Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Cora Bell: My Ancestral Doppelgänger

Doppelgänger: an apparition or double of a living person.

Cora Bell Ellis 
Image from

When I first "met" my great great Aunt Cora Bell Ellis, she was living on a farm in Willow Township,  Cherokee, Iowa, being counted in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census. She was there with her father Robert; mother  Eleanor; older sister Helen; older brother Henry; and her two little brothers, Elsworth and Robert. (1,2)

When I had done a lot more research, I learned that Cora had been born in Maine, and that some time after her baby brother Robert was born the Ellises moved with their extended family members to Cherokee, probably by covered wagon. The same page of the 1870 census shows that their neighbors next door were the ones who had also come with them from Maine: Two Rankins families, and a Rankins daughter, Lydia, married to Obed Wells. Everyone was related, as Cora Bell's mother Eleanor was also a Rankin, daughter of Joseph and Joanna.

Cora's mother, Eleanor Rankins Ellis, with Eleanor's three sisters: 
Cora's Aunt Lydia, Aunt Mary, and Aunt Adah.
They all had moved to Cherokee, Iowa from Maine.
Image from

The more I looked at Cora's blurry old photo, the more I recognized someone. It was me! Neither of us is a great beauty, but we share the same facial structure, the same weak eye muscles (mine corrected in early childhood by a stern ophthalmologist threatening surgery if I didn't do my eye exercises), and--now that I've been thinking about Cora so much--the same hairstyle, more or less. Cora just looks a little more stern than I do, but her life was much harder than mine, of course. 

There are more things that we have in common. Cora was born in Rome, Maine in 1862. Just 90 miles away and 82 years later, I was born in Biddeford, Maine in 1944--five years after Cora died.

When Cora was around seven years old, she was walking beside a covered wagon, heading west to Iowa. When I was a seven year-old living in San Francisco, I was playing covered wagon, my favorite "let's pretend" game. It's true!

I've thought about Cora a lot since I am reminded of her every time I look in a mirror. I wonder what she was like, and wish that I could find someone's personal memories of her. In the meantime, the documents available to a family history researcher do tell the outline of Cora's story. 

Next time: Silas enters the picture...

Sources and Notes

1. 1870 U.S. Federal Census. Census Place: Willow, Cherokee, Iowa; Roll: M593_381; Page: 478B; Image: 182; Family History Library Film: 545880

2. How I am related to Cora Bell:

Cora Bell Ellis (1862 - 1939)
2nd great-aunt

Robert Winslow Ellis (1821 - 1876)
father of Cora Bell Ellis

Oscar J. Ellis (1852 - 1907)
son of Robert Winslow Ellis

Eva Josephine Ellis (1888 - 1943)
daughter of Oscar J. Ellis

Daniel Lawrence Harris (1907 - 1972)
son of Eva Josephine Ellis

Clair Marie Harris
I am the daughter of Daniel Lawrence Harris

Monday, August 7, 2017

Last Will and Testament of Sarah Ensing of Hartford

We know her as Sarah Elson (or Nelson) Ensign, wife of James, and I'm proud to call her my 8th great grandmother. 

Sarah was born in England in 1612, and made the journey by sea to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1634. By 1639 the family was living in Hartford, where they were among the founders of the town. 

Hartford historical marker (Google Images)

Founders Monument, Hartford, Connecticut
(Google Images)

Monument detail, showing James Ensign's name
Image from

Sarah and James had five children:
Sarah 1630-1659
Mary 1639-1723
Hannah 1644-1711
David  1644-1727 (my ancestor)
Lydia 1649-1649

We find our way into the lives of our ancestors through documents and records. I have always thought that the inventories of household goods tell us the most about everyday life long ago.

In Sarah's words (1):

Sources and Notes

1. Record of the descendants of James Ensign and his wife Sarah Nelson, 1634-1939-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2005.
Original data: Nelson, Martha Eunice Ensign.. Record of the descendants of James Ensign and his wife Sarah Nelson, 1634-1939-1960. United States: M.E.E. Nelson, 1960.

