Least We Forget – The Witch Hysteria of the 1600s and its Destruction of Families

This post has nothing to do with the DeBoise family and its ancestors, other than my connection to the family through marriage. This is about my family.

In the 1970s, my husband and I took my father-in-law, James DeBoise, to Salem. We did the normal tourist stuff – the Witch Museum and the House of Seven Gables. I also walked around cemeteries looking for tombstones of my ancestors. I knew I had family living in the area in the 1600s. I also expected that they had to be affected by the hysteria around witches, but I had no idea how.

I do believe that when people are ready to be found, they will be. A few years ago I found that information, and was amazed, and saddened. This is one of the stories of my family.

Salem Village Witch Memorial
Salem Village With Memorial legendsofamerica.com

The ancestors of both my mother and father were very involved in the events of the 1600s. Some were accused of being witches, jailed, and participated in hearings before judges and juries similar to what was depicted in the play and movie The Crucible (Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1953. It is based on the Salem Witch Trials, but there was some liberties taken with the story.).

The Salem Witch Trials occurred in the towns and counties surrounding Salem, Massachusetts during 1692 and 1693. By September, 1693 when the last of those accused were released from jail, almost 200 people had been jailed, 24 had died, and 55 were coerced into confessing to practicing witchcraft.

The Accused

Jane Lilly is my 9th paternal great grandmother.  Jane is the second wife of George Lilly. George was born in England and living in Reading, Essex County, Massachusetts by 1659.  Jane was born in either Massachusetts or England. George married Jane (her maiden name is not known) in 1667, and they had three children – George Joseph, Reuben, and Abigail. Jane was 46 years old when she became a widow at George’s death in 1691. She was still living in Reading in 1692.

Jane was accused of witchcraft, along with Mary Colson, and examined by his majesty’s justices in Salem on September 2, 1692. Her accusers included Mary Warren, Elizabeth Booth, Susanna Post, and Mrs. Mary Marshall (wife of Edward, of Malden). She was accused of afflicting them and causing them to fall in a fit as she looked at them, and causing the fit to end with a touch of her hand. She was also accused of setting William Hooper’s house on fire and killing him. Jane denied all of this, saying if she confessed any of what she was being accused of she would be denying the truth and wrong her own soul. Jane was imprisoned in the Salem jail (Witches of Massachusetts http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ma-witches-k-n.html).

On December 8, 1692, her sons George and Reuben Lilly, who were husbandmen (farmers) in Lynn, along with John Pierson, pledged 200 pounds of their property and goods for her release, guaranteeing her appearance at the next Middlesex Court hearing for trial. On the same day George also pledged, along with John Pierson, 200 pounds to free John’s sister, Bethia Pierson Carter, who was also accused of witchcraft and was imprisoned (Salem Witch Trails: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/texts/tei/swp?term=John%20Somes&div_id=n28.1&chapter_id=n28). On January 31, 1693 the Grand Jury in Middlesex County returned an indictment for Jane of ignoramus, meaning there was not enough evidence to indict her of witchcraft.

Jane’s children, Reuben and Abigail, both died in 1698. Her son, George, went in front of the Reading selectmen in June 1701 and refused payment for the keeping of his mother. I am not sure if this had something to do with restitution from her jailing, or if it was for caring for her when she was destitute. Although I do not know when Jane died, it was probably in the early 1700s. By 1707, George (my 8th great grandfather) was a resident of Scotland, Windham County, Connecticut where he was one of the early founders of the community and became a prominent landowner of the area.

Frances (unknown) Hutchins is my 10th maternal great grandmother.  Frances was born about 1612 in England. She married John Hutchins in 1637. He was a carpenter, a partner in a sawmill, and a farmer. (Frances is referred to in many records as Frances Alcock, who immigrated as a servant for the Richard Drummer family on the Bevis in 1635. However, there is no proof that Frances, wife of John Hutchins, is the same Frances Alcock.)

Frances was first arrested in 1653 for wearing finery – a silk hood. In 1650, the General Court had passed a law prohibiting the display of finery by persons “of meane (sic) condition” defined as persons whose property was valued at less than 200 pounds. For women, finery included silk or tiffany hoods, ribbons or scarfs. Frances was acquitted because “upon testimony of her being brought up above the ordinary way,” and was entitled to wear the finery, while her friend Mrs. Swett was found guilty and had to pay ten shillings . John Hutchins died in 1685, leaving Frances a widow when she was about 73 years old.

Widow Frances was 80 years old when she was arrested August 19, 1692 on the charge of witchcraft, and transported to and imprisoned in Salem. Her accusers include Timothy Swan of Andover as well as Ann Putnam, Jr. and Mary Walcott of Salem Village. On this day, five accused witches were hanged in Salem. Imagine her chained in the horse drawn cart as it drove by the gallows on her way to jail.

She was imprisoned until December 21, 1692 when she was released on 200 pounds bond posted by her son Samuel Hutchins and John Kingsbury. There are no records of a trial or indictment. Frances died on April 5, 1694.

