27 June 2015

Finding the right man with the wrong photo

When something doesn't add up (Ancestry.com trees)
Recently, Ancestry.com redesigned its web site to provide “a whole new way to bring your ancestors’ stories to life.” Incorporated into this redesign is the new Facts View on Ancestry online trees, which visually and literally connects sources to support the family tree’s relationships and life facts. It’s easy to check sources by clicking the links to viewable documents within Ancestry.com’s database.

One Ancestry.com family tree included a photo of a husband and wife, which referred to a 1920 passport as the source. What a find! I hadn’t thought to look past the immigrant ship manifests to see if anyone in the family traveled back to the mother country to visit relatives. I couldn’t wait to tell my uncle I found a picture of his grandparents online. Luckily, I checked the source first.

It turns out that the pictured couple is not my uncle’s grandparents but another passport applicant and his wife (#16380). By 1918, a passport application for naturalized citizens was a two-sided form. The front of the application included the person’s name, birth date, emigration and naturalization dates, home address, occupation, travel plans, and oath of allegiance. The back included a description of the applicant, an affidavit of an identifying witness, and a photograph. These original papers were bound together in book form and scanned. 

Obviously, the family tree poster saw the couple’s photograph on the left and assumed it belonged to the applicant on the right. And since the couple’s application was accompanied by a letter-sized note from the man’s employer, it covered up the back side of their legal-sized application—except for their photo. My uncle’s grandfather (#16381) also had a letter from a business associate explaining the reason for the trip overseas and on the scanned page, visible below that letter, is a third passport applicant’s oath of allegiance (#16382). 

Although I couldn’t swap the couple’s photo with the correct grandfather’s face on the family tree posted at Ancestry.com, I did add a note about the misidentified image to prevent others from making the same mistake. And, thanks to that online tree, I was able to share with my uncle his grandfathers passport application and photo. 

For sources, it’s important to check the pages or images before and after the one that you’re looking for—in case you misinterpret or miss information that you need.

06 June 2015

Written in Stone: Proof of the Hazen/Gibson Marriage

Note: previously publishe in the New England Historic Genealogical Society's magazine in 2009.

New England Ancestors (Fall 2009): 40.
For the last decade, I’ve overturned rocks in my efforts to find the parents of John Gibson, a miller in the North End of Boston, who died in 1721. I often collaborated with my newly-found fifth cousin twice removed, Ruby (Gibson) White. One of her common refrains was: “What about Hannah Hazen’s Gibson children?” At first, I dismissed this lead. In New England Marriages Prior to 1700, [i] Clarence Almon Torrey listed her marriage with an extra editorial: “GIBSON, William & Hannah HAZEN?, dau Edward (very doubtful).”

When the New England Historic Genealogical Society published Torrey’s 12-volume manuscript on CD a few years ago, I checked his sources. I found it odd that he referenced the major Hazen genealogy,[ii] while doubting is accuracy in his concise synopsis.

Hannah Hazen was born the seventh month of 1653 in Rowley, Massachusetts,[iii] daughter of Edward Hazen (b. 1614[iv]; buried 22 July 1683 in Rowley[v]) and his second wife, Hannah Grant (b. 1631[vi]; d. Feb. 1715 in Haverill as widow of Capt. George Brown[vii]). The Hazen volume claimed that Hannah Hazen married William Gibson and died before 1683, leaving three children. When Hannah’s father died intestate, the inventory of his estate by his widow Hannah and son Edward was attested in Ipswich court 25 September 1683, and recorded 12 March 1683/4. The settlement gave the names of his children, including “Hannah Gibson deceased (3 children living) hath received 15.18.” After debts and the widow’s thirds, the estate was divided between the 10 Hazen children, with the eldest son receiving a double portion. Each child was entitled to 33 pounds and 10 shillings, with “William Gibson having = Rstd [received] 15.18.8/ Rest. [remained to be paid] short of a share 17.11.4.” [viii]

After Hannah (Grant) (Hazen) Brown died in February 1715, land that was part of her widow’s thirds was distributed to her children. This agreement, dated 20 June 1716, makes provision for her grandchildren, “brother Gibson’s children . . . they having their share with the others.”[ix] Unfortunately, the probate records do not mention the Gibson children by name nor identify their residence, but the plural “children” means at least two and possibly all three, Gibson children were still alive by this date.

Hannah (Hazen) Gibson gravestone, Granary Burial Ground (2008)
In addition to these two probate records, an additional source now confirms the Gibson-Hazen marriage. In early August 2008, I was taking cemetery photos for the Halloween issue of a local parenting magazine in the Granary Burial Ground in Boston, when I stumbled by chance across Hannah’s gravestone alongside the path near the wall by Tremont Place (by wall tomb 103):

“Hannah wife to/ William Gibson/& daughter to Edward Hazen/aged about 25….”[x]

Prior to this cemetery visit, I had checked the NEHGS database, Old Cemeteries of Boston, [xi] to see if any of my ancestral connections were buried there, so I knew Hannah’s stone was not included. Nor is the stone mentioned in the 1856 survey or the 1905 inscriptions compiled by Henry A. May, both of which were consulted for Ogden Codman’s Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Granary Burial Ground. [xii] Hannah’s grave was not included in the 1980s survey by the Historic Burial Grounds Initiative (HBGI) nor can it be found on HBGI’s map. When I contacted HBGI, project director Kelly Thomas had no record of the grave and could not say whether it was found during recent conservation.[xiii] Since the grave had been forgotten or misplaced for the last 150 years (since the 1856 survey), on 22 August 2008, Kelly Thomas and conservators at the cemetery lifted the stone to reveal the rest of the inscription:

“Hannah wife to/ William Gibson/& daughter to Edward Hazen/aged about 25/ years dec’d October ye 10/1678/Also 2 sons lyes by her.”

