10 December 2012

Genealogist’s bookshelf: Pilgrims

Landing of the Pilgrims by Cornè, circa 1805
There are many books about the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth Colony, including Governor William Bradford's own Of Plymouth Plantation and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants' silver books covering the first five generations of each family. Here are other books worth a look for genealogists. 


If you’ve ever used the Great Migration series, you know how valuable these books are for researching the 20,000 immigrants who came to New England between 1620 and 1640. For The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony, 1620-1633, Robert Charles Anderson was not content to package up 200 profiles from the series for this work; he reviewed and updated the profiles to include the most current data available. Each family or individual sketch follows a certain format, with as much detail as possible: last residence; migration date; first residence in colony and any removes; occupation; church membership; freemen; offices and military service; education; estate (land and probate) records; birth, death, marriage; children; associations, either related by marriage or blood or having connections to other immigrants; comments; and bibliographic notes.

Susan E. Roser has compiled numerous books based on the work of the foremost Pilgrim historian, George Ernest Bowman (1860-1941). She includes her own comments and newer resources with data from Bowman’s vast manuscript collections at the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants. Mayflower Marriages and Deaths, for example, includes 50,000 relations, so in order to fit so much information in the two-volume set, the type is small. The series also includes: Mayflower Births & DeathsMayflower MarriagesMayflower Increasings, and Mayflower Deeds & Probates. Also available by Roser is Mayflower Passenger References (from contemporary records & scholarly journals). 


In retelling the story of the voyage and settlement of Plymouth Colony, author Nathaniel Philbrick busts some myths but also adds much historical detail and turns well-known names into people with personalities in The Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. He describes in detail items that were packed on the ship, how historians discovered the name of the Mayflower (since William Bradford forgot to mention it in his journals), their difficult voyage, and early settlement. But much of the book deals with relations with the Native American population, from the Pilgrims "borrowing" buried corn to all-out battles, culminating in King Philip's War.   


At the start of The Pilgrim by Hugh Nissenson, it is the year 1623 and 28-year-old Charles Wentworth is writing the story of his life in order to become a full member of the Plymouth Colony congregation. To do so, he must confess his sins and prove his spiritual enlightenment. Written in a first-person narrative, Charles reveals his childhood and upbringing, educational and career choices, courtship, Indian interactions, and religious beliefs. Peppered with details of disease, death, crime and punishment, and economic hardships, Charles’ story is one his Pilgrim audience is too familiar with, but the novel’s readers may not be. By using this point of view, author Hugh Nissenson effectively captures what life was like in old England and new.

19 November 2012

Pilgrims and Puritans find religious freedom in the New World

When we think of the Pilgrims and Puritans who first settled Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, we often picture them as austere people who dressed in black with nary a smile or laughter between them. They suffered greatly for not conforming to the religious dictates of their English monarchs, being fined for not attending the Church of England, imprisoned for holding their own religious meetings, exiled for their outspoken beliefs, and even martyred for their faith.

The Pilgrims and Puritans were two distinct groups who shared much in common. They both were English Protestants who wanted religion to focus on the Scriptures themselves, not the Catholic rituals, symbols, and hierarchies in the church. Part of this process meant translating the Bible into English for the common people to read and understand. Their religious meetings centered upon readings and sermons from the Bible.

The Pilgrims and Puritans believed in original sin and the inherent badness of human beings. They believed God, through his son Jesus Christ, offered grace—the gift of forgiveness for original sin and salvation—to the chosen few, the elect. The elect were predestined to be saved. Good works, keeping the commandments, and following the laws could not change their status. However, the elect needed to be faithful and obedient to the word of God. To become a full church member, each person must have a testimony of their conversion experience, which meant they were justified and cleansed of their sins.

Although the Pilgrims and Puritans both left England, they had different reasons for doing so. English Puritans wanted to “purify” the Church of England of its Catholic practices and liturgy. Separatists believed the church was beyond reform and wanted to physically separate themselves from the Church of England. The Pilgrims, some of whom settled for years in the Netherlands before landing at Plymouth Rock, were true Separatists with no intention of returning to England. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay wished to create a “city on the hill” as an example of a true Puritan community. They maintained ties with England and some even chose to return there.

The Voyages

Sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, 102 Separatists and Strangers set sail on the Mayflower in 1620. During the first winter, more than half of these Pilgrims, as we call them today, perished in Plymouth Colony. Other Separatists joined them over the next few years. However, the colony did not expand much beyond their borders like their Massachusetts Bay neighbors to the north.

