Pitfalls in genealogy: right name, wrong person

One of the most common errors people make in genealogy is confusing two people with the same name. 

This is not hard to do. I can give you several instances where I've either done it myself or seen others do it, but I'll cite only two:

I have a 4th great-grandmother named Mary WEBSTER, who married my 4th great-grandfather John WINSLOW on 14 Apr 1796. I had Mary as being born in Kingston, New Hampshire on 11 Dec 1772 to Captain Jacob WEBSTER and Elizabeth GEORGE.

Then I ran into a problem: there was another Mary Webster who was born one week after, on 17 December, also in Kingston, to John WEBSTER and Mary CARTER.

This brought up the question, to which set of parents was my ancestor born? Every family tree on Ancestry.com I found gave Jacob and Elizabeth as her parents... but of course family trees are often unreliable, and certainly can't be counted as valid sources. 

I had to find evidence. The marriage record I found on FamilySearch didn't list the parents' names, and I had no death record.

A breakthrough finally came in the form of a death notice for her on GenealogyBank: it gave her father as Captain Jacob Webster, who had been a soldier in the War of American Independence, and even gave some details of his service. So now I knew that her parents-- and my ancestors-- were Jacob and Elizabeth.


Funnily, another example involves Mary's mother Elizabeth... I had erroneously had Elizabeth GEORGE as being the daughter of Micah GEORGE and Mary FAVOR. Then I realized that, while Micah and Mary did have a daughter Elizabeth, this Elizabeth George married a John JONES and died in Hopkinton, as did her parents. The parents of my 5th great-grandmother Elizabeth, who died in Kingston on 13 Mar 1824 and was buried there, are still unknown.

The moral of these two stories: different people with the same name, especially when born about the same time and in the same area, can easily be mixed up.


Ancestry chain:

Jacob WEBSTER (1745-1836) m. Elizabeth GEORGE

Mary "Polly" WEBSTER (1772-1861) m. John WINSLOW

William WINSLOW (1800-1860) m. Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE

James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth A. MACE

Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on April 15, 2014 .

2nd great-grandma Jess

Got in touch with a third cousin I found on Ancestry.com, who had posted a picture of my 3rd great grandparents George Albert and Hannah Melissa (SPECHT) BAKER (his second greats). I shared them here previously.

This cousin was good enough to send some more photos, and one of them was a very nice portrait of Jessie May Baker Simmonds, my great-great grandmother:

In the above photo, Jessie appears to be in her teens, which would date the portrait to between about 1887 and 1892. In the 1891, she is listed in Census of Canada as 17 years old and living in the household of her parents, George and Hannah. So the above photo was most likely taken in Nova Scotia.

She married my 2nd great-grandfather Thomas Parker Simmonds in Waltham, Massachusetts on 4 Aug 1892; on that same day, just 60 miles away in the town of Fall River, the most famous murder of the 19th century took place.

I imagine that this event probably put something of a damper on her wedding day.


Ancestry chain:

George BAKER (1842-1914) m. Hannah Melissa SPECHT

Jessie May BAKER (1873-1927) m. Thomas Parker SIMMONDS

Estelle May SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES

Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on April 9, 2014 .

Living in the past

Dick Eastman mentions a story about a Dutch woman who decided to live in the 1930s. She has nothing post-World War II in her home, except for her computer, which she needs for work. But she does laundry with a bar of soap and a board, darns socks, reads, plays board games with friends, and listens to the radio. There's no TV. No cell phone either-- an antique phone for work.  She even cleans with a 1920's vacuum cleaner (I'd be terrified to use a 90-year-old electric appliance when even modern versions are a pain in the keister-- seriously, we create Google Glass, but we can't create a vacuum without a cord and continuous 80-decibel noise?). 


It seems that we early 21st century moderns (including myself) are hankering for things of the past. All things "retro" are in-- big band music, record players... some people I know of even use old typewriters. 

So the question is, why? My opinion: because today's world sucks. 

Granted, the world has probably always sucked, but today we seem to be without many of the institutions and mechanisms that made it worth living in. In the past, families and communities were tight. Today families are frequently broken, and don't live with or near each other anymore. We're much more mobile, and this has the affect of scattering people and making us, frankly, rootless. 

Most people today don't know or even speak to their neighbors either. Far fewer of us belong to social and civic organizations than we did just a couple of generations ago. 

In addition to this, there's the type of work we do. In the old days, people worked physically harder in general than we do today, but this work had value and meaning. At the end of the day plowing the field, you may have been hot and tired, but there was a sense of accomplishment and pride. Today many of us work in some stupid office doing work that is frankly meaningless, in a framework of idiotic policies and rules at a company that pretends to care about you but doesn't. There's just irritation, anxiety, and no sense of pride or accomplishment or meaning in what we're doing. We're Peter Gibbons from Office Space.

