The Genealogist’s Impulse?

In my last post, I posed the question of the genealogist’s impulse, which was prompted by my memory of meeting a very distant cousin when my mother and I picked up a Moore genealogy packet from him during our 2007 trip to Economy. I was confounded by the thought of being connected to so many people through a common bloodline, but never knowing them, never even knowing of their existence. (The feeling was similar to thinking about death: the thought of ceasing to be and the thought of living forever are terrifying in equal measure.)

Could it be that the impulse to spend countless hours trawling census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, immigration records and every other conceivable record (cf. Cyndi’sList!) is a way of searching among the billions of tile pieces that make up humanity past and present to find the scattered pieces of our own bloodlines, carefully cleaning the accumulated dirt and grime from each piece and holding it up to the light to see its true color and if any of the original detail remains?  Does the impulse then take us one step further to form these tiles into a mosaic of found pieces and missing pieces, knowing all the while that the picture will never be completed?

I subscribe to several genealogy/family history blogs, and the common impulse I’m seeing is a desire to honor the life of each person who makes up the fragmented mosaic that is family: Here is a woman who once lived in this world, and her life mattered. Here is a child who didn’t survive his infancy, and his life mattered, too. Here is a troubled man who took his secrets to the grave: we won’t forget him, but we’ll let him keep his secrets.

For me, writing about my family in personal essay and poetry has always been a way to feel closer to them. (The impetus for fiction is different. It starts with an attempt to understand a family member and ends with a fictional character who is someone else altogether.)

I believe that the act of writing keeps the spirit of another alive in the writer. Publishing the writing in a blog, with its immediacy and potential for interactivity, seems to be the next natural link in the chain as  the act of reading keeps that same spirit alive in the reader.

If I’ve floated too far into the ether with this post, I promise I’ll come back down to earth next week.

In Search of Economy, Nova Scotia: 2007

Economy Point, Nova Scotia

Economy River, Nova Scotia, 1916

Economy, Nova Scotia Farmland

Photo Back (Handwriting appears to be that of Martha Moore, Velma’s mother) “our house + Melissa’s, rail by the bridge; Tide is above bridge”



In my previous post, “In Search of VELMA BROWN [MOORE] (1897-1975),” I introduced my maternal grandmother and expressed my desire to learn more about her childhood in Economy, Nova Scotia. When I became keeper of The Family Archives in 2014, I discovered a number of photographs of both Economy and Velma’s family.  Looking back to the day I asked her about her childhood, I find it odd that she didn’t just take out the photographs and show them to me.

The photographs of Economy posted above are circa 1910-1920, with the last one dated 1935. They do nothing to dispel my sense that Economy at that time was a pretty grim place.

On the other hand, my impression of Velma and her family from other photographs is that they spent most of their time sitting on the porch, going for picnics, and digging for clams–all sepia-toned, wistful, and redolent of a bygone era.

A Meal on the Porch, Economy, Nova Scotia, 1912

Picnic, Economy, Nova Scotia, c. 1912 (Velma Moore; unidentified woman; Etta Moore, Velma’s aunt; Martha Moore, Velma’s mother; George Baxter Moore, Velma’s father; kneeling woman unidentified)

Picnic at Cove, Economy, Nova Scotia, 1908 (Velma standing in front)

Setting Off for a Picnic, Economy, Nova Scotia (Etta Moore standing third from left, Martha Moore sitting in left chair)

Clamming, Economy, Nova Scotia

Wading in the Bay of Fundy, Economy, Nova Scotia (Velma Moore, age 2; Fred Moore, age 5; Mary Ellis, age 5)

In 2007, I drove my mother to Economy from Presque Isle, Maine so that she could show me where Velma had been born and grown up. Here are some pictures taken from that trip. As you can see, not particularly grim:

The other reason for the trip was so that we could pick up a packet of Moore genealogy from Eric Moore, a very distant cousin. When we met Eric, the family tree showed that we shared a common set of grandparents:

WILLIAM JAMES MOORE, Born 1741 in Colraine, Ireland, Died 1820 in Economy, Nova Scotia

REBECCA NICKOLSON, Born 1753 in Ireland, Died 1829 in Economy, Nova Scotia.

