Archive for January, 2014

Sarah Lyman was part of the first generation of immigrants from England to the English colonies that became known as New England. Born to Richard Lyman and Sarah (Osborne) Lyman, Sarah was baptized in the parish of High Ongar, County Essex, England, on 8 February 1620, back when the English new year didn’t start until March. In August 1631, when Sarah was probably 10 years old, the Lyman family headed from Bristol, England, to the so-called “New World” on the ship Lyon/Lion.

This was the Lyon‘s third known trip to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Lymans were in rarefied company; Reverend John Eliot, who would make a name for himself in his soon-to-be home, was on board, as was Margaret Winthrop, the wife of Governor John Winthrop, and three of Margaret and John’s children, including John Jr. The Lyon arrived at Nantasket on November 2nd. The Winthrops were heading for New Boston, while the Lymans and the Eliots were heading for Roxbury. Now officially part of the City of Boston, in 1631 Roxbury was a distinct and relatively distant colonial settlement, and at the time both were young towns. The Eliots were from Nazeing, Essex, today a 12-mile drive from High Ongar.

While today many people think of people in the past as settling in one location for generations, that was the way only some colonists were. One of my friends was born in the same town where some of their lines had lived since before the American Revolution. The Lymans did not choose this kind of life. The family quickly moved again, one of many families to go with Reverend Thomas Hooker to Connecticut Colony to found the town of Hartford; in Roxbury’s records John Eliot referenced it as “the great removal.” Sarah’s father Richard died in 1641 and her mother Sarah died shortly thereafter. Around 1642, Sarah married James Bridgman, who had moved to Hartford shortly before Richard’s death and bought a lot very close to the Lymans’ home. By 1645 Sarah and James had moved to Springfield, which had started out as part of Connecticut Colony but had broken from it to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639.

A number of the families who had moved to Springfield moved again to Northampton when it was founded in 1654, and a number of families from Hartford moved to Northampton as well. Sarah and James moved from Springfield to Northampton, as did the family that Sarah and James disliked most, headed by Mary (Bliss) Parsons and Joseph Parsons. Joseph Parsons had steadily improved his status and financial state and would continue to do so over the course of his life. In the world of white colonial New England, your reputation was one of the most important facets of your life. Mary and Joseph had already developed a rocky reputation in Springfield; though Joseph had cultivated wealth and high status through what seems to have been a combination of hard work and savvy decisions, he appears from court cases to have been rather abrasive in many of his interactions, which may help someone be a more successful businessman but didn’t lend itself to positive interactions with neighbors and others in the community. After the families had resettled in Northampton, Sarah and James’s only surviving son became ill from an unexplained knee condition, and Sarah purportedly spread gossip blaming Mary for causing her son’s illness through witchcraft.

To a 17th century New Englander, it made perfect sense. For example, if someone had an argument or disagreement with you and then something bad befell you or one of your loved ones, the person who had been upset with you could have been trying to get even with you by using witchcraft against you. Things that today we would consider minor, like someone’s newly cooked food spilling before it could be eaten or one of their cattle getting sick, often caused people to become suspicious that a neighbor they disliked or thought was somewhat “off” was causing their trouble through witchcraft.

Since one’s reputation was so important and accusations of witchcraft in particular could potentially lead to serious legal trouble and possibly even a death sentence, it was common for someone who was being called a witch around town – sometimes after only one such instance – to file a preemptive slander suit against the gossiper(s), a tactic which many also hoped would nip any formal witch accusations in the proverbial bud before they could ever be officially filed. After Sarah started telling others that Mary had used witchcraft to cause her child’s illness in 1656, Mary’s husband Joseph filed a defamation suit against Sarah, and a warrant was issued to the constable for attaching Sarah to the slander case, requiring Sarah to give a bond of 100 pounds. Sarah had been supposed to appear in person in Cambridge, which is around a two-hour drive from Northampton today, but the constable appeared in Cambridge without her and said that since Sarah was with child it would be too difficult for her to appear.

The testimonies were taken in groups, which was common then. Particularly interestingly, most of Sarah’s initial supporters had moved to Northampton from Springfield, while most of Mary and Joseph’s initial supporters had moved to Northampton directly from towns in Connecticut Colony.

