Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Tale of the Timeline: the Solarts of Massachusetts

The Solomon Kimball House, Wenham, Massachusetts
By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, it takes something as simple as a timeline to make "heads or tails" of the stuff going on in a family. That was certainly the case when I started researching the family of my 8th Great Grandfather, John Solart of Massachusetts. I kept finding tidbits over several months from various sources concerning various family members. When I put events in order chronologically, several stories just seemed to pop out.

The first story concerned John Solart, Sr, my 8th GGfather, one of the early settlers of Wenham, Massachusetts. The earliest mention I've found concerning John, Sr. was in an interesting chapter on the historical taverns located in Wenham in Jack Hauck's book, Treasures of Wenham History.(1) John, Sr, was appointed by the General Court as "Keeper of the Tavern" in 1670, and later that year, John built another tavern, a building that still stands as a private residence on Main Street in Wenham.

John, Sr, was considered, by many sources, to be a wealthy man, implying that he was most likely an astute business man. It was surprising, however, to learn that John, Sr, died intestate, leaving no will. The story that appears over and over is that John committed suicide on 24 May 1672. Essex County Court records presented the deposition of two of his servants or employees who told of John, Sr, telling them several months before his death of his final wishes. John told the two men that he was "being often troubled with faynting Fits" and felt he "haue not long to live".(2)

In September, 1672, John's widow Elizabeth presented John's verbal will to the Essex County Court. At this September hearing, the two servants stated that John, Sr, said that his entire estate was to go to his wife Elizabeth "duering the time of her widowhood" and to be used for raising their children. Were Elizabeth to remarry, she was to receive one third of John, Sr's estate, the other two thirds to be divided among his children. Their deposition agreed with the customary division of property during that time. The estate inventory valued John, Sr's estate at 500 pounds. The record also listed the names of the seven children who were to receive a share of their father's estate when they came of age: John (Jr), Sarah, Hanah, Martha, Joseph, Abigaill (my 7th Great Grandmother), and Bethia.

Just three months later the widow Solart married Ezekiel Woodward on 20 Dec 1672.(3) According to the terms of John Solart, Sr's will, Elizabeth would not receive a portion of the estate, only money for the raising of the seven named in the court records.

Jump ahead a few years and the family composition has changed. Son John, Jr, had died and his will was proved on 28 Mar 1676.(4) Elizabeth Solart Woodward died in December of 1678.(5) The money from John, Sr's estate, however, still had not been divided among John's six children and John Jr's wife.

Less than a year after Elizabeth Solart Woodward's death, her son Joseph died. The Essex County Court in April of 1679 appointed an executor for Joseph's estate and allowed Elizabeth's daughters Abigaill and Bethia to select whom they wanted to be their legal guardians. Interestingly, none of these legal responsibilities were handed over to Ezekiel Woodward.(6) The estate money apparently had continued to be kept or used by Ezekiel Woodward.

It took further lawsuits filed by the surviving six children to attempt to get the share of their father's estate due to them. In September of 1682, all six of the surviving children, plus the husband of a deceased daughter Mary Solart Edwards, were still petitioning the Essex County Court to let one of them be named administrator of their father's estate.(7) The petition stated that Ezekiell Woodward had taken over the estate and had not paid the legacies.

By 1682, ten years after his death, the estate of John Solart, Sr, still had not been settled according to his desires. His widow had died, both of his sons were deceased, and all of his surviving daughters were now of age to receive their legacies. And, thus far, I have not come across any record that the daughters ever received the money due them by Ezekiell Woodward. For some of them, having additional money could have made a significant difference in their lives. For Sarah Solart, at least, her life might have made for a very different story.

Lessons Learned:
  • Research such as this would be much more difficult without the digitized court and church records available online, records that have survived from our country's early days.
  • When I find probate records like that for John, Sr, listing the full inventory and value of his estate as well as the names of all his family members, I remember once again just how much we can learn from wills and probate records.
  • It is hard not to judge Ezekiell Woodward by today's standards, but the early courts did not appear to punish him or penalize him for the manner in which he seemed to maintain control of the Solart family's money. Life then as well as now is not an drama that is neatly solved in a 42 minute television program. I need to remind myself to simply look at the facts as they are presented in the time in which they occurred and not as similar events might be dealt with in the twentieth-first century.

