I am now the keeper of my family’s ancestral records. 3/4 of my grandparents have traced their ancestry back to at least the 1600s and as far back as the 1100s. I now hold all of the documents, charts, and graphs that demonstrate this information. I find myself questioning just exactly how to proceed with this information. I know that I want to maintain what has been discovered and learn more about the past, but also to document as much of the lives of my living relatives as I can for future generations. It’s the latter part that I can get creative with and for which I question how to proceed. However, just to begin my journey pouring over the mass of information that I’m now responsible for, I’ve decided to follow each family tree down it’s numerous paths. Whilst doing this, I will use the Internet to discover as much basic information about these people’s lives as possible.
Today, I start with my father’s mother’s family. My preliminary questions are:
1.) When is the earliest documentation of a my family in the United States?
William Brewster and Mary Love immigrated with their son, Love Brewster, from Nottinghamshire, England sometime between 1601-1627. Now, given the time period, it was easy to guess that they came to America on the Mayflower. This was not a surprising discovery, given that I’m an Anglo-Saxon Protestant American from New England. Most people with that heritage had ancestors on the Mayflower. So, they very specifically arrived in America on December 21, 1620.
The passengers on the Mayflower have been well-documented over the years. So, all I had to do was Google these individuals, and Vwa-lah scores of information were available to me about their lives. Although not all of the information always matches up with my family’s records, the wealth of knowledge is inspiring.
2.) When is the earliest documentation of my family in Maine?
James Emery was born in 1658 in Kittery, Maine. This is the first specific date of an ancestor in Maine. However, it is apparent that my ancestors had to have come to Maine before that point as his parents had to have moved there before the birth. James Emery Sr. was born in about 1630 in England. My best guess would be that the family immigrated to the States, specifically Maine, as many Englishmen did during this time period, and then gave birth to their son.
After some Internet surfing, I found some questionable information about James Emery Sr. at this site. My family does not have record of his wife at all, so the Elizabeth Nock character postulated on the site is a good lead. We also have no information about his parents, but, if this information is accurate, James Emery Sr. arrived in the States in 1635, which would suggest that his parents came over with him due to his young age. So, perhaps his parents were truly my first ancestors in Maine.
Ultimately, my family has very little information about this line in our family history. Lots of things are left blank from names to birth dates to birth places, so the question of when my family arrived in Maine leaves much to be desired. I will have to do some more rigorous research on this topic.
3.) Who are the individuals that immigrated?
This is typically a very easy to question to answer, although not always. The more interesting question is who are these people?
- William Brewster, Mary Love, and Love Brewster from England in 1620. This was discussed earlier, but they came to America on the Mayflower. William was removed as Secretary of State by Queen Elizabeth, and then became an instrumental part of forming the Separatist Church in England. He first fled in England in 1608 and went Holland, where he worked on a printing press to illegally convey religious books back to England. When the English government caught on, the Dutch authorities pursued him. He and his family went into hiding for several years before boarding the Mayflower.
- James Emery from England in approx. 1635 with his father, also James Emery. While there is no known reason for his leaving, I suspect that it was due to religious persecution. According to this site, he married at least two times, and settled in Kittery, Maine. He was a selectman for eight terms, a Representative to the General Court 1693-1695, a grand juror, and a Constable in 1670. However, my family records indicate that he only married once to Elizabeth Newcomb. The site I found claims he married twice, both times to a woman named Elizabeth. While this is possible, I believe the site is confusing James Emery Sr. with James Emery Jr. The senior Emery married a woman named Elizabeth, with unknown last name. The junior Emery married a woman named Elizabeth Newcomb according to my records, but she is listed as the senior Emery’s second wife on the site I found. With conflicting information the truth is always uncertain, however I feel that my family’s records in this case hold up to snuff.
- John Woodcock from Weymouth, England sometime between 1615-1649. My records indicate that John was born in Weymouth in 1615 and that he married sometime before 1649 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Again, I would suspect that John was fleeing England for religious reasons because of the time period. This website has consistent information with my family records including date of birth, date of death, date of marriage, and the woman he first married. The second marriage listed on the website was unknown to my family. The website also claims he was living as a single man in Springfield, Mass. in 1636, so he must have arrived before that time.
- Dorothy Simmons from Duxbury, Plymouth, England to Nobleboro, Maine. The only records my family has of Dorothy is that she was born in Duxbury in 1752 and died in Nobleboro on Sept. 23, 1814. I could find no further information online about her life.