The first group of testifiers supported Sarah against Mary. William Hannum testified supporting his wife’s testimony that Mary had gotten into an altercation with their family about yarn, and also added that Joseph Parsons had beat his wife and at least one child; whether there is any truth to this latter claim it is difficult to say for sure, not least since he was testifying against Mary, but it is certainly possible. Sarah and her husband James testified that their son said he had seen Mary while she was not physically there and that Mary’s visage had threatened to further harm his knee. There is a modern tradition amongst Parsons descendants and in the Northampton area that the people who testified against Mary and the people who gossiped that she was a witch were envious of her. The term “jealousies” was used a lot in testimony against Mary, and I think this may be at least part of the cause of this tradition. The term “jealousies” then did not mean what “jealousy” as a synonym of “envy” means today. It was much more akin to the lengthy Webster definitions published in 1828; note that three of the four definitions include “suspicion” and two include “apprehension.”

Then a group of testifiers rebuffed the previous group, testifying such things as that Sarah had said her child had always been sickly, that the cow that William Hannum suspected Mary of killing through witchcraft showed signs of having been physically ill enough to die of natural causes, that Sarah and another woman had been heard discussing Mary being a witch, and that Sarah was so suspicious of Mary that she had demanded Mary repeatedly be searched.

Then additional testimony was collected on the previous groups of testimony. Amongst them, John Mathews testified that Joseph had told Mary she was “led by an evil spirit” and that Mary said that if so, it was because Joseph had locked her into the cellar and left her there; again, third-party testimony suggests that Joseph may have been abusive towards Mary. Some of the people who had initially testified for Sarah changed their testimony. Eventually Sarah admitted in court that she had told another woman about Sarah’s son saying Mary’s visage had appeared before him saying she would hurt him.

Mary Parsons requested that John Pynchon, then the magistrate of western Massachusetts, provide testimony supporting her, and on September 30th, he did so. The court sided with the Parsons, saying that Sarah “hath without just ground raised a great scandal and reproach upon the plaintiff’s wife” Mary and requiring Sarah to state so at public meetings at both Northampton and Springfield within sixty days. The court also said Sarah’s husband James had to pay ten pounds for damages and reimburse Joseph’s court costs.

Sarah died in Northampton, a long way geographically and culturally from the England of her birth. Her death is listed on the first page of recorded deaths in Northampton, a page titled “Record of Deaths in Northampton since the year 1654.” At the time of her death, Sarah and James were on the frontier of British colonization; an entry from the year before she died describes an inquest into how “Robin an Indian servant to Nathanell Clark” was “kild by the Indians.” (The term “servant” was used for both true servants and slaves then, so it is unclear from the entry which Robin was.) Sarah’s entry states with typical simplicity, “Sarah Bridgman wife of James Bridgman died 31 August 1668.” Sarah was probably 47 years old when she died, and was buried in the town burial ground; it would eventually become known as North Bridge Cemetery, and still exists today. But if Sarah’s family erected a gravestone or other marker for her, it has been lost to time; the oldest surviving gravestone is for someone who died nearly twenty years after Sarah.

The sour feelings between the Bridgmans and the Parsons continued after Sarah’s death. James Bridgman seems to have continued to believe that Mary (Bliss) Parsons harbored malevolent feelings towards their children that Mary used witchcraft to act upon. Sarah and James’s daughter Mary (Bridgman) Bartlett died suddenly from unexplained causes, and without Sarah there to act, Sarah’s and her daughter Mary’s widowers, James Bridgman and Samuel Bartlett, accused Mary Parsons of causing Mary Bartlett’s death through witchcraft. A suit was filed against Mary Parsons in 1674 and was heard in the regional court. The case was forwarded from the regional court to the higher court at Boston, known as the Court of Assistants, where Mary Parsons was indicted by a grand jury and tried on charges of witchcraft in 1675. Mary was acquitted of all charges. Sarah’s widower James died the following year.



High Ongar’s pre-English-Civil-War registers survived the ravages of war and time and are now digitized on Essex Record Office’s website. For a fee anyone can view Sarah’s baptism and her family’s other parish register entries from an internet-enabled computer/device anywhere in the world.

Northampton’s vital records are part of the Holbrook Collection, originally microfilm reels that were digitized by Ancestry a couple of years ago and retitled “Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988.” The indexing of this record set on Ancestry is not particularly good and is especially bad for the 17th century; if the town of residence is known, I generally recommend a search by hand as not finding an entry through a database search does not necessarily mean the entry isn’t there. The Holbrooks filmed three versions of Northampton’s records, the originals, an old handwritten copy of the originals, and a typed transcript where the two versions were compared and some additional notes were added by the transcribers.

