Saturday, March 26, 2011

The sad story of Godfrey Nims

Godfrey Nims was my 8th great grandfather. The first record mentioning him appeared in a Springfield, Massachusetts court record on September 24, 1667, whereby he and two other boys, James Bennet and Benoni Stebbins, were convicted of breaking into Robert Bartlett’s house while Mr. Bartlett was church and stealing "24 shillings in silver and 7s in Wampum with the intention to run away to the ffrench”. The youth confessed their wickedness and were sentenced to being whipped on their naked bodies, as well as paying Mr. Bartlett back 3 times the amount of what was stolen.

Evidently Godfrey straighted up, and set about becoming a respectable citizen of the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. He married 10 years later, and had six children with his first wife, widow Mary Miller. Following her death, he married Mehitable Smead Hull, with whom he had 6 more children. Each of his wives had also brought two stepchildren to the marriages. Godfrey provided for his wife and 15 children by working as a farmer and a shoemaker.

In 1694, shortly after his marriage to Mehitable, one of her sons died when their house caught fire. One of the other children accidentally set fire to the flax bed they were sleeping in with a lit candle. Godfrey soon rebuilt his home on the same site.

In 1697, his three year old son, Thomas, died. In 1703, his son John Nims and stepson Zebediah Williams were captured by Indians and taken captive to Canada.

Then the following year, during the night of February 29, 1704, nearly 300 Mohawk and Huron warriors and 48 French troops attacked and burned the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Many of the townspeople were killed in their sleep, burned in their homes, or otherwise murdered. Over 112 men women and children were taken captive and marched 300 miles to Canada. Those who could not keep up the grueling pace despite the horrific conditions, were killed.

Nothing paints the sad picture better than these words from “The Story of Godfrey Nims”..
“When the flame-lit night of February 29th, 1704, gave place to the cold dawn of March first; and Godfrey Nims, standing here, looked upon what had been his own hard-won home and was then the smoking funeral pyre of his three little daughters, there was left to comfort him but one member of his family.

“His eldest son and his step-son captured the fall before; His son Henry, aged 22, slain; His eldest daughter and her baby boy slain; His wife, his boy Ebenezer, his baby Abigail, Elizabeth Hull his step-daughter and Mattoon his son-in-law, all led away into the night by bloody and brutal savages;

“One alone was there: Thankful, his daughter, whose snow-covered home had concealed its inmates.”

Another sad story from this event was that of Godfrey Nims’ eldest daughter, Mary Williams. She along with her husband and two young children were some of those captured in the raid. On the 8th day of the forced march, Mary spoke to her minister, also captive, telling him she had been “disabled by a fall on the ice, causing a miscarriage during the night. I will not be able to travel far, and I know they will kill me today. Pray for me that God would take me to Himself.” It is said that they then parted and she went calmly to her certain death on March 7, 1704.

In total, his wife and 10 of his children and stepchildren were either killed in the raid, died on the march, or never returned. Godfrey himself died the following year.

Godfrey Nims was my 8th great grandfather. His aptly named daughter that survived the raid, Thankful, was my 7th great grandmother.

1. Sheldon, George, A history of Deerfield, Massachusetts: the times when and the people by whom it was settled, unsettled and resettled, (Deerfield, Mass.: unknown, 1895-1896, 1414 pgs.), V2.
2. Thompson, Francis Nims, The Story of Godfrey Nims as read to The Nims Family Association at Deerfield, Massachusetts, on August 13, 1914, (unknown: unknown 19 pages).
3. Smead, Edwin Billings, compiler Smead Genealogy: Our Footprints and the Footprints of our Parents, (Greenfield, Mass., 1928.)

“The Deerfield Massacre of 1704" Woodcut courtesy of

Coming soon!!

