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I am a retired high school history and government teacher. I've been doing genealogy research since I retired in 2012. I define what I do as "constructing a plausible narrative about the past." I don't claim to know everything about the ancestors whose stories I tell, but I try to imagine myself in their lives. I sometimes call it "creative non-fiction." I try to differentiate between what I know for sure and what I "think" I know.
I am one of more than 27 million Americans who claim “English” identity. As the following charts from Ancestry illustrate, only a smattering of my DNA is identified with any place other than the British Isles – and most of that is English. My paternal grandmother’s ancestors came to America from Germany in the 1730s, but their descendants married people of English descent for the most part. One line on my mother’s side came from Germany at about the same time, but also intermarried with people with English roots. My mother’s earliest immigrant ancestors came to New Amsterdam from Holland and Germany in the 1640s, but, once again, they intermarried mostly with people of English ancestry, so any other ethnicity was overcome by the sheer Englishness of my family tree.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the “Popular Names” in my family tree. Here’s that list again.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered about my common English surnames:
Wilson – English and Scottish. The 3rd most common name in Scotland, the 7th most common surname in England, and the 10th most common in the United States. I have two strands of Wilsons in my family tree; I trace one of them to Scotland and the other to England.
Brown – English. The 2nd most common surname in Canada and Scotland, the 3rd most common in the UK, and the 4th most common name in England and the United States. I trace my one Brown line to England.
Taylor – English, originally French, from the time of the Norman occupation. The4th most common surname in the UK, the 5th most common in England, and the 10th most common in the United States. I have two lines of Taylors in my family tree – one in Massachusetts and one in Virginia – but they both trace back to England.
Anderson – the 8th most common surname in Scotland, the 52nd most common in England, and the 12th most common in the United States. I trace my one Anderson family line back to England.
Pease – this is not a very common name; I have a lot of them in my tree because I descend from successive generations of male ancestors. Their line traces back to England.
There are other common English names on this list – Johnson, Smith – but I won’t go into them now. Instead, I want to look a little more closely at the ethnicity of some of the other surnames. Among the top 10, the only non-English name is Woertman/Workman; these ancestors intermarried with other Dutch ancestors over the years (see Wyckoff a bit further down the list). Among the other surnames, the only non-English names are Meservey (French), Anthis (German), Billiou (French), and Ellefritz/Ilgenfritz (German). The immigrant ancestors on these lines all came to America before 1750.
Woertman/Workman – 1647
Wyckoff – 1629
Meserve/Meservey – 1673
Anthis – 1721
Billiou/Bilyeu – 1661
Ellefritz/Ilgenfrits – 1737
Additional information from Ancestry says that my ancestors all settled in places with large groups of English settlers – early New York and Connecticut, early Virginia Settlers, and the Lower Midwest. This is all consistent with my paper trail.
So it’s not hard to discover my DNA identity. I am pretty much English and my ancestors immigrated and then lived with other people from England. I am more English than the woman who cuts my hair – Louise, who named her shop Louise of London, because she was born in England (in Brighton, actually, but she thought the word “London” in the name of her shop would be more attractive to Americans) and lived there until she was in her teens. Her ancestors have all lived in England as far back as she has been able to trace. According to Ancestry DNA, she is 57% English while I am 67% English. I think that’s interesting.
My Brown family line is not exactly broken, but it is pretty badly bent.
My father was Lloyd Cecil Arnold, on the left side of this tree. I have very good – rock-solid, you might say – documentation of his father John, his grandfather Warner, and his great-grandfather Miles. I have documentation that Miles married Vandia (known as Rilla). But then I have a problem – I’m a little shaky about Rilla’s father Harley and whoever his wife might be.
Going further back beyond Harley, I have good documentation for the lines going into early colonial history, to the Brewster, Cook, and Warren Mayflower passengers and to hundreds of other settlers in early Massachusetts. I think that Harley was the son of Philip and Betsey (on the chart) — and dozens of trees on Ancestry agree with me — but I can’t prove it and there are some fundamental problems with this relationship. Neither can I figure out who he married. If I can’t resolve this brick wall, my branch remains broken and several tantalizing lineage societies remain out of reach.
I have some information about Harley. This snip is from a book called Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of his Wife and Children, and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 with Sketches of His Children, and the Family Record 1767-1907 (whew!), page 200.
I also have some census records that show Harley living in the right county with a child the right gender and age to be Rilla:
But here’s my problem with Harley:
His father Phillip was born in 1790. I’m pretty sure about that.
Phillip married Betsey Dickey in 1809. I have a secondary source for this but I haven’t been able to find a primary source.
Rilla was born in 1825. I have several census records that support this.
But – this means Rilla was born when her father was 15 years old. That’s a little hard to swallow. I have two census records showing a Harley Brown who was born at the right place, but in 1805. That makes him 20 years old when Rilla was born, but it calls into question her older sisters. Plus, there’s that pesky book written by a family member saying that he was born in 1810 (see above).
So, I’m not sure at all about Harley. The numbers just don’t work out.
Now let’s get to his wife. Who did he marry, you might ask?
The 1850 and 1860 census records show that he was married to a woman named Hannah who was 12 years younger than him. This makes it impossible for her to be Rilla’s mother – she would have been three years old when Rilla was born.
Some people have given her the last name “Alden” and traced her back to the Mayflower passenger John Alden. I have seen no evidence proving this connection. Someone gave Harley’s daughter Harriet the middle name “Alden” on a family tree on Ancestry, but I think that was wishful thinking. Another wishful thinker has given her the maiden name “Stevens.” I can’t find any evidence of that either.
So here’s what I think: there were two men named Harley Brown living in central Ohio between 1810 and 1860. One of them was Rilla’s father and the other wasn’t. One of them died in 1863 and the other was still living in 1880. One of them was married to a woman named Hannah. One of them was descended from Phillip Perry Brown and his lineage connects him back to Parley Brown and to all the Mayflower folks I mentioned earlier. The other probably doesn’t — although there’s a chance that he also connects to the same Brown family through a different line. There are lots of people with the “Brown” surname all through colonial Massachusetts.