I didn’t know what to think. It was just confounding to me that here was this person to whom I was related, and not only did I not know him, I hadn’t previously known he even existed. How could this be? How could I share bloodlines with all these people in the world whose existence I’m completely oblivious to and always will be?

Is this the genealogist’s impulse, I wonder?

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore] (1897-1975)

Ronald & Velma Brown, Hannaford Cove, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

VELMA JANE MOORE joined the Brown family when she married RONALD DALRYMPLE BROWN on June 30, 1926 in Economy, Nova Scotia. Ronald was the last male descendant of JOHN BROWN (~1595-1686) through his son BENJAMIN BROWN (1647-1736).

Ronald and Velma were my maternal grandparents, and although we had family visits on a regular basis, I never really knew either one of them. Unlike my parents, whom I knew had once been children, college students, and newlyweds, Ronald and Velma had never been anything other than grandparents, more specifically, my grandparents.

 When I was twelve, Velma took me into her bedroom and gave me an amethyst ring she had received as a gift on her twelfth birthday. She made a point of telling me  that she had waited to give it to me until I was the same age she was when the ring was given to her.

What makes the memory of that day so clear is that not only did she give me something that had been hers from that far-away time in Nova Scotia, it was the first and only time I had been allowed to cross the threshold of my grandparents’ bedroom at 27 Edgewood Road while they were alive.

From that time forward, I have been searching for Velma Brown.

The bare facts are that she was born in Economy Point, Nova Scotia in 1897, and she grew up on a farm. She then attended Dalhousie University in Halifax so that she wouldn’t have to remain in Economy, Nova Scotia and live on a farm. In her family history of the Moores, my mother writes of Economy:

I think Economy was at its peak at the time Velma was born and during her growing up years. The census of 1901 shows 805 people in 175 households. There were five schools at the time. Those who weren’t farming found work in saw mills and the woods, in shipbuilding yards with other men being in the crews for the ships, and fishing. . . . Many men fished for shad, which was very plentiful at that time but is no longer. (I remember Ronald going to Parrsboro for shad right off the boat for our dinner. Shad is the boniest fish I have ever eaten.)1

Not long after Velma gave me the amethyst ring, I mustered the courage to ask her what her childhood had been like. What I remember of her response was that life on the farm lacked modern conveniences, they churned their own butter, and, unlike the children of today (which would have been 1968 or thereabouts), she had only one doll, which had a painted porcelain head.

There was something about Economy, Nova Scotia, then.

When I was growing up, my notion of Economy was formed by a single photograph, which hung in one of the bedrooms of Velma and Ronald’s summer cottage in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. There was something about this picture–the small, white house with its four blank windows, the narrow dirt road–that just seemed so desolate, almost as if it were a road to nowhere. Years later, when the picture resurfaced in The Family Archives, it conveyed such a sense of sadness.


1Katharine Brown Gauffreau, The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown (unpublished manuscript, 2013), 3.

What Really Happened to Sarah Poor (1671-1687)
















Too many of JOHN BROWN’s (~1595-1686) early descendants are nothing but names and dates marking the brief span of time they lived. How they may have experienced the world can be surmised in part from the historical context in which they lived, but ultimately it’s speculation. Their stories are gone.

Even when details of their lives can be found that distinguish them from all of the other names and dates, as in the case of John Brown’s two Sarahs (his eldest daughter and his granddaughter), these details only represent lost stories crying out to be told:

Mother dead from smallpox, 17-year-old daughter gives birth to bastard child, died in prison?

I had to find out more.