Northampton’s vital records were also recently added to FamilySearch from the Family History Library’s microfilmed copies. Personally I find their film’s scans of the old vital records harder to read than the Holbrook Collection’s film’s scans; however, FamilySearch’s (currently unindexed) version is free. Also, FamilySearch has an additional register under its own category of “Franklin, Hampshire” [counties of Massachusetts] that includes some later copies of early materials pertaining to residents of a number of the area towns, including a record of people killed in what is usually called the French and Indian War here in the States (known as the Seven Years’ War in most of the English-speaking world) and of the massacre at Deerfield; while as yet unindexed on FamilySearch, the register contains a handwritten index at the front.

Springfield’s vital records are in their own database on FamilySearch, titled “Massachusetts, Springfield Vital Records, 1638-1887”; while indexed, I was told by someone who knew the indexer that the index FamilySearch put on the site had not yet been completed and proofed by the person who had been independently compiling it, so again, if you can’t find an entry I recommend a page-by-page search. Additionally, some of the very earliest vital records in the scans of Springfield’s register are written in handwriting that appears to date from a later time period; as yet, I have been unable to determine the provenance of these entries, and while they were most likely copied from deteriorating original pages, at this point I cannot say that for sure. Scans of films of Springfield’s vital records are also in FamilySearch’s unindexed Massachusetts town records collection.

The slander case testimony is in the Middlesex County Court Records [of Massachusetts] and copies of some testimonies are also at Harvard Law Library. The early colonial Middlesex County Court docket copies of a wide variety of cases are online (with a time gap) and unindexed at FamilySearch. Fascination with colonial witch trials and with Northampton’s history have continued to the present, and consequently there has been an awful lot written about the cases of the Bridgman family vs. the Parsons family, continuing to modern times.  Unfortunately the majority of the original material regarding the second trial, wherein Mary was indicted for witchcraft and then acquitted, has been lost. Following are some suggestions for others interested in reading printed works on the cases in this blog post and/or other witch cases:

Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638-1695, 2nd ed., edited and with an introduction by David D. Hall (USA: Duke University Press, 2nd ed. copyright 1999). Hall’s introduction is invaluable for anyone trying to place witch-hunting in New England in historical context and to understand the system in place for dealing with witch cases. The bulk of the book is Hall’s transcriptions of a variety of witch cases from around New England; transcriptions of testimony from the Parsons vs. Bridgman slander case comprises the majority of chapter 6, titled “A Long-Running Feud (1656-1675).”

Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639-1703): The Pynchon Court Record, edited with a legal and historical introduction by Joseph H. Smith (USA: The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation at Harvard University Press, 1961). William Pynchon and then his son John Pynchon served as magistrates for a swath of the geographical area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, based out of Springfield and including Northampton. This book is a mix of transcriptions, analysis, and information about the various legal procedures used at the time. There are a number of witchcraft-related cases included in the book.

“‘Hard Thoughts and Jealousies'” by John Putnam Demos, from A Place Called Paradise: Culture & Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004, edited by Kerry W. Buckley (USA: Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center in association with University of Massachusetts Press, 2004); originally published in Demos’s Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (1982). This essay consists primarily of background on the women’s lives and families of origins and an analysis of the cases involving the two families; the title is a quote from testimony. While I don’t think it is really very possible to draw conclusive findings about people’s internal states and emotional lives from third-party historical records and family traditions as Demos tries to do repeatedly in this essay (particularly in the background section), it is an interesting essay well worth the read. (After Demos’s essay was republished in A Place Called Paradise, a revised edition of his book Entertaining Satan was published.)

A side note regarding Demos’s essay: Modern readers may read John Eliot’s description of Sarah (Lyman) Bridgman’s father Richard’s state of “melancholy” after moving to Hartford and assume Richard was depressed; this may or may not have been the case. Melancholy, also called melancholia, was a very common diagnosis in 16th and 17th century England (New England’s early colonial medical practices were based upon England’s), and could be anywhere from a purely emotional issue to a completely physical one, though given the beliefs of the time, most illnesses fell somewhere in between the two extremes. Melancholia could be caused by supernatural forces, including witchcraft. An essay about Robert Burton’s popular 17th century compilation The Anatomy of Melancholy has been posted online, “Major Depression in Seventeenth Century England: A Brief Look at Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy,” and others interested in historical medical practices will likely enjoy reading it.