I haven’t worried too much about Harley. I’m not wrapped up in joining lineage societies. But I would like to clear up this problem.
The most popular woman’s name among my direct ancestors is Mary; with its variants Marie and Maria, there are 152 women with this name. The most popular man’s name is Thomas – there are 86 of them. The most popular surname is Wilson – 16 people have this surname. There is no one named Mary Wilson or Thomas Wilson in my tree.
(Note: I have 10, 621 people in my main tree; when I sort for Direct Ancestors only, I have 1,471. The information in this essay focuses on my Direct Ancestors only.)
I figured this out today by sorting my family tree Excel spreadsheet and counting rows. It’s not hard to create this spreadsheet:
Download your GEDCOM from Ancestry
Upload it to Family Tree Analyzer (this is a free program). I know there are other programs that allow you to do this, but none of them are free so far as I know.
Export the FTA spreadsheet to Excel
Select columns and sort as you wish
The steps in this process are a little more fiddly than this, but it’s pretty easy.
Here’s how often names occur in my Direct Ancestors tree:
Here are my most popular surnames:
I expected some of these surnames to be on this list – my maiden name was Arnold, my mother’s maiden name was Workman, for example. But some of the names surprised me – I recognize all of the names, but there are several in double digits – Wilson, Wheeler, Anderson, Brown, Potter, and Wilcox – that I knew were significant but I didn’t realize how significant. This gives me something to focus on – I need to find out if there are surname studies for these particular names that might move my research forward.
So I know this post is focused on Popular Names, but here are some other things I was able to find out by looking at my spreadsheet:
And there’s more:
Five of my Direct Ancestors lived to be 100 years old
I have 62 Direct Ancestors who lived to be 90
I have 27 Direct Ancestors who had more than 20 children
I have 26 Direct Ancestors who married more than three times.
All of these observations suggest possible research projects. Who was having all of these children? Who was marrying over and over again?
We all understand the concept of learning from our mistakes. I have found this to be particularly useful as I get more deeply involved in genealogical research.
Like everyone else, I made a lot of mistakes when I started doing genealogy research:
I accepted hints without verifying them. It was great fun. It left me with a lot of work to do when I realized my errors.
What I learned from this mistake: it was okay. I see a lot of advice from experienced genealogists to newbies along the lines of “always verify your sources before you do anything else” and I think that if I had done this, it wouldn’t have been as much fun. And if it wasn’t fun, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it. The wild ride of tracing my ancestors back to the Mayflower or Jamestown or William the Conqueror or Charlemagne was exhilarating. And so what if I had to undo it? I’m retired. I have time. The feeling of that thrill stuck with me and motivated me through the dull times.
I didn’t maintain a research log. That was boring. It was a lot more fun to click my way down a rabbit hole, not knowing how I got there and thus not knowing how to get back.
What I learned from this mistake: it was also okay. Once again, I was having fun while I was learning better ways of doing things. I figured out how to dig my way out of rabbit holes because I was in a rabbit hole. That’s motivating. I’m still not very good at keeping research logs, but I forgive myself for that. I’m not going to get fired for doing it wrong – I’m retired.
I didn’t have very clear research goals at first. I didn’t know that I needed a research goal. I was just clicking away, building my tree, not sure where I was going.
What I learned from this mistake: it was also okay. Are you beginning to see a theme here? Once I had a shaky “wiring diagram” in place – births, marriages, and deaths for a significant number of generations, I began to think about what I wanted to do with this information. I began to create what teachers call SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. I needed some raw data before I could begin to figure out meaningful goals.
I hesitated to put my research and writing “out there” for all to see when I knew there were errors in it. But now my tree is public and I also write a blog that is publicly available. That means people can see my mistakes. I try to identify any uncertainty I have about my information so that people don’t just copy it, errors and all. I risked negative and even hostile responses.
What I learned from this mistake: it was also okay. I realized that almost no one was paying me anywhere near enough attention to point out when I was wrong. When someone corrected me, it was almost always done kindly. I ignored the few jerks who apparently had decided that their main function in life was to take me down a peg or two. I have time – like I said, I’m retired – but I don’t choose to spend my time engaging with idiots.
I frequently failed at using technology that was new to me. I have misused – sometimes spectacularly – Chrome extensions, excel spreadsheets, photo editing software, Microsoft Word hacks, Internet search techniques, genealogy websites, and self-publishing sites. You name it, I have screwed it up in some fashion.
What I learned from these mistakes: you know the answer by now – it was okay. I didn’t break the Internet. If I lost information, I found new ways of retrieving it. I learned the value of saving and backing up my research and writing. Sometimes the lessons were costly – not often in money but frequently in time. See above – I’m retired, I have time.
I could go on but I won’t. The bottom line is that the mistakes I make teach me a lot. I learned the value of verifying hints because I got a little tired of rabbit holes. I learned the value of a research log (well, kinda learned it) when I found myself revisiting sites I had already researched. I learned the value of research goals when I found myself wandering aimlessly around without goals. I learned the value of making my research and writing public when I began to receive kudos along with gentle corrections. I learned the value of using new technology when I realized that using it made my research and writing better and easier.
All in all, I recommend mistakes. Fear of them is paralyzing. Many philosophers have been credited with a sentiment along the lines of “the best is the enemy of good enough.” We’re never very good at something when we do it for the first time. If we decide against doing something because we fear failure, we won’t do anything.
This topic made me think initially of major wars that my ancestors have fought in – the American Revolution, The Civil War, World War I, World War II – but I decided instead to write about my ancestors’ involvement in a lesser-known war, King Philip’s War. This war, fought in 1675-1676, was between the English settlers in Massachusetts and the Native Americans in the region – primarily, the Wampanoag tribe. This war is often described as the bloodiest war per capita in US history. Hundreds of settlers were killed and thousands of Indians were killed, wounded or captured and sold into slavery or indentured servitude. The war decimated the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and many smaller tribes and mostly ended Indian resistance in southern New England, paving the way for additional English settlements.