The Towne sisters are well known in this drama, as all three were accused of witchcraft. A monument in Salem honors their sacrifice. Edmund Towne, the husband of Mary Browning, my 8th paternal great grand aunt, was their brother. Rebecca (Towne) Nurse and Mary (Towne) Easty, were convicted of being witches. Rebecca was hung June 19 and Mary was hung September 22, 1692.

salem-wax-museum-of-witches Mary,Sarah and Rebecca
The Towne Sisters – Mary, Sarah and Rebecca at Salem Wax Museum tripadvisor.com

Sarah (Towne) Cloyce was accused of bewitching Edmund and Mary’s daughter, Rebecca. Widow Mary Browning Towne, along with four of her children, was called as a witness against her sisters-in-law Mary and Sarah on September 6, 1692. She responded the following day asking to be excused from testifying in that she and her children were very weak and could not get out of bed. She was summoned again on September 8. There is no record that she testified against her sisters-in-law. There was no credible evidence for finding Sarah guilty of practicing witchcraft, and the Grand Jury dismissed charges against Sarah on January 3, 1693. However, she was not released from prison until her husband, Peter, paid her fees from the imprisonment (Records of the Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, Mass. as referenced by Phipps Family Pages and hosted on RootsWeb: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~walkersj/EdmundTowne.html). (Sarah Cloyce is the main character of the PBS movie “Three Sovereigns for Sarah”)


Before the Salem Witch Trials, my 9th maternal great grandmother, Joanna Lee Sleeper, wife of Thomas Sleeper and a resident of Hampton, New Hampshire, twice accused, in September and October 1656, Goodwife Eunice Cole of witchcraft. Joanna, along with Sobriety Martson, claimed that while talking about Goodwife Cole and Goodwife Marston’s child, there was a scraping against the boards and windows of the house, caused by Goodwife Cole. It was concluded if an animal had made the scraping, it would have left marks.

Goodwife Cole was  found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to be whipped and to life in prison in Boston. She was released after 15 years and the town of Hampton was ordered to support her. Shortly after she was released, she was again accused of witchcraft and once again imprisoned.  After a few months she was found not guilty and sent back to Hampton, where she died in poverty (Nutfield Genealogy: http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2016/04/surname-saturday-sleeper-of-hampton-new.html).

It is October and children and adults are getting excited about celebrating Halloween. Salem celebrates this holiday throughout October, integrating the history of the witch trials in their celebration to promote tourism. However, this celebration seems to be less about the horrors of this time period and the effect it had on families, and more about dressing in costume and having fun. I’m all for having fun, but to me the hysteria about witchcraft is a sobering time that had a very real impact on my ancestors. In addition to the hysteria, so much of what went on during this period had overtones of “politics”, “getting even”, and singling out those who were different.

Imagine these accused women, most of whom are older women, wearing heavy iron hand cuffs and leg fetters, and chained in their jail cells. Frances Hutchins was 80 and Jane Lilly was 47 when they were jailed. They were kept in prisons that were damp and dark. They were tortured as their jailers sought to have them confess to witchcraft. Their jail cells were cold in the winter, hot in the summer, infested with lice and rats, and smelled. They slept on straw, if they had any bedding at all.

The Salem Dungeon and Jail was located near the North River, and was often subject to flooding. And to add insult to these indignities, families were charged for all costs of imprisonment. Even when the accused were found innocent, they were not released until their costs of imprisonment were paid (Procedures, Courts & Officials of the Salem Trials. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ma-salemcourt2.html).

I will never know the full impact this period of history had on my family. But I can respect, and empathize with what our ancestors went through; and share their experiences with future generations so that they also know the part their family played in our nation’s history, as dark as this chapter is.

Enjoy October. I’m always amazed each year at the beautiful fall foliage. It’s like God dribbled bright colors of paint on the trees. My favorite time of the year.

Until next time….




Bernard C. Remington and Margaret Deveau – Parents of Marshall F. Cortis

The last post was about Marshall Frederick Cortis, the father of Ruth Martha Andrews. Marshall was adopted when he was four years old, and his birth name of John Marshall Remington was changed by his adoptive parents. Marshall’s parents voluntarily placed him for adoption. Although we will probably never know the exact reason why they chose to place him with another family and not care for him themselves, it probably had to do with economic reasons. They were no longer together. His birth mother decided to keep their youngest child with her, and it seems that Marshall was aware of, and probably kept in touch with, his brother in that he was mentioned in Marshall’s obituary. So what is known about Marshall’s birth parents?

Bernard Collan Remington was born following the Civil War on September 5, 1867 in Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. (All official records list his middle name as Collan, although it was possible that it was intended that the name be spelled Cullen after his mother.) He was the third child born to Bela Remington and Margaret Cullen, his father’s second wife. He had six older siblings at the time of his birth, and his parents would have two more children after his birth.

The Remington family was one of the oldest families in Hingham, having settled there in the early to mid-1600s. His father worked as a farm laborer. His mother was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1849 when she was 16 years old, traveling by the ship “Robert” from Liverpool, England to Boston, Massachusetts. An 18 year old male, Edward Cullen, who was probably her brother traveled with her. They were escaping the death and poverty caused by the potato famine in Ireland.

Bela and Margaret were married in 1862. Bela’s first wife, Bridget Crehan, was also from Ireland and died in 1861 from childbirth, leaving four children ranging in age from four years to ten years.

Bernard spent his early years in Hingham, but moved to Boston by his late teens. There he met Margaret Deveau. Although I could not find a record of marriage, they established a household and their first child, George M. Remington, was born February 18, 1887. Five months later, on July 15, 1887, George died from cholera morbus, which is acute gastroenteritis that occurs in the summer or autumn.

Bernard and Margaret moved back to Hingham, where their next two children were born. It doesn’t appear that the family lived very long in Hingham before they moved back to the Boston area, and the family split up. In January 1894, Bernard and Margaret agreed to the adoption of their second son, John Marshall. They both remarried during the year.

Margaret Deveau, Marshall’s birth mother, was born in January 1870 in Weymouth, Digby County, Nova Scotia. She was the daughter of Marshall and Margaret Deveau. Weymouth is a small, rural village. During the late 1800s and early 1900s there was a large migration of immigrants from Canada into the United States. There were opportunities and the need for workers in the various manufacturing industries in the East, and Massachusetts was one of the areas that many immigrants settled. During the late 1800s it was very easy to cross the border from Canada into the United States. Margaret probably immigrated in 1885 or 1886.