(1) Hauk, Jack E. "A History of Wenham Taverns From 1643 to 2008". Treasures of Wenham History. Wenham, Mass, self-published, 2013; accessed http://www.hwlibrary/org
(2) Dow, George. The probate records of Essex County, Massachusetts. Salem, Mass: Essex Institute, 1916-1920; accessed on
(3) Massachusettes Town and Vital Records 1620-1988, Wenham Vital Records Transcripts, Marriages; accessed on
(4), Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991, Essex Probate Records, 1672-1691, estate of John Solart, Jr.; accessed on
(5) Massachusettes Town and Vital Records 1620-1988, Wenham Vital Records Transcripts, Deaths; accessed on
(6) Dow, George. Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County. Salem, Mass: Essex Institute, 1911; accessed on
(7) Historical Collections of the Essex Institute. Salem, Mass: Essex Institute, 1861; accessed on

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Step by Step, Bit by Bit, Learning More About Hannah Larcom

"Step By Step" MPN photos

Hannah Larcom, my 6th Great Grandmother, wasn't exactly a brick wall, but she has been one lady for whom each answer tended to bring more questions.

It all started several months ago when I found the marriage record for Hannah Larcom and my 6th Great Grandfather Stephen Fairfield.(1)  The record was simple to find on a page of marriage records from Wenham, Massachusetts. There were even two other Fairfield relatives whose marriages were recorded on the same page. But who were Hannah's parents? Had she always lived in Wenham? And when was she born? Already the answer of her marriage date brought new information to seek.

There are a number of online family trees that listed Hannah as being the daughter of Mordecai Larcom so I tried to verify this information as the online trees all seemed to cite other online trees as the source. Sure enough, in the same collection of Wenham, Massachusetts records, I found the birth of a Hannah Larcom, daughter of Mordecai and his wife Abigall, born in Wenham 16 July 1704.(2) Now I knew the possible parents, birthplace, and birth date for Hannah.

It wasn't long before I stumbled over a big rock. While looking through that same record collection for some Fairfield information, I came across the unexpected. A death record for Hannah Larcom. Hannah, the daughter of Mordecai and Abigall, had died in October of 1704, at the age of just three months.(3) The fact meant that either two different people were the parents of Hannah Larcom or, as was frequently the case, Mordecai and Abigall later had a second daughter whom they also named Hannah. One more answer, more questions.

Trying to find a record of the birth of another Hannah Larcom still has me stumped. I have searched the available birth and baptismal records available online for the town of Wenham, Massachusetts, as well as those of the neighboring towns of Beverly and Ipswich, without having any success. The only mention thus far that I've found for a later birth date for a Hannah Larcom was in "Genealogy of the Larcom Family" published in a 1922 issue of the Essex Historical Collection journals.(4) This lengthy two-part article lists a Hannah Larcom, daughter of Mordecai Larcom, who was baptized in 1711 and [who became the] wife of Stephen Fairfield.

A further link between Hannah Larcom and her parents Mordecai and Abigail was found in the probate records of Mordecai Larcom's estate. Mordecai Larcom had died intestate in 1712, but his estate, however, was not probated until after the death of his wife Abigall in 1741.(5) Hannah's husband, Stephen Fairfield, appeared as a witness on a number of documents related to the probate proceedings, and a division of the estate was made to Stephen Fairfield "in right of his wife Hannah".(6)

Once again, Birth, Marriage, and Death/Probate records provided answers to some of the questions about Hannah. Looking for that elusive original birth or baptismal record from 1711 for Hannah will stay on my To-Do List for a while. For now I'll have to be satisfied with possible baptismal information and the probate records to connect Hannah to Mordecai Larcom and Abigail Solart as her parents. Several dots that could finally be connected to made a line on my family tree.

Later, when I started searching for information about Hannah's Solart grandparents, I found myself pulled in an unexpected direction. Talk about examining a Bright Shiny Object! I found not just more questions but a surprising brush with history. Definitly the subject for a future post. Or two.

(1) Massachusetts Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988. Database and Images,, ( : 2011); citing Wenham Births, Marriages and Death, 670 of 696 images.
(2) Massachusetts Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988. Database and Images,, ( : 2011); citing Wenham Vital Record Transcripts, p 57.
(3) Massachusetts Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988. Database and Images,, ( : 2011); citing Wenham Vital Record Transcripts, p 210.
(4) Abbott, William F. "Genealogy of the Larcom Family", Essex Institute Historical Collectionm vol, LVIII, 1922; accessed on Google Books.
(5) "Essex, Massachusetts Probate Records, 1648-1840",; citing Sanborn, Melinde Lutz. Essex County, Massachusetts Probate Index, 1638-1840. Salem, MA,  probate of estate of Mordecai Larcom, 2 Jun 1741; 
(6) Massachusetts, Essex, Probate File Papers, 1638-1881, Essex Cases 16000-17999, #16401 Mordeca Larcom; accessed

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Genealogy Bullet Journal, Month 2

Public Domain Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Some say that doing something daily for 30 days is enough time and opportunity to establish a habit. After using my Genealogy Bullet Journal for the month of January, I can state that I have established a new habit. A habit that enhances the way I research. A habit I feel will stay with me into the future.