In contrast, the Puritans came in droves, particularly during the Great Migration years from the mid 1620s to 1640. Some fishing communities existed on Cape Ann in the early 1620s. In 1626, Roger Conant and part of the Dorchester Company settled Naumkeag, which became Salem. They were called the Old Planters. In 1628, more people arrived in Salem with Governor John Endicott. They were the Massachusetts Bay Company vanguard, the so-called New Planters. In 1630, 700 people arrived in the 11 ships that made up the Winthrop Fleet to settle Boston and surrounding communities. The Winthrop Fleet held the Royal Charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Since it was not uncommon for Puritan ministers and their congregations to migrate together, the colony grew quickly. 

The Pilgrims created the Mayflower Compact onboard ship, “for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” Governing issues were determined by majority rule. The Puritans were governed by freemen, men who owned property and were full church members. They believed in order and education, and enacted laws to provide schoolmasters for children to learn how to read and write.

Oddly enough, neither the Pilgrims nor the Puritans believed in religious freedom; hence the persecution, eviction, and hangings of various people not of their faith, such as the Quakers and Baptists.

Under the new English charter of 1691, Plymouth Colony lost its status as a separate colony and was joined with the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony to become the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Select Sources:

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

Daily Life During the Salem Witch Trials by K. David Goss

17 November 2012

Pilgrims, Puritans, and the Bible

Geneva Bible
Religion was an integral part of life in England. By law, church attendance was required; nonattendance meant fines, imprisonment, or worse. During the reigns of the Tudor and Stewart monarchs (see timeline, below), the Church of England's religious foundations changed based upon who ruled at the time.

When King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England in 1534, he was not seeking religious reform. However, of his children, Edward VII was heavily influenced by his Protestant regents; Mary was adamantly Catholic; and Elizabeth was a moderate Protestant, more interested in the country’s stability than in Puritan extremes. Some of England’s subjects followed the state religion regardless which one it was, while others practiced their religion in secret or were openly opposed to the state religion.

Power of the Word

One of the tenants of the Protestant Reformation was bringing people closer to God through the Scriptures, not through the rituals and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. During the 16th century, English exiles translated the Bible into English. Even King Henry VIII created the Great Bible, otherwise known as the Chained Bible, to be read in the Churches of England. It was available to parishioners, but often chained to a desk to prevent its removal from the church.

The settlers of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies typically used the Geneva Bible, with its Calvinist/Puritan annotations that served as a study guide, even though the 1611 Authorized King James Bible was available before they left for New England. The Geneva Bible was more in line with their beliefs.

Below is a timeline of important Biblical, Puritan, and Separatist publications set against the backdrop of English history, including the reigns of the monarchs. 

Timeline of Religious Publications & English History
Henry VIII

1509-1547: reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547)
1517: Martin Luther posts Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg, Germany, which sparks the Protestant Reformation
1525: William Tyndale’s New Testament published in English
By 1526: at the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge, some people discuss how the Scriptures should be the foundation of the Church
1530: Tyndale’s Pentateuch (first five books of Old Testament) published; Tyndale’s books banned after disapproval from English churchmen
1533: Henry VIII banishes wife Catherine of Aragon from the court and secretly marries Anne Boleyn
1534: Act of Supremacy declares King Henry VIII head of Church of England, not pope; King Henry VIII excommunicated by Roman Catholic Church
1536: Tyndale convicted of heresy and executed for writing against King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage; John Calvin (1509-1564) first publishes his Institutes of the Christian Religion in Latin
1539: Great Bible, the first English translation authorized by King Henry VIII, published, based on revisions to Tyndale’s New Testament and Pentateuch, plus remaining books translated from Latin Vulgate and German
1547-1553: reign of Edward VI (1537-1553) and his Protestant regents
Mary I
1549: The Book of Common Prayer (and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons) first published
1553-1558: reign of Mary I (1516-1558); Queen Mary, known as Bloody Mary, re-establishes Roman Catholicism as state religion, persecuting and killing so-called heretics; many Protestants flee to Europe
1558-1603: reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
1558: Bishops’ Bible becomes the new authorized Bible, replacing the Great Bible
1560: Geneva Bible published by English exiles in Switzerland, with annotations espousing Calvinist and Puritan beliefs, based largely on Tyndale’s English translations
1563: John Foxe publishes The Book of Martyrs, an account of suffering and death under Bloody Mary’s rule, and how the Church of England should be “purified” of non-Scriptural elements
1580: Robert Browne publishes Reformation Without Tarrying for Anie, concluding that purifying the Church of England didn’t work, that it was time to Separate
1581: Robert Browne and Robert Harrison start Separatist congregation in Norwich
1603-1625: reign of James I (and VI of Scotland) (1566-1625)
1607-1609: John Robinson, William Brewster, William Bradford, and other Separatists emigrate to Holland
1611: Authorized King James Version of Bible published
1620-1640: Great Migration to New England
1620: Separatists (Pilgrims) and Strangers settle Plymouth Colony
1625-1649: reign of Charles I (1600-1649)
1629-1630: Winthrop fleet arrives in Massachusetts Bay Colony
1642: King Charles I disbands Parliament
1642-1651: English Civil Wars between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers)
Charles I
1649: King Charles I beheaded; son Charles exiled
1649-1653: the Commonwealth
1653-1659: the Protectorate rule of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and Richard Cromwell (1626-1712)
1660: Restoration of the Monarchy
1660-1685: reign of Charles II (1630-1685)
1678: Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress published
1685-1688: reign of James II (1633-1701)
1688: Glorious Revolution; King James II deposed
1689-1702: reign of William III of Orange (1650-1702) & Mary II (1662-1694)
1702-1714: reign of Anne (1665-1714)
1707: Acts of Union joined the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain

15 November 2012

Religious dissent brings Pilgrims and Puritans to New England

 Winthrop Fleet comes to Mass. Bay Colony by William F. Halsall
Religious upheavals in England were one of the reasons why the New World appealed to early settlers such as the Pilgrims and Puritans. It all started when King Henry VIII (1491-1547) wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), in order to marry Anne Boleyn (1501?-1536). Henry sought a male heir to strengthen his throne, and while the Queen had numerous children, only Princess Mary survived. Henry appealed to Pope Clement VII for an annulment, but he didn't get what he wanted.

So Henry banished Catherine from the court and secretly married Anne Boleyn. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, then declared the king’s first marriage null and void in May 1533; days later Cranmer validated the second marriage.

Up until this time, England was a Roman Catholic country. In essence it remained Catholic, but instead of the pope, by the Act of Supremacy in 1534, the king was the only Supreme Head of the Church of England. Protestant reformers, influenced by German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) and other religious leaders, were persecuted during his reign.

Protestants and Catholics Rule
Elizabeth I

After Henry’s death, the crown passed to Edward VI (1537-1553), son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour (1508?-1537), who was raised as a Protestant. When Edward died, Mary I (1516-1558), daughter of Henry and first wife Catherine of Aragon, ruled. She was known as Bloody Mary for trying to re-establish Roman Catholicism by burning more than 250 religious dissenters at the stake. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth (1533-1603), daughter of Henry and second wife Anne Boleyn, became queen. She compromised on religious issues, keeping many of the Catholic elements in the Protestant Church of England, but re-establishing the monarch as head of the church. The Book of Common Prayer became part of the services, and while church attendance was required, punishment was not extreme such as in Mary’s reign.

After Elizabeth’s long reign, she was succeeded by the (Protestant) James VI of Scotland and I of England (1566-1625), son of the (Catholic) Mary, Queen of Scots who was imprisoned and later beheaded to stop a Catholic conspiracy to overtake the English throne. James tolerated Catholics who took the Oath of Allegiance proclaiming the king and not the pope as head of the church, but he did not agree to all the changes Puritan clergy wished to make. James did, however, sponsor a new translation of the Bible, the King James version, published in 1611. Following his death, son Charles I (1600-1649) became king. Charles not only married a Catholic and stirred up wars, he also wanted to move the Church of England away from the influences of Calvinist teachings that Puritans followed.

During the English Civil Wars, King Charles was beheaded in 1649 and replaced by the Commonwealth leader (and Puritan) Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and his son Richard Cromwell (1626-1712) before the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 and the merry reign of Charles II (1630-1685). Although Charles II favored religious tolerance for Catholics and Protestant dissenters, Parliament would not allow his royal decrees to stand. On his deathbed, Charles II converted to Roman Catholicism. He was succeeded by his unpopular Roman Catholic brother, James II (1633-1701). In 1688, the Glorious Revolution replaced James with his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange (1650-1702), and his daughter Mary (1662-1694) acting as joint rulers. William & Mary did not have descendants, so upon their deaths, the crown went to James II’s other daughter, Anne (1665-1714).

Dissent and Calls to Reform

Some of England’s subjects followed the state religion regardless which one it was, sometimes in order to protect their lives, livelihood, property, wealth, or position in society. Others practiced their religion in secret or were openly opposed to the state religion.

By the 1560s, some people, influenced by the Protestant Reformation and theologians such as John Calvin (1509-1564), believed the Church of England needed more reforms, to rid itself of popish practices. They wanted to “purify” the English church. From these groups we find the first settlers of Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were Separatists who believed the Church of England was too corrupt for reformation. Starting in 1607, some of these Separatists left England for Amsterdam and later Leiden before coming to the New World in 1620 and a few years following. The Puritans were non-separatists who believed reform was still possible. They came to New England starting in the mid 1620s.

