On Genealogy and Scholarship

Image: Corinne H. Smith

You know how sometimes you’ll be going along, thinking you know what you’re doing, and then you’ll read something that just brings you up short to say, Wait a minute–why am I doing this?  I had such a moment recently when I read the following post sharing from Jon Casbon’s blog, “Our Casbon Journey”: https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/jane-william-and-edith-part-1/.

Probably the most revelatory day of my graduate program in English came in an American literature seminar taught by Hugh Potter at the University of New Hampshire, when he casually responded to a question with one of those but-of-course-you-already-know-this answers. And what was I supposed to have known that I didn’t? Simply this: just because an article appears in a peer-reviewed journal doesn’t mean it needs to have been written. If the article offers nothing new to the interpretive or theoretical conversation, the writer probably should have refrained from writing it–or if she simply had to to write it, at least refrain from publishing it.

So what does the scholarship of literature have to do with genealogy? Well, the “Casbon Journey” post I’m sharing made me take a step back and ask myself what I’m doing with this family history of the Browns. With so much genealogical research into this particular family lineage (direct descendants of JOHN BROWN (~1595-1686) of Hampton, New Hampshire having already been done by others, what do I have to add to the genealogical conversation?

For the five generations following our John Brown progenitor, not much, really. On the other hand, for the sixth, seventh, and eighth generations who migrated to Candia, New Hampshire and then to eastern Massachusetts, I can provide additional insights from the information I have in The Family Archives that others don’t have.

Image: Digital Collections, University of New Hampshire Library

Jon’s post got me to thinking: I really am much more interested in family history and stories than DNA and bloodlines. The 19th century New Hampshire historians I’ve been reading provide a number of colorful details about members of the Brown family of southern New Hampshire that I think are worth calling to their descendants’ attention. However, because the family was so prolific and the same names were used for so many different generations and branches of the family tree, it’s nearly impossible to know which John, Jonathan, Sarah, Aaron, Nathan, or Caleb the historian is talking about.

That being the case, I think my contribution to the history of these earlier generations of the Hampton Browns can be to identify and evaluate all of the contextual clues needed to match the colorful detail of an individual life to the Brown to whom it rightfully belongs. I’ve recently found transcribed probate records from this time period in the University of New Hampshire’s digitized collections, which look to be a good resource for sorting clues as to which Brown was which.

How DARE They Call Asa Brown’s Research into Question!

I’ve just had the strangest genealogy-related experience. Seeing as I’m fairly new to genealogy blogging, I would love to hear from others whether this is a common occurrence. I’m finding it quite unsettling.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my grandfather (RONALD DALRYMPLE BROWN: 1899-1985) did extensive research into his Brown patrilineal line in the United States, tracing it back to JOHN BROWN (~1595-1686) and SARAH BROWN [WALKER] (1618-1672), who emigrated from England in 1635.  After marrying, John and Sarah settled in Hampton, New Hampshire in 1638.

My mother compiled her father’s research in 2012 and added her own research into the historical context for each of the generations. My interest in exploring this family history now is in trying to ferret out any additional information about these ancestors’ personal stories.

I have documentation of the sources my mother and her father used, primarily the work of local New Hampshire historians. The source of their information about John Brown and his early descendants appears to be the research of genealogist ASA WARREN BROWN (1827-1907). You’ll remember Asa, my snarking cousin several times removed?

Well, now I find several blog posts and accompanying heated discussion threads online questioning the veracity of Asa’s identifying John’s wife as Sarah Walker. These people have the nerve to claim that Sarah Walker was his niece and actually married someone else! (All right, all right, I’ll admit to a few twinges of, if not doubt, then regret, that Asa didn’t cite his sources except in the most general terms.)

I write this tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, the controversy upsets the state of my cosmos. If I can’t count on the beginning of the story being true, where does that leave me now at the end?


In His Footsteps: Stephen Brown (1659 -1677 )

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have served in the armed forces to protect the freedoms we too often take for granted. This past year, I’ve had occasion to learn that a number of my maternal Brown ancestors (descended from JOHN BROWN ~1595-1686) served in the Army in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I.

Before these more or less organized armed conflicts, the Brown men joined other early settlers of New England in fighting the indigenous inhabitants of the area who were trying to protect and preserve their own way of life from the encroaching settlements.