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Mary Ann Loveland was born on a farm in the small town of Norwich, Windsor County, Vermont, in 1853, the daughter of John Wheatley Loveland and Lucy Maria (Boardman) Loveland. Around Mary, the world was changing. The issue of slavery was tearing her country apart as she grew up in what had been the first area in what is now the United States to outlaw slavery. When Mary was 5, her mother died. The Civil War broke out when she was 8, and Reconstruction had yet to reach its abrupt ending when Mary headed to college at 16.

Mary went to what was then known as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College), in South Hadley, Hampshire County, Massachusetts. I have written about Mount Holyoke here before; upon its opening in 1837, it was the first women’s college in America that had strong entrance requirements and its own endowment. Like all students at Mount Holyoke, Mary focused on academic subjects rather than domestic arts. On the 1870 federal census, 17-year-old Mary was enumerated both at home in Norwich and at Mount Holyoke in South Hadley. Her home enumeration does not mention that she is a student at all, so without further digging a researcher might never discover Mary’s story.

In 1874, Mary graduated from Mount Holyoke and became a teacher, heading first to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to teach at Michigan Female Seminary, which had been modeled on Mount Holyoke and came to be known as the Mount Holyoke of the West.  According to Michigan and the Centennial, Being a Memorial Record (published by S. B. McCracken in 1876), Mary taught botany and mathematics as part of a small staff of teachers, all of them single women. A synopsis of the curriculum was published by the Michigan Department of Public Instruction, wherein the principal expected some students to be able to complete the curriculum in three years rather than four based partly on the amount of prior mathematics instruction some of them were expected to have had. Based on the curriculum, it seems that mathematics was taught to first-year students and botany to second-year students. Mary spent at least one of her summer breaks furthering her education in a formal setting, taking a course on phaenogamic botany (the term used then for the botany of flowering plants) at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1877. Mary taught at Michigan Female Seminary until 1879, when she headed back to New England to teach at McCollom Institute in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire.

McCollom Institute, which had previously been known as Appleton Academy and no longer exists, was a co-ed private school; most of my information on it has been gleaned from History of the Town of Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, by Charles James Smith (1907), which has a large section on Appleton and McCollom. At the time Mary taught there, the small teaching staff was a mix of men and women. Mary had made quite a change from the Michigan Female Seminary. It seems perhaps it wasn’t a change for the better, as in 1880 she left McCollom.

In 1881 Mary made her most drastic move yet, heading to Hawaii Territory to teach at the girls’ boarding school in Kohala on the island of Hawaii, known as the Kohala Female Seminary. According to the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, published in June 1881, Mary and another woman, “Miss E. Small” (I found reference elsewhere to her first name being Elizabeth), had arrived at the school in April 1881. Mary and Elizabeth had left Boston on January 31st.

Christian New Englanders had sent many missions to Hawaii Territory, and to this day descendants of early missionaries live on the islands. Kohala Female Seminary and a paired boys’ boarding school had been founded by two of them, Ellen and Elias Bond from Maine, who had sailed on the Gloucester from Boston in 1840 with the Ninth Company of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the first American Christian missionary organization, arriving in 1841 after a several-month voyage. After Ellen Bond initially taught the girls in her home, Kohala Female Seminary was built starting in 1873, and Elizabeth Lyons, the daughter of one of Hawaii’s other early missionary couples (the Lyons family had sailed from Boston with the Fifth Company of ABCFM in 1831), became Kohala Female Seminary’s first principal. Elizabeth Lyons was still serving as principal when Elizabeth Small and Mary arrived to teach there. The Missionary Herald at Home and Abroad suggested that Elizabeth Small and Mary had gone to Kohala at the request of Elias Bond, though it is not clear to me whether he specifically requested them or just any interested teachers.

With Mary’s strong interest in botany, I imagine Hawaii Territory was a fascinating place for her to live. Unfortunately typhoid fever epidemics had been affecting the students of Kohala Female Seminary before Mary arrived. I don’t know whether these problems influenced her choice, but after a year or two Mary headed back to the mainland. Epidemics would continue to affect the students of Kohala Female Seminary, so perhaps she would have died if she had stayed.