How I am related to Sarah Elson:

Sarah Elson (1612 - 1676)
8th great-grandmother (or my great great great great great great great great grandmother)

David Ensign Sr. (1644 - 1727)
son of Sarah Elson

David Ensign (1688 - 1759)
son of David Ensign Sr.

Abigail Ensign (1710 - 1796)
daughter of David Ensign

Eunice Gillett (1741 - )
daughter of Abigail Ensign

Merab Ives (1776 - 1843)
daughter of Eunice Gillett

John Shepherd Kinney (1802 - 1872)
son of Merab Ives

Sarah Ann "Anna" Kinney (1842 - 1935)
daughter of John Shepherd Kinney

David Jewett Crabtree Sr. (1875 - 1954)
son of Sarah Ann "Anna" Kinney; my grandfather

Elva Myrtle Crabtree (1914 - 1998)
daughter of David Jewett Crabtree Sr.

Clair Marie Harris
I am the daughter of Elva Myrtle Crabtree

Thursday, August 3, 2017

An Ancestral Connection Between My Mother's Family and My Father's Family

This is what I used to think a family tree would look like, and it does in some cases. But research into my family history certainly makes it clear that our family isn't this simple. 

This is still a great chart to share with your child. If I had had something like this when I started looking into my own family, I might have saved some time. Years of research, maybe. Even now, I still don't have some of these basic blanks filled in for my father's father's part of the family.

In the last post, The Tale of Sarah Dawes, we met Sarah, her lover Daniel Mechrist, and their son Benoni Macrease, my 8th great grandfather on my father's side of the family.

As we saw, Sarah ended up married to John Cragin; he raised her children as his own and they had 8 more children together (and in wedlock).

And then: I saw a mention somewhere that a Sarah Cragin married a Francis Nurse. 

Now, my first reaction was that wasn't possible or accurate. Francis Nurse, over in my mother's family tree, was married to Rebecca Towne Nurse, who we met two posts ago in The Persecution of the Towne Family. Francis and Rebecca had a long marriage that ended only when Rebecca was accused of being a witch and executed. Francis was an elderly man of 74 at that time.

Ah, I wasn't thinking of the seemingly limited number of Biblical names, or the naming traditions in early New England. Every generation had a Sarah or two, and fathers like Francis Nurse named their sons after themselves, and their sons did the same. So there were a lot of Francis Nurses and a lot of Sarahs.

After a morning of poking around with documents and records, and with the two family trees open simultaneously on my laptop, here is what I found.

1. Francis Nurse I (1618-1695) and Rebecca Towne Nurse (1621-1692) had a son named Francis Nurse II (1660-1716).

2. John Cragin (About 1634-1708) and Sarah Dawes Cragin (1639-1725) had a daughter named Sarah Cragin (1664-1707).

3. The younger Francis, an ancestor from my mother's side of the family, and the younger Sarah, an ancestor from my father's side of the family, were married in 1685.

4. Francis II and his Sarah had 10 children. I'll bet they had another Sarah or a Francis among them.

5. If you are worried about genetic issues due to this connection of my parents' ancestors, don't be. It was all hundreds of years ago and anyway, John Cragin and Francis Nurse were both in-laws of my relatives, so I am not directly connected to either one by blood. I admire them greatly, though.

5. Don't you think it's funny that I randomly posted about these two families within two days before I realized how they were connected and how they complicated my family's trees?

Sources and Notes

I didn't mean to imply that it isn't a useful chart. It's perfect for a beginning record. 

2. Further sources: See notes for the two posts mentioned above. 

3. Many thanks to for making so many documents and records available online. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Tale of Sarah Dawes

Oliver Cromwell,
the villain of this tale (10)

Sarah's story took place centuries ago, and not everyone agrees on all the details. This is my version.