Then there's technology. Yes, while we gain things with technologies, we  also lose something with them. I use email all the time, but there's a personal aspect of a handwritten letter that electronic communication just can't match.

Is it any wonder, then, why we're looking to the past and trying to simplify our lives? 

What Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse has chosen to do is probably too radical for many of us (sorry, but I rather like using washers and dryers for laundry), but the idea is attractive. I for one would like to put into practice some ways of getting back what I feel we've lost, getting rid of things that are cluttering and complicating my life and being freer and happier. 

I'm a computer addict, so forget tossing the Macbook. I already don't have cable, because 98.6% of what's on the 200+ channels is garbage-- just Apple TV. I do enjoy movies and educational programs, so getting rid of the TV isn't something I want to do either.

How would you want to go about simplifying your own life? Would there be a time period in which you would like to "live" if you could?



Posted on April 5, 2014 .

WINSLEY of Salisbury, Massachusetts

My great-grandmother's maiden name was WINSLOW, but as I traced her line back, I noted that the surname had originally been WINSLEY, and got changed to WINSLOW around the turn of the 18th century. No connection to the Mayflower Winslows on this line, at least not one that you wouldn't have to go back centuries to possibly find.

My first Winsley/Winslow immigrant ancestor was 9th great-grandfather Samuel WINSLEY, born about 1597 in Colchester, England to John WINSLEY and Elizabeth PADDY. Samuel is given as a freeman in a census substitute on 22 May 1639. He married Elizabeth RANDALL. 

Samuel's great-grandson, Samuel WINSLEY III, was twice married, and I descend from him through his son John, by his first wife Huldah SWETT, and his daughter Hannah, by his second wife Frances TUCKER. Hannah's husband Samuel SEVERANCE, son of Jonathan SEVERANCE and Katherine TUCKER-- Frances's sister-- would be her first cousin. Yes, ewww... thankfully, I have found surprisingly few New England colonial marriages between first cousins.


Ancestry chain #1

Samuel WINSLEY (1597-1663) m. Elizabeth RANDALL

Ephraim WINSLEY (1641-1709) m. Mary GREELEY

Samuel WINSLEY II (1670-1710, killed in Indian attack) m. Catherine STEVENS

Samuel WINSLEY III (b. 1700) m. Huldah SWETT

John WINSLOW ( 1729-1816) m. Elizabeth FRENCH

John WINSLOW  II (1774-1848) m. Mary "Polly" WEBSTER

William WINSLOW (1800-1860) m. Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE

James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth A. MACE

Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. Howes (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)


Ancestry chain #2

Samuel WINSLEY (1597-1663) m. Elizabeth RANDALL

Ephraim WINSLEY (1641-1709) m. Mary GREELEY

Samuel WINSLEY II (1670-1710) m. Catherine STEVENS

Samuel WINSLEY III (b. 1700) m. Frances TUCKER

Hannah WINSLOW (b. 1743) m. Samuel SEVERANCE

Samuel SEVERANCE (1775-1836) m. Judith TOWLE

Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE (1805-1889) m. William WINSLOW

James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth A. MACE

Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. Howes (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on April 5, 2014 .

Back to Squarespace

For years, I had blogged on Squarespace, but about a year and half ago, decided to save a bit of money by changing to (free) Blogger. I've been missing Squarespace, which I always loved for many reasons. 

So upon visiting the Squarespace home site and seeing that the price of a personal blog had actually gone down (now $10 a month, when it had been $12 when I left), I decided to go back.  Squarespace enables newbies to import blogs hosted on Blogger or Wordpress.

I've also made another decision: I'm unsubscribing to Ancestry.com, at least for now. Finances for me are tight, and I frankly see no reason to continue paying $35 a month when I really haven't been finding anything useful on Ancestry lately but filler. 

There is a Family History Center at a local LDS church which has access to Ancestry.com, so I can always go there on a Saturday morning. 

Anyway, my blog url is the same, and so is the banner image, so visitors will really just notice that the blog looks a bit different. 


Posted on April 3, 2014 .

New Hampshire deeds

Awhile back, I came across a site, nhdeeds.com,  where you can access property records for New Hampshire by county.

The three counties relevant to my own research are Rockingham, Cheshire, and Merrimack-- Rockingham being the most relevant, as virtually all of my New Hampshire ancestors resided in that county.

Getting the deeds is unfortunately not free, and for Rockingham, it's needlessly difficult.

For Rockingham, firstly, they use a Java applet, so you have to have that downloaded and enabled. A search box pops up, and you enter the name of the person you're trying to find a deed/record for-- and you have to specify "grantor" or "grantee" in a drop-down menu above the name field.

Once it brings up a list of relevant people, with the book and page numbers, you can select the one you want to view with "view document." You can view the watermarked image of the deed, but you cannot save it or print it.