For those of you not in the United States – or for Americans who haven’t researched early Massachusetts history recently – let me give you a little background on this war. I have taken this information from the online Encyclopedia of Boston (https://bostonresearchcenter.org/projects_files/eob/single-entry-executions.html ), a website that is full of information about the history of Boston and the surrounding area. Here’s the story told on this website:
“Tensions between colonists and Wampanoags had mounted in the early 1670s, as Indians became frustrated with colonists’ attempts to convert tribal members to Christianity. Native Americans also objected to colonists’ interference with Native agricultural practices and outright seizure of land Native Americans considered theirs. These tensions erupted into violence when white colonists accused Wampanoags of murdering John Sassamon, a praying Indian (the colonists’ term for Indians who converted to Christianity). Colonists’ subsequent retribution for this murder is generally acknowledged as the start of the War.
“Beginning in June 1675, Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, Nipmucs, and Wampanoags fought the English, Pequots, Mohegans, and other native tribes. Conflict was close, cruel, and bloody. The war began to subside in August 1676, when King Philip was shot dead in Bristol, Rhode Island by an Indian allied with the British. After his death, white colonists mutilated his body, distributing and publicly displaying its parts in gruesome celebration. Philip’s head was displayed on a tall pole in the town of Plymouth for decades after his death in an effort to intimidate other Indians, and to warn them of what might happen to those who resisted colonists. Isolated skirmishes continued after Philip’s death. Dozens of Philip’s allies were subsequently executed on Boston Common.
“Those executed in 1676 included Matoonas, a sachem of the Nipmuc people who played a decisive role in King Philip’s War. Though a Christian convert, Matoonas turned against the English colonists after his son was beheaded in 1671 on questionable charges. Matoonas was tied to a tree, shot, and beheaded. Colonists placed his head on a pike, just as they had done with his executed son’s head five years earlier. At least fifty other native people were shot or hanged on the Common that year. Some were praying Indians, including Old Jethro, whose son handed him to the English, and Captain Tom, a captive of Philip’s troops. Though Captain Tom’s execution was appealed on the grounds that he was not an aggressor in the war, he was executed nonetheless.
“Many of those executed had been promised clemency by the English. After surrendering in Rhode Island in 1676, Potuck, a Narragansett sachem, had been promised safe passage by the English colonists. Instead, he was brought to Boston Common and shot. Indian John Monoco and two Nipmuc sachems, Muttawump and Sagamore Sam, were also assured pardons, transported to Boston, then executed without trial. Those not executed were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.
“White colonists carried out these public executions as retribution, as well as a warning to Indians interfering with what colonists believed was their God-given destiny to take Indian land and convert Indian souls. These executions served as one of the opening salvos in a centuries-long violent assault on Indians by white colonists and, later on, Americans.”
3,000 Indians died in captivity of illness or starvation
4,000 Indians sold into slavery
8,000 head of cattle killed
50 years for the region to recover economically
My ancestors were living all over New England by the time of this conflict. Most of them had arrived during the Puritan Great Migration, between 1630 and 1640. From their earliest settlements along the coast, they have moved west and north along the river systems to settle the interior frontier regions.
Lt. John Marchant
Ensign of Yarmouth Company, June 8, 1664. Lieutenant of the Military Company in Yarmouth, August 11, 1670
Great Swamp Fight
Nathaniel was an original member of the Hampshire Troop, organized in March 1663/4 under Capt. John Pynchon. During King Philip’s War, 1675-77, Nathaniel lost three sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah. Another son, Obadiah, was captured by the Indians and taken into Canada but escaped and returned in 1679
Lt. Thomas Newhall
With Major Willard in 1676 The Major led the relief at the Battle of Brookfield (part of King Philips War). He remained there and at Hadley for a few weeks
Captain of militia John Volunteered with the Connecticut Militia, which was organized for protection against the Indians; that in King Philip’s War he was with the Connecticut Militia in the “Great Swamp Fight”, Dec. 19, 1675, and that his son Elihu was born at that time.
He moved to Newport, RI, because of King Philip’s War
I can document six ancestors who participated in this war.
Here’s a little bit of information about each of my ancestors who fought in this war or whose families were directly impacted by it.
Lt. John Marchant IV
My paternal 8th great-grandfather John Marchant IV (1625-1693) was born in Sussex, England, and came with his parents to Yarmouth in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, in 1638. He married a woman named Sarah in Yarmouth in 1646, and they had 10 children before moving to the island of Martha’s Vineyard late in life. I am descended from two of the children of John and Sarah – Prince Pease, the great-grandson of their daughter Sarah, married Martha Marchant, the granddaughter of their son Abishai, on Martha’s Vineyard in 1750.
My paternal 9th great-grandfather Richard Swan (1607-1678) was born in East Riding, Yorkshire, and came to Massachusetts with his wife and children in 1638, possibly with the party of Ezekiel Rogers. He was one of the founders of Rowley, Massachusetts, and was a prominent citizen there. He owned several lots of land in the town, often served on juries in Essex County, and was chosen overseer of highways, gates, and fences there in 1648. He was chosen selectman for Rowley in 1652, 1662, and1664. He was constable in 1665 and deputy to the General Court in 1666 and 1667. He appeared as a defendant in Ipswich Court in 1650 for “breach of Peace” for striking Ezekiell Northern in the face with a staff and was fined three shillings. I am descended from his son Robert.
My paternal 11th great-grandfather Nathaniel Dickinson (1601-1676) was born in Ely in Cambridgeshire, England. After marrying in 1629, he and his family set sail for Massachusetts as part of the Winthrop Fleet. He settled in Watertown for a few years, and then moved to Wethersfield, Connecticut, by 1635. He served in many official positions in Wethersfield, including on the Board of Selectman, Representative to the General Assembly, and deacon of the church. He helped survey and lay out the land allotments in the town, and owned several lots himself. After a religious dispute in Wethersfield, he moved with other dissenters to Hadley, Massachusetts, about 50 miles up the Connecticut River. Although Nathaniel was too advanced in years to serve in the military during King Philip’s war himself, three of his sons – John, Joseph, and Azariah – were killed in this war. The house of a fourth son, Obadiah, was burned by the Native Americans during this conflict, his wife was either killed or wounded, and Obadiah and one of his children were taken prisoner and removed to Canada. I am descended from Nathaniel’s son Nathaniel, who also participated in this war.
