Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is There A Witch In Your Family?

Mary Bliss Parsons  Accused of Witchcraft
photograph taken from Wikipedia website but not validated by them that this is indeed a true photo of 
 Mary Bliss Parsons.

Since it is the time of year for witches and goblins and the celebration of Halloween, I figured it would be a good time to talk about witches, or supposed witches in our family trees. I get to claim Mary Bliss Parsons, who was the sister to Samuel Bliss, that I am descended from!

Probably one of the more famous women accused and acquitted of witchcraft was Mary Bliss Parsons, which actually happened in about 1654,  many years prior to the famous Salem Witch Trials which started in 1692.

Mary Bliss, daughter of Thomas Bliss and Margaret , married  Cornet Joseph Parsons in Hartford, CT in 1646. They lived in Springfield, Massachusetts for several years, where they had 3 children before moving to Northampton, in 1654.  The Parsons had a total of  11 children. One of their sons, Ebenezer,  was killed by Indians.

Joseph was a color-bearer in the Hampshire Troop of Horses, a prominent man in town of considerable wealth, working as a merchant and fur trader for the Pynchon family. He was also a selectman. He was licensed to keep an Ordinary, which today would be known as a tavern.

Supposedly a feud developed between the Parsons family and that of  James and Sarah Bridgman who also migrated to Northampton the same year as the Parsons did. Rumors of witchcraft began to circulate shortly after their arrival, implying that the family’s success came at the expense of others and as the result of Mary’s dealings with the devil. Joseph Parsons, took the bull by the horns and  initiated a slander case in 1656, in hopes of heading off these allegations. The record of this notable case will be found in Trumbull's History of Northampton, Vol.I, pp. 43-50; also on pages 228-234, copied from the original record now on file in Boston.

 He won this case but 18 yrs later, Mary was officially accused of and tried for witchcraft in the year 1674/1675. Some records say that she was actually placed in jail in March of 1675 to await her trial but records from the actual  trial did not survive. But on May 13, 1675 a jury found her not guilty.  Even though she was eventually acquitted, some say that  once again she was subject to another inquiry in 1679, but no records remain to prove this. Joseph and Mary packed up their family and left Northampton between 1679 -1680, amid lingering questions and gossip and they moved back to Springfield. Mary was a widow when she died in 1712, her husband preceded her in death by twenty-seven years.

The year before the famous Salem Witch  trials, six  Massachusetts women were hanged. and then twenty four innocent lives were taken during the Salem Witch Trials. The witch hunt began in Salem Village but spread to almost every town in Essex county.  Before it was all said and done, 170 to 190 men, women and even children were accused. Many were held in jails in Ipswich, Salem, Boston, and Cambridge.  Between the months of June and  September 1692, nineteen  people were hung, one was pressed to death and four died in prison awaiting trial. In 1693 the trials were ended.

There are now various theories as to what caused these bizarre accusations of witchcraft and being possessed by demons and casting of spells upon other people.

 See for related theories, and books, both factual and fictional regarding the witchcraft era.

Mary Bliss had the following siblings:
Ann who married Captain Robert Chapman
Thomas who married Elizabeth Birchard
Samuel who married Mary Leonard
Nathaniel who married Catherine Chapin
Lawrence who died in 1675
Sarah who first married John Scott, then Sam Terry and a Mr. Foot.
Elizabeth who married  Miles Morgan (she was his 2nd wife)
Hannah who never married
Hester who married Ed Foster.

My descendant line:
Samuel Bliss who married Mary Leonard
Their son Thomas Bliss who married Hanna Cadwell
Their daughter Hannah Bliss who married Samuel Hubbard.

Even more information at this website  many family lines at this website!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tunnel Vision Searching For Ancestors

One thing that is easy to do when researching your ancestors is to get tunnel vision!  You get so focused on your direct lineage that you can’t see the forest for the trees. You have to start learning to be a detective and look at all the clues that are out there.

Okay, so you hit a brick wall. Do you have the names of siblings? Have you searched for their records?  You can often find their spouses and their children and where everyone is buried. Check the cemetery well because chances are you are going to find other relatives buried there, in fact you may even find the graves of the direct lineage you have been searching for!

By checking census reports for siblings, you can often find where family members have moved in together, perhaps hard times forced them to share a household or a sibling is now carrying for an elderly parent or parents.

Back in the olden days, many women died during or shortly after childbirth from complications. There were also epidemics of small pox, etc that wiped out many members of a family all at one time. Surviving children were often sent to live with relatives either for safety’s sake to get them away from such illnesses or because a surviving parent, usually a father in cases where the wife died at childbirth, is not capable of taking care of a house full of children.  It was not unusual for there to be seven, eight, ten or even a dozen children.  The older children might stay with the father, because they could help around the house. The girls could do cooking, cleaning, mending and caring for the younger siblings or the boys could help in the fields bringing in crops,  The younger children, were often sent to live with relatives, brothers and sisters of the parents mostly. But it was not unheard of for even grandparents to step in and take the children to raise.

If you come across a census report, where you have relatives who all of a sudden have additional children living with them, where the ages just seem to send up a “red flag” that they are not close enough in age to the other children, or adults who are now parents of a young child and the wife is no longer of childbearing age, this should automatically make you ask “where did that child come from?  Who do they really belong to?”

Another thing you need to be aware of is that the spelling of names changed over time and I don’t just mean last names but first names as well. Remember that your ancestors all originally came from foreign countries and their names would have been spelled as they were “in the old country.”

Because communities were close knit and sometimes because of religion, families often intermarried. A perfect example of that is within my own family lineage. I have Decker, DeBow, Ryerson’s that have intermarried from one generation to the next!

The other day I was working on trying to locate Tina DeBow, who is at least one of the wives of Peter Decker. Some have suggested that Tina DeBow could actually be Christina DeVoe!  Peter also may have been married to Stintje (Stintie) De Mott.  I have located other generations where there have been marriages with the DeBow or Debow name, so I am inclined to believe that the DeBow is correct. But, there is a chance that somewhere, somehow her name was transcribed incorrectly.  Tina sends up a “red flag” to me as actually being her given name since that is not a name that was typical back in the 1700’s. So of course I have several courses of action to take here. I can look for Christina DeBow or Debow as well as Christina or Tina DeVoe or Devoe. Since there is a strong possibility that Peter married more than once, I also need to check for Stintje(Stintie) DeMott or Demott. Do you notice I am checking for various spellings? In checking cemetery listings, I have found the DeBow name spelled both ways.

I hope some of these hints will help you with your brick walls!  I’d love to hear from you.
This book is excellent, with lots of places listed to look on line for information.