Margaret married Thomas Powers on November 29, 1894 in Malden, Massachusetts. Margaret listed her occupation on her marriage application as domestic and Thomas was a driver. Both stated that this was their first marriage. Thomas was also from Nova Scotia and arrived in the United States in 1888. Thomas and Margaret had one child, Gertrude Theresa. This was a stable relationship for Margaret, and she and Thomas spent the rest of their lives together. Margaret died in 1936 in Everett, Massachusetts. Thomas died after 1940.

Bernard’s life was much less settled. Following his relationship with Margaret, Bernard married Estelle May Wood. Estelle was born about 1876 in Nova Scotia. Bernard indicated on his marriage application that this was his first marriage. This marriage probably didn’t last long, and Estelle remarried in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1913. No children were identified from this union. And there was another woman! Regina Louise Belle-Isle was born June 13, 1884 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Although I did not find any records verifying the marriage of Bernard and Regina, she was listed as Regina Remington in the 1910 Federal Census. She and Bernard had two children, the first born in 1904. This relationship did not last long. On February 20, 1912 Regina Louise married Everett Marshall Higgins. She used her maiden name on her marriage application and indicated that this was her first marriage. Regina died November 28, 1944 in Stowe, Massachusetts.

So what do we know about Bernard, other than he had at least three relationships with various women, and fathered at least five children? I found military records for him, which helped to fill in some of the blanks. Military records give physical descriptions of enlistees. This information helps to form an image of the person when we do not have pictures. Bernard was 5’5” tall, had blue eyes, auburn hair, and a ruddy complexion. He was a plumber when he enlisted in the Army on April 19, 1898. He was part of the artillery, and fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba.


Spanish American War pursuit.com

He was discharged as a master sergeant, was listed as an excellent soldier on the Army register, and continued his career in the military. He would enlist for several years, receive a discharge, and reenlist. He considered his occupation as a soldier. He was stationed in the Boston area. His reviews were excellent – until they weren’t! His last reenlistment was December 14, 1909. On March 30, 1910, he deserted. Why, after such a long and apparently successful career in the Army, did he desert? We can only speculate, and I can’t even do that! He was apprehended on October 13, 1910 and was then confined at Fort Banks (Massachusetts) awaiting court martial. His rank was reduced to private.

Bernard was dishonorably discharged from the Army on February 8, 1911. Following his discharge, he worked as a gasfitter for the gas company and continued to live in Boston. He died February 19, 1920 in Boston and was buried in Hingham. He was 52 years old.

Bernard’s children with Margaret Deveau were:

1. George M. Remington was born February 18, 1887 and died July 15, 1887, both in Boston.
2. John Marshall Remington was born April 16, 1889 in Hingham and died February 29, 1956 in Worcester. His name was changed to Marshall Frederick Cortis upon his adoption.
3. Bernard Charles Remington was born June 22, 1890 in Hingham and died July 5, 1958. Bernard served in the military during World War I and is buried in the Forestdale Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.

Bernard’s children with Regina Louise Belle-Isle were:

1. William Cullen Remington was born June 10, 1904 in Boston. In 1930 he was listed in the federal census as in the Army.
2. Louise Edna Remington was born around 1905. She married in 1926.

The next post will continue with the Remington Family.

So what do you know about the Spanish-American War? One of the interesting things about genealogy is finding out more about what was happening in our country and the world at the time our ancestors lived. Why did Bernard decide to join the Army and go to War? Why did he decide to stay in the Army following the War? Do an Internet search on the Spanish-American War to refresh your high school history lessons.

Did you know that in 2020 we will be celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival in Plymouth, Massachusetts? We will get to Richard Warren, the Mayflower ancestor of this family, way before then!

Enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. Leaves are beginning to turn in Massachusetts. This is my favorite time of the year!

Until next time….


“Hello Daughter, I’m Your Father”

Marshall Cortis young man
Ruth Martha Andrews was born October 12, 1912. She never knew who her father was – always a missing piece in her life. Even if you don’t have a relationship with your birth parents, most children want to know who they are. Well, now we know – Marshall Frederick Cortis. The last blog was about how DNA was used to locate this missing piece of the family. A recent show on the ABC News 20/20 “Buried Secrets”, featuring CeCe Moore as the genealogist, detailed a similar process in locating the birth parents of two babies who had been abandoned. DNA is opening doors that could never have been imagined 20 years ago.

What I have pieced together about Marshall’s life has largely been through public records. He might still have a daughter living. If so, she would be 89 years old. I have not been able to find records of her beyond a mention in her sister-in-law’s 2011 obituary. The other relatives that I have connected with were not able to tell me  what the man was like, and none had met him or knew him.

Marshall Frederick Cortis was born April 16, 1889 in Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts and was named John Marshall Remington. He was the second son of Bernard Collan Remington and Margaret L. Deveau. His older brother, George, was born two years earlier and only lived for two months.

His father’s family had deep roots in Plymouth County, stretching back to the original passengers on the Mayflower. There were also more recent immigrants from Ireland. His mother was an immigrant from Digby, Nova Scotia.

Fourteen months later, in June 1890, Marshall welcomed another brother to his family – Bernard Charles Remington. Things must have been difficult between his parents because they separated and his father married Estelle May Wood on March 26, 1894 in Boston. According to Bernard’s marriage application, this was his first marriage. On November 29, 1894, Margaret “Remington” married Thomas Powers in Malden, Massachusetts. On February 5, 1897, a daughter was born to Margaret and Thomas – Gertrude Theresa Powers.

However, months before either of these marriages occurred, Bernard and Margaret had given their oldest living son up for adoption. On January 2, 1894, Marshall was adopted by Fred O. Cortis and his wife Ella. His name was changed to Marshall Frederick Cortis. I do not know if the Remington’s knew the Cortis family, or if this adoption occurred through an agency. Marshall was not quite five years old when his parents approved his adoption. His younger brother stayed with Margaret, and was raised by his mother and step-father.