Lt. Thomas Newhall
My 9th great-grandfather Thomas Newhall (1653-1728) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts to parents who had been in Massachusetts since 1630. His father, also named Thomas, is often identified as “the first white child born in Lynn,” although that claim is now held in some doubt. Thomas moved to the town of Malden after marrying Rebecca Greene there in 1674. Along with many other men of the town, he served in the military during King Philip’s War in 1676, serving with Major Willard. He is described as attaining the rank of Lieutenant.
Malden Town records also document him as an important land-holder, holding various public positions in the town. Records for the town prior to King Philip’s War were destroyed, but the earliest remaining records talk about naming townsmen to serve as selectmen, constables, and (to quote one of the town records), “last, though not least, perhaps, in the body-politic, those whose office it was ‘to see to swine order,’ – the hog-constables.” Thomas was a hog-constable. I descend from Thomas through his first son, also named Thomas.
My 8th great-grandfather John Babcock (1644-1684) was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His father, James, fled with his family from Essex County, England, to Leyden, Holland, in 1620, and then came to Massachusetts on the Ann in 1623. By 1638, the family had settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where John was born in 1644. John married Mary Lawton in Westerly, Rhode Island (a town founded by John’s father James), in 1662.
Tradition tells a romantic story about John and Mary. According to the legend, John and Mary eloped from Newport and settled in what would become Westerly, where they remained undiscovered by their parents for several months. This legend identifies them as the first white settlers of Westerly. There is, unfortunately, no evidence proving this tale. But it’s a good story anyway.
What can be proven is that 16-year-old John was part of the company of men who settled Westerly in 1660. In 1675, when King Philip’s War broke out and many settlers in Westerly fled to eastern Rhode Island for safety, John and his family stayed in the settlement. By this time, John and Mary had six children. John had volunteered to serve with the Connecticut militia (ownership of Westerly was disputed between Connecticut and Rhode Island until 1728), and participated in the “Great Swamp fight” on December 19, 1675 – the date of the birth of his seventh child, Elihu. After King Philip’s War was over, John filled a number of public positions in Westerly, including “conservator of the peace” (sort of an early police force) and Deputy from Westerly to the colonial legislature in 1682 and 1684.
My 9th great-grandfather John Crandall (1617-1676) was born in England and probably came to Massachusetts in 1634, settling in Salem and serving as a minister there. However, his support of the Baptists led to his dismissal from that church in 1637 and his move to Newport. He relocated to Westerly, in Washington County, somewhere around 1660, and is identified as a founder of that town.
Here’s a little bit about John:
A Baptist and later a Seventh Day Baptist, John and several companions were arrested at Lynn (in Essex County near Boston) on July 21,1651 and were imprisoned at Boston. All three men were fined and publicly whipped for their “attachment to the Baptist cause.” In 1660, John was one of a group of five investors who purchased a land grant known as Misquamicuck (later Westerly, RI). After several years of boundary and jurisdiction disputes, the town of Westerly was incorporated; John Crandall’s is the first name on the list of freeholders of the town in 1669. He became the first elder and preacher in Westerly.
On 21 May 1669, the Governor and Council of Rhode Island appointed six men as Conservators of the Peace for the Colony. The men were assigned to geographic areas in pairs, the first of the pair to also act as coroner for their area. John Crandall and Tobias Saunders were appointed as justices at Misquamicut, with John likely acting as coroner. John is also listed as a deputy representative of Westerly in the General Assembly in both 1670 and 1671.
John married a woman named Mary in 1649, although I’m not sure of Mary’s last name. John died in Newport in 1676; this is a little hard to understand, as he was clearly living in Westerly at the time. Some sources suggest that he had temporarily relocated to Newport to escape the violence of King Philip’s War, while others suggest that he was wounded in the 1675 Great Swamp Fight in West Kingston, Rhode Island (about 20 miles from Westerly). He is buried in a family cemetery located near the Crandall homestead in Westerly.
I have written about all of these folks before, in other contexts. But it’s always enjoyable to catch up with old friends. Until I grouped these individuals for this essay, I didn’t realize that so many of them had participated in the Great Swamp Fight. Who knew?
Unlike many previous weeks, I immediately knew what to write about when I saw this week’s prompt.
After graduating from Tucson High School in 1939, my mother Violet H. Workman attended the University of Arizona for one year before she married my father, Lloyd C. Arnold, on December 28, 1940. I have her 1940 college yearbook, which documents her year at the university. I didn’t think to look at any other year, because I knew – or thought I knew – that she only attended the school for one year.
So imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when I got a hint on Ancestry.com about her in the 1942 yearbook. Had she gone to school a second or even third year and never talked about it?
The picture above tells the story. I knew she had worked for the Dean of Women at the University of Arizona during the two years after she married, but it never occurred to me that her picture would be in the yearbook. Not only was she in the yearbook, but she was also identified by name in a blurb about the university’s administration. So-called “candid” photos like this one frequently identify the high-profile person – in this case, the Dean of Women – and don’t identify anyone else in the picture. It probably didn’t hurt that my mother was very pretty.
This simple picture is the only documentation I have of my parents’ early married life. Within a year of this photo being taken, my parents had moved across the county (to Arlington, Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, DC). My father, who was draft-exempt because of pleurisy, had been working for the Veterans Administration in Tucson, but got a better job in Arlington. So they moved. In 1944, my father’s draft exemption expired and he was almost immediately called into military service. When he got out of the Navy in 1946, he had a job waiting for him, as the Navy had promised. But it was in Arlington, the place where he had lived when he was drafted. My parents, who intended to live in Virginia for just a few years, ended up spending the rest of their lives there. It’s where my siblings and I were born and where I have lived my whole life.
