Thursday, June 21, 2018

Who Do You Think You Are? Connections



I haven't posted for a while because life has been hectic. My family made a difficult move and we've faced a lot of adversity lately, so I have been pretty distracted. I actually am in progress on a post about the Bigham family that I've been working on for the past month, but I am really bogged down in some additional research that needs doing on those ancestors, and haven't finished it.

There is always time for Who Do You Think You Are?, though. It's great when this show comes back to television and I can immerse myself in the stories of others. Several episodes have resonated with me this season and provided some interesting connections to my husband's family.

Andie & Duckie, Pretty In Pink (1986)

My husband and I attended a 1980's-themed fundraiser recently. Several people commented that, in his costume, my husband looked like Duckie from Pretty In Pink. It became a running joke that evening. My husband doesn't particularly resemble Jon Cryer, but in period costume, there was some similarity. Not long afterward, I sat down to watch Jon Cryer's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? At the beginning of the show, an Ancestry.com researcher showed Jon a preliminary family tree, and it was filled with Wheelers from Massachusetts. I turned to my husband and said, "You are totally related to Duckie." He raised his eyebrows. My husband is not very interested in genealogy and probably could not have told you he had Wheelers in his tree if his life depended upon it. "Just wait," I said, "By the end of the episode, I'll show you the connection."

It took a little longer than the length of the episode to find the link, and the earliest ancestors in the chain don't have the kind of proof I'd consider solid, but for entertainment purposes only, I have determined that my husband is Jon Cryer's 11th cousin. They share a 10th great-grandfather.

Cora Emily Wheeler of Berlin, Massachusetts (1872-1929) was my husband's paternal great-grandmother. She descended from a long line of New England Wheelers. Their immigrant ancestor was George Wheeler (b. 1606) of Bedfordshire, England, who came to Massachusetts about 1638/1639. George was the son of Thomas Wheeler of Bedfordshire, and one of several Wheeler brothers who came to America around the same time. There's been a lot of research and writing done on these early Wheelers, and there's not always agreement about the names of the brothers, or whether one was actually a cousin and not a brother, but they were clearly a family unit who came to America together. Jon Cryer descends from Richard Wheeler (b. 1614), who is believed by many to be George Wheeler's brother. Jon's ancestors ended up in Concord, Massachusetts around the time of the American Revolution, while my husband's were nearby in Marlborough, Massachusetts. So, now I can tease my husband about his connection to Duckie, and that is priceless.

The trial of a witch at the First Church of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. Etching, American, late 19th century.

More recently, I watched Jean Smart's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? My husband was coming in and out of the room as I watched Jean learn that her ancestor, Dorcas Hoar, had been imprisoned on charges of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. "Didn't you say one of my ancestors was accused of witchcraft?" he asked. I vaguely remembered this story, but not the specifics, so I looked it up as we watched the show.

My husband's eighth great-grandmother was Rebecca Addington Chamberlain, of Billerica, Massachusetts. She was 67 years old in 1692, the year of the witchcraft accusations, and it was common for older women to be targets of those claims. She was imprisoned in Cambridge and died there on September 6, 1692. There is no trial testimony or specific account of Rebecca's experience. Most of the others arrested in Billerica were asked to enter a plea and sent to trial soon after their arrest, so it's not clear why there is no record of Rebecca's trial. It's possible she did not have one. Several local histories, including History of Middlesex County (Boston, 1885) and History of Billerica (1883), mention that Rebecca died in prison while charged with witchcraft, but unfortunately, we don't have a record of the circumstances. Regardless, it was a very sad way for an elderly woman, the mother of thirteen children, to die.

Jean Smart's ancestor survived the trials, possibly by dragging out her trial and then pleading guilty, with the request that she be allowed a month to pray and repent before execution. This bought her a little extra time, and during that time, Massachusetts governor Sir William Phips ordered an end to witchcraft-related prosecutions. Rebecca Chamberlain did not have the gift of time, and her life ended in prison. While it's very unlikely that Dorcas Hoar and Rebecca Chamberlain knew each other, as they were from different towns and imprisoned in different facilities, they had a similar experience, and were both a part of a tragic and important moment in American history.

Who Do You Think You Are? inspired me to look back into my family tree for information I already knew, but hadn't reviewed in quite a while. It reminds me that there are still so many stories yet to be told here. I'd better get back to writing.

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