Marshall moved to Oxford, Massachusetts with a new family to start his new life. In 1900, when he was 11 years old, he was still living in Oxford. There was also an 8 year old girl, the daughter of Fred and Ella, living with them. By 1910, Marshall was living in Worcester and was a piano maker. On February 11, 1911, when he was 21, he married Ella Victoria Ross. Ella was the daughter of Gustaf and Louisa Ross. Ella was born in Worcester on October 10, 1883. Both her parents were born in Sweden. Ella was 27 when she married, and this was her first marriage. Seven months later, on September 17, 1911, their first child was born – a daughter that they named Evelyn.

Early in 1912, Marshall was involved with Blanche Louise Andrews, resulting in the birth of Ruth nine months later. It is unlikely that Marshall was aware that he fathered another child.

Marshall and Ella had eight children together, all born in Worcester. They are

  1. Evelyn L. was born September 17, 1911. She was 79 years old when she died on March 14, 1991 in New York City, and was unmarried.
  2. Chester Marshall was born February 9, 1913. He married Catherine Frances Fogarty in 1935. Chester was 64 years old when he died in Queens, New York City in December 1977, seven months after his wife’s death in May 1977.
  3. Freeman R was born on January 31, 1915 and died in 1916.
  4. Bertha Margaret was born November 10, 1916. In 1930, when she was 14, she was a boarder in the home of Sadie Adams in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, along with her younger siblings Norman and Lillyan. Her mother had died and she and her siblings were probably in foster care. In 1958 she was working as an elevator operator. Bertha was 72 years old when she died on October 17, 1989. She never married.
  5. Edward was born in 1918 and died in 1919.
  6. Norman Elliot was born May 13, 1920. By 1930 he was in foster care. Norman served in the Army during World War II. He married Barbara Frances Weeden, and he died in Florida on February 20, 2000. He was 79 years old. His wife died in 2011.
  7. Howard was born in 1922 and died the same year.
  8. Lillyan Gertrude was born March 4, 1923. She was in foster care in 1930. She married Bernard Thebodo. Lillyan died on May 25, 2011 in Millbury Health Center, Worcester. She was 91 years old.

Cortis kids 19240003Ella was 40 years old when she died on March 7, 1923 from pneumonia, following the birth of her daughter.

In 1924, Marshall married Lucy May Carleton. This was Lucy’s second marriage. She married (1) Christian Charles Brennenan. Together they had four children, born between 1915 and 1919. The children stayed with their father when this marriage was dissolved and Christian remarried.

Marshall and Lucy had five children:

  1. Carleton Emerson was born May 6, 1926 in Providence, Rhode Island. He served in the Navy during World War II. Following his service, he returned to Worcester where he was an employee of the Chain Belt Company. He was married to Lucy A. (last name not known). Carleton was 79 years old when he died on July 5, 2005.
  2. Donald Myles was born February 26, 1927 in Worcester. He served in the Navy during World War II. Upon his return from the War he moved back with his parents for several years. In 1958 he was working as a salesman at Denholm & McKay Company in Worcester. In 1961 he was a beautician at David’s House of Beauty. Donald was 64 years old when he died on November 3, 1991 in Sun City, Riverside County, California. I did not find a record of marriage for him.
  3. Barbara A was born about 1929 in Worcester. She married Luther G. Avirett, and in 2011 they were living in Bradenton, Florida. She and her husband might still be living. I could not find a record of them beyond 2011 when mentioned in a sister-in-law’s obituary.
  4.  Leroy Hebert was born April 24, 1930 in Worcester. By 1992 he was living in Phoenix, Arizona where he died on September 28, 1998. He was 68 years old. I do not know if he ever married.
  5. Carol Virginia was born November 12, 1933 in Worcester. She married Edmond J. Robidioux. Edmond served in the Navy during World War II, and died in 1983. Carol was 67 years old when she died March 29, 2001 in Worcester.

I have not tried to identify the grandchildren of Marshall. Many are still living. This can be a project of Marshall’s descendants.

Marshall had a number of jobs. In his early years, he was a woodworker and made pianos. In 1917, he was a tool room foreman at the Norton Company, and in 1920, he was working as a machinist. In 1927 he was working as a shipping clerk, and he did this for several years. I don’t know how he fared during the depression, and he might have lost his position as a shipping clerk when so many others lost their jobs and manufacturing was struggling. By 1939, he was a landscape gardener. In 1940 he was a salesman, and again in 1941 he was working as a gardener. By 1942 he was working as a salesman at the Worcester Rod and Gun Club. He then became a sales clerk for Iver Johnson Sporting Goods, where he worked for 10 years until his retirement in 1955.

Marshall registered for the draft in 1917, and again in 1942. The draft cards give us a little more information on what he looked like. He was 5’5”, and in 1942 weighed 157 pounds. He had light brown hair. The 1917 draft card said he had grey eyes, and the 1942 card said he had blue eyes.

Marshall completed one year of high school. It was not unusual for young men and women to leave school early during this time period in New England in order to go to work.

Lucy and Marshall stayed together until separated by death. Marshall died from a heart attack on February 29, 1956. He was 66 years old. He is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Leicester, Massachusetts in a lot owned by the Carleton family. His wife, Lucy, died February 20, 1991 at the age of 96. I have a copy of Marshall’s obituary, but do not know which paper it was published. It was probably a Worcester newspaper.

1956 February 29
Marshall F. Cortis, Sportsman, Dies.

Marshall F. (Curt) Cortis, 66, of 2 Kings St. who retired a year ago after 10 years as a sales clerk for Iver Johnson Sporting Goods Co., died Wednesday in City Hospital.
Before joining Iver Johnson’s, he worked for Worcester Rod and Gun Club. He was widely known in the Worcester area as a sportsman.