The lesson for me is to broaden the perimeter of my searches a little. Look in the years before or after my focus year. Look outside of the towns or cities where I think my ancestors lived. Be open to surprises.
I had to think a bit before writing this week’s essay. I don’t have any immediate ancestors who were involved in sewing, and I don’t have any handed-down items of clothing that connect me to a specific ancestor. Going back further in my history, I have slave-owning ancestors in Virginia who might have grown cotton, but, given the time period in which they lived, they more likely grew tobacco.
Then I went even further back, to early New England ancestors who were weavers or tailors. I can talk about them a little.
Thomas Newhall (1653-1728:
Thomas was born in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1653. His parents were Thomas Newhall (1630-1687) and Elizabeth Potter (1634-1687). The immigrant ancestor in this line, also named Thomas Newhall (1594-1674), was born in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, and came to Massachusetts in 1630. Thomas 1630 is often identified as “the first white child born in Lynn,” although this is questionable. He is often referred to as “Ensign Thomas Newhall,” a title he earned for his role in the 1650s.
Thomas 1653 moved to Middlesex County after he married Rebecca Greene in 1674. He is often referred to as “Lieutenant Thomas Newhall,” a rank he achieved during King Philip’s War. Malden Town records also document him as an important land-holder, holding various public positions in the town. Records for the town prior to King Philip’s War were destroyed, but the earliest remaining records document townsmen named to serve as selectmen, constables, and (to quote one of the town records), “last, though not least, perhaps, in the body-politic, those whose office it was ‘to see to swine order,’ – the hog-constables.” Thomas was the hog-constable.
Thomas 1653 is identified in The Newhall Family of Lynn (Henry F. Waters, 1882) as “husbandman & weaver.”
William Ripley (1588-1656):
My paternal 9th great-grandfather William Ripley came to Hingham, Massachusetts, from Hingham, Norfolk, UK, with his wife and four children on the Diligent in 1638. Among these children was my 8th great-grandfather Abraham Ripley (1624-1683), who was their fourth child. William, who was a weaver, was admitted as a freeman in 1642 and was granted a four-acre town lot in the 1638 division of lands.
Edward Wheeler 1669-1733
My paternal 8th great-grandfather Edward Wheeler was the fourth of 13 children born to John and Sarah Larkin Wheeler in Concord, Massachusetts. Edward’s grandfather, George Wheeler, came to Massachusetts in 1638 and, along with his brothers, occupied a prominent position in the town. He and his brother Timothy co-owned an inn in the town in the location where the Colonial Inn now sits.
Edward’s father, John, served as a soldier for Massachusetts in King Philip’s War in 1675-76, and inherited a good deal of land when his father, George, died in 1687. Edward’s mother, Sarah Larkin, was the daughter of Edward Larkin, who was a turner (someone who worked with wood) and a wheelwright in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He was also a farmer. He had come to Massachusetts in the late 1630s, and in 1657 was named to be a member of the local artillery unit.
Edward and Sarah had 13 children, including my 7th great-grandfather Nathan Wheeler, who was their second child. Edward was commonly known as “Deacon” Edward Wheeler, and he was a weaver by trade. I can’t find why he is called “Deacon.”
This is where Edward is buried:
Robert Carr 1614-1681
My paternal 9th great-grandfather Robert Carr (1614-1681) was born in London in 1614. He and his brother William came to Massachusetts in 1635 after the death of their parents; they came to live with their uncle William Carr, who had come to Plymouth on the Fortune in 1621 and soon settled in Bristol, RI. He was admitted as an inhabitant in Portsmouth in 1639 and as a freeman in Newport in 1641. Several records identify him as a tailor.
Samuel Eddy 1608-1687
My 9th great-grandfather Samuel Eddy (1608-1687) was born in Cranbrook, Kent, England, in 1608. Samuel was the ninth of 11 children born to John and Mary Fosten Eddy in Cranbrook, Kent, England. John was the vicar of St. Dunstan’s Church in that town.
Samuel’s mother Mary died in 1611 – probably due to complications from childbirth, as her newborn son Nathaniel died in the same year. John remarried in 1614, to Sarah Taylor, with whom he had one more child before he died in 1616. Samuel was only eight years old at the time of his father’s death; John’s will directed that his 23-year-old son Phineas be placed in charge of Samuel until Samuel turned 22, at which point Samuel would receive his inheritance from his father. Samuel also served an apprenticeship as a tailor while he was under his brother’s care and tutelage.
It appears that Samuel used his inheritance to purchase his passage to Massachusetts, as he arrived (along with his oldest brother John) in Plymouth on the Handmaid in 1630. He may have been married when he came to Plymouth – his wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Thomas and Marie Savory, who followed their daughter to Massachusetts in 1633.
Whatever part of his inheritance remained he used to buy a house and some land in Plymouth, and he was soon established as a tailor in the settlement. He became a freeman in 1632 and was identified as a taxpayer by 1633.
Despite this apparent prosperity, Samuel and Elizabeth found life in Plymouth difficult. His training as a tailor was not as lucrative in Plymouth as it had been in England, and he had to turn to farming to support his small family. He was not a very good farmer. By 1638, Samuel and Elizabeth were identified among the “poore of the town.” Samuel and Elizabeth had five children by 1644, and their weak financial situation led them to place three of their sons – John, Zachariah, and Caleb – as apprentices to John Browne of nearby Rehoboth, Massachusetts, as each boy reached the age of seven. I am descended from their oldest son, John.
Robert Moon 1621-1698
Robert arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637; he was 16 at the time, and I assume he came with his parents, but I haven’t been able to prove that. He married Dorothy Osbourne (1624-1698) in Boston in 1644. I haven’t been able to find out when Dorothy’s family came to Massachusetts. Robert worked as a tailor in Boston before he relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1651.