I have so many great stories to share here, but have been away from my notes and files lately, and I want to be able to get all my facts straight. But, as a teaser, here are a some of the stories I'm planning to share soon...
  • Sweethearts, sidewalks & cyanide
  • Does petting a primate during pregnancy produce monkey babies?
  • Murder, maiden names and Wild Bill Hickok
  • King Burge, or call me Princess, please
  • How I found my 6th great grandfather for $40
  • The sad story of Godfrey Nims
Those are just a few that I'm working on, and I can't wait to start posting again, but my current life story keeps getting in the way. Soon, though, I promise!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Death, Deceit and a couple of Sea Captains

A while back, my niece's husband asked me if I would help him look into his ancestry. (He thought that perhaps his family had “come from whales”.) Seeing as he was and still is serving our country in the Air Force, I was happy to see what I could help him find. In addition to showing him how to do basic census records research, I ran some searches on several of the online digitized book sites. We were both amazed at what I found about one of his ancestors in a book on HeritageQuest -- John & Susan Simmonds : and some of their descendants, with related ancestral lines, by Frank William Simmonds. (Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing Co, 1940). This is, more or less, the family story we discovered...

Captain James Scott Simmons
was born on 10 Jan 1794 in Clifton, Truro Township, Colchester, Nova Scotia . He became a master mariner, sailing to and from his home port of Truro. At Indian Village, a port on Indian Island just off the coast of Eastport, Maine. He made friends with a merchant shipper named Joshua Edwards Freeman, and frequently visited Freeman at his home in Maine. This was how, in 1815, he met Freeman’s sister, Mercy Ann, who had moved from New York to live with her brother after the death of her father. Tradition was that it was love at first sight, and they were married 10 Oct 1816, at Truro. They settled there, near the home of James’ parents, John and Susan Simmonds.

Captain Simmonds continued to sail in and out of Truro. Just shy of their first anniversary, and weeks before the birth of their only child, Captain Simmonds and his wife Mercy attended a local barn raising. There were all manner of festivities and food along with the heavy work of hoisting the timbers to create the framework of the barn. Just before supper was served, however, one of the timbers slipped and fell, striking Captain Simmonds and killing him instantly.

His wife went into serious shock from grief, and her in-laws took her to their home to recover. Following the birth of her son, William Henry, just a few weeks later, at their home, she remained ill for several months. The grandparents were certain that she would never fully recover, and would insist on taking the baby with her back to her mother’s home in New York, and somehow were able to convince the Mercy that her baby had not survived. When Mercy had recovered enough, as expected, she packed her things and returned to New York, where she became a seamstress and eventually remarried and moved West.

The baby, William Henry, was raised by his grandparents, who told him all along that his mother had died during childbirth. Like his father, he became a master mariner. William married, had children, and eventually life brought William and his family to Augusta, Maine, where he worked as a supervisor of a nearby shipbuilding yard. (As if this isn’t interesting enough, while living in Augusta, William’s eldest daughter, Mercy Ann, a beautiful girl of seventeen, mysteriously disappeared and was never found -- theories exist, but that's another story.)

About this time, a young man by the name of Freeman applied for work at William’s shipyard. During this conversation, William remarked that his mother’s maiden name had been Mercy Ann Freeman, but she had died in Nova Scotia soon after his birth, following his father’s accidental death.

The young man remarked at the coincidence – he had an aunt whose name was also Mercy Ann Freeman, who had married a sea captain named Simmonds in Nova Scotia who had been killed in an accident, and her baby boy had died soon after during childbirth.

The thought that this could possibly be his mother haunted William all night, and the next day he convinced the young man to take him to La Grange, Ohio, near Cleveland, where she was said to be living. When the two men stepped into “Aunt Mercy”s home, she was so shocked at the sight that she fainted away - evidently William had grown up to be the exact likeness of his father, and for a moment she had thought the grave had given up its dead.

Overjoyed at reuniting with his mother, William returned to Augusta, left his shipbuilding business, packed the family and returned to Ohio, where he bought a farm adjoining his mother’s home, where he spent many years making up for their lost past.