He was born in Hingham, son of Fred O. and Ella S. Cortis, and had lived in Worcester 45 years. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Lucy May (Carleton) Cortis, six sons, Chester M. of Jamaica, L.I., NY, Norman E. of Oxford and Carleton E., Donald M. and Leroy H. all of Worcester; five daughters, Evelyn L. of New York City and Bertha M, Lillian G. wife of Bernard Thibodeau, Barbara A., wife of Luther G. Avirett, and Carol V. wife of Edmond J. Robideaux, all of Worcester; a brother Bernard C. Remington of Malden, and 12 grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 am in the Athy Memorial Home, 4 King Street. Rev. C. Fraser Kierstead, pastor of First Church, Old South Congregational, will officiate. Calling hours at the funeral home will be 2 to 5 and 7 to 10 pm today.

Although we know a lot more about Marshall Cortis, we still don’t know what the man was like. What kind of relationship did he have with his children from his first wife, who no longer lived with him after Ella died? Why didn’t they come to live with him after he remarried? Did the children from his first marriage have any type of relationship with the children from the second marriage? Did he feel like his birth parents had abandoned him? Did he have a relationship with his birth mother and birth father, as well as his brother? Lots of questions, and we will probably never know the answers.

Ruth Andrews grew up as an only child. I wonder how she would feel to know that she had so many half siblings.

The next post will be on the birth parents of Marshall Cortis – Bernard Collan Remington and Margaret L. Deveau.

Until then…..

Finding the Father of Ruth Andrews DeBoise – Breaking Down Brick Walls with DNA

DNA symbol

Who was the father of Ruth Andrews DeBoise? That was the big mystery in the search for her ancestors. If Ruth’s mother, Blanche, knew the man who fathered her daughter, she did not tell anyone. She was only 16 when she became pregnant. She was single, and an only child who was doted on by her parents. All that was known about him was that he was white, and probably Irish or Scandinavian. This was 1912. Although there have always been interracial relationships, it was still not common or accepted. And family lore indicated that this was not a consensual relationship.

I wrote for and received Ruth’s birth certificate – no father was listed. I double checked with her death certificate – unknown. Family did not know. I was stuck for many years, and wondered if I would ever find the answer.

I’m sure you have all seen Ancestry’s DNA ads – “I thought I was German, and found out I was Irish (or something like that!)”; “I had no idea I was Native American”, etc. When I started looking for DeBoise family information, DNA was not part of the “toolkit”. You went to town halls, talked to the elders, and as access to the Internet became easier, you connected with other researchers to share information. A great world of resources opened when Ancestry.com and Family Search offered access to their records on the Internet.

A few years ago, 23 and Me, Ancestry, and a few other companies began offering DNA testing at an affordable cost. Why take a DNA test? For many people, all they want to know is their ethnic background. For others, it can help identify, or confirm, ancestors. Adoptees use DNA to help find their birth parents. As more people take the DNA test and their results become part of the database, the chances of finding the answers and identifying the unknown ancestor becomes greater.

My sister and I, and both my parents, took the Ancestry DNA test several years ago, when it was still in the relatively “new” stage. We were curious about our ethnic background, and we were hoping that we could break down some of our brick walls – particularly on those common names of Smith and Cook. You get half your DNA from your father and the other half from your mother. The DNA that you get is random. Just because you have the same parents, it does not mean that you get the same DNA segments. Only identical twins receive the same DNA.

That’s why siblings can have different skin tones, different color eyes, and different color hair. That’s why we look different. For example, my ethnicity estimates are 27% Irish; 27% Scandinavian, and 24% Great Britain. My sister’s estimates are 31% Scandinavian, 25% Great Britain, and 19% Irish. I had dark blonde hair (before it turned grey!) and green eyes. She has platinum blonde hair and blue eyes. We have the same background, but in different percentages because of the random distribution of DNA from our parents.

So, I felt that DNA might be the way to identify this elusive man. After much persuasion and several years after I had my DNA tested, one of Ruth and James’s children agreed to DNA testing. Oh happy days! The test is very simple. I ordered the test kit from Ancestry, the DNA donor spit in a vial, and off the spit went to Ancestry for analysis. A few weeks later, we had the results.

The most immediate result was the ethnicity estimates. The ethnicities of the children of Ruth and James are: Benin/Togo; Ireland/Scotland/Wales; Scandinavia; Mali; Cameroon/Congo; Europe South; Great Britain; Native American; and several other African countries. I did not share the percentages, because each child who tests will have different percentages in each of these regions – explaining why everyone looks similar but yet different.

Finding matches to help you identify unknown ancestors can be a little more challenging. I had a learning curve in understanding how to use the results to find the answers I was seeking. Fortunately, others have taken the time to write easy to understand information on interpreting DNA results, and YouTube also has some good videos. GEDMATCH.com is a free site where you can upload your raw DNA results and expand your potential matches, in addition to the matches provided by Ancestry. When you find potential matches, you usually need to do some more work to find out who your common ancestor is. It takes time and patience.

After about a year, I began to see a number of relatives that shared DNA with the DuBose family who originated in South Carolina, both white and black. I was able to connect these relatives to Peter Purdept DuBose. This family was discussed in one of the earlier blogs on the DeBoise family.

After a year, I still had not been able to figure out who Ruth’s father was. I found a number of matches from Nova Scotia, which I could tell were from the Andrews side of the family. However, the people I connected with did not know who in their family might have lived in New England – and they were still living in Nova Scotia! But I am a patient person. I figured as more people tested their DNA and the results were added to the databases, the chances would increase that I would eventually find out the answers.