Thomas Baker: 1638-1710
Thomas Baker (1638-1710), appears on the list of freemen of Newport, RI, in 1655. His father, William Baker (1616-1669), had come to Rhode Island by 1638, when he appears on the list of freemen and also receives a land grant. Also in 1655, Thomas Baker was ordained, and in 1656, he and others separated from the First Baptist Church and organized a new society, the Second Baptist Church. He then moved with his family to Kingstown, Rhode Island, where he organized the Baptist Church. He remained the presiding Elder of this church until his death in 1710. Some records suggest that he was a tailor before he was ordained a minister, because he identifies himself as a tailor in his land transactions in Newport.
Thomas Brownell 1608-1664
My 8th great-grandfather Thomas Brownell (1608-1665) was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1608. Thomas and his brother George left Yorkshire at some point and went to London, where they probably worked as drapers (dealers in cloth or clothing and dry goods) for their uncle, Thomas Wilson The Elder. Thomas married Anne Bourne in London in 1638, and they soon left for New England. They lived first in Braintree, Massachusetts, but relocated to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, by 1640.
There is no indication that Thomas worked as a tailor or clothier in Massachusetts. He was identified as a “planter” or farmer and served in several official positions in Portsmouth, including “water bailey;” this position gave him jurisdiction over fisheries and other maritime matters. He was also elected constable several times, and he served as Commissioner to the General Court. He was killed in an accident while on his way from his farm at the northwest end of Rhode Island to Portsmouth. He was riding home with Daniel Lawton, the 21-year-old son of a friend, when the ride soon became a race. Thomas was thrown from his horse and died.
Thomas Hartshorn 1614-1683
My 10th great-grandfather Thomas Hartshorn (1614-1683) was He was born in Berkshire, England, but I can’t determine for sure who his parents were. He arrived in Massachusetts about 1636-38 and settled in Lynn by 1638. A tailor, Thomas was living in Reading in 1639, five years before its incorporation in 1644. He appears in a number of records of the town of Reading; in 1662, he was one of 20 members of the church who paid a dog-whipper. I had to find out what a dog-whipper was. Well, it was the person named to control the dogs that sometimes accompanied their owners to church, and the definition was broadened to include the general responsibility of controlling stray dogs in the town. An early animal control warden.
Moving right along.
Thomas married Susanna Buck in 1640 and they had six children, including my 9th great-grandfather, also named Thomas, who was their second child. Thomas’s birth name illustrates a common practice of this time; Thomas (the father) and Susanna had a son they named Thomas one year earlier; this child did not survive and my grandfather was actually the second child (although the first child to survive) of Thomas and Susanna.
George Abbott: 1631-1689
My 9th great-grandfather George Abbott (1631-1689) was born in Chappel, Essex County, England. He came to Massachusetts with his parents in 1637 and settled with them in Rowley.
About 1655, he moved to North Andover. He married Sarah Farnum in Andover, Mass. on April 26, 1658. He was a tailor and farmer who acquired land and wealth (one of the five wealthiest men of Andover on the tax records), and he served in the militia. There were two George Abbotts in Andover at that time. My George was varyingly called George Abbott, Jr., George Abbott the tailor, and George Abbott of Rowley. The other George Abbott was called Sr. but was not our George’s father since his father lived and died in Rowley.
On May 19, 1669, George was made a freeman of Andover and was chosen constable in 1689. According to one report, he beat the drum to signal time for labor to start and was paid 30 shillings per year to ring the bell at the North meeting house in Andover and sweep the floor, as was his son, John, in later years. George was appointed to collect the money (six pence) from anyone who brought a dog to the meetinghouse on the Sabbath. This is my second “dog-whipper” of this post.
Walter Nichols: 1584-1639 My 11th great-grandfather Walter Nichols (1584-1639) was born in Great Coggeshall, Essex County, England, in 1584. He married Elizabeth Catlin in 1607, and they had seven children before Elizabeth’s death in 1627. Walter came to Massachusetts with several of his children in 1635 and was admitted as a freeman in Cambridge by 1636. He is identified as a clothier. He returned to Great Coggeshall in 1638 and died there in 1639. I don’t know why he returned to England.
When you study genealogy, you almost immediately become aware of a vast array of “lineage societies” – the groups that form so people can trace their ancestry to significant historical events or people. Here are a few of the most well-know lineage societies:
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)
Sons of the American Revolution (SAR)
Holland Society of New York
United Daughters of the Confederacy
Sons and Daughters of the Oregon Pioneers
There are other not-so-well-known societies:
Associated Daughters of Early American Witches
I qualify for this one through my paternal 9th great-grandmother Margaret Stephenson Scott, who was hanged as a witch at Salem on September 22, 1692
Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain
Because, you know, why not?
National Society of Saints and Sinners
For this society, a potential member must prove descent from a saint. I think this would be hard to do.
For a variety of reasons, I haven’t worked toward joining any of these societies. I’m interested in doing other things with my genealogy research. However, I’m thinking about joining one of these organizations – Flagon and Trencher, a society composed of men and women who can trace their ancestry to one or more licensed operators of an ordinary tavern, inn, public house, or hostel, prior to July 4, 1776, in the area that became the original thirteen states of the United States.
From its website, it appears that this society exists primarily to hold yearly parties in various colonial taverns. This is a society I can identify with.
I could qualify for this society under several of my ancestors:
I have downloaded the application form and I’m in the process of gathering the information necessary to qualify for this lineage society through my 10th great-grandfather John Parmenter (1588-1671), who was a church deacon and also the proprietor of the first tavern in Sudbury, Massachusetts. (I think that’s an interesting career combination.)He received the license to run this tavern in 1643. In 1655, the Parmenter Tavern served as the meeting place for the Massachusetts Colonial Court and Ecclesiastic Council, a group that existed to settle disputes in the community. Town records show that John was reimbursed 17 pounds, five shillings, and 12 pence for entertainment costs associated with this meeting.