Frank William Simmonds, John & Susan Simmonds : and some of their descendants, with related ancestral lines (Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing Co, 1940). Available digitally at HeritageQuest.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Just the Facts

Some times at least some of a family’s story can be pieced together from plain old boring documents, like census and parish register information. From names and dates, a vivid picture of lifestyle and character can emerge. One such story from my family is that of my 3rd great grandmother on my mother’s side, Ruth Cam.

The facts
The facts tell me that Ruth was christened at the Yate Parish church St. Mary's in Gloucestershire, England, on 14 June 1805. She was born the second of five children, the first daughter of William and Mary Cam. Her older brother, Robert, died when she was a year and a half old. In 1829 at the age of 24 she had a daughter, Harriet, and in 1832 she had another daughter, Mary. In their baptismal entries in the Yate Parish registers, Ruth Cam's occupation is listed as "spinster".

Two years later, on 22 Oct 1834, Ruth Cam married by banns in Gloucester, Charles Stoneham, a widower. Charles Stoneham was baptised 13 Nov 1785, in the Yate parish church. He was the son of John and Mary Stoneham. Charles and Ruth Stoneham had five children, all baptised at the Yate parish church: Frances, bp 11 Jan 1835; Charles, bp 5 Nov 1837; Sarah Ann, bp 1 Mar 1840; Ruth, bp 11 Sep 1842; and John Cam, bp 13 Apr 1845.

In the 1841 census of Yate, Charles Stoneham's listed address is Stanshawe Farms, where his occupation is listed as farmer. He is living with his wife, Ruth, stepdaughter Mary, and their children Frances, Charles and Sarah. Also listed at that address are three servants - John King, George Ball and Mary Williamson. The next residence listed in this census is at Stanshawe's Court Farm wherein resides Ruth's parents, William Cam, Farmer, and his wife, Mary, their children John and Jane and one servant, Samuel Wilkins.

Just two years after their last child was born, Charles Stoneham died, on 2 Oct 1847. The coroner stated on his death certificate that he "Died suddenly by visitation of God".

In the 1851 census at the age of 46, Ruth is listed as the head of household at Stanshawe Farm. Her occupation is listed as "Farmer of 140 acres employing 4 laborers", two of which were probably her sons, as there are only two additional "farm servants" listed in the household. She still had six children at home ranging in ages from 6 to 18. Her father, 76, was still a farmer at nearby Stanshawe Court Farm, but now of 28 acres.

In the 1861 census Ruth is 52, and listed as the "Farmeris of 190 acres of land employing 2 men and 2 boys". With her are sons Charles, 23, and John, 12, and daughter Ruth, 18, along with one servant. In 1871, her age is listed as 67, and Ruth is still the farmer of Stanshawe's Farm, but now of 200 acres, employing 3 men and 2 boys. Her sons Charles, 33 and John, 26 are still living with her and are listed as "Farmer's sons".

In 1881 at the age of 78, Ruth and her two yet unmarried sons Charles, 43 and John, 36, are found in the census records at the address of the Rectorial Farm at Wapley and Codrington, in Chipping Sodbury. She is listed again as "Farmer". The 1891 census lists Ruth Stoneham, age 87, Farmer, at the address of Dean & Chapter Farm in Wapley & Codrington, another name for the Rectorial Farm there. Son Charles, 53 and still single, resides with her along with one servant, and her son John, 45 and also single, is listed at the next successive address, given as Osland's Farm, where he is the sole resident and occupation farmer.

Ruth Cam Stoneham passed away from a "Decay of Nature" at the age of 90, on 16 June 1895, in Codrington, Gloucester, England.

The story emerges...

Those are just the facts. But can you see the story? Ruth Cam had two illegitimate daughters before marrying a man 20 years her senior. Unfortunately the facts don’t tell us the story around that - Was she a beauty? Was she the town, um, you know...? Were they madly in love? Was it a marriage of convenience?

