com*, which gave me a couple of obituaries (composed in Fraktur** in Der Deutsche Correspondent, an early Baltimore German-language newspaper), which gave me enough location of origin info to commission a German genealogist to research relevant records in Bamburg, Germany.

"The thrill of discovery; the agony of dead-ends." (with suitable apologies.)

* subscription only, but the LDS Family History Centers offer free access to that site and many others (with no prosletizing) -- (I now volunteer there 'cuz then I can use their facilities outside normal hours -- bartering my volunteer time for their access: a great deal IMHO)
** there are Fraktur alphabet sheets online. I used those to recognize what letters I could, then substituted letters into the word box in Google translate until it offered a word that fit the context. Worked like a charm!

Murph said...

Duh. *proselytizing*

Donna B. said...

One of the surnames we're researching is Smith. While I'm grateful that none of my Smith ancestors married a Jones, one of them married... a Smith. Not exactly a brick wall but it made me want to bang my head against one.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

We also have a Smith-Smith. Also a Crowell-Crowell and a Ring-Ring, deep in the colonial Puritan lines. There were limited choices for mates in small communities, and people were usually only aware of the 2nd-cousin, 3rd at most, in relationships.

It's 1st cousin that carries the most danger, and after that, a community that is so saturated with 3rd/4th/5ths that even a 2nd cousin is too close. The latter occur the world over.

I'm looking at one that may be a first-cousin marriage in the 17th C in the Bay Colony at this point. Can't say for sure. The Puritans were pretty strict about such things, but these are the Stephen Hopkins descendants, who may have run things more loosely.

SJ said...

Genealogy can be quite the time-sink.

I've recently gotten my hands on a genealogy that a relative of mine produced. He had spent some thirty years on it. (I might have run across an ancestor from Connecticut whose sister married a man named "Wyman", come to think of it.)

My first thought is that genealogies used to require visiting lots of libraries, calling lots of funeral homes to find old obituaries, and other such things. Internet-era genealogy is easier. But there are lots of small (or big) mistakes in other people's records.

Donna B. said...

SJ, you forgot courthouses and cemeteries! Some courthouses are friendly to genealogists, others definitely not.

One memorable trip to a friendly courthouse was with my sister and our great-aunt. The clerks took us to a large table with comfortable chairs and brought the books to us to browse. Our goals were death, birth, and marriage certificates, but we got distracted by land records. While we left with the lineage records we wanted, it is my great-aunt's memories about relatives losing land during the depression because they didn't have cash to pay taxes on it that stays with me.

Which brings me to my most memorable visit to a gravesite. On one tract of that land lost during the depression is the grave of one of my great-great grandmother's husbands (not my ancestor) that was rediscovered by logging crews working for Weyerhauser. It was quite a hike from the county road. Would it be serendipitous that not only was the grave well-marked and identified (stone & concrete), but also that one of the crew happened to be a descendant of this man?

I'm more interested in the more "colorful" characters and how my family fit into the history of when and where they were.

AVI - the Smith-Smith in my line probably are cousins. In the 1850 census, there are five Smith families living close together - household numbers 155 through 159. More research required! Now that I live less than 200 miles from this area, I might be able to do some.