Last month I posted about starting my Genealogy Bullet Journal. Frankly I wasn't sure exactly how or even why I would use it, but I felt bullet journaling was a trend worth investigating. Here are some of the things I tried and learned through January's 31 days.
  • I experimented with several different weekly spreads, trying to find one that suited me. After all starting with a blank journal gives you the opportunity to try different things, different looks, add your touch. I've ended up settling on the basic spread shown in my first post. I found that amount and organization of space has been enough for what I wanted to note and record for any given day.

  • Yes, it is SO tempting to add color, stamps, stickers, you name it to a bullet journal. I confess, I picked up a set of planner stamps on sale at my local craft store. 
    • I like putting an ! or * or thumbs up to indicate success. They are a good balance for the frowny faces :( I draw when I've spent an afternoon or two looking, or searching, or reading and found nothing that advances my research, all that negative research that is a real part of genealogy. I still enjoy looking at photos of all those beautifully designed bujos (bullet journals) on Instagram and Pinterest, but my ministampers will probably be the extent of my bujo creativity. 
    • The list stamp has proven to be helpful. Just stamp it on a sticky note, list up to six places I plan to look for information about that person or event, and I'm ready to go. All research questions won't focus on using the same sources. My check list stamp encourages me to consider the wide variety of possible sources to use, some online, some at a library or in a book, something in my files that might warrant a closer look. 
  • Every once in a while, we stumble upon something that is some simple, yet so great. That is the way I feel about my 3F idea - First File Fifteen minutes. Having those seven task boxes across a page of my weekly spread kept me going. Besides seeing my document pile shrink, there was also that simple little kid joy in seeing all seven boxes marked as tasks completed for the week. By the end of January, I had actually looked at, read over, and filed about 3 inches of documents in my file basket, all relating to my Perkinson family tree. This filing time was a daily warm up to more serious research. Now, for February, I'm starting to dig through the stuff relating to my husband's Nelson family tree. And later, once that pile is cleared, I'll spend time looking through my files to see what needs to be placed elsewhere, clear out duplicates, determine new questions for which to seek an answer. Filing, like laundry, will be an ongoing task!
  • I am learning to use and rely on the Collections section of my bujo. First, as I filed, if I had a question or noticed something needing further research, I finally had a place to record it. On days when I wasn't sure exactly as to what I wanted or needed to research, I could turn to my Research Questions in the Collections section, choose a question I had previously recorded and I was good to go for several days.
    • Here is just one example. I had printed out a family group sheet on the William Huey Family that I had found on It listed names, dates, children, their spouses for my 4th Great Grandfather's family but NO sources. My first research question was to try to verify the information on this printout along with a note as to the folder and item number where the printout was filed. I'm still working on this project, but I'm also finding a few sources for some of the information on the printout.
    • Learning more about the Hueys has lead me to add another collection section, one I'm calling my Treasure Chest. After spending parts of a week browsing through the Pennsylvania Archives on, looking for anything about the Hueys, I added a note describing this resource in my Treasure Chest. I wrote "Pennsylvania" in large letters, then a paragraph to describe the types of information I found there - things like marriage records, rosters of militia, immigration information complete with a physical description of the immigrant and his/her family background. Even though I found only a few Huey facts, I know I want to remember this resources in the future when researching ancestors in 1650-1800 Pennsylvania, even if it is months from now that I jump back into some Pennsylvania area research.
  • Having the big picture of my yearly spread is helping me better plan for blog posts and research times. Now that we have some family trips, looking after grandchildren, and a few get-togethers listed, I can see times in which to plan or add on some research trips. 
  • My bujo isn't replacing my detailed research log. Instead it supplements my research. I add a few notes in my daily block noting the family, area, topic, or source I researched. Looking back over my diary entries for the month of January, I get a feel for what I did and can gain ideas as to other approaches or resources to use. I can also see that I've spent enough time, for now, on looking for the Hueys in early 1700s. It is about time to move on to another question. My actual research log will continue to be the private notes I add for an individual in Family Tree Maker.
Meanwhile, I've also started a personal bullet journal. It too has the 3F filing blocks which I'm using to get our household files in order and to look for any paperwork needed for filing our taxes for the year. I've also added daily check boxes for my walking / exercising. On the daily spread, there are notes about progress on some of those household projects we want need to address in 2017. There is also room for journaling my reflections on things I read or the Bible study in which I am involved. The yearly and monthly calendars contain lists of our family activities and various volunteer commitments. Another bujo as individual as its writer.