To date I have found no evidence that Mary taught again. According to Genealogy of the Wheatley or Wheatleigh Family, 1356-1902 (published by Hannibal Wheatley in 1902), Mary returned home when her stepmother became ill, and then stayed with her elderly father after her stepmother died in 1892, helping him as he went blind. While the book has very few citations and I have proven many of the “family-tradition”-type early items incorrect, Mary was alive when it was published and her father had only recently died, and judging by the detailed information about Mary’s work life that I was able to verify in other sources, I believe that Mary may have provided the information on her family herself and that she also may have personally known the author. Hannibal Wheatley wrote, “Mary A. Loveland at the age of 49 has never been married. She is thorough and earnest in whatever she finds to do.” I tip my hat to Hannibal for doing his best to include detailed information on everyone in the tree, including people who died without descendants and the later descendants of daughters, things that remained rater uncommon in 1902 and which some people still don’t do today.

Hannibal Wheatley wrote that Mary’s father John had been mostly self-educated through home study and that John had sent Mary and her little sister to Mount Holyoke. John’s self-education appears to have influenced Mary as she continued to take courses after finishing college and, according to Hannibal, also hired a private tutor to learn foreign languages.

According to the 3 August 1912 issue of the newspaper Spirit of the Age (published in Woodstock, Vermont), Mary was entertaining “Mr. and Mrs. Cushman and Miss Martin of Providence, R. I.” in Norwich at time of publication. A number of graduates of Mount Holyoke lived in Providence, but I am not positive to date whether these were friends of Mary’s from school or from another period of her life.

While it is likely that Mary was the Mary A. Loveland who wrote a piece about Florida’s birds and plants for the October 1922 Joint Bulletin No. 8 of the Vermont Botanical and Bird Clubs, to date I cannot say for sure. I hope that in her retirement she enjoyed a trip to Florida with a friend as the author of the piece did. I found mention of Mary A. Loveland in a few other digitized Joint Bulletins; one lists Mary as “Mrs.” but on a list of members in another she is called “Miss.” While it seems most likely that the “Mrs.” was an editorial error (or perhaps editorial assumption), it is also possible there were two Mary A. Lovelands associated with Norwich at that time and interested in botany.

Mary died in Norwich in 1930 at age 77, primary cause “Senility” with the secondary cause of “Old age.”  Her occupation was cryptically given as “Retired” and her residence in Norwich was incorrectly given as “all her life.”



The research distilled into this post would have been much more time-consuming and possibly more difficult if not for digitized copies of college publications verifying Mary’s work history and that she had taken at least one class at Harvard; the publications gave a foundation upon which to search for further information. In particular, the publications of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and then Mount Holyoke College provided detailed information on Mary’s work life and movements. (For graduates who married, they also include information about spouses and any children, and for graduates who had died, they include the year of death and sometimes also the place of death.) In 2012 my article titled “Using School Records” was published in The Indiana Genealogist; regardless of whether readers seek out a copy of my article, I encourage readers to explore how school records can add additional richness and detail to their genealogical research.

To date no enumeration has been found for Mary on the 1880, 1910, nor 1930 federal census. Since she lived alone late in her life, it is possible that she died between the official 1930 enumeration date and the day the enumerator actually visited her neighborhood in 1930, but that still doesn’t account for why she appears not to be enumerated on the 1880 and 1910 federal censuses.

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Winifred Burnett, known as “Win” and then “Winnie” to her family, was the last child born to Charles and Addie (Sturtevant) Burnett of Cleveland, Ohio. When Win was a child, she moved with her mother and sisters to Paris for a year, a journal about which I am slowly putting online at Addie’s Sojourn. During their time there, Win and her sister Lillie were sent to a Parisian boarding school. After Addie and the girls returned from Paris, Addie and Charles sent Win and Lillie to an American boarding school. As the youngest in her family, Win was last to finish school. Though their mother had graduated from college in the 1860’s, Win and her sisters were not sent to college by their parents; I don’t know why.

Lillian and Winifred as children

Portrait of Win and her big sister Lillie.

