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  • #20 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Observations on Charts of New England Ancestry (Genealogical "Pie Slices," Cousin Intermarriage)

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : July 24, 1987
    For my twentieth column, and in continuation of last week’s discussion, I shall comment today on some patterns encountered in examining ancestor charts covering completely New England forebears. A first division is always into areas – or slices of a pie if the whole pie is one’s entire Yankee heritage – of ancestry concentrated in a certain town, or set of surrounding towns, or even an entire colony. I might note immediately that New Hampshire and Rhode Island families tend to be isolated – most New Hampshire men and Rhode Islanders do not intermarry with other New Englanders, or do so only after moving west, at least to western Mass. or NY. Early Maine ancestry tends also to be regional – but most residents of Maine by 1800 are migrant families from southern New England, especially Massachusetts, not descendants of the earliest inhabitants of Maine. Many early Massachusetts settlers moved to Connecticut and there is much genealogical interaction between Connecticut proper and the early Connecticut Valley towns of Springfield, Northampton, Hadley, Hatfield, Deerfield, etc. There is some intermarriage between residents of Stonington or Preston, Conn. and Westerly, R.I. but otherwise Connecticut and Rhode Island families remain largely separate from each other. Intermarriages between early Maine and New Hampshire families are largely covered in The Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, by Libby, Noyes and Davis. This last surveys all residents and all documents in two colonies for roughly a century, 1630-1730, and notes many connections of these two colonies to Essex County, Mass.

    Most Americans whose Yankee ancestors went west (again even to western Massachusetts or New York) have several groups of ancestors (again, pie slices) from separate colonies, counties or towns in New England. A Connecticut family in the Western Reserve in Ohio will marry into another Connecticut family from a different area of the colony; Connecticut migrants to New York will marry Rhode Island migrants there; and N.H. migrants elsewhere in the Midwest will marry Vermonters whose origins lie in Connecticut or another area of New Hampshire. In the far west distinctions between types of Yankees are even less. In Brahmin Boston, Salem Higginsons or Cabots marry Newburyport Jacksons or Lowells; Ipswich Appletons and Saltonstalls are added to the mix; Winslows, Howlands, Bradfords and other Mayflower descendants move north (or south to New Bedford, New York City, etc.); and Salem Crowninshields, Derbys, Endicotts and Peabodys of the China trade will appear, as will Coffins and Starbucks of Nantucket and the whaling industry, among "fortune founding" ancestors of Boston social registerites. New York or midwestern tycoons include (Jay) Goulds from Fairfield County, Connecticut; Rockefellers from Cleveland and the Averys of Groton,, Connecticut; Stillmans of Citibank from Wethersfield, Connecticut; Tiffanys, from Attleboro, Massachusetts, with Woodstock, Conn. ancestry; Vanderbilts who marry descendants of Flaggs of New Haven and Wards of Newport; C. H. McCormick of International Harvester, whose wife had considerable ancestry in Stonington, Conn.; Marshall Fields from western Massachusetts; and (flour) Pillsburys of Minneapolis, with much Essex County, Massachusetts ancestry.

    The second major pattern on charts of Yankee ancestry, a circumstance often noted by members, is considerable cousin intermarriage. Cousins marry in the same town, in nearby towns, or even when migrating west with kinsmen. All of us should expect to lose a sizable chunk of our ancestry to duplication. This phenomenon, sometimes called "collapsing ancestry," is of course well known in both the Germanic Protestant and Catholic royal families of Europe. It is also obvious on islands. Fletcher Christian, of an gentry family in Cumberland, of the Bounty and later of Pitcairn Island, was a descendant of Edward I, King of England. Since there were only nine British sailors who with their Tahitian wives and servants founded Pitcairn, virtually the entire island several generations later could claim not only exactly half British and half Polynesian ancestry, but also royal descent. With only eleven founding families on Nantucket, most 19th century whalers from that island had a half dozen or more Coffin, Starbuck, Folger, Macy, Bunker, Gardner, Hussey, Swain, or Worth descents. Founders of many mainland towns also appear several times in the ancestry of many local natives who move west after the Revolution. The same Cape Cod families are often several times in the ancestry of early migrants to Nova Scotia; many Mayflower descendants can claim several of the twenty-three families on that ship who left progeny (and often there are several Howland and Warren descents especially); and Kay Mayhew of the Dukes County Historical Society tells me that her husband has 32 Mayhew lines.

    The reason for such intricate kinship, according to demographers (and I especially remember an article to this effect in the Genealogists’ Magazine), is that before the Industrial Revolution of the 1840s an estimated 40% of all marriages in New England towns, English parishes, many European communities and the Virginia Tidewater especially, were between first, second and third cousins. Basically when people lived in villages or on farms associated with parish churches, they often married cousins. Children of first cousins might marry second or third cousins; in the next generation some marriages might occur to outsiders or recent migrants; but in the next generation second or third cousins would intermarry again. Over time this intermarriage produces enormously intricate kinship. And of course if thirty or so founding families produce several thousand descendants in 5-7 generations, and in-migration is only moderate, at some point one can marry only cousins, although perhaps more distant than first, second or third. Thus each section of one’s ancestry that is associated with a particular region is likely to contain several or more cousin intermarriages. This pattern is to be expected, and no genetic deficiencies need result.

    A third observation about the ancestor charts of many members and friends will be the subject of my next column. This observation is the fact that most middle-class Americans of some Yankee ancestry – probably 100 million or more contemporary Americans – have a half dozen or more "fun" ancestors. These are immigrants of royal descent (100-plus to new England), passengers on the Mayflower (23 families), ancestors of the late Princess of Wales (and of Princes William and Harry –about 25 New England immigrant couples or their near kinsmen), or ancestors of two, three, four or five American presidents to date (110-plus 17th century New England couples.) Thus not only are we very probably descended from residents of several New England areas, and not only are we descended from numerous sets of cousins; we are also often descended from kings, even more often related to the current British royal family, and can almost always claim various presidents and probably over 500 notable Americans as 8th-12th cousins. I have written on these topics elsewhere – notably in my Princess of Wales, presidential, royal descent, and "Notable Kin" volumes – but some further remarks will I hope interest many readers.
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