It seems to me that they were both success driven people, and determined to work hard together. Charles became a successful farmer, responsible for the Stanshawes farm on Stanshawes Manor, which was one of the three main manors of Yate. The manors included considerable acreage of land. Charles Stoneham was listed as “yeoman”. According to wikipedia, "The 'yeoman' would be the connection between royalty and nobility to the peasantry, thus a middling class of sorts in feudal or manorial service to either the king, or a lord. Yeoman farmers were originally a class of British or English landholding (freehold and copyhold) farmers in the late 14th to the 18th century.

Ruth’s husband died when she was 42, leaving her with with six children - five under the age of 13, the youngest being barely two years old. Obviously a woman of strength, she picked up where her husband left off and continued running the manor farm, with the help of her sons. Perusing census records, it is common to find sons running the family farm, and the mother listed with no occupation, or that of housekeeper. But not this family. Ruth continued to be the Farmer or “Farmeress”until she was nearly ninety years old. Her sons must have loved her, as they spent the majority of their lives at her side.

I wish I could have known her, or been able to talk to someone that knew her personally. I would love to know more details of her life. But fortunately the facts help create a fairly clear picture of her strength and determination.

UK Census records
UK Death certificates
Parish Registers

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Planting the Seed

It seems most appropriate for my first post on this blog about finding family stories to be the first family story I ever found. It's almost ironic that the story involves planting seeds, because that's exactly what the discovery did to me - it planted the seed that grew into my passion for finding stories about my ancestors.

My parents were from Ohio. Their parents were from Ohio. THEIR parents were from Ohio. And on and on it went until the dawn of time, or so I thought (with the exception of my maternal grandfather who came from England). I grew up with "ancestor envy" -- my very best friend's family had New England roots of the pilgrim variety. She had a dollhouse decorated in early Americana. It was very cool. As far as I knew, my family had all been farmers. In Ohio. Forever.

Now don't get me wrong, for a Southern California gal, it was still pretty cool to spend every summer back East on my grandparents' dairy farm, shooting bats from the rafters, playing with the calves and the kajillions of cats, riding the tractor back to the crick, past the sugar shack where the maple syrup was prepared. But it wasn't New England. You know, pilgrims, founding fathers ... that sort of thing.

Like any good genealogist, when I began researching my heritage, I collected up all the known information about my family - parents, grandparents, and so on. Then I started perusing census records, and birth and death registers to find yet more family. After exhausting the census information on HeritageQuest (since it was free), one night I decided to check out the "Search Books" option from the HQ site. I entered the name of my 3rd great grandmother, Rachel Negus, because I knew next to nothing about her. I was very pleased when several books appeared in the search results claiming to have information about her. I was hoping at best to find out who her parents were, or perhaps some of her other "vital statistics" - birthdate, marriage date, etc. The usual. The boring stuff.

What I found instead knocked me out of my chair. I found Rachel Negus listed in a biographical history of the family that she married into, "The Higleys And Their Ancestry" by Mary Coffin Johnson, and woohoo! The full text was right there, searchable and readable, and I quickly flipped to the pages the index indicated that she could be found on. And there she was, and so much more than a name and a date!

I learned that Rachel Negus was a "tall, slender, clever girl ... She proved an industrious, prudent wife, developing into a woman of unusual energy, and with a forcible character, firm in purpose and possessing a well-balanced mind." (She must be where I get it from...)

The best was yet to come however. As the family prepared to move to the new frontier in 1803, the "Western Reserve" which later would become Ohio, Rachel went to the local cider mill and gathered up apple seeds. Her neighbors ridiculed her, saying they would never grow in such a place as she was going. But after walking the distance from Connecticut and establishing a new home in the wilds of what is now NorthEastern Ohio, she planted the seeds. She cultivated her orchard for several years, and eventually named the favorite of her apples after her husband, "Jonathan".

That was it. I was hooked.

HeritageQuest Books - available free for card-holding patrons through many public library websites, and at Family History Centers.
Johnson, Mary Coffin. 1896. The Higleys and their ancestry. New York: D. Appleton and company.