The Great Migration

The Great Migration refers to the time period from 1620, when the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Colony, to about 1640, when immigration slowed due to the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). During these two decades, about 10,000 immigrants came to New England. Much of the migration falls between the reigns of James I and Charles I, but it was the prior rulers, starting with Henry VIII, who initiated the change of religious history in England that led to the Great Migration.

10 November 2012

Ancestor-based family associations in Massachusetts

Alden house in Duxbury, Mass., circa 1904
To honor ancestors and to help find cousins, some people have created family associations based on a specific ancestor or couple. These are typically membership-based organizations with mission statements, boards, and bylaws.

For example, the Alden Kindred of America Inc. owns the original 17th century home of pilgrims John Alden and his wife Priscilla Mullins in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Part of the Alden Kindred’s purpose is to preserve the home, which has never been owned by anyone other than Alden descendants. However, people related to the Aldens can become lineage members (as well as museum members) by documenting their ancestral lines. Lineage members are invited to family reunions, receive publications and discounts, have opportunities to volunteer or participate on committees, support research projects, and have a certain pride of place when visiting the old homestead.

Ancestor-based family associations may offer its members access to ancestor-related databases, unique library collections, digital and manuscript archives, newsletters, special events and reunions, book publication projects, DNA projects, research help, historical houses—and much more. It all depends upon the goals of that individual society.

Below, you’ll find links to ancestor-based family associations related to Massachusetts. Many of these groups are connected to pilgrims who came on the Mayflower in 1620 and settled in Plymouth Colony.

ALDEN - Alden Kindred of America Inc.
Pilgrims John Alden (1599?-1687) and Priscilla Mullins came to Plymouth Colony in 1620. Also preserves the family home in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

ALDRICH - National Aldrich Family Association
George Aldrich (1605-1682/83), who came from England to Dorchester in 1631; settled in Mendon, Massachusetts.

ALLERTON - Pilgrim Isaac Allerton Society
Pilgrim Isaac Allerton (1586?-1659) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

AVERY - Avery Memorial Association
Christopher Avery and son James (1621-1700) came from England to Gloucester, Massachusetts, before 1642. James settled in Groton, Connecticut.

BARTLETT – Bartlett Society  
Robert Bartlett (d. 1676) came to Plymouth Colony on the Anne in 1623.

BREWSTER – Elder William Brewster Society
Pilgrim William Brewster (1566-1644) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

CHANDLER - Edmund Chandler Family Association
Edmund Chandler (d. 1662) of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

COGSWELL – Cogswell Family Association Inc.
John Cogswell (1592-1669) of Ipswich, Massachusetts, arrived 1635.

COOKE - Pilgrim Francis Cooke Society
Pilgrim Francis Cooke (d. 1663) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

CUMMINGS - Descendants of Isaac Cummings of Topsfield/Ipswich, Massachusetts
Isaac Cummings (1601-1677) of Topsfield/Ipswich, Massachusetts.

DELANO - Delano Kindred
Philippe de Lanoy (1602?-1681/1682) came to Plymouth Colony in 1621 on the Fortune.

DELVEE - Delvee Family Association
Peter Delva (1745-1803) settled in Warwick, Massachusetts.

DOTY - Pilgrim Edward Doty Society
Pilgrim Edward Doty (d. 1655) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

FOLSOM - Folsom Family Association
John Foulsham and his wife, Mary Gilman, who came from England in 1638 to Hingham, Massachusetts. Also lived in Exeter, New Hampshire.

FULLER - Fuller Society
Pilgrims Edward Fuller (1575-1620/21) and Samuel Fuller (d. 1683) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

GOODENOW - Goodenow Family Association
Five Goodenow siblings immigrated from England on the ship Confidence in 1638 and settled in Massachusetts. The name is spelled various ways including Goodenough, Goodnough, Goodno, and Goodnow.

HARLOW – Sergeant William Harlow Family Association
Sergeant William Harlow (1625-1691) of Plymouth Colony.

HARRIMAN - Harriman Family Association
Leonard and John Harriman, immigrants to Rowley, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut, circa 1638.

HARTWELL - Hartwells of America 
William Hartwell of Concord, Massachusetts, 1635, and other branches.

HOPKINS - Pilgrim Hopkins Heritage Society
Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins (1581-1644) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

HOWLAND - Pilgrim John Howland Society
Pilgrim  John Howland (d. 1672/73) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

NICKERSON – Nickerson Family Association
William Nickerson (1604-1689/90) and wife Anne Busby arrived in 1637, settled in Chatham, Massachusetts. Maintains the Nickerson House and Genealogical Research Center, located in Chatham, and the adjacent Caleb House (1827).