It looks like I'm hooked on bullet journaling. Where is my heart stamp when I need it?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leaving 2016 Behind, Moving on in 2017

2016-17 by Philip Barrington, source: Open Clip Art

It's that time of year. Time to look back and see how many additional ancestors I have been able to identify sufficiently to feel confident in adding them to my family tree. That is something I had done each January for the past three years after reading Randy Seaver's blog post and watching Crista Cowan's YouTube video.

My method has stayed the same and has been the subject of a previous blog post.  As always, I continue to be grateful that I can simply generate an Ahnentafel Report of my direct ancestors by using my genealogy software, Family Tree Maker. Here is what my report for 2016 looked like.

DateGenerationRelationship# in generation# identified% identified2016 increase
4Great Grandparents88100%
52 Great Grandparents1616100%
63 Great Grandparents323197%
74 Great Grandparents645891%2
85 Great Grandparents1286148%4
96 Great Grandparents2563815%?
107 Great Grandparents512398%10
118 Great Grandparents1024364%36
129 Great Grandparents2048251%25
1310 GreatGrandparents40961212
1411 GreatGrandparents819288
1512 GreatGrandparents16,38488
1613 GreatGrandparents32,76822
1714 GreatGrandparents65,53622
35147% *109
* Percentage of those identified in Generations 1-10

I realize that some of the totals in my table may seem strange. For starters I have no increase in known ancestors for Generation 9 because I obviously had a typo in my previous year's report. It is possible to remove or change a relationship or two based on new research, but I know that I certainly did not lose almost 30 ancestors in that one generation during the year! I would probably still be shaking my head in bewilderment if that had actually happened.

In the report for 2016, I also stopped trying to determine the percentage of ancestors identified after Generation 12. The percentages were just too small to have any significance. Instead, I will continue to just look at the increase in numbers over the previous year's report.

Similarly, I decided to use those ancestors in Generations 2-10 as my basis for determining the percentage of ancestors I have now identified. Identifying ancestors in Generations 11-17 or beyond is just a unexpected bonus in my research.

But it isn't just a numbers game. The report prompts me to try to analyze where I found information, strategies that worked, and questions that still linger.

By using the Will and Probate Records available through as well as browsing similar records on, I was able to identify with some degree of confidence a number of ancestors in generations 11-17. By studying names of beneficiaries listed in a will and comparing them with known children, siblings, and/or spouses, I succeeded in pushing my family tree back additional generations through information found through these will and probate records.

Looking back, I knew that during this year a lot of my personal research had focused on ancestors who had lived in New England. Bless the clergy and town clerks of those areas who had maintained such detailed records of births, marriages, and deaths from the mid-1650s and forward. These records, combined with will and probate records, kept me dancing around. Sometimes going one step back, then a few steps sideways, backwards and forward a lot, but eventually these records helped me identify more of my Massachusetts ancestors.

For me there is real value in doing this report each year. It isn't just about the total number of ancestors I have identified, although it is nice to document. It is more about seeing where and how I was able to learn about these new people in my family tree. And yes, it continues to bother me that I still cannot find the name of the wife of my 3 Great Grandfather William Vaughan. But it also convinces me that there are additional resources I haven't used, strategies I haven't tried, more hints to prove - or disprove. All part of trying to learn more about my ancestors.

Lessons Learned in 2016
  • I spent enough time studying wills and probate records that I actually got where I could understand the terminology and learned more about how our the legal system functioned in earlier times. These records also spoke volumes as to the nature of slavery as well the legal status of  women in the past. This prompted me to write several posts about the slave records I found in wills, posts that are now linked with the Slave Name Roll Project developed by Schalene Dagutis.
  • Ancestry's indexed Will and Probate Records were easy to use, but I frequently found additional information by browsing the unindexed will and probate records on Browsing page by page, section by section continues to provide fruitful information.
  • There have to be some new strategies for learning about women in the 1800s. I plan to use some techniques suggested by Jennifer Dondero of The Occasional Genealogist. Finding the elusive Mrs. William Vaughan is a research goal for 2017.