Thursday, October 04, 2007

Connecting Trees in Colonial New England

Earlier this year, I discovered a great genealogy website called that combines the features of a wiki with the structured data that you want for family histories. The wiki concept is great for genealogy, because you really want to collaborate with other people with overlapping research interests. I've been putting info about various families I'm researching, but just recently, I've had the fun of finally connecting with trees that other people have put in. I'd been working on my mother-in-law's Slater ancestors, who go back to colonial New England, and I recently got a treasure trove of info on the early history of that family, who trace to a British emigrant who came to the Massachusetts Colony about 1680. One of the things I love about genealogy is just glimpsing history through personal experiences. The new info I got included a very detailed biography of one John Slafter, who lived 1739-1819, and was one of the founders of the town of Norwich, Vermont. At that time, the area was completely wild frontier, part of the colony of New York, and as land was being claimed, it was called the "New Hampshire grants". In this case, a group of men from Mansfield, Connecticut formed a corporation to claim land there and start a town. John Slafter spent several summers going up there, exploring, clearing land, and making it habitable. Eventually, he brought his wife up from Connecticut and they had eight children there. Although when the revolutionary war broke out in 1776, the English from Canada were stirring up the local Indians to make life extra dangerous for those living on the frontier, so John sent his then-pregnant wife back down to Connecticut for a while to be safer with her parents. She made the 150-mile journey on canoe with two small children in tow, while John stayed behind to defend the homestead, organize the local defense, and confiscate the property of "tories". It's easy to forget that even New England was once the wild frontier. If that sort of thing interests you like it does me, read the full story here.

So it turns out that John Slafter's wife was Elizabeth Hovey, and somebody else had already done a bunch of research on the Hovey family. So I linked up the pages, and immediately got several generations further back. Her ancestor Daniel Hovey was born in 1618 in Essex, England, and came over to Massachusetts in the first few years after the Mayflower. "My" John Slafter had a daughter Christiana, who married a man named Seaver. Turns out somebody else researching Seavers had already put a page up for her, which I linked to, and linked into a whole other tree. So now that Seaver researcher suddenly gets seven generations further back on some of his maternal lines. It's really fun to see the WeRelate website living up to its promise of linking researchers in collaborating on documenting all our history, one family at a time.

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