RAYNOR - Raynor Family Association  
Thurston Raynor (1593-1667) family and Thurston’s nephew, Edward Raynor (d. 1684), arrived in Boston on the ship Elizabeth in 1634.

RICE - Edmund Rice (1638) Association
Edmund Rice (1594?-1663) arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony about 1638 and settled in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

ROGERS – Thomas Rogers Society
Pilgrim Thomas Rogers (1571?-1620/21) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

SAMSON – Pilgrim Henry Samson Kindred
Pilgrim Henry Samson (1604-1685) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620. Also Abraham Samson (b. 1614; d. 1685-1701) who was in Duxbury by 1638.

SOULE - Soule Kindred of America
Pilgrim George Soule (d. 1679) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

STANDISH - Myles Standish Society
Pilgrim Myles Standish (d.1655) came to Plymouth Colony in 1620.

TAFT - Taft Family Association
Robert (d.1725) and Sarah Taft (d.1725), first found in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1675, and of Matthew and Ann Taft who were in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, in 1728.

TUPPER - Tupper Family Association of America 
Thomas Tupper (1578-1676) of Sandwich, Massachusetts, in 1637.

TYLER - Job Tyler Family Association
Job Tyler (1619-1700) arrived in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1638.

WARE - Ware Family Association 
Robert Ware (1625?-1699) settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, by 1642.

WYMAN - Francis Wyman Association
John and Francis Wyman arrived with their Richardson uncles by 1640. Also preserves the Francis Wyman home in Burlington, Massachusetts.

For more family associations and surname groups check out:

29 October 2012

October is family history month

Numerous U.S. states recognize October as Family History Month. Plan ahead before Thanksgiving and the winter holidays give you ample opportunities to interview family members, share stories, and identify photographs together. Here are some guidelines to help you make the most of your time.

1. If you're new to genealogical research, learn the basics before you visit Great Aunt Bertha. Bring along a pedigree chart and family group records to put your research in perspective and to provide an overview of vital record facts.

2. Create a family photo book to give visual prompts to potential storytellers. You may even want to purchase a handheld scanner to collect images from relatives. Once you've collected a bunch of digital images, organize the photos in such a way that you know the subjects, the time period, and who you scanned the images from.

3. Do you have any questions based on details from birth, marriage, and death records you've found, like why were those specific witnesses chosen to sign the marriage certificate? Or what's the relationship between the deceased and the death certificate's informant? Write down your list of questions and bring along copies of the vital records for backup.

4.  Do you have newspaper clippings with fascinating tidbits of sports records, school achievements, injuries and accidents, social outings, court proceedings, wedding announcements, retirement parties, obituaries, church meetings, reunions, and the like? Bring copies to share so you can get the full story.

5. Have you found your family on the 1940 census? Although copying the census pages may be unwieldy, consider bringing along your laptop with the census images already saved. People like to see themselves in historical records. You could learn about the home they lived in, who lived with them, what jobs they had, who the neighbors were, and more. 

6. Did your relatives live through big, historical events like President Kennedy's assassination or the Blizzard of 1978? Ask them what they remember of the event to put their lives in historical perspective. 

7. Have you found a troubling pattern of illnesses and causes of death? Consider putting together a family health pedigree and asking your family for input. 

Make the most of your family time. Be prepared. Know what you want to learn. Bring images and records to serve as prompts. See where the path leads. You may be surprised. 

21 October 2012

Newspapers: Beyond birth notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries

Newspapers may provide stories of your ancestors—and clues to their descendants—even long after they have died.

The first newspaper in the 13 Colonies was published in 1690 and was quickly suppressed by the government after one edition. In 1704, the Boston News-Letter started a successful 74-year run reporting the news.

Although we don’t have a day-by-day newspaper account of the 1692 Salem witch trials, we do have eyewitness reports and court records that have been published. But since the trials have captured the American psyche for centuries, it’s not surprising that we find newspaper stories either reminding us of the past or offering new information about the event. 

Let’s use one of the more famous victims of the Salem witch trials as an example. Rebecca Nurse was one of the very few accused witches who was found not guilty at her jury trial on 30 June 1692. But when the court read the verdict, the afflicted girls renewed their fits and outcries against the 71-year-old Nurse, causing the jury to reverse their opinion. Even petitions signed by prominent society members and a reprieve from Governor Phips could not stop the escalating proceedings of the Court of Oyer & Terminer. On 19 July 1692, Nurse was hanged.
Rebecca Nurse homestead (2014)

On 19 July 1883, the Boston Daily Advertiser reported on the first reunion of the descendants of Rebecca Nurse at her old homestead located on Pine street in current-day Danvers, Massachusetts, previously Salem Village. Nearly 200 people attended, most who were lineal descendants of Francis and Rebecca Nurse, who had eight children. 