In 1898 Charles died. Win and Lillie were still living at home at the time. By the 1900 census the three of them had relocated from Cleveland to Salisbury, Connecticut; less than two years a widow, Addie told the enumerator how long she’d been married as if Charles were still alive, and it was duly recorded on the census. When I first found the move in my research, I figured that they had most likely chosen to move to be closer to where their married daughter/sister Jane lived, something I’ve often found in my research; many people seem to be much more easily uprooted after they lose a loved one. It turned out that was “yes and no.” In the family documents I subsequently inherited about the Burnetts, the family mentions that their home was broken into shortly after Charles died and they state that this was the biggest impetus to their moving. I found this particularly eerie as I could relate – my home was also broken into, and I never felt safe there afterwards and insisted on moving, feelings they seemed to have shared over a hundred years before the same thing happened to me.

Shortly after the Burnetts moved to Salisbury, they moved again, to West Hartford, Connecticut, and Lillie married there. By the 1910 census, Addie and Winnie were living with Jane and her husband in West Hartford. By the compilation of a 1915 city directory, the mother and daughter duo had moved across the country to burgeoning Los Angeles. Addie’s parents had been from New England, and Addie and Winnie seem to have fit very well into an old New England tradition of the last single daughter remaining at home with the widowed parent, caring for them and keeping them company. In 1916 Addie died at another child’s home in Ohio, and it is not clear from the records I’ve reviewed so far whether Winnie had initially stayed in Los Angeles on her own.

In 1918 Winnie applied to be a World War I volunteer with the United States branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Winnie was part of a change in the American YMCA’s operations; they had opened their wartime volunteering positions to women for the first time in 1917, and between 1917 and 1918 many American women applied to become volunteers in World War I, before American women had won national suffrage and at a time when many criticized the YMCA for allegedly tasking women with work that was neither physically nor emotionally suitable for them. Winnie was one of the women chosen, and she headed to Europe. While no record I have so far for Winnie before 1918 lists her with any occupation at all, in 1918 she was placed as a “Directrice” of secretaries in the YMCA’s European operations. The employee who sent me a copy of Winnie’s volunteering card said they had not seen this position before. To me it suggests that Winnie had prior experience with secretarial work that did not make it onto known extant records, as I doubt she would have been appointed a director of secretaries if she had no experience in the field.

This is one of the difficulties with researching American women prior to the time period when it became relatively common and acceptable for them to work outside the home; often occupations are not listed regardless of whether they actually had one or not, and unless there are extant newspaper articles about their volunteer work, it also may be difficult or impossible to figure out whether they volunteered outside the home and if so, where and doing what. Winnie is not the only American woman for whom I have only located one record listing an occupation and it always makes me wonder how many more worked outside the home without leaving any record at all of it. I think there are many reasons for this, a few of them being that women’s paid work was often supplemental to the family’s income, and perhaps even only taken in “as needed”; that volunteering work tended to be seen as a ‘lower tier’ than paid work (an attitude many Americans still have today); and that the society at large, the woman’s family, and perhaps even the woman herself may have chosen not to disclose that the woman was working outside the home. I know from my family that Addie had a very Victorian attitude about a woman’s place, and that some of my family members believed that this attitude trickled down to her daughters. If Addie was the informant, perhaps she chose not to tell people that her daughter worked or volunteered outside the home. Or perhaps Winnie herself chose not to state so.

According to her volunteer card, Winnie’s YMCA volunteering began on 18 October 1918, and she was “Placed Overseas,” working in France and Germany. Because Winnie had attended a French-language boarding school just outside the walls of Paris for a year, she spoke French. She satisfactorily completed her work, returning to the States on 14 July 1919, and the card says that on 20 October 1919 she was sent a certificate and a pin, like all those who satisfactorily completed their YMCA World War I service. Someone else inherited most of Winnie’s personal papers, and says that Winnie wrote some letters home that discussed the plight of prisoners of war before it was well-known in the States and that Winnie’s brothers-in-law publicized those letters within the States, but to date I have not been allowed personal access to Winnie’s letters and have yet to find any letters to the editor that the inheritor says were part of the publicizing.

Postcard of Strassburg sent by Winnie while she was volunteering in WW1

This postcard of “Strassburg” was sent by Winnie to family in America on a day off while she was volunteering with the YMCA in Europe during World War I. (Original in author’s collection.)

The women who went to work for the American YMCA and the other organizations that allowed women to do European support work during World War I were mostly women who were single and who could financially afford to volunteer for several months. But they also needed the grit for working what were often long hours in frequently difficult conditions, with many of them working close to the front lines, and they also needed the wherewithal to withstand criticisms from many in their society, from some of the people in their communities, and sometimes even from members of their own families.