- Robert Spear sometime between his birth in September 1714 in Londonderry, Ireland and his death on March 13, 1776 in Woburn, Massachusetts. That was all the information my family had collected about Robert, but I found a wealth of information about his family here. The Spear family holed up inside the walls of Londonderry to avoid religious persecution, refusing to adopt Catholic beliefs. It claims that he moved with a group of Scotch Presbyterians to the St. Georges River in Maine after coming to Massachusetts with his parents. The wife listed on this site is consistent with my own records, as is his eldest son John, who is also on my family tree. His son, John’s, wife and son, Robert, are again consistent with my records.
- Jacob Heinrich Winchenbach came to Maine sometime between his birth on July 23, 1743 in Nenderoth, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia and his death on September 10, 1825 in Waldoboro, Maine. This character is particularly interesting to me for several reasons. The first of which is that I have been obsessed with my German heritage since I was a small child; I love all things German because of it. The second reason being that Jacob lived through and witnessed the reign of Frederick the Great in Prussia; Frederick the Great is one of my favorite historical figures. So, Jacob caught my attention quickly. According to this website, Jacob married Polly Nash in 1798. This not quite consistent with my records, as Jacob’s son, Henry, was born in 1762. However, the site does agree with my records the Henry Winchenbach then went onto marry Mary Woltz, although the date is again inconsistent. The only additional information I could find was that Jacob was the Waldoboro Town Clerk in 1800, which I discovered here. That new information only narrows the window of time in which Jacob could have immigrated to Maine. It is unknown why Jacob immigrated, and I cannot speculate why because Frederick the Great’s Prussia was a fabulous place and time to have lived in.
- Simeon Heiler between his birth on June 20, 1739 in Hohenwettersbach, Baden, Germany and his death on April 28, 1812 in Cushing, Maine. This family is the only known family line on my grandmother’s family tree that had an incestuous streak. Simeon Heiler’s father, Hans Conrad Heyler, was born on February 11, 1682 in Switzerland. I can only surmise that Simeon’s parents fled Switzerland because of the peasant revolts or the formation of the Helvetic Republic. Then, in Germany, Simeon was born. Simeon’s older sister (by 3 years), Maria Prisca Heiler, is also important to this story. She was born in unknown whereabouts, but died in Cushing, Maine as well. Simeon had two children, Jacob Hyler and Priscilla Hyler. Priscilla was born in Germany around 1776. Jacob was born in Cushing, Maine around 1782. So, the family must have come to America during that time period. Priscilla has a son, Mason Robinson, with her husband, Moses Robinson, in August 1808 in Cushing. Moses Robinson, however, was the son of Maria Prisca Heiler, otherwise known as Priscilla’s Aunt. So, Priscilla and Moses were cousins. Jacob also had a child, a daughter called Rachel V. Hyler. Rachel then went on to marry Mason, and they had a daughter named Amanda Robinson. However, Rachel and Mason were simulataneously cousins and cousins, once removed. Here ends the incestous streak of the Heiler family. If it’s a bit confusing, I suggest drawing a little map to help clear things up. This is all based upon my family’s records, no further research has been done into this family.
- Last but not least, is Mary Fitzgerald who was born in 1703 in Ireland. I know that she came to Maine sometime before her son’s birth in 1735 because her husband, Moses Robinson (the grandfather of the Moses in the Heiler story) was born “1703 in Warren, Maine by the old Presbyterian meeting house” according to my records. So, she must have met her husband somewhere in Maine. The fact that Moses was born in Warren, Maine hints that the Spear family earlier discussed and the Robinson family are probably related some generations before Moses’ birth. I also speculate that this family may have had a brief incident of incest as well because Moses’ grandfather was a Daniel Fitzgerald, and his mother was a Catherine Mary Fitzgerald. Mary’s father was also Daniel Fitzgerald, and she shares an almost identical name to her mother-in-law. Given that Moses and Mary were born on the same year in different countries, this easily could just be a bizarre coincidence, but further research will hopefully bear the truth.
Why does it all matter? I guess it doesn’t really have much bearing on one’s life, but it is quite fascinating to learn little stories about your forefathers. Some people put far too much stock in what their ancestors accomplished, which can lead to an inadequately inflated ego. However, I do think the sense of place and belonging that comes with knowing her family’s heritage is comforting. It’s the same sort of comfort one finds in an old folklore because you don’t know how much of it is true, and you don’t care. It’s just a story that entertains, that romanticizes, and that gives meaning to a place or person. So, discovering your ancestry can give you some personal folklore about days gone by. The only warning I have is not to get so entrenched in your past that you equate an ancestor’s deeds with your own. You did not do the heroic thing; you did not do the shameful or evil thing. You are you, they are dead.