The descendants included “representatives of the Miles family of Worcester; the Tapleys and Putnams of Danvers; the Hayes family of Farmington, NH; the Putnams of Lynn; the Prince family of Danvers; the Newhalls of Peabody; the Browns of Lynn; a branch of the Chase family of Philadelphia; the Wiggins family of Providence; the Needhams of Peabody; the Maynards of Shrewsbury; the Evans family of Springfield; the Forbes family of Westboro; and branches of the Nourse family of Arlington, Berlin, Bolton, Lexington, Leonminster, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Salem.” This is a genealogy goldmine!

Other reunions were reported in various papers, including the 1885 placement of the Rebecca Nurse monument in the Nurse-Putnam burial grounds at her old homestead.

40 Supporters

On 31 July 1892, the New York Times reported that the Nurse Monument Association had commemorated the “brave defense of 40 neighbors and friends of Rebecca Nurse, who risked their lives to put on record their testimony in her favor” by erecting a granite tablet in their honor. It was placed near the 1885 memorial to Rebecca Nurse in the burial grounds at her old homestead in Danvers. The article recalls how Joseph Putnam—and no doubt the others who came to Nurse’s defense—truly put their lives on the line by signing the petition.

The 40 neighbors and friends listed on the granite tablet were Nathaniel Putnam, Israel Porter, Elizabeth Porter, Edward Bishop, Hannah Bishop, Joshua Rea, Sarah Rea, Sarah Leach, Samuel Abbey, Hepzibah Rea, Daniel Andrew, Sarah Andrew, Daniel Rea, Sarah Putnam, Jonathan Putname, Lydia Putnam, John Putnam, Rebecca Putnam, Joseph Hutchinson, Lydia Hutchinson, William Osburn, Hannah Osburn, Joseph Holton, Sarah Holton, Benjamin Putnam, Sarah Putnam, Job Swinnerton, Esther Swinnerton, Walter Phillips, Nathaniel Felton, Margaret Phillips, Tabitha Phillips, Joseph Houlton, Samuel Endicott, Elizabeth Buxton, Samuel Osborn, Isaac Cook, Elizabeth Cook, Joseph Herrick, and Joseph Putnam.


Even though the above examples are of a well-known historical person, it shows you why it’s important to check newspaper resources for your ancestors—even after they have died. You may find articles written about family reunions and commemorating special events. A list of descendants who attended certainly can help you fill in your family tree.


Boston Daily Advertiser, “Rebekah Nurse: Gathering of the Descendants of the 'Witch' of 1692 at Salem Village—Tribute to Her Memory,” 19 July 1883. Available on GenealogyBank (fee).

New York Times, "Worthy Witch Memorial," 31 July 1892.

12 October 2012

Haunted Happenings in Salem for genealogists

Salem Witch Museum
This week kicks off the annual, month-long Haunted Happenings events in Salem, Massachusetts, starting with the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade on Thursday, October 4. If you take away the Hollywood-and-horror storefronts and screamfest attractions, Salem is a great destination for genealogists in October. Here are a few suggestions:


Salem National Park VisitorCenter, 2 New Liberty Street. Watch the 35-minute Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence film.

Cinema Salem, Museum Place Mall. View The True 1692, a 35-minute 3-D movie.

Live Performances

House of Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street. Legacy of the Hanging Judge; Spirits of the Gables.

Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square. Cry Innocent: The People Versus Bridget Bishop.

PioneerVillage (recreated 1630s village). 

Gallows Hill (formerly Witches Cottage at Griffen Theater), 7 Lynde Street. Possessed: The Afflicted Girls of Salem.

Witch House (Judge Jonathan Corwin’s mansion), 310 Essex Street. Eerie Evenings: Tales at the Witch House.


The Candlelit Ghostly Tour and Graveyard Walking Tour.

Derby Square Tours. The candlelit Witch Trial Trail, the Terror Trail.

Salem Time Machine (formerly 13Ghosts), 131 Essex Street. Ghost Tours and Historical Tours.

Salem Historical Tours, 8 Central Street. Salem 101: Salem Survey; Cemetery 101: Grave Matters; 1692 Salem Witchcraft Walk; Haunted Footsteps Ghost tour.

Salem Night Tour, 127 Essex Street.

Salem Witch Walk, 125 Essex Street.