By the 1920 census, Winnie was living in Manhattan with her widowed sister Jane; both are enumerated with the occupation “none.” By 1930 Winnie had bounced back to Los Angeles, where for the first time she was enumerated as living with non-relatives, in what seems to have been boarding rooms for folks who had moved to Los Angeles from out of state or out of country. On Google Maps the modern address for 2701 Wiltshire Boulevard looks to me like a period apartment building, though I don’t know for sure whether the street numbers have changed in the intervening decades.

Travelling had been introduced into Winnie’s life when she was a child via temporarily moving to France. It was something that stuck with her the rest of her life. As the last single child, she travelled with her mother Addie when Addie returned to Europe, and after Addie and Jane’s husband both died, Winnie travelled with Jane to Hawaii. Eventually Winnie took an overseas trip alone, travelling to what was then known as British Guyana; on the way home in 1939 she was the only passenger who boarded the S. S. Lady Hawkins at Demerara. (Lady Hawkins, which was owned by Canadian National Steamships Ltd. of Montreal, would be torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-66 just under three years later, with the majority of the crew and passengers perishing.)

By 1940 Winnie was again living with her widowed sister Jane, who was by then living in Brookline, Massachusetts, one of the towns that comprises metropolitan Boston. Jane, long the widow of a top insurance company executive, died in Brookline in 1953 with no living descendants, and left her estate to her single sister Winnie, which made the news. My grandfather was one of Winnie’s in-laws, but he appears to have helped Winnie with her finances after her blood relatives died, as I inherited some papers about Winnie’s newly larger 1953 finances and a 1957 letter sent to Winnie about her financial state amongst my grandfather’s papers, in a file with the family’s copy of Jane’s probate file and the file of payments Jane had made as “temporary administratrix and executrix” of her husband’s estate. Winnie’s papers have some notes in my grandfather’s handwriting scattered around the type.

Winnie and her sister-in-law Mary were the last living folks from their generation, and I inherited a bit of correspondence between Brookline-based Winnie and Mary (Hall) Burnett of Victoria, British Columbia, written after Jane died, that suggests they kept regularly in touch. I also inherited a photo of Winnie with someone that the label calls Winnie’s friend, and a photo of Winnie with some French soldiers; while undated, the latter photo seems likely to have been taken while she was volunteering in Europe in World War I. The historical friendships of women are unfortunately less likely to be easily documented like the friendships of men often can be, the latter through the records of and articles about such things as coworkers, societies, civic service, political activities, and pension files.

Winnie, the last surviving Burnett sibling, died in Brookline in 1961 at age 80. Her sister-in-law Mary lived on alone, dying at age 101 in Victoria. Jane and Winnie are buried with Jane’s in-laws in New Jersey.

I wish I knew more about Winnie’s adult life. For example, there must have been some reason she repeatedly chose to live in Los Angeles, but I have no idea what it was. Regardless, I hope this post about Winnie’s life brings broader awareness of the work American women did in World War I and encourages more people to research the lives of relatives who never married.



The Kautz Family YMCA Archives, held by the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections Department, include the records of the American women and men who volunteered with the YMCA in Europe during World War I. If you are researching someone who volunteered as Winnie did, you can receive a scan of their volunteering card by emailing a request to the Archives. Typically a volunteering card is all that the Archives will hold on the volunteer; it contains basic information about their volunteering as well as statistical-type information like what level of education the person had completed and what relevant languages beyond English they spoke (if any).

People in the past travelled more than one might expect, and I have found many research subjects who lived and died in a single country in passenger lists, both going within and between countries. Sometimes they travelled for pleasure, but sometimes they were travelling for the military, for work, for volunteering, to adopt an internationally-born child, to visit a family member or friend who was living in a distant location, to take care of a family matter afar, or for unclear/unknown purposes, and some people who weren’t career mariners spent part of their life working as a member of a ship’s crew, sometimes even just as a way to pay their way to living in a new location. For most of the world’s history, in many locations it was easier to get to all but the geographically nearest places by water than by land.