And then the pieces began to fall together. I had several very close matches, contacted the individuals, and was able to identify who their common ancestor was. Through genealogy research, confirmed by the amount of DNA that was passed down, I was able to determine that this common ancestor was Marshall Frederick Cortis! The matches were all grandchildren of this man, and cousins of the child of Ruth and James who had completed the DNA test. I was able to connect with a woman who had worked on the genealogy of her husband, a grandson of Marshall Cortis, and she was a goldmine. She shared pictures of Marshall, an adoption record for him, and the birth certificate of his father.

The pictures were unbelievable. The family resemblance between the sons of Ruth and James, and Marshall Frederick is uncanny, and there is no question that they are related.

We will never know the exact details of the relationship between Blanche Louise Andrews and Marshall Frederick Cortis. However, they had a daughter – Ruth Martha Andrews – who was deeply loved by her family. Ruth’s children, grandchildren, and great children are many, and the numbers continue to grow! Blanche would be very proud of her daughter, her descendants and their accomplishments.

The next post will be on Marshall Frederick Cortis, and what I have been able to find out about his story.

Stay cool. When you think you have had enough of the blistering summer heat, think back on those very frigid days we had in New England last winter. I don’t think I’m ready to repeat that just yet!

Until next time…..

The Children of James and Nancy Wallace of Monson

The last blog was on James and Nancy Wallace, the first African-American family with the name of Wallis/Wallace to settle in Monson, Massachusetts. James and Nancy moved from New York to Massachusetts around 1800.

In a previous post I wrote about their son Samuel and his wife, Emily Green, direct ancestors of Ruth Andrews DeBoise. I am going to finish with the remaining children of James and Nancy: DOLLY, HENRY, ROXANNA, and DICKERSON.

1. DOLLY was born about 1801 in Palmer, Massachusetts and is the oldest of the identified children of James and Nancy. On June 30, 1830 she was admitted as a member of the First Congregational Church of Monson. She was also listed as the head of household in the 1830 Federal Census in Monson, with one adult male and one male child under 10 years of age living in her home. By 1832, Dolly and her family were living in Palmer. On September 28, 1832 she married Joel Hazzard in Stafford, Connecticut. Joel was born about 1798 in Connecticut.

By 1839 she and her family had moved to Brookfield, Massachusetts. Dolly must have been a strong woman who handled her own money. She purchased three acres in Brookfield for $36 in 1844. Although she would not have been allowed to sell the property without her husband’s permission, the deed was in her name. In 1865, she needed the court’s permission to obtain a mortgage on her property without her husband’s consent. Joel deserted her in October 1861 and was supposedly living with another woman in New Haven, Connecticut in March 1862. Joel could not be found and Dolly was able to obtain the mortgage without his signature. She sold the property to her son Lorenzo in 1867.

Dolly was listed as a widow in the 1865 Massachusetts State Census, although I have not found a death record for Joel. She was 82 years old when she died on June 29, 1883 in Brookfield from apoplexy (stroke).

Dolly and Joel had at least five children. Three of her sons served in the Civil War. (1) James served in the Massachusetts 5th Colored Calvary as a Private. (2) George Alfred also was a Private in the Massachusetts 5th Colored Calvary. (3) Charles was 17 years old when he died from consumption in 1856. (4) Jane was last found in 1875 living at the State Farm in Cranston, Rhode Island. She was a domestic, and the State Farm was an almshouse for the poor. (5) Lorenzo was a Sargent in the Massachusetts 5th Colored Infantry.

Alfred Hazard Brookfield Cemetery
Alfred Hazzard Co. E Mass. Cav. Brookfield Cemetery

2. HENRY B was born between 1808 and 1812 in Monson. On January 16, 1842 he married Lucinda (Lucy) Johnson. Henry and Lucy had at least seven children: (1) Charles (2) George (3) Ann (4) Emmeretta (Emma) married George Hazzard, son of her aunt Dolly and Emma’s first cousin. (5) Henry Cady married Eveline Newport, then married Charlotte Oakley. Charlotte married George Hazzard following Henry’s death. George and Emma had separated by the time of this marriage. (6) John W was 20 years old when he died from consumption in 1865. (7) Elizabeth Sarah was nine years old when she died from consumption in 1864.

By 1860 Henry and Lucy were no longer living together. On October 24, 1874 Henry married Ellen H. Pennington Van Dusen. Henry worked as a laborer on local farms. On April 3, 1881 Henry was burnt to death. He was 69 years old.

3. ROXANNA (sometimes listed as Rosanna) was born about 1813. She was the mother of one child, Charles Henry Wallace. She was about 15 years old when he was born. Roxanna was also a member of the First Congregational Church of Monson. She was 22 years old when she died on September 18, 1835 in Palmer.

4. DICKERSON (Dick) was born about 1814. On March 22, 1845 he married Elvira Jenkins. In 1850 he was living with his mother, Nancy, and stepfather Henry Miller in Monson and worked as a farm laborer. His family was not living with him. Dick died May 25, 1861 in Monson from dropsy (edema). He was about 45 years old. Dick and Elvira had one daughter, Martha. Martha married William L. Mason of Springfield, and was 37 years old when she died from phthisis (tuberculosis).

As I researched the descendants of the children of James and Nancy, I found that many of the families of color living in Palmer and Monson at the time James and Ruth raised their family were related to the original Wallace family.

I have written the stories of the African-American ancestors of James and Ruth (Andrews) DeBoise – at least what I have found in my research. There is much more to be told, and I hope that some of their descendants will continue to add to their stories.

I will be moving on to Ruth Andrews’ father, and his ancestors. His family stretches back to the earliest settlers in New England, including a direct ancestor who was on the Mayflower. He also has family from Nova Scotia.

The next blog will be about using DNA for genealogy research, and how DNA helped to identify the father of Ruth Andrews.

Soon we will be celebrating the 4th of July – Independence Day. I wonder how our ancestors celebrated the 4th. James and Ruth DeBoise took their family annually to Forest Lake to celebrate the 4th. This annual outing was something the children really enjoyed.