Gallows Hill (formerly Witches Cottage at Griffen Theater), 7 Lynde Street. Ghosts & Legends Trolley Tour.

Salem Trolley, 8 Central Street. Tales & Tombstones; Salem Village Tour at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead.

Mahi Mahi Haunted Harbor Cruise.


Salem Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers, 288 Derby Street.

Salem Witch Museum, 19 1/2 Washington Square North.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial, 43 Charter Street.

Witch Dungeon Museum, 16 Lynde Street.

Witch History Museum, 197-201 Essex Street.

Please read the web site descriptions of these events and museums so you won't be disappointed. For instance, two years ago the Salem Witch Village on Derby Street turned into a haunted maze during Columbus day, with horror creatures prowling around in the dark rooms. Needless to say, it was not the 15-minute guided tour of witchcraft myths and reality we expected. Plus, be aware that some of these attractions need some serious refurbishing and updating their stories based on new historical research.

01 October 2012

1940 census and Social Security

In the summer of 1935, the Social Security Act was signed into law. It provided workers (and later, their families) with monetary benefits based on payroll tax contributions made throughout their working years. In November 1936, the United States Postal Service first distributed Social Security forms (SS-5 forms). Beginning in January 1937, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes were collected. By January 1940, monthly benefits were paid to retired workers or to surviving widows and under-aged children.

On the 1940 census, the U.S. government asked 15 supplementary questions to 5 percent of the general population. Anyone listed on lines 14 or 29 of a census page answered three questions about Social Security.

Question 42 asked people ages 14 and above if they had a Social Security number (SSN). At no point were people asked to give their Social Security number to the census taker. If they didn’t know their SSN or if they had lost the Social Security card, it didn’t matter; the yes/no answer was based on having registered for the Social Security program.

Question 43 asked if, in 1939, wage or salary deductions were made for “Federal Old-Age Insurance” or Railroad Retirement. Up to $3,000 could be deducted from wages or salaries for private, non-government employment “except agriculture, railroads, charitable, and nonprofit organizations, employment as sailors, and in domestic service in the home of the employer.” The Railroad Retirement contributions were different, in that deductions were made for the first $300 earned each month in the railroad industry.

If the answer to question 43 was “yes,” then question 44 asked what percentage of their wages or salaries went to these retirement programs, with answers being:

1.     deductions were taken from all of the person’s wages or salary (up to $3,000 for Federal Old-Age Insurance or $300 per month for Railroad Retirement)
2.     deductions were taken from one-half or more of the person’s wages or salary, but not all of the amount
3.     deductions were taken from some but less than half of the person’s wages or salary

The Social Security Administration (SSA) web site offers a brief history and timeline of the program.

18 September 2012

1940 census: Understanding the employment fields

The 1940 federal census captures a critical moment between the Great Depression and the United States’ involvement in World War II. It’s no surprise the U.S. government asked 10 specific questions about employment for anyone 14 years of age and older in the 1940 census.

At the time, the federal and state governments sponsored numerous Emergency Work programs, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which provided unemployed people with jobs to keep them off poor relief; the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which gave men ages 18 to 25 jobs in conservation, typically with national and state parks; and the National Youth Administration (NYA), which provided high school and college students part-time jobs.

People ages 14 and older were asked about their employment status (questions 21-31). People enumerated on rows 14 and 29 were asked supplementary questions on employment as well (questions 42-47).

According to the census enumerator instructions, people ages 14 and above were divided by workers in the labor force and those not in the labor force the week of March 24-30, 1940. Workers in the labor force were broken down into four categories:

1.     In private or non-emergency federal, state, or local government work (“yes” to question 21). This included people in sales and service; farmers; unpaid family workers who contributed to the family income by working on the family farm or in the family business (other than housework or incidental chores); people who had five or more boarders; and people who worked at home for individual customers (dressmaker, laundress, etc.) or commercial employers (such as factory piecework).
2.     At work or assigned to public federal or local emergency work programs, such as WPA, CCC, and NYA (“yes” to question 22).
3.     Currently seeking work (“yes” to question 23).
4.     People who were absent from work during that week but have jobs, businesses, or enterprises (“yes” to question 24), whether on vacation, temporarily ill, temporarily laid off or on strike. This did not include seasonal workers, for example, the “professional football player and the housewife who works as a saleswoman during the Christmas season.”