As a shot in the dark, I went to Google Books and entered the search string, “Sarah Poor Prison.” This brought me to a 2013 work of scholarship, Under Household Government: Sex and Family in Puritan Massachusetts, by M. Michelle Jarrett Morris. Chapter 7, “Rebels, Traitors, and Slaves,” relates the details of what happened to a Sarah Poor after her mother, Sarah Brown Poor, died of smallpox in 1677.

In her introduction, Morris identifies the source of her information about Sarah Poor as original Massachusetts court records:

This book, which covers the period 1660 to 1700, grew out of more than five hundred cases located in the Suffolk and Middlesex County Court records and the records of the Court of Assistants (after 1692, the Superior Court of Judicature).1

Morris’s information about Sarah’s parents and where they lived is consistent with Asa’s account:

Sarah Poor was born to John Poor, a mariner, and Sarah Brown Poor, his wife, in Charlestown in April of 1671. Sarah’s life was not destined to be an easy one. Her parents had moved from Hampton, New Hampshire, to Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1662, and they do not appear to have had much family in the area.2

The next year [1678] his oldest daughter, Mrs. Sarah Poor, was one of the victims to the smallpox in Charlestown, as which time 10 persons died. She left seven small children. The oldest, 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, 1688.3

However, there is a big discrepancy between the two accounts as to how old Sarah was when her mother died of smallpox. Asa has her seventeen years old, whereas Morris gives her age as six:   “When Sarah was six years old, her mother died of smallpox.”4

My copy of the Brown genealogy doesn’t trace the matrilineal line, so I have names and dates for John Brown’s daughters and their spouses’ names, but not the children born of these unions. According to the information I have, SARAH POOR [BROWN] lived from 1643-1678. She married JOHN POOR on March 16, 1661.5

I set out to see if I could find any corroborating evidence that the Sarah Poor in Under Household Government was the same Sarah Poor as the one in Asa’s history, whose mother died of  smallpox. I believe I’ve found enough information to make that connection. (Sarah would be my first cousin eight times removed.)

According to the “New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947,” database on Family Search, Sarah Brown married John Poor on January 13, 1660 in Hampton, New Hampshire.6











The record of marriage provides scant information, but the names and place align, and the year is close to my date of 1661. Morris indicates that the family moved from Hampton, New Hampshire to Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1662, which is also consistent with the information I have.7

Morris states that Sarah was born to John and Sarah Brown Poor in April of 1671.8 The following birth record from the “Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001” shows that a child named Sarah was born to John and Sarah Poore on April 3, 1671 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.9

The next significant event is Sarah Brown Poor’s death from smallpox. Asa gives the date of death as 1678.10 Morris’s account has it happening when young Sarah was six, which would make it around 1677. The following death record from the “Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001” aligns with both Asa’s account and Morris’s in terms of names, date, location, and cause of death.11

According to Morris’s sources, Sarah Poor died in prison in February of 1687 at the age of fifteen.12 The Massachusetts Death Records list a Sarah Poor’s death on February 9, 1687 in Cambridge Gaole.13

It would appear, then, that Cousin Asa got Cousin Sarah’s date of birth wrong. It would also appear that he jumped to the conclusion that Sarah just ran wild after her mother died and got herself pregnant, which Morris’s meticulous scholarship shows couldn’t have been further from the truth:

