She was a beautiful, young Irish maid, working in a wealthy English household. Her employer’s oldest son fell in love with her. When he announced intentions to marry her, his parents said they would disown him. He married her anyway. Then, bride and groom ran away to live happily ever after. “Her name was Mary Cordial,” my maternal grandmother Marilyn Matilda Dietz told me, that distinct glimmer of pleasure in her eyes—the one she always had when she retold this story. “And you are her legacy.”

This blog is a resource for those who want to--have to--find out more about who they came from.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Scarlet Letter

Make some room there, Hester Prynne! One of the other discoveries I made while doing family research was that another Puritan ancestor, Robert Coles, was sentenced to wear a scarlet letter for public insobriety in 1633 Massachusetts:

Cover image: Penguin Classics
For those struggling to remember what they read back in high school, here's the plot of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, per Wikipedia: "Set in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity."

Not explicit in the above summary is that Hester is made to wear a red letter A, which presumably represents the word adulterer, on her own "outward garment," identifying herself as a sinner to anyone she meets, prolonging her public shame. The father of her child, whose identity she refuses to expose, suffers overwhelming guilt as Hester pays for the sin they both committed. That much having been said, I'm an English professor so I choose to stop here; if you want to know how the story turns out, you'll have to read Hawthorne's master work for yourself. I don't advise taking the easy way around and watching the 1995 movie, as that version takes liberties, adding story elements not present in the novel. (From what I've heard, the book is a better time anyway).

Image courtesy of Pinterest
But back now to my ancestor, Robert Coles. A couple of thoughts about his situation and sentencing occur.

First, it's a safe assumption that the D stands for drunkard, so I'm sure he was not happy about having to wear this for a full year "and not to leave it off at any tyme" lest he pay up for going around without it, although who knows--perhaps he felt lucky to escape the stocks (see right). The Puritans were a serious bunch, with their witch trials, hangings as public entertainment, and banishments to the wilderness for crimes such as smiling in church (a story I'll save for my next post). Having to wear a scarlet letter may have been preferable.  

Second, I'm interested in how public shaming is still "a thing" 385 years later, albeit in updated venues such as social media (which is a sort of global town square, when one thinks about it). I'd guess that its perseverance attests to its effectiveness in controlling aberrant behavior... and yet there are so many who still refuse to be embarrassed and controlled. (You can fill in the "so many" blanks there as you see fit.)

Finally, I wonder what life is like after one stops wearing a scarlet letter. Did the Puritans have a "he did his time, paid his debt to society" attitude and forget easily, or did that letter remain, invisible yet fixed, after it was physically removed from the outer garment? If anyone knows, I'd be happy to hear about it in the comments below.

In case you have something else to say, please note well: All of my above musings are intentionally flippant. If you're the humorless historian type, please save us both the time and displeasure of sanctimonious commentary that I'd just roll my eyes at before deleting rather than posting (yes, comment moderation is enabled). Thanks in advance for your cooperation there.

Next time I post--which I sincerely hope will be during this decade--I'll talk about another surprising ancestor: a Puritan who was whipped for speaking truth to power and shipped back to England, only to return later with some serious attitude. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fun with DNA

There's a decidedly scripted feel to this, which people attacked in YouTube's comments section, yet the sense of wonder felt upon discovering what one really is versus what one thought they were based on family lore is genuine. I haven't wrote about the results of my own autosomal DNA results as of yet, but I will... someday.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Location, Location, Location

It isn't exactly news that has become one of the very best web sites for genealogical research nowadays, having much improved its offerings from the questionable member-submitted information and unconfirmed family trees of old to the free-to-download scans of actual vital records that can be found there today. Did you know, however, that there’s a way to search specific state records rather than slog through all of the results that a basic records search yields? It’s true, and it could save you a lot of research time.

Searching for family members by specific location is handy, particularly when you're looking for a family member with an exceedingly common surname. The problem with using the site’s basic search option is that although you may specify "New York" as the birthplace of your ancestor, the search will yield results that aren’t New York specific, requiring you to either filter results (which may work) or click through a bunch of pages that have no value to you at all. If you know where y our ancestor lived, searching by location yields far more relevant results.

Here's how one searches by location on Family Search:

1. Click on "Search" in FamilySearch web site's top bar.

2. Instead to filling out the resulting search fields, look to the lower right and click on the Browse All Published Collections link.

3. Select the Place, Date or Collections in the left sidebar on the resulting page. By doing so, you are narrowing down the scope of the search in a way that's far more likely to find your ancestor. (For the purpose of an example, I select "United States of America" and then "New Jersey," to look for a female relative that I know lived there.)

4. After selecting the state, a list of individual databases comes up. For my New Jersey search, the list is as follows:

25 Feb 2013
21 Mar 2012
04 Dec 2012
14 May 2014
18 Jun 2014
04 Mar 2012
19 Dec 2011
18 Jun 2014
13 Feb 2014
22 Jun 2012
08 Oct 2014

As you can see, some listings say "Browse Images" next to them. This means they have not yet been indexed and are not searchable, so one would need to go through the images one by one to look for information. You’d need to know approximately when your ancestor might have generated a record in order to possibly find it. The other databases with large numbers in the same column, however, hold records that are already indexed, so you can click into the database and plug in your ancestor's information. Those records, if any, should pop right up.

Hopefully, searching by location on Family Search will help you to find your hard-to-find ancestors more easily. If it does, I hope you’ll post about it in the comments section, letting me know.

"Coffee" image above courtesy of luigi diamanti/