I don’t have much information about the social lives of my ancestors. However, a few years ago I worked on a project I called “1900,” focused on where my great-grandparents were in 1900. Here’s the opening paragraph of the book I wrote as the culmination of this project.
The twentieth century began on a Tuesday. On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Illinois, Oklahoma, or Texas.
Mr. and Mrs. Warner Lismond Arnold and their eight children (including their youngest son, my grandfather John Cecil Arnold) lived in Montebello Township, Hancock County, Illinois.
Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove Township, Hancock County, Illinois.
Mrs. Franklin Anthis (Mattie) lived with her ten children (including her two-year-old daughter, my grandmother Susan Vernon Anthis) in Justice Precinct 7, Lee County, Texas; her husband Frank, who had been dead for just a little over a year, lay in Forest Grove Cemetery in Milam County, Texas, a few miles from their home. Mattie would join him 32 years later. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr., and their 11 children (including their youngest son, my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr.), lived on the homestead in Bear Creek Township, Logan County, Oklahoma, that Tom had claimed in the Oklahoma Land Run a decade earlier.
As I amassed information on my spreadsheet for this project, I realized that I would have to come up with some creative way of telling the stories of these ancestors. I didn’t want to simply present a chronology; that would be boring to write and certainly too boring for anyone to read. So I decided to focus my story on one ancestor in each location, and to place them in context for key events in their lives.
Here’s how that worked for one of the paragraphs in my “origins” paragraph, above. This is the paragraph I focused on:
Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove Township, Hancock County, Illinois.
I chose to focus this narrative on the mother of Howard P. Ellefritz – my second great-grandmother Mary Ann Botts (1838-1913). I chose her because her life extended from the time this branch of my family moved from Kentucky to Illinois; she was born the year after they arrived in Illinois and she died more than a decade after my focus year, 1900.
Now that I had a focus person, I had to figure out how to tell her story. First of all, I established the role of the family in the community. Here’s what I wrote:
The Botts family played an important role in the religious life of Hancock County. Joseph, Joshua, and Mary Ann’s uncle Absolam Botts were among the founding members of St. Mary’s Baptist Church in St. Mary’s township in Hancock County.
I also wanted to provide information about the family Mary Ann grew up in:
Mary Ann grew up surrounded by family. Eighteen family members, ranging in age from 1 to 47, relocated to Hancock County from Kentucky in 1837. This list includes the following people (their ages in 1837 appear beside each name):
Her grandparents Joseph Botts (47) and Sabra Wilkes Botts (also 47)
Her parents Joshua Mills Botts (24) and Tabitha Allen Walton Botts (21)
Her 10 aunts and uncles all came along too.
Her aunt Matilda Botts (27), her husband Milton Johnson (29), and their daughter Mary (1)
Her aunt Mary Polly Botts (25)
Her uncle William Oscar Botts (20)
Her aunt Ann Amelia Botts (17)
Her aunt Martha Jane Botts (14)
Her uncle Absolam Graves Botts (11)
Her uncle Robert Kirtly Botts (9)
Her uncle James D. Botts (7)
Her aunt Maria Louise Botts (4)
Her 2 older brothers rounded out the party
Joseph Oscar (3)
William Edward (1)
Mary Ann grew up with younger siblings as well, including 4 more brothers (Simeon Erskine, Sidney Worden, Junius T., and Robert Lineas) and three sisters (Amanda Jane, Matilda Louise, and Barbara Isabelle.)
Then (almost) everyone got married and began to have children, and almost all of them spent the rest of their lives in Hancock County
It is difficult to get a handle on Mary Ann’s life. So many people came to Illinois and died there during Mary Ann’s lifespan; many more were born there; and many others came to Illinois and then left in further quest of land and prosperity.
So I decided to figure out who would have been in Hancock County for key events in Mary Ann’s life: the death of her father Joshua Mills Botts in 1863, the death of her grandfather Joseph Botts in 1880, and the death of her husband Solomon Ellefritz in 1894. Each of these events would have called for a significant family gathering to honor the lives of these men whose stories framed the family’s life in Hancock County.
It is not possible to determine how the deaths of these particular individuals were marked; at the time in America, elaborate funeral rituals had become common, with mourning garb required of women for some period of time, but I don’t know how these rituals were observed for these specific events. I think it is safe to say, however, that these deaths would have been marked by some significant family gathering and ritual.
Mary Ann’s father, Joshua Mills Botts, died in 1863 when he fell off his horse. He was only 50 years old at the time of his death. His funeral and subsequent community gathering could have included about 70 members of Mary Ann’s family, who all lived nearby in 1863:
Her mother Tabitha
Fourteen aunts and uncles
Eight siblings, plus the spouses of four of her siblings
Twenty-six cousins, and spouses of most of them
Mary Ann was 25 years old in 1863. She had attended Knox College in Galesville, Illinois, for one year in 1858 and records identified her as a teacher. She had married in 1861 and had a daughter in 1862. Her brother Simeon had died of disease in 1862, six months after enlisting in the 28th Illinois regiment to fight in the Civil War.
By the time Mary Ann’s grandfather, Joseph Botts, died in 1880, Mary Ann’s situation had changed dramatically. Her husband and her daughter had died of typhus in 1864, and Mary Ann married Solomon Ellefritz in 1867. Solomon was 15 years older than Mary Ann and had never been married before. They had seven children between 1868 and 1878, although two of them died in 1878 – a five-year-old girl named Mary and an infant named Martha. My great-grandfather Howard P. Ellefritz (1870-1932) was their third child.