Since John’s work would have taken him away from home for long periods, it is likely that Sarah was sent out to service at an early age [after her mother’s death]. By 1682, Sarah was almost certainly working in the home of Stephen Garey. On June 20 of that year, Sarah accused Garey, a thirty-one-year-old married man, of being the father of her bastard child. She was eleven years old. Since the age of consent was ten in Massachusetts Bay, Stephen Garey, presumably, missed being charged with statutory rape by only a few months. It is curious—and exceedingly unfortunate—that no one removed Sarah from the Garey  house hold after her conviction for fornication. Since there is no record stating that the court had ruled Stephen Garey to be the reputed father of Sarah’s bastard, perhaps the courts refused to believe the child. Three years later, at the age of fourteen, Sarah found herself once again pregnant. This time she refused to name the father of her child. When one of the women attending her delivery asked her that all-important question, Sarah replied, “It would doe no good for her nor to them to tell; and It would not pardon her sin to tell whose it  were.”  If the courts had not believed Sarah three years before, why would they believe her now? After her baby was delivered, seventy-five-year-old Martha Collins, an older and more experienced woman, arrived on the scene. Once again, Sarah Poor repeated that “It would doe no good to tell” who the father of her baby was. Martha then asked her, “could you as in the presence of god truly say that the man of the  house [(]where she then was) was not the father of her child.” Sarah “gave no Answer to the question.”

When Sarah appeared in court on July 7, 1685, she still refused to name the father of her child. Or was it children? The entry in the Middlesex County minute book stated that Sarah had been convicted of fornication “she having had two bastards borne of her body successively.” It is possible that the first of those two “successive” bastards was the child she had borne three years before in 1682. However, since the justices demanded that Sarah name the father of her “children” (and she had already named Stephen Garey as the father of her child born in 1682), it seems likely that Sarah had had another child who had gone unnoticed for a time by the authorities. For her obstinacy, the Middlesex County Court sentenced Sarah to be whipped “severely,” to be imprisoned and kept at hard labor for a year, and to be whipped once a month until she named the father of her children. A month later, Sarah, again, named Stephen Garey. Garey appeared in court, denied the charge, and posted bond. Although Sarah had fulfilled her obligation by naming Garey, she had no one to post her bond or pay her prison expenses. She remained in jail. Two months later, perhaps when her youngest child was thought to be old enough to wean, the Middlesex County Court ordered the Charlestown selectmen to see to the care of Sarah Poor’s children. Stephen Garey entered a bond guaranteeing that he would be responsible for paying for the care of Poor’s children. Sarah’s father may have been at sea during the final round of her troubles, or he may simply have lacked the resources to give bond and pay her prison expenses. When he died in May of 1686, Sarah’s chances of ever being freed probably died as well. The final record of Sarah’s life is dated March 6, 1687. On that date the prison keeper requested a reimbursement of one pound, six shillings, for tending Sarah in her illness, and providing a shroud and a grave. Sarah had died in February. Had she lived two more months, she would have been sixteen years old.14

I’m grateful to Morris for setting the record straight about what happened to young Cousin Sarah, even if it did come over 300 years too late.

 1M. Michelle Jarrett Morris, Introduction to Under Household Government : Sex and Family in Puritan Massachusetts, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2013, eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed June 4, 2017), 2.

2Morris, Under Household Government, 223.

3Asa 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.

4Morris, Under Household Government, 223.

5Katharine Brown Gauffreau, The Ancestry of Ronald Dalrymple Brown (unpublished manuscript, 2012), 16.

6“New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 December 2014), John Poore and Sarah Browne, 13 Jan 1660; citing Hampton Rockingham , New Hampshire, Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Concord; FHL microfilm 1,001, 292.

7Morris, Under Household Government, 223.

8Morris, Under Household Government, 223.

9“Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 July 2016), Sarah Poore, 03 Apr 1671; citing Birth, Charlestown, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States, , town clerk offices, Massachusetts; FHL microfilm 740, 995.

10Brown, “Hampton Brown Family,” 4.

11“Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 July 2016), Sarah Poore, 28 Dec 1677; citing Death, Charlestown, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States, , town clerk offices, Massachusetts; FHL microfilm 740,995.

12Morris, Under Household Government, 225.

13“Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 July 2016), Sarah Poore, 09 Feb 1687; citing Death, Charlestown, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States, , town clerk offices, Massachusetts; FHL microfilm 740, 995.

14Morris, Under Household Government, 223-225.

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”:

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.