Remember when I said I'd share a few of the more interesting stories from my family tree?
I love the simplicity of this sunburst-style family tree from Modern Trees, which can go to seven generations. via Eco & Elsie. Maybe for my birthday?
1. The Irish Ancestor Who Wasn't
Sometimes family stories aren't exactly correct. We'd been told that one of my maternal great-great-grandfathers was named Caleb O'Leary, an Irish orphan, who died tragically young under suspicious circumstances when my great-grandmother was a toddler. He was found dead on the railroad tracks, his family believed he'd been murdered, and local police refused to investigate because they assumed he'd been accidentally killed by a train while drunk (prejudice against Irish was commonplace at the time).
The digitized records tell a different story. After years of fruitless searches for him under the name O'Leary, among families who emigrated during the potato famine, I went back to basics and looked at the census records we had for him. Turns out Caleb's surname wasn't recorded as O'Leary, but as Leary - and the Learys were listed as being of German ethnicity. Leary is an anglicization of the German Lerich/Lerch/Lorch (from "The Valley of the Larks"), and the family arrived with the first wave of Foreign Protestants who were brought in from central Europe to settle Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in the mid-1700s. Caleb was raised by his aunt, Ellen Leary Weagle, but had he actually been orphaned? His birth parents are listed as George Leary and Alice, of New Germany, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, in his marriage record. However, there is no record of a marriage between George Leary and an Alice, and all the Alices that appear in the census in New Germany and other nearby communities in Lunenburg County were far too young. George's marriages were to Desire (or is it said Desiree?) Peet, then Clara Grace Fiendel after Desire's death. At first I thought Alice must have been a relationship between the marriages, and then I found the date of Desire's death, about 9 months after Caleb was born. Then I went back to the NS Archives' website to take another look at the marriage record, and realized that the whole page of marriages was written in the same hand with the same pen at the same time - it had been transcribed at some point! An illicit relationship with a teenager that was hushed up successfully and appears in none of the other family trees or family stories, seems far less likely than that "Alice" is just a mistranscription of "Desire" from a damaged or difficult-to-read church record, and that baby Caleb was sent to be raised by his dad's eldest sister while his grieving father struggled with the farm and five other children under age nine.
This also provides an explanation for his identification in family stories as Irish: Desire's parents were George Peet, who was born in New Dublin, Lunenburg County to a family who had emigrated from Northern Ireland - and Maria Arenburg, from another South Shore German family. And George Leary's mother was Elsie Dougherty, from another Irish family. So Caleb's family was part-Irish. And his origins were garbled by subsequent generations because he died so young.
(I'm now stalled out trying to find George Peet's family.)
As for Caleb's accidental or not-so-accidental death, there are no digital records for that, but years ago my sister found a newspaper article about his death at the Nova Scotia Archives that gave a date and confirmed that he'd been found dead on the railroad tracks. She has misplaced her photocopy of it, but the original will still be in the Archives waiting to be read. The "unsolved murder" story is waiting to be solved.
2. The Puritan Mother Who Was Burned As A Witch
Mary Barnes, the first wife of Thomas Barnes of Farmington, Connecticut, was one of the last three people executed in Connecticut for witchcraft. It's thought that she was hung, not burned at the stake, at the site where Trinity College now stands in Hartford. The records of her life and death are fragmentary; it's not clear who her parents were (there isn't a shred of evidence to tie her to the parents given in most family trees online), or who accused her of witchcraft, and although she denied being a witch, nobody defended her during the trial. Mary and Thomas had four children when she was executed, and they were young enough that Thomas brought in Mary Andrews (an elder daughter of a nearby family, who he later married), to take care of the children while their mother was in prison. Some have suggested that her husband wanted Mary out of the way so he could marry the girl next-door, but reputable historians point out that speaking in her defence might have only served to get her husband accused too, with the result that they'd both be hung and their children would become indentured servants - and remarrying the woman who came to care for the children after a wife's death was hardly uncommon during this period.
We are supposedly descended from Thomas' son Thomas, who would have been 10 years old when his mother was hung. He is my eighth great grandfather, from my dad's side of the family tree. Unfortunately the family trees that all this is based on are a complete schmozzle of duplicated individuals and alternative birthdates (as discussed here), and it looks like Thomas' son Thomas might be the son of Mary Andrews, not Mary Barnes - or could be from the family in Middletown instead of the family in Farmington. It will take a fair bit of research to sort the mess out.