Forest Lake Methuen Mass
Forest Lake in Methuen, Mass.

Enjoy Independence Day – celebrate with family, have a cookout, and just have lots of fun!

Until next time…..


James and Nancy Wallace – the Original Family Settlers in Monson, Massachusetts

We recently celebrated Memorial Day. Although Memorial Day was established to honor those who died in American wars, for our family it is also a time to visit the graveyards and remember our departed loved ones. We clean the gravestones, and leave flowers as a tribute to those who were close to us. We hope that our children and grandchildren will continue this tradition when we are no longer able to do so.


James and Ruth DeBoise

In the last post I finished the story of SAMUEL and EMILY WALLACE and their fifteen children. This week we are visiting with JAMES and NANCY, Samuel’s parents.


In one of my early trips to Monson town hall, long before records were on the Internet and you had to search for information the old fashion way spending hours looking through the original records, I was going through all of Monson’s vital records looking for information on anyone named Wallis or Wallace. Thankfully Monson is not a large town and this task was manageable. The staff working at the Town Hall was really nice and let me have access to the records. Not all places that I have visited in my genealogy research have been so helpful.

I found a card in the death index for JAMES WALLACE who died January 23, 1823. All it said about him, besides his date of death, was male and Black. In 1823 Monson, there were very few black families. JAMES WALLACE was listed in the 1820 Monson Federal Census, with one male over 45 years of age, and nine free black persons in the family. Until 1850, only the name of the Head of Household was listed in the census, making the connection of early families more difficult.

Was James the grandfather of the James who served in the Civil War and was married to Anna Gibbons? Naming a child after one’s father is a common naming practice. How was the “Widow Wallace”, a free black in the 1830 Federal Census, related to this James?

After many years of not finding answers to my questions, I began building “family trees” for all the old Wallace/Wallis families and I began to find the connections. I found the given name of “Widow” Wallace (Nancy), where she and her first husband James were from, and the children who were born after they moved to Massachusetts. Their story is not complete, but it is no longer silent.

The Wallace family is one of the earliest black families to settle in Monson. The JAMES WALLACE family, the first Wallace family found in the records for Monson, is from New York. They are first listed in the 1820 Federal Census as living in Monson, but might have been living in Palmer as early as 1801 when one of their children was born. They were not found living as an independent household in the 1800 or 1810 census for Palmer. However, only heads of households were listed, and if they lived with another family they would be listed as a number of free persons of color in that household.

So why would they move to Massachusetts from New York around the turn of the century? We don’t know if they were free people of color when living in New York. Slavery had not ended in New York, and did not end until 1827. In 1799, New York passed a gradual emancipation law that freed children born after July 4, 1799, but they were indentured until they were young adults. In 1817 a new law was passed freeing all slaves but not until 1827.

Massachusetts and Vermont had both abolished slavery before 1800. Blacks in Massachusetts could vote, and could move within the state without legal restrictions. Although I will never know for certain, James and Nancy probably moved to Massachusetts from New York because they knew they could raise their family without the threat of slavery.

The family is listed under James Wallace in the 1820 Federal Census with nine in the family, and as a free family of color. The family is listed in the 1830 Federal Census in Monson as Widow Wallace with seven in the family, again as a free family of color. Dolly Wallace (James and Nancy’s daughter) is listed as head of a separate household. I believe that all of the early Wallace families from Monson are related to James and Nancy. Birth records in Monson for this time period are very incomplete. Marriage, death, and census records were very helpful in trying to tie these relationships together.

JAMES WALLACE was born between 1755 and 1770 in New York. This is an estimated date of birth, based on various dates of birth given for his wife Nancy. Men were generally, but not always, a few years older than their wife. He died on January 23, 1823 in Monson. James probably worked as a laborer on the farms in Monson.

NANCY (last name unknown) was born between 1757 and 1775 in Staten Island, New York. She was listed as the head of house in the 1830 census in Monson, with seven living in the household, including one female between 36 and 55 years of age. On April 10, 1841 she filed intentions to marry (2) HENRY MILLER. He was born about 1797 in New York. She is listed in the 1850 census as Nancy Miller in the household of Henry Miller. She is 80 years old and he is 57 years old and a laborer. Neither Henry nor Nancy can read or write. Her son Dickerson is also living in the household.

In the 1855 Massachusetts State Census she is living in the household of her son Henry, is 91 years old and blind. Her husband is no longer living. She died February 13, 1860. Her death record states she was widowed and 103 years of age. I think she was old, but not that old. The 1850 census indicates that she was 80, and the 1830 census indicates that there was one female 36 – 55 years old in the household, both placing her birth around 1770 or 1775. Her youngest child was born in 1816. It is very unlikely a woman is having a baby when she is 60 years old!

I found records on five of their children. They might have had more. Children of James and Nancy are:


The families of Dolly, Henry, Roxanna and Dickerson will be discussed in the next blog.

Have a great week!


The Last Will and Testament of Samuel Wallace

Will Samuel Wallace

Before I move on to Samuel’s parents, James and Nancy, I want to share Samuel’s will. Not often am I fortunate enough to find a will from one of the early ancestors. When Samuel was mentioned as having a will in the book “Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 1650-1855” by Joseph Carvalho, I had to try to get a copy. I wrote to the Probate Court in Springfield, and they not only sent me a copy of the will, but also everything that they had in his file for settling his estate. I was thrilled! Not only did this information tell me which of his children were alive at the time of his death, but it also gave me more information on his property – real and personal. I will do my best in transcribing the documents for you.