Workers in private or non-emergency federal, state, or local government were asked how many hours they worked during the week of March 24-30, 1940 (question 26), while emergency program workers and job seekers were asked how many weeks they were unemployed up to March 30, 1940 (question 27). Weeks of working for public emergency work were to be counted for weeks of unemployment. Workers also were asked very specifically their occupation (question 28) and industry (question 29) and what class of worker (question 30):
  • PW: wage or salary worker in private work
  • GW: government worker paid wages or salary
  • E: employer (farmers with hired farm laborers, store owners with paid employees, etc.)
  • OA: working on own account (lawyers, doctors, farmers, etc., who did not employ paid helpers or assistants)
  • NP: unpaid family worker who “contributed to the family income, on the family farm, or in the family shop, store, etc.”
Inmates (“Inst.” for question 21) of “prisons, reformatories, jails, penal farms or camps; institutions for the mentally diseased, mentally defective, or epileptic, and home for the aged, infirm, or needy” did not answer questions 22 through 34.

People not in the work force, those who answered “no” to questions 21 through 24, were asked in question 25 if they were engaged in housework (H); in school (S); unable to work for reasons of physical disability, old age, or illness (U); or, “for any other reason, were not at work, not seeking work, and without a job” (Ot). 

Back to 1939

Question 31 asked how many weeks a person was employed in 1939, which allowed the football player and Christmas saleswoman to be counted as employed. Question 32 asked the amount of wages or salary for Jan. 1, 1939 through Dec. 31, 1939. However, it did not include business profits, sales of crops, or fees for income. The limit for this column was “$5,000+.” Question 33 asked about income of $50 or more from sources other than wages or salary, including business profits, fees, rents, unemployment benefits, direct relief, interest, dividends, and income in kind paid as wages. However, it did not include lump sum inheritances or sales of land (“unless the person regularly earns his living by buying and selling such properties”). If the person operated a farm, check out the farm schedule (the number on the farm schedule is included in column 34).

21 August 2012

1940 Census Index Project posts remaining five states

On August 21, the FamilySearch blog posted that the 1940 Census Community Project has completed indexing all 50 states and uploaded the indexes to the FamilySearch.org web site. The last five states were Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Indexes for Guam, Panama Canal, and the Virgin Islands have been posted as well. The last items on the project's list, the territories of Puerto Rico and American Samoa, will be uploaded soon. 

On April 2 at 9 a.m. the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) uploaded the census pages online (all 3.8 million of them!). Two weeks ago, subscription site Ancestry.com finished indexing the 1940 census first, using paid indexers in China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. In just four months, however, the 1940 Census Community Project worked together to create an everyname index for NARA, Archives.com, FindMyPast.com, ProQuest, and FamilySearch.org with 160,000 unpaid volunteers from around the world. The Ancestry.com and 1940 Census Community Project web sites give free access to the 1940 census index and census pages.

Having two different indexing sources can help your genealogy research. Some bloggers, such as Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings, have been making name-by-name comparisons of both indexes. Me, I like Ancestry.com's enhanced image viewer. But, after trying many variations on Ancestry.com, in just a minute on FamilySearch.org, I found my first cousin twice removed, Harry Henry, in Boston. Yes, his wife told the census taker he was a decade younger, but I know it's Harry because he was a musician working on the WPA music project, just like he stated in his 1942 World War II draft registration. 

The 1940 community project inspired many genealogists to work together on a common goal. The next big project is indexing the U.S. immigration and naturalization records, including the Boston passenger lists 1820-1891. Consider volunteering.

20 August 2012

USS Constitution sails again

USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere by Anton Otto Fischer 
On August 19, 2012, the venerable USS Constitution set sail to commemorate its defeat of the British frigate HMS Guerriere 200 years ago. Built at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, the three-masted heavy frigate was launched in 1797 to provide U.S. Navy protection for American merchant ships. Although made with a wooden hull, the Constitution earned its nickname as Old Ironsides during this fierce 35-minute battle.

As part of the 200th year celebration of the War of 1812, the USS Constitution left its dock at the former Charlestown Navy Shipyard with 285 passengers and crew. It traveled for 17 minutes under its own power, about 1,100 yards at 3.1 knots, before tugboats took the warship to Fort Independence on Castle Island. There, in front of a large crowd, Old Ironsides fired a 21-gun salute. 

In 1812, the British Empire was deeply involved in its war with France and did not anticipate some of its actions—such as the impressment of American sailors, trade restrictions, and support for Indian raids—would cause its former colonies to turn against the mother country. The War of 1812, however, truly defined the United States of America as its own nation. Despite its name, the War of 1812 lasted two years and eight months, ending with the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815. The USS Constitution and Francis Scott Key's "The Star Spangled Banner" are two of the best-known symbols of the War of 1812.

Genealogists are commemorating the War of 1812 too with the Preserve the Pensions project to digitize the War of 1812 pension files and make them available free of charge.