When Mary Ann’s grandfather Joseph Botts died in 1880, the funeral and subsequent community gathering would have included about 68 family members. Joseph was a respected man in the community, having reached the age of 80, so I imagine a larger gathering when he died. This is what a county history said about him:
This family gathering would have skewed younger than the one 17 years earlier:
Mary Ann’s mother Tabitha
Twelve aunts and uncles
Three siblings and their spouses
Fifteen cousins, and spouses of most of them
Six nieces and nephews
Three first cousins once removed (children of her first cousins)
When Mary Ann’s husband Solomon Ellefritz died in 1894, the funeral and subsequent community gathering could have included about 52 family members. This gathering would have skewed even younger than the one 14 years earlier:
Five aunts and uncles
None of her siblings (Most of them had moved away in the 1880s, although spouses of two of her siblings were still living in Hancock County)
Twenty cousins and some of their spouses
Seven children and two of their spouses
No nieces or nephews
Mary Ann welcomed the new century in 1900 with the following family members leaving nearby
Five aunts and uncles
20+ cousins of varying degrees
I developed a massive spreadsheet to help me figure this all out. Once I created the spreadsheet, I found that it was useful in helping me analyze all sorts of things about this part of my family tree.
One of the first things I remember learning about my extended family was the story of my cousin Bonnie. She was the daughter of my father’s sister Evelyn and her husband, Wes. They lived in Hamilton, Illinois, the town where my father and all of his siblings were born and the town where they all grew up. Wes was my father’s best friend in high school, and it was natural that he and Evelyn fell in love and married. My father left Hamilton for Tucson, Arizona, after he graduated from high school in 1936. It was the depth of the Great Depression and no one in his family had a job. One of my father’s uncles was living in Arizona, and he said he could find my father a job if he came to Tucson. My father made the trip, got a job, and the rest of the family soon followed. Except for Evelyn, who stayed in Hamilton to marry Wes in 1939. In 1941, they had a daughter they named Bonnie Jean. This is the only picture I have of Bonnie.
I don’t know much about Wes and Evelyn’s lives in the early years of their marriage. Although Wes registered for the draft in 1940, there is no indication that he served in the military until late in the war, in 1945. The details on Bonnie’s death certificate, coupled with the stories I heard about Bonnie, may explain this.
Bonnie’s death certificate says she died as the result of congenital heart disease and other congenital “malformations.” The symptoms my parents described to me relating to Bonnie sound like what we would now call some form of hydrocephaly and the resulting impairments to her growth and development. She lived to be nine years old, but had lost (or possibly never had – I’m not sure which) the ability to walk or even to sit up on her own. My parents described Wes pushing Bonnie along on a tricycle, with her resting her head on the handlebars because she could no longer hold her head up.
My cousin Cathy gave me more information about Bonnie. This is what she wrote to me today:
One thing to note about Bonnie is that she was very smart. She even would help my dad with his homework when they were together and had great conversations. I don’t think it was hydrocephalus. The death certificate is hard to read, but I think it might say malformation of the pituitary, which might make sense. Mom says that there was talk about the spleen, but she doesn’t remember particulars. But, the thing to memorialize is that she apparently was a very smart, talkative little girl. Aunt Ev and Uncle Wes came to Arizona several times, even bringing another couple once — who we also knew from Hamilton — to stay with my mom and my stepfather Jerry. Mom and Jerry also stayed with them in Hamilton during a road trip. They always remained family. My dad and Aunt Evelyn also talked weekly on the phone, which made me happy.
Within a year or so after Bonnie died, Wes and Evelyn came to visit my family in Virginia. My older brother was 7 or 8 years old, and I was 3 or 4. I don’t remember this visit, but my parents told me that Wes and I quickly bonded. To Wes, I was the little girl who could do all the things that Bonnie had never been able to do, and I reacted positively to someone who thought I was wonderful.[My cousin Cathy’s comments make me realize that Bonnie had been able to do lots of things before she died. I didn’t realize this.]
Wes and Evelyn were heartbroken when Bonnie died, as you can imagine. Evelyn told how she fixed Bonnie’s hair after Bonnie’s death, saying she didn’t want to let anyone else touch her. After Bonnie died, Wes and Evelyn thought about having another child, and Evelyn’s doctor told them that there was no reason to anticipate that a second child would be born with the problems that Bonnie had. But they decided against having another child, because they couldn’t imagine facing the prospect of losing another child.
We and Evelyn continued to live in their home in Hamilton – Evelyn worked for the Post Office and Wes held a number of jobs in local industries. In the 1980s, they decided to move to a new home “outside of town” – about five blocks from their long-time residence. When they settled in their new home, Wes went out to stand in their front yard on the first day they lived there. Looking around, he commented to Evelyn, “We can see Bonnie’s grave from here.” Wes visited Bonnie’s grave every Sunday for decades.
Bonnie’s death certificate tells one more story. The informant is Chloe Harding, Wes’s mother. I conclude from this that neither Wes nor Evelyn were in any condition to provide information about Bonnie’s death.
Wes died in 2007 and Evelyn died in 2012. They lived fairly quirky lives, as I remember my mother telling me. Wes didn’t trust banks, so he stashed money all over the house – in mattresses, under floorboards, and behind walls. After he died, Evelyn was always worried about throwing anything out, because she never knew if Wes had stashed money there. They always went to bed early – like, 7:00 at night – and got up before dawn, sometimes roaming the house at night. Wes was fastidious about his lawn – it had to be mowed at just the right angle. After he got too old to mow the lawn himself, he fussed at the people he hired to do it until they got it right. They used one bay of their two-car garage as an outdoor living space — they put down indoor/outdoor carpeting and furnished it with patio furniture. The rest of the interior was still a garage — open walls with visible studs, garage shelving and lighting.
In her last years, Evelyn developed a pretty bad tremor in her arms. This was a familial tremor – my father had it, my brother had it, I have it, and my daughter has it. Evelyn found that drinking wine helped calm her tremor, so she routinely drank several glasses of wine as she cooked dinner. The resulting dinners were sometimes interesting, I’m told. She loved coffee (which may have had an effect on her tremor), and she drank it through a straw when her tremor worsened.
I know that people who don’t have children can be very happy. I know that people who lose children can go on to have productive and happy lives as well. But I think Wes and Evelyn were broken by Bonnie’s death. Their graves flank Bonnie’s in Hamilton’s Oakwood Cemetery, and their grave markers identify them as “Mother” and “Father.”
I’ve known this story for a long time, and I’ve written about it often. It still brings me to tears.