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[“52 Ancestors,” posting about one person per week over the course of 2014, is being done by a number of genealogy bloggers. I’m participating in an attempt to finally start blogging a minimum of once a week here. As usual with my blogging, I’m a bit late in my first post. While I can’t speak for others, I am choosing to interpret “ancestors” more broadly than the dictionary definition, in keeping with my general posts here. Those of you on Twitter can see many more posts from this theme on the hashtag #52Ancestors.]

Burrie was the uncle I never knew. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor as an infant, and my grandparents spent the next four years watching him slowly die. Many, many children have passed through history leaving no trace at all, but in addition to having heard his memory honored by people who knew him since I was a child, I have a rather inordinate amount of documentation on Burrie: I have inherited a number of photos of him, some of his medical records, and a letter my grandmother wrote to one of his doctors shortly after he died, in addition to the “outside” documentary evidence I have collected in my research.

Burrie as an infant

Burrie as an infant, probably before he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Through the documents I inherited, I know that Burrie had a brain tumor unlike any his doctors had ever seen and that he died with them still unsure what it was, and that the brain tumor seemed to impact his ability to grasp what was happening to him, so that despite his physical suffering, he was a bright and happy child. My grandmother’s letter to the doctor says that he stayed this way till his last day of life in the hospital, after they had decided that there was no point in trying any further operations, and that she firmly believed he passed peacefully into death never fully having understood what was happening. The photos I have inherited of him support her belief: They show a brightly smiling child with frizzy blond hair.


I chose to start “52 Ancestors” with Burrie partly because I firmly believe that part of genealogical and other historical research is to do our best to document those that have passed through history leaving little to no trace. While Burrie is well-remembered within my family, no one in my generation of first cousins in this branch has living descendants yet and there is a fair possibility that our branch may die out, like so many other branches before ours, and someday this post may be the best source on Burrie’s life in the dash between his too-close-together birth and death dates.

I also chose to start “52 Ancestors” with Burrie because I just-as-firmly believe that none of us are an isolated island. I can’t think of anyone without thinking of how they impacted and interacted with those around them and with larger history. We are all islands in an archipelago, the river of history moving swiftly and unstoppably around us as its waves lap, and sometimes crash upon, our shores. When Burrie died, something inside my grandmother was extinguished, as if a candle had been snuffed out. I don’t have a single picture of her after Burrie’s death where she smiles the way she did when he was still alive. Many argue that back in “the olden days” infants died so much more often that people became inured to it and didn’t emotionally invest in their children like people today. Frankly, I think that is a load of bull. To me, a simple rebuttal is the many colonial cemeteries where I have walked and viewed intricately carved (and consequently expensive) gravestones that echo the parents’ grief down through the centuries, often with multiple children listed on a single gravestone, sometimes having died within days of each other.

During Burrie’s short life, he had one surviving grandmother, and I can’t think of him without thinking of her and wondering how his life and death impacted her, answers that I do not have. I have the tendency to essentialize my great-grandmother’s life to the string of tragedies she endured, to the grief that I imagine must have been amplified each time a new tragedy happened.

When Burrie died, it had been 35 years since a year that contained a string of tragedies: Her husband had committed suicide (see my post “The life and death of my great-grandfather”), her uncle who had murdered her father also committed suicide, and her uncle’s widow had collapsed and died, which the papers alleged was from grief over her husband’s suicide: “HEART FAILED,” one headline screamed with modern-tabloid sensibility, and she “Whose Husband Killed Himself, Dropped Dead While Shopping.”  Seventeen years earlier the aforementioned murder had occurred, and years before that, when my great-grandmother was a teenager, she had lost her mother to illness. Of course, all of these events impacted many more people than just my great-grandmother, and this is meant to be illustrative, not all-inclusive.

My great-grandmother died just two years after Burrie, having lived a life that spanned over 21 times the years as his. But how long someone lived doesn’t make them more important than someone else, just more likely to be remembered long after their death. My great-grandmother and Burrie experienced dramatically different lives and left very different legacies in the world. But they both lived, and they both left legacies.

I inherited a number of framed photos in addition to many, many loose ones; these included small photos of Burrie and of my other great-grandmother. These two photos sit beside each other on top of one of my bookcases in their vintage frames, out of sunlight and away from fluctuating temperatures. I like to think of them as an encapsulation of why I do genealogical and other historical research.


“The world breaks everyone and afterward

many are strong at the broken places.

But those that will not break it kills.

It kills the very good and the very gentle

and the very brave impartially.”

Ernest Hemingway, from A Farewell to Arms

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