Surname Saturday: Old Family Histories – Gospel or Clue?

I have sworn to produce more and consume less in 2013; write more, research less;  read more books and fewer status updates.  I have stumbled a bit in the last week, as I prepared for the Family History Writing Challenge.

Determined to set a rich social context for my protaganist, Ira Sayles, I returned to accumulated notes hoping to glean early childhood vignettes.  A self-defeating  act, as it turns out, since I spent an ENTIRE day surfing the ‘net for collaborating evidence of the family register and family trees. By nightfall I felt like a zettabyte of information was smothering my writing spark.  Yes, I found genealogical gems, that appear to be well-documented and thoughtfully written.  And yes, they offer conflicting information.


Previous genealogists have gathered quite a bit on this dilemma, as it turns out. I have enough family documentation, indirect and direct primary as well as secondary sources, to rest assured that Ira Sayles was the son of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King Sayles.  Sarah King was the daughter of James King and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King.  Rhobe Howland was the daughter of John Howland, Jr. and Lois Eddy Howland.  Now I pause, not quite certain of my sources in tracing lineage back further, not an uncommon dilemma for folks with Revolutionary Era ancestors. I feel fortunate to document this much of the family, for I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Howlands farmed land that they had purchased in Scituate, Providence County, Rhode Island, where they were free to worship as Quakers.

But there is a tug on my line that threatens to reel me back further, for you see, the Howlands came over on the Pilgrims’ boats.  Intriguing, no?

John Howland was an indentured servant on the Mayflower, and signed the Mayflower Compact.  Henry and Arthur, brothers of John, came over between 1623-1630.  All of the Howland boys were successful farmers and landowners in the early Massachusetts colony, but Henry and Arthur were obstinate troublemakers, from the Pilgrims’ point of view.  Henry and Arthur broke the Sabbath, refused to worship in public, and *gasp* harbored Quaker meetings in their homes.  Finally the two brothers migrated toward Roger William’s colony – Rhode Island. Settling in communities along the southwestern coast of Massachusetts, the Quaker Howland descendants continued to flourish, and in time migrated on into the western and northwestern corner of Rhode Island.

And that is where I find my Ira’s great-grandfolks.  Quaker Rhode Islanders.  That fact serves as a clue pointing to descent from either Arthur or Henry, not John as a 19th century Tioga County, Pennsylvania history purported.  Yesterday’s search uncovered a source, The John Howland Who Married Freelove Wood,  by Frances G. Jenkins, Williamstown, Massachusetts; this well-documented paper gives evidence that John Sr. who married Freelove Wood was a descendant of troublemaker Arthur.

Now I am really intrigued to read the substantial record of Arthur’s life.  BUT I have yet to determine with certainty the John Jr. who married Lois Eddy is the son of John Sr. who married Freelove Wood.

Now what?

I turn to you, fellow Keepers of the Family Lore.

  • How do you use the genealogical work of other descendants?
  • When do you decide that enough is enough, just write about it already?
  • What sources are available from my armchair to confirm parentage for New England ancestors of the mid-1700s?
  • What folks might be able to conduct look ups for sources, and in what archives?

Someday my family history writing will be someone else’s old family history.  I would like them to consider it a reliable story, more gospel than clue.

For me this dilemma is at the core of much family history work.  When do we treat our sources as gospel and preserve the family stories we have uncovered, as is? And when do we treat our sources as clues, to inform the next research question, leaving the story untold, or incomplete?


3 thoughts on “Surname Saturday: Old Family Histories – Gospel or Clue?

  1. Hi, Kay! I, too, am trying to produce more and consume less. It is tough! I have file cabinets full of years of research and I have a fear of dying and it all goes to waste because no one else in the family can make heads or tails of it all. That is the motive for me for writing a blog. I found your page because I have early New England “Strickland” family members and thought you might have done some Strickland research, but not sure now. I enjoyed your blog. Happy blogging!

    • Hi, Teresa! I have started my Strickland research, but the lines appear to start with immigrants to Virginia, Isle of Wight County, who then moved into North Carolina. I was unaware of Stricklands landing in New England. Fascinating! I wonder if back further we are related?
      Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with your file cabinets!!

  2. I recommend you to read the book, “The Legacy of Two Canes in the Lives of the John Howland of the Mayflower including Documentation of the Parentage of John Howland, the Husband of Freelove Wood, written by Larry S. Chandler in 2013. The author led me to find something interesting regarding the deed indenture was released by John Howland of Swansea and his wife, Freelove, in Bristol, Massachusetts Bay (now Rhode Island) in 1743.

    On February 18, 1742/3, the property was not an inheritance of Freelove Howland or the joint owners of John and Freelove Howland because the dower rights and power of third of Freelove Howland were included on the deed of 1742/3. It was an entitlement of John Howland of Swansea that established his ancestral tie between him and the Howlands of Bristol Township, Massachusetts Bay (now Rhode Island), so he was the true owner of this property in Bristol and sold it to John Munroe of Bristol. However, it was unknown how or when he acquired his property in Bristol, so it appeared to have been passed to him through a private documentation as an unrecorded gift from Bethiah Howland, the wife of Jabez Howland from the properties which were set aside for her by the will of her late husband. Jabez Howland had already instructed about the property and made the indenture with Simon Davis of Bristol.

    This property had been documented in the books of deed records in Bristol County in early 18th century. The indenture was documented from Jabez Howland to Simon Davis regarding the instruction about the property. Later, at second time, the deed of sale was documented from Simon Davis to John Archer on July 3, 1710 right after Jabez Howland’s death in 1709. (Bristol County, Deed Records, vol. 13, part 1, p. 38). Then, at third time, the deed of sale was from Mehitable Archer, widow of John Archer to her son-in-law, John Munroe on April 17, 1725 (Bristol County, Deed Records, vol. 16, p. 260 – 261), but this deed of sale had not been examined or challenged legally since 1725, so John Howland finally had the right to sell the property because he was the true owner of the property in 1742/3. (Bristol County Land Deed Records, Volume 33, page 382). The deed of sale specifically described the two properties as 40 acres and an quarter acre (¼ acre).

    It was included in the land deed to satisfy the indenture of 1703 and clear the inappropriate land transaction on that quarter acre as purchased in 1725 by John Monroe from Mehitable Archer. The John Howland, grantor of the 1742/3 deed, husband of Freelove, was the probable son and heir of the Josiah Howland who served as witness on the 1703 indenture between Jabez Howland and Simon Davis. Hence he was qualified to release the conditions of that indenture and clear title to that ¼ acre property.

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