How the gravestone was overlooked for generations is a mystery. Clearly, it is not new. The fan-sunburst motif on Hannah’s gravestone can be attributed to an unnamed carver “whose works are to be seen primarily in Charlestown, Cambridge, Watertown, Malden, Wakefield, Woburn, the Granary, and King’s Chapel.” This design by the “Charlestown carver” was only used in the 1670s and 1680s, making the gravestone contemporary with her death date. “From the extant evidence it would seem that the [Charlestown carver’s] earliest carving, stemming from broadsides, developed north of the Charles River possibly as early as 1674 and certainly by 1678.”[xiv]

Given that the gravestone was probably placed shortly after her death in 1678 and before her father’s 1683 probate, Hannah and William Gibson had at least five children, born between say 1670 and 1678. Five Gibson children (none named John) are recorded in Boston records during this time but belong to another couple with the same names: William Gibson, often referred to as “the Scotchman” or by his occupation as cordwainer or shoemaker, [xv] and his second wife, Hannah Phippen.

Finding Hannah (Hazen) Gibson’s grave not only confirms her marriage but also gives her exact death date and narrows the time period for her children’s births—all information not found in contemporary records. Based on the grave inscription, I can conclude that Hannah Hazen is less likely than Ruby and I hoped to be the mother of our John Gibson of Boston, who filed a marriage intention on 18 December 1708 to Margaret Wood of Ipswich. [xvi]

So the search continues—for my John Gibson’s parents as well as “brother Gibson’s children.”

[i] Clarence Almon Torrey, New England Marriages Prior to 1700 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985, 1997), 301.
[ii] Tracy Elliot Hazen, The Hazen Family in America (New Haven, Conn.: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1947).
[iii] Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2009).
[iv] Torrey, New England Marriages, 361, and Hazen, The Hazen Family, 4-5, 7-8.
[v] Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850.
[vi] Torrey, New England Marriages, 361, and Hazen, The Hazen Family, 10-11, 14.
[vii] “Descendants of Henry Brown of Salisbury” in Essex Antiquarian, 12 (1908), 97.
[viii] Hazen, The Hazen Family, 21-23.
[ix] Hazen, The Hazen Family, 24.
[x] Since 1660, more than 5,000 people have been buried at Granary Burying Ground, though less than half are marked by gravestones, which have sometimes been moved in an effort to straighten the rows. Hannah (Hazen) Gibson’s grave is located in a row with three unrelated and also relocated graves, for Susannah Reynolds (died 5 May 1746, aged 26); Windsor Goulding (d. 26 August 1702, aged 13 months and eight days); and Mary Coney (d. 17 June 1697, aged 21 months). There are no known Hazen graves in Granary, and the other Gibson burials are probably unrelated.
[xi] Old Cemeteries of Boston (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, NEHGS, 2007), taken from Robert J. Dunkle and Ann S. Lainhart, Inscriptions and Records of the Old Cemeteries of Boston (Boston, MA: NEHGS, 2000).
[xii] Ogden Codman, Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Mass. (Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1918).
[xiii] The Historic Burying Grounds Initiative is part of the city of Boston’s Parks & Recreation Department. HBGI has an online database of burials (http://www.cityofboston.gov/parks/hbgi/). Email correspondence with Kelly Thomas, 11 Aug. 2008; 15 Aug. 2008.
[xiv] Allan I. Ludwig, Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and Its Symbols, 1650-1815 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999), 291.
[xv] See Annie Haven Thwing, Inhabitants and Estates of the Town of Boston, 1630-1800 & The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston, 1630-1822 (Boston: NEHGS, CD-ROM 2002) for his profile. From 1663, this William Gibson is credited with at least 20 children, including 15 with Hannah Phippen, listed in The American Genealogist 17 (1940): 12. The Scotchman was actively involved in the community and more likely to record his children’s births. None of the gestational periods overlap. His wife Hannah Phippen was born 25 July 1653, just two months before Hannah Hazen, according to Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths, 1630-1699 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill City Printers, 1883), 41.
[xvi] The average age at marriage for males during this period is 25. If John Gibson were Hannah Hazen’s son, he would have been between 30 and 38 in 1708. Vital Records of Ipswich, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849 (Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1910) 2:181.

Reprinted by permission of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Robin Chalmers Mason, “Written in Stone: Proof of the Hazen/Gibson Marriage,” (New England Ancestors, vol. 10, no. 4 (fall 2009): 40-42. For more information about the magazine, now known as American Ancestors, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, please visit www.americanancestors.org