As I discussed in a previous post, STEPHEN BROWN, John’s youngest child, was killed at the age of 18 in King Philip’s War on June 29, 1677. The battle took place at Black Point in Scarborough, Maine. Given that I now live less than two hours away from Scarborough, I thought it would be fitting this Memorial Day to go see the site where the battle in which Uncle Stephen [10 steps] was killed took place:

As the men marched in two or three files, the land gave way to an expanse of
marshland on their left, while the land rose before and to the right of them. It
took less than half an hour to march to the vicinity of Moore’s Brook, a small
waterway that led down to the marsh. They were about two miles from the safety
of the garrison, finding themselves upon an open plain—a bush here and there to
break up the landscape.1

Scarborough, Maine, taken May 28, 2017

Scarborough, Maine, taken May 28, 2017

As the men started crossed over Moore’s Brook and started up the hill on the other side, the Indians attacked. . . . The war whoop, which today seems relegated to myth, was very real and, for those less resolute soldiers, must have struck them with terror. Up came the Indians from behind the bushes and up from the marshland to their left, across the across the plain from their right. What had started as pursuit of a few Indians turned into a full pitched battle.

The initial slaughter on the side of the English must have been horrific.
Lieutenant James Richardson was cut down soon after the first volley along with
others of his men. English and friendly Indians fell wounded or dead; others tried
to carry the wounded to safety, but shelter was two miles away and they were
facing an enemy that knew the territory well. Some badly wounded English found
ways to hide.

. . . .
Swett, showing great courage, rallied what men he could again and again,
and made a torturous retreat towards the garrison on the neck. The rout had
turned into a tremendous defeat and by the time Swett was within sight of the
garrison, he had suffered many wounds and was bodily taken by the Indians and
hewn to death. Of the nearly one hundred men who left the garrison, less than
half a dozen came back without a scratch. Nineteen out of twenty of Major
Clarke’s men were cut down. A doctor treated those who returned wounded. Fifty
to sixty of the New England forces were dead or mortally wounded, including
eight friendly Indians.2

After 340 years, some marshland still remains at Black Point, but the encroachment continues, with much of the site now given over to a golf course, a yacht club, and upscale oceanfront homes.

Black Point Today, taken May 28, 2017

Black Point, Taken May 28, 2017

The final image of Black Point I’ll leave you with is this one, which just seems wrong to me. I’m unsure which aspect of Black Point’s history it trivializes the most–perhaps history itself?

Black Point, Taken May 28, 2017

1 Sumner Hunnewell, “‘The Battle at Moore’s Brook, Scarborough, Maine, June 29, 1677,’” Lane Memorial Library, accessed May 7, 2017, http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us/hampton/history/military/mooresbrook.htm.

2Hunnewell, “‘The Battle,” Lane Memorial Library.

Mother Dead from Smallpox, Daughter in Disgrace


The second of John and Sarah Brown’s children to predecease him1 was eldest daughter Sarah, who died of smallpox in 1678:

The next year his oldest daughter, Mrs. Sarah Poor, was one of the victims to the smallpox in Charlestown, at which time 40 persons died. She left seven small children. The eldest, Sarah, was 17, and being left without a mother’s watchful care, she was shortly after in difficulty, being brought before Court for having a child. She was sentenced to be whipped and imprisoned. She afterwards died in jail, Feb. 9th, 1688.2

Although this is more information than I’ve been able to find about many of the early descendants of my tenth great-grandfather John Brown who are nothing more than names and dates, there are just too many unanswered questions before I can lay these two Sarahs to rest. Who was the father of Sarah’s illegitimate child, and why didn’t he marry her? What were the circumstances of her death in prison at age 27? What became of her child?

Given that Cousin Asa wasn’t particularly diligent about citing his sources, I thought that looking for corroboration in birth and death records on Family Search would be a good place to start. I’m finding discrepancies, so I’ll be taking some time to research further. In the meantime, I’ve read some useful information on other genealogy blogs about “bastardy” in Puritan New England, which should help in my search.

I’m not sure how long it will take me to find out more information, so stay tuned, and if you have any suggestions, please send them my way!

1John’s wife Sarah Walker Brown had died in 1672.

2Asa Warren Brown, “From the Exeter News Letter, October 27, 1851: The Hampton Brown Family” (unpublished manuscript, Personal Papers of Ronald Dalrymple Brown, n.d.), 4.

That’s Not the Way It Happened!

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories families tell about each other, particularly when the stories conflict.

The event that occasioned my weaning from the bottle has always been one of my favorites. My father told me his version throughout my childhood to demonstrate what I spirited little thing I was, and I reveled in the drama of the image that the story evoked.

I didn’t think to ask my mother for her version until I was an adult and had a child of my own.

Weaning Baby Liz from the Bottle

According to my father, I was weaned from the bottle on the day that my mother came into my room to get me up from my nap and I was so happy to see her that I tossed my bottle out of the crib with such gay abandon that it smashed on the floor like a wineglass, spraying milk and broken glass all over the room. And my mother vowed, that as God was her witness, Liz would never drink from a bottle again!

My mother’s version of the story is that I woke up from my nap and unscrewed the top from the bottle, dumped the milk on myself, then waited miserably in my wet nightie in my wet crib for someone to come in and clean up the mess.