In 1650 the Scots sided with the monarchy in the English Civil War, and fought against the Puritans...  Thousands [of Scots] were captured as prisoners of war, and forced to march to London.  Oliver Cromwell sent these undesirables to the New World to be sold into forced servitude.  They died at a rate of about 30 a day until the ships left London, when the first ship “Unity” left with 150 prisoners.  The second ship was the “John and Sara” and it carried 272 men to Boston. (1)

One of the men on board the "John and Sara" was John Cragin (also spelled Craigon, Craggen, etc.). The story goes that although only men's names were on the passenger list, there were women on board as well. When smallpox broke out on the ship, John Cragin was taken ill--so ill that he was about to be thrown overboard with the dead when a young Englishwoman, Sarah Dawes, begged to save him, promising to nurse him back to health.

Some say that Sarah was not on the ship and this part of the story is pure romantic fabrication. At this distance, who really knows?

When the ship arrived in Boston, John and Sarah were sent on their separate ways: John to be an indentured servant for the usual period of six to eight years, and Sarah to be a servant in the household of John Wyman of Woburn, Massachusetts. (2)

Also working in the Wyman household was another servant, Daniel Mechrist. He and Sarah became close, had a child together, and Sarah was sentenced in 1657 to be whipped (12 stripes) for the sin of fornication. Someone paid her fine and she was let off. Then she became pregnant again, and both she and Daniel were sentenced to be whipped in public--this time twenty stripes apiece. (6)

They had told the court that they were, indeed, guilty, but couldn't marry because Daniel had a wife and children back in Scotland. I wonder if he had been transported against his will, just like John Cragin.

Then the story takes another romantic turn. John Cragin, having worked off his indenture, stepped in and married Sarah, saving her from further judgement. (7)

The names that Sarah's first two children went by were Benoni Macrease (1657-1690) and Mary Mechrist or Micrist (1659- ).

One of the descendants of her eight children with John Cragin was a patriot in Temple, New Hampshire, having signed the Association Test of 1776. (8)

Of interest to my own immediate family is the fact that another descendant of Sarah and John, Daniel Cragin, began Frye's Measure Mill in 1858 in Wilton, New Hampshire. It was one of our favorite places to visit when we lived in the area, although we didn't know about the connection to our family at the time. (11)

Let's go back to Sarah's first child, Benoni. The old Biblical name means "son of my sorrow," or "son of my pain" (9). Given the circumstances of his birth and the inability of his parents to marry, his mother chose his name well.

However, Benoni went on to marry well (I may be prejudiced here). He and his wife Lydia Fifield were my 8th great grandparents. Benoni and Lydia's daughter married into the Perkins family of Hampton, New Hampshire, good folks we've met elsewhere on this blog in:
Abraham Perkins of Hampton, New Hampshire,(3) 
Abraham Perkins' Will (4), and
My 8th Great Grandfather, "Slain By ye Indians." (5)

Sources and Notes

1. Passengers of the Ship “John and Sara”: Scots Prisoners of War, 1651:

2. John Cragin, Scots Prisoner of War 1651 in Woburn, Massachusetts. Nutfield Genealogy:

7. Massachusetts, Compiled Marriages, 1633-1850.

8. New Hampshire Revolutionary War Association Test, Town of Temple

10. Painting of Oliver Cromwell by Peter Lely, circa 1660. National Museum of Wales.

11. Frye's Measure Mill, Wilton, New Hampshire:

How I am related to my Grandfather Benoni:

Benoni Macrease (1657 - 1690)
8th great-grandfather

Lydia Macrease (1688 - )
daughter of Benoni Macrease

Joseph Perkins (1712 - 1761)
son of Lydia Macrease

Benjamin Perkins (1746 - 1834)
son of Joseph Perkins

Joseph Perkins (1776 - 1853)
son of Benjamin Perkins

Joanna Perkins (1799 - 1880)
daughter of Joseph Perkins

Eleanor Ruth Rankins (1822 - 1914)
daughter of Joanna Perkins

Oscar J. Ellis (1852 - 1907)
son of Eleanor Ruth Rankins

Eva Josephine Ellis (1888 - 1943)
daughter of Oscar J. Ellis

Daniel Lawrence Harris (1907 - 1972)
son of Eva Josephine Ellis

Clair Marie Harris
I am the daughter of Daniel Lawrence Harris