You can only save and print the image yourself if you create an account and pay a $100 "set-up fee."

I frankly can't think of anyone who would pay $100 just to be able to print images of deeds, unless they are in some business that requires them to obtain copies of deeds regularly.

The annoying thing is that you otherwise have to send for copies by mail ($1 dollar per page plus postage based on number of pages-- you do not send a self-addressed envelope).

Merrimack County's site uses an easier and more modern system-- you can purchase and download copies of deeds instantly. The drawbacks: instead of $1 per deed, it's $4 (unless you get a monthly subscription, in which case the price is $2). Also, you can't even see an image of the deed until you buy it, so you may be buying a deed image that doesn't even pertain to the correct person-- especially if it's a common name.

I was able to send away for copies of deeds pertaining to my great-grandfather and his father from Rockingham County, and just now I downloaded a couple of deeds I found involving a 3rd great-grandfather who removed to Concord.

Property information plus historical maps plus Google Earth equals serious genealogical awesomeness. Just saying.

Posted on March 29, 2014 .

SARGENT of Amesbury, MA

Someone very recently emailed me and asked about the SARGENT surname which she had noticed in one of my blog entries, so I thought this would be a good surname to do this Saturday...

My original SARGENT immigrant ancestor was William SARGENT,. According toThe Great Migration Begins,  his origins are unknown. He was born by 1611, and immigrated to Massachusetts about 1632. He was admitted as a freeman on 22 May 1639, and by occupation he was a mariner. He was literate, as he could sign his name, and may have served as a grand juror.

William first married Elizabeth PERKINS, daughter of John PERKINS and Judith GATER. Elizabeth was the sister of convicted Salem "witch" Mary Perkins Bradbury, who was also a direct ancestor to me.


I'm descended from William through three of his children: Thomas, William, and Sarah.

Ancestry Chain #1:

William SARGENT (d. 1675) m. Elizabeth PERKINS

Thomas SARGENT (1643-1706) m. Rachel BARNES

Jacob SARGENT (1678-1754) m. Gertrude DAVIS

Sarah SARGENT (b. 1701) m. Isaac TEWKSBURY

Elizabeth TEWKSBURY (b. 1721) m. Joseph BARNARD

Dorothy BARNARD (1762-1827) m. Thomas COLBY

Dorothy COLBY (1791-1847) m. John PURINTON

Isaiah F. PURINTON (1818-1890) m. Sophia Haskell FITTS

Mary Olivia PURINTON (1851-1898) m. George Bailey PALMER

Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Ancestry chain #2:

William SARGENT (d. 1675) m. Elizabeth PERKINS

William SARGENT II (1645-1712) m. Mary COLBY

Jacob SARGENT (1687-1749) m. Judith HARVEY

Winthrop SARGENT (1711-1787) m. Phebe HEALEY

Mary SARGENT (b. 1745) m. Jeremy TOWLE

Judith TOWLE (1783-aft 1864) m. Samuel SEVERANCE

Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE (1805-1889) m. William WINSLOW

James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth A. MACE

Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Ancestry chain #3

William SARGENT (d. 1675) m. Elizabeth PERKINS

Sarah SARGENT (1652-1701) m. Orlando BAGLEY

Sarah BAGLEY (b. 1683) m. Henry LANCASTER

Hannah LANCASTER (b. 1709) m. John JEWELL

Hannah JEWELL (b. 1739) m. Enoch DAVIS

John DAVIS (1761-1831) m. Priscilla BARTLETT

Priscilla DAVIS (1798-1828) m. William FITTS

Sophia Haskell FITTS (1823-1880) m. Isaiah PURINTON

Mary Olivia PURINTON (1851-1898) m. George Bailey PALMER

Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on March 29, 2014 .

PALMER of Hampton, New Hampshire

My earliest PALMER ancestor was William PALMER, who settled in Hampton, New Hampshire. According to the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, William was a freeman who was in Hampton by 1638, when he was licensed by the General Court to begin a plantation. He was a grand juror in 1640.

William left a wife in Ormesby, England-- his first wife was Mary Stamforth, and he had five known children with her. The parish church at Ormesby St. Margaret's cited him in September 1636 for not attending services and excommunicated him.

He married a second wife, Ann UNKNOWN, at some point before leaving with her for the New World on the "Amite" in 1635. His youngest son with Ann was Joseph, my 7th great-grandfather. After William's death in 1646, Ann remarried Francis Plummer on 21 March 1649 in Newbury, and died there on 18 October 1665.

