Monday, October 29, 2012

Which witch is which!

Associated Daughters of Early American Witches. Membership is by invitation only. You must be at least sixteen years of age and be able to prove your descent from an ancestor who was accused, tried and/or executed for the practice of witchcraft before the end of December 1699.

I know many people who want to trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower. But I know even more who want to trace their family back to the Salem witch trials. I have no explanation for this except that it will add a little bit of spice to your family history. We are not talking about Halloween witches here. Instead we are talking about those people who were "different" and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you do your research, you will find that social conditions, climate, geography all played a role in this dark period in New England history. The first women to be accused of witchcraft were poor or homeless and there was a huge division between the social classes in the area. Eventually scientific research discovered that there was a problem with the grains that were grown in Salem, which was by nature warm and swampy. And history shows us that all of this led to mass hysteria.

There are many online sources of lineage information for those of you who want to trace your ancestry to the Salem Witch Trials. The website for the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches has a list of approved ancestors. I would suggest that you check the surnames and go from there.

Let me say something here: This is one of those situations where you are doing backwards genealogy and it does not always work. In other words you are trying to connect your family to a group of famous or notorious people and you have no idea whether or not you are related. Life is too short to base all of your research on this technique. However, have fun with it for a short period of time and then go back to the real research that is going to give you an accurate picture of your family history. 

In most cases, if you have done your homework, acceptance into a lineage society is not that difficult. Most of the time the drawbacks and hesitations are all in our minds. If you remember this one simple fact, your chances of acceptance will be good. *Don"t enter any information that you cannot verify.

If you don't have proof for a date of birth, marriage or death - don't enter the information. It is that simple and yet so many of us just don't get it. I don't know why we don't get it. And I am as guilty as anybody else. You know what I am talking about. "Great-grandma Bessie always said that her mother was born in Virginia and came to Kentucky with Daniel Boone in 1770."  Sounds good, but is it true? Prove it! That's all you need to do.

One thing that I have recently discovered that might possibly help you with your Salem research: Massachusetts eventually decided to make things right with the families of the people involved in the Salem Witch Trials.This means that since the government was involved, there are probably tons of records with lots of names and dates. I have found this to be true with my own research.

For more information about the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches go to


Thursday, October 25, 2012

That Big Box of Family Pictures

Ah. . . .this is the time of year that we genealogists start planning ahead for next year. This is when we put our genealogy wish lists together. Wouldn't it be fun for your family to all get together and send you away to a conference for a few days! Instead of a gift card to your local box store, how about a membership to Let's get creative -- gas gift cards, motel gift cards, a gift card to Or maybe a membership to your local genealogical society. A subscription to your favorite genealogy magazine. There are so many options.

At the same time, you can give something to your family. Remember all those times when you thought -- if only I had asked Grandma about what her life was like when she was growing up. Or "who are all those people in all those pictures"? How about rather than camping out in front of the store with the best bargain this year, you take that time to identify the people you know in all those boxes of pictures in your closet. And on Christmas Eve instead of watching the same holiday movies you have been watching since November 1, get those boxes of pictures out of the closet and show the youngest members of the family the pictures from the past. Lets them see what their moms, grandmothers, and sisters or brothers looked like before they were born.

I am one of the fortunate ones who knew what family holiday parties were like before television. We all got together at the home of the family that was next in line to have the Christmas Party. (See, we all took turns. And when someone got to old to have the party, it passed to the next person in line.) And after dinner, we didn't watch tv. Instead we got out that big box of family pictures and the aunts and uncles told us who everyone was and then they told us all the crazy stories about growing up in our family.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Land Of Cotton

We have arrived at the last episode of Who Do You Think You Are for 2012. Although it looks like NBC will not renew WDYTYA  for another season, there have been rumors that another network might pick up the popular series. Of course those of us who do family history know very well that the concept will not die. We all will continue to do our own individual Who Do You Think You Are stories.

Paula Deen was the last celebrity this year to venture into the past. That past was a Georgia plantation around the time of the Civil War. John Batts, Paula's 3x great-grandfather, was listed in the 1870 census as a planter meaning he owned a plantation which today would have been worth a million dollars.  Also, records show that Batts owned 35 slaves in 1860.

Further research shows that John's oldest son, William, fought and died in the Civil War. After the war, John Batts' life changed drastically eventually leading to his suicide sometime before 1879. I think it is safe to assume that  his financial situation contributed to his death and, of course, no one knows whether or not things would have been different had William Batts survived the war. 

Are you thinking Gone With The Wind right now?  Scarlet O'Hara? Rhett Butler? Before I-75, the route to Florida took travelers through the back roads of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents' car in the late 1940's, early 1950's --looking out the window, hoping to get a glimpse  of an old plantation manor house. And they were there -- although mostly in disrepair and abandoned. I am sure at that time in my life I didn't realize what i was seeing.  Instead I visualized the Hollywood version of the Old South. Grand plantations that survived long after the war between the states and eventually just deteriorated due to age. What I didn't see was the devistation caused by the effects of the Civil War. 

It is easy to see from the tax records of John Batts that his lifestyle changed drastically after the Civil War until he finally committed suicide sometime before 1879. It is easy to romanticize the Old South but it takes a family history like that of Paula Deen's to bring us back to reality.

And nothing can bring us back to reality like the letter that Jordan Anderson, a former slave,  wrote to his former owner, Colonel Patrick Henry Anderson in 1865.  Jordan Anderson was a slave who was freed from a Tennessee plantation in 1864 by Union soldiers. He eventually came to live in Dayton, Ohio, where he dictated the letter to an abolistionist named Valentine Winters. Winters published the letter in a Cincinnati newspaper in 1865.  (This area of southern Ohio was very much a part of the Underground Railroad. If you attended the NGS Conference in Cincinnati this year, you may have had an opportunity to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center just a short walk from the conference center.) The letter itself has been sliced and diced by many and it surfaces every few years. Many compare the letter to the writing style of Mark Twain. The letter swings back and forth between dry satirical humor and the violence that characterized slavery.

Jordan gives Col. Anderson the opportunity to prove his sincerity by requesting that his long overdue wages be sent to him by Adam's Express.  (  The amount would be $11,680 plus interest for 32 years of faithful service. At the same time he expressed his concern for the safety of his wife and family. The letter gives us a snapshot of Jordan's life in 1865. He made $25 a month, had a home, attended chuch, and his children were doing well in school.

Jordan Anderson was an actual person who was born around 1825 and eventually was sold to the Anderson family when he was around the age of 7. He was freed in 1864. He died in 1905 at the age of 80. He wrote the letter in reply to a letter sent to him by Col Anderson.

Colonel Anderson was born in 1823. He sent a letter to Jordan in a last chance effort to save his plantation. He felt that Jordan could help him return the property to its pre-Civil War condition. The colonel lost his plantation in 1865 and died in 1867 at the age of 44. You have to wonder if Col. Anderson took his own life like Paula Deen's 3x great-grandfather. After all their circumstances were similar and, no doubt, not unlike that of many other southern plantation owners.

But Jordan's main concern in 1865 was the safety, education, and future of his family. It appears he succeeded. The full text of the letter can be easily found on line.

Note: For the next few weeks I will be working on my own Ohio Genealogical Society lineage papers and I will be posting about my experiences with this project. I am also planning a trip down the new Route 24 to the Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Coming in October: Which Witch is Which. The Associated Daughters of Early American Witches.

Coming in November: How many people can you squeeze on a tiny boat. The Mayflower Society.