Be it remembered that I, Samuel Wallace of Monson County of Hampden in the State of Massachusetts being of sound mind and memory, but knowing the uncertainty of this life, do make this my last will and testament.
After the payment of my just debts and funeral charges, I bequeath and devise as follows:
I give bequeath and devise to my beloved wife Emily Wallace all of my estate both real and personal of which I may die seized to her sole use forever.
I appoint my wife Emily Wallace to be executrix of the my last will and testament and request the Judge of Probate to require of her no surety or sureties on her official Bond.
In testimony whereof, I hereunto set my hand, and in the presence of three witnesses declare this to be my last Will, this Twelfth day of March in the year one thousand eight hundred and Eighty-Eight.
                                                       Samuel X Wallace
On this Twelfth day of March A.D. 1888 Samuel Wallace of Monson Mass has made his mark signed the foregoing instrument in our presence, declaring it to be his last Will, and as witnesses thereof we three do now, at his request, in his presence, and in the presence of each other, hereto subscribe our names.
                                                             Geo Hunter
                                                            Geo E. Fuller
                                                         Tha L Cushman

George Fuller was a physician, Thaddeus L Cushman was President of the Bank, and they both lived in Monson. I found a George Hunter from Holyoke who worked in a silk mill. This might have been the third witness.

Samuel died March 14, 1888, two days after completing his will. He knew he was dying and, because he had property, wanted to make sure that his wife would inherit his estate.

On February 8, 1889 Edwin R. King petitioned the court to be named administrator of the will, in that Emily Wallace had died after her husband, and before this date. Although I was never able to find the date of death of Emily, I know that it occurred between March 1888 and February 1889. Edwin R. King is the husband of Nancy Wallace.

To the Honorable the Judge of the Probate Court in and for the County of Hampden:

Respectfully represents Edwin R. King of Palmer in the County of Hampden that Samuel Wallace who last dwelt in Monson in said County of Hampden, died on the Fourteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and Eighty-Eight possessed of goods and estates remaining to be administered, leaving a widow. Whose name was Emily Wallace (since deceased) and as his only heirs-at-law and next of kin, the persons whose names, residence, and relationship to the deceased are as follows:

Sarah Law, wife of George P. Law – of New Bedford, Mass, daughter.
James Wallace of Monson, Mass – son.
Alanson Wallace of New Bedford, Mass – son.
Betsey Wallace Thompson of Palmer, Mass – daughter.
Rosanna Kelsey of Palmer, Mass. – wife of Sidney Kelsey, Palmer, daughter.
Emily Mason of Palmer, Mass wife of Wm Mason – daughter.
Nancy King wife of E.R. King of Palmer, Mass – daughter.
Mary Wallace of Monson, Mass – daughter.
Julia Wallace of Monson, Mass – daughter.

That said deceased left a WILL herewith presented, wherein his widow was named executrix but she having since died the heirs at law request your petition to act.

Wherefore your petitioner prays that said will may be proved and allowed, and letters of administration with the will annexed issued to him.

Dated the Eight day of February A.D. 1889.
Edwin R. King

The undersigned being all the heirs-at-law and next of kin, and the only parties interested in the foregoing petition, request that the prayer thereof be granted, without further notice.”

The Court responded by setting a date Edwin King was to appear in court – March 1, 1889 – and he was to give public notice by publishing in the Palmer Journal once a week for three weeks his request to be named executor of the estate to ensure that no one else wanted this job.
On the Sixth of March, 1889 Edwin R. King was appointed executor of the estate.

Edwin presented to the court, on this same date, the debts of the estate.

Dr. W. H. Stowe Medical attendance 23.00
Dr. Wilkins 8.50
John Monyhair 2 caskets etc. 89.00
Taxes due town of Monson 6.40
Teams to Funeral J.T. Stevens 3.75
Teams to Funeral L. G. Cushman 2.50
Geo H. Newton’s account 3.00
Frank Warren – mortgage 32.80
W. N. Flynt Co. – Robes etc. 3.10
George E. Fuller medical attendance 47.00
Total debts – $229.05

On March 7, 1889, the value of the amount of Real Estate was appraised at $400 for the home place of about 15 acres with buildings. The amount of Personal Estate was appraised at $5.00 for household effects and stone tools.

Samuel must have been a stone mason since he had stone tools, and probably taught his two sons, James and Alanson, the trade since they also became stone masons.

To be appointed as executor of the estate, Edwin had to put up eight hundred dollars in bond. He got the help of his father, Sylvannus King of Monson, and his brother, Albert King of Palmer, in pledging the money for the bond. The order of appointment was signed March 8, 1889. No wonder none of the other family members wanted this job!

On March 17, 1889, Edwin presented an accounting of the estate. Debts totaled $229.05. A charge for administration was $45.00, increasing debts to $274.05. Personal estate amounted to $5, which did not cover the debts. Real estate was appraised at $400, and must be sold to satisfy the debts.

“Home place of the late Samuel Wallace situated northerly of the farm of Rev. James Tufts containing Fifteen acres more or less together with the buildings thereon.”

Edwin was licensed to sell the real estate in order to pay the debts and settle the estate.

You would think that the land would be sold, the debts paid off, the remainder split among the heirs, and that would be the end of it. Well, think again!

I found two small pieces of property auctioned off in 1891 because of nonpayment of 1890 taxes by the heirs of Samuel Wallace. Thirty-nine and one-half cents was owed on 1¼ acres near the Rock House. This was purchased by Truman Watross at public auction for nine dollars.

On another one acre lot of land near Rock House, fifteen and one-half cents was owed for taxes. This land was purchased by David J. Anderson of Monson at public auction for twenty dollars.

Some of Samuel and Emily’s ancestors might be ambitious enough to figure out how to use new technology to discover exactly where their land was located. I found land records for Massachusetts on FamilySearch.org. You can also visit http://www.masslandrecords.com/ for Massachusetts Land Records. I have not used this site before, so it might be fun to see what you can find on the Wallace family, other relatives, or other property you are interested in.

Until the next time….