William's will reads as follows:

The day of death being uncertain and the time when uncertain both Religious and human policy call all men before death to dispose of their estate and I being in perfect understanding do thus dispose of my outward estate.
First I will and bequeath to my wife all that her former husband gave her by his will as it is found at my decease. Secondly I give and bequeath to Ann my wife for the term of her life my house and half my twenty acres of land at my house by equal division and five acres of salt marsh and five acres of fresh marsh and to have twenty bushels of Indian corn and my warming pan and the best cushshing and two sows and have half (the use of) my barn during her life and one cow which she will Secondly I bequeath to my son Joseph my house and land at Newbury Thirdly I will and bequeath to my son Christopher all my housing and land in Hampton not already bequeathed and after my wives disease a full enjoyment of all my housing and land in Hampton to him and his heirs for ever and I will that if I and my wife die before my son Joseph be fourteen years of age that son Christopher shall pay to Joseph till he come to the age aforesaid forty shillings by the year also my will is that my daughter Martha shall have ten pounds by the year for two years after my decease to be paid out of my estate further my will is that my daughter Mary shall have twenty pounds paid to her when she shall be at the age of twenty one years to be paid to her out of my estate. Also I will and bequeath to my daughter Mary half my pewter and my featherbed upon the chamber as it is and also her mothers best gowns and my will is that my wife shall keep in repair the Housing she have for her life and I make my son Christopher executor of this my last will.
This eighteen of ye seventh month of 1644
Witness to this my last will
Timothy Dalton Senior
William Palmer
his mark


Ancestry chain:

William PALMER (1585-1646) m. Ann UNKNOWN 

Joseph PALMER (1644-1715) m. Sarah JACKMAN

Richard PALMER (b. 1675) m. Martha DOWNER

Samuel PALMER (b. 1713) m. Anne EVANS

Joshua PALMER I (1761-1851) m. Sarah SWETT

Joshua PALMER II (1815-1864) m. Arvilla BAILEY

George Bailey PALMER (1850-1926) m. Mary Olivia PURINTON

Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW

Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984 m. Henry Richard HOWES

S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on March 22, 2014 .

RYAN of Boston, Massachusetts

In honor of upcoming St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd focus on what is, frankly, the least explored branch of my family tree: that of my Irish-descended paternal grandmother.

Irish ancestry is difficult; good luck looking for ancestors with surnames like RYAN and FITZGERALD when you don't even know where in Ireland they originated. I figure that my irish immigrant ancestors were poor potato farmers who worked land owned by others, and were driven out of Ireland by starvation during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s.

I have personally found that, in genealogy, the trail often stops at the Atlantic. Even most of the lines of my English ancestors who came over during the Great Migration of the mid 1600's cannot usually be traced back any further than the original immigrants. With my Irish and Jewish lines (my father's side), I really can't go back any farther than the generations that immigrated.

My grandmother's ancestors arrived in the 1850s, so I can thankfully at least go back to 3rd greats on her side.

The first RYAN ancestor immigrant was 2nd great-grandfather Thomas Lynch RYAN (1831-1916), who immigrated about 1857 and settled in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. According to his death record, his parents were David RYAN and Johanna LYNCH.

Thomas and his wife Johanna (nee FITZGERALD) had several children:

One, my great-great uncle James Francis Ryan, would join the fire department and rise to the rank of district chief. His younger brother, my great-grandfather David, would spend 10 years as a police officer before participating in the Boston police strike of 1919 and subsequently losing his job.

David's daughter, my grandmother Clare, was always rather broad-minded for a woman of her generation, and, in a time when mixed marriages-- either between races or between religions-- was a rare thing, married my Ukrainian Jewish grandfather.

The Ryans have a large monument at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Roslindale, MA

Photos courtesy of my father's cousin, who visited last year

My grandmother, Clare RYAN, c. 1933

When Ancestry.com updated DNA results last year to make them more specific, I was rather surprised to find that the amount of my Irish DNA is estimated at 39%. This is quite a bit higher than the roughly 25% I was expecting, and constitutes the largest percentage of my DNA. Then I recalled that my mother had some Irish ancestry too-- her 2nd great grandparents Richard HOWES and Catherine ROSS came from Ireland, according to census records, and there are names like TOWLE (originally TOOLE) and BAILEY on her side of the tree as well.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.


Ancestry line:

David RYAN m. Johanna LYNCH

Thomas Lynch RYAN (1831-1916) m. Johanna FITZGERALD

David Thomas RYAN (1875-1939) m. Mary Elizabeth FITZGERALD

Clare Regina RYAN (1911-2001) m. Boruch K

My father (b. 1933) m. S. HOWES

Me (b. 1974)

Posted on March 15, 2014 .

Then and now: Fields Corner

Google Earth can be a great resource for genealogy, especially in conjunction with historical maps. I enjoy using the program to compare views of a place in the past to modern-day.

I found online a 1948 photo of Fields Corner, a section of the Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Dorchester where my father grew up. Then I used Google Earth to take, as closely as possible, a shot of the same place at the same angle to compare (fyi, I actually took this "new" picture a couple of years ago).

Amazing not how much has changed, but how little!

Posted on March 12, 2014 .