A Visit to the Family History Center

I recently had a neat break-through totally by accident and came across a new-to-me second cousin! The best part was that she lives only an hour away from me in New York City. Since she is relatively new to family research, she wanted to visit with her local Family History Center, so did I want to come? I never went to an FHC before, so I figured why not? I’d get to check one out and meet my cousin at the same time.

The FHC we were to meet at was on the west side of the city, and Google Maps showed a nice big building there: Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Yes, most of the building was for the Mormon’s church, but the FHC was there as well. I’d done a little homework and found the number for a roll of microfilm that might give us clues about our Polish great-grandfather’s naturalization; that should be a good start, right? I had visions of genealogy books and rows of microfilm readers and computers!

Outside the FHC (which was conveniently across the street from the subway stop), I met my cousin with a hug, as well as a good friend of hers who was researching his family as well. We were ready for our field trip! We went inside, followed some signs for the FHC within the building…and came to a room no bigger than my living room with a bunch of computers (all occupied) inside. I briefly felt uncertain and could sense my cousin and her friend felt the same way.

Right away, a worker from the FHC saw us and welcomed us. She asked if we wanted to see the “other room” with the microfilm readers and a couple more computers. “Sure!” we said, eager to see if there was anything else. We were brought to the room, which had a couple of readers, a microfilm scanner (cool!), and a few more computers. (I could also see it doubled as a Sunday School room for little ones! They must have had a lot of self-control not to touch the interesting machines…) We were happy that, for the most part, we could have this room to ourselves. My cousin and I had a LOT of talking to do, as well as research.

We’d found a bunch of things online while we were there, and I showed her how to use the FamilySearch wiki as I explained how to find out what vital records might be searchable online vs. needing to be purchased. Meanwhile, our host tried looking for the microfilm I wanted to see. Sadly (so, so sadly), she could not locate it, even though their system said it was there. The host even let me look in the microfilm room, to no avail.

Nope, not in here! Microfilm at the Family History Center in NYC. Author's collection.

Nope, not in here! Microfilm at the Family History Center in NYC. Author’s collection.

In spite of not making any huge finds, it was still a good visit. We had enough space to ourselves to be able to tell family stories, ask each other questions, and do some on-line exploring together. There was even wifi, which enabled me to pull up my cloud-stored records on my iPad to show my cousin. My cousin’s friend even found some records he was not expecting. The host was very, very accommodating (she even let us use her own laptop while the computer we’d been using was needed for the microfilm scanner). She promised to email me if they found the missing microfilm.

As we were leaving, our host asked if we could please sign their guest book. The more people they showed as visiting the FHC, the more money and resources (including space) they could have. You bet we’d sign!

So although I was kind of let down by the size of the “center”, it was still a good visit. After all, I was with family and we were doing genealogy!

Ninth Great-Grandfather William Seward

William Seward is an ancestor of whom I know very little, but thanks to Google Books, I’ve found that he certainly set a great example for his descendants to follow. He was born circa 1627 in England, and immigrated from Bristol, England to Taunton, Massachusetts in 1643. He later settled in New Haven, which was still part of New Haven Colony which would later be part of¬†Connecticut.

William married Grace Norton of Guilford (daughter of Thomas Norton and possibly Grace Wells) in New Haven to April 2, 1651. It seems that he moved to Guilford sometime after 1652 and took the oath of fidelity there on May 4, 1654.

By trade, William was a tanner who did well for himself. He owned plenty of property and enjoyed good standing in town. William’s name comes up often as a leader in the early history of the town. On June 1, 1665, he was appointed captain of the guard in Guilford. He served as a deputy between 1674 and 1685 and as representative to the General Assembly in Connecticut between 1683 to 1686.

William and Grace’s children were:

  • Mary, born Feb 28, 1652 in New Haven; married John Scranton, Jr. on March 12, 1673; died 1688
  • John, born February 14, 1653/54; married Abigail Bushnell* on June 25, 1679; died December 6, 1748
  • Joseph, born 1655; married Judith Bushnell* on February 7, 1681/82; died February 14, 1731/32
  • Samuel, born August 20, 1659; died before 1666
  • Caleb (who I spoke of in this post), born March 14, 1662/63; married Lydia Bushnell* on July 14, 1686; died August 2, 1728
  • Stephen, born August 6, 1664; never married
  • Samuel, born February 8, 1666/67; died April 8, 1689; never married
  • Hannah, born February 8, 1669/70; married Joseph Hand; also married John Tustin
  • Ebenezer, born December 13, 1672; died October 19, 1701

*Abigail, Judith and Lydia Bushnell were sisters.

William died on March 29, 1689 (age 62) (some sources say March 2). Grace died March 5, 1704. Sadly, I don’t know where either of them are buried, although I am sure it is somewhere in Guilford.

The Sewards, Back to Caleb

In my post about my Fifth Great-Grandfather Thomas Strong, I introduced his wife Phebe Seward (also my ancestor). I don’t have her line going much further back, but it is very interesting.

Phebe was born February 3, 1723 in Durham, New Haven County, CT, the second child and oldest daughter of Thomas Seward and Sarah Camp. Since we’ve already explored her life after her marriage, I will move on to her father.

Thomas Seward was born December 19, 1694 in Guilford, New Haven County, CT. He was the fourth child of the seven children of Caleb Seward and Lydia Bushnell. He married Sarah Camp on March 31, 1720 in Durham. Their children (all born in Durham) were:

  • Solomon, born January 19, 1721; married Alenor Baldwin
  • Phebe (just discussed)
  • Amos, born March 25, 1726; married Ruth Rogers on January 16, 1751 [in Durham]; died May 8, 1794; buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Wolcott, New Haven County, CT
  • Catherine, born December 28, 1727
  • Nathan, born 1730 (baptized June 14, 1730)

Sarah died on March 12, 1762. Thomas died before then (since she had remarried to a Daniel Benton), and is said to have died in Wallingford. I have not been able to find their burial places.

Thomas’s father Caleb is who I’ve been most interested in. Caleb was born March 14, 1662 in Guilford, New Haven Colony, to William Seward and Grace Norton, the fifth of nine children. He married Lydia Bushnell (daughter of William Bushnell) on July 14, 1686. They first made their home on East Creek in Guilford. Then on May 4, 1699, they and their four oldest living children moved to the area of Coginchaug, where Caleb was soon to be given a land grant. This ended up giving them the distinction of being the very first settlers of the town of Durham, which was incorporated in 1708.

Caleb had the honor of being the first town clerk in 1706-1707, and then was a representative to the General Assembly in Connecticut on and off between 1710 and 1723. This was in addition to his usual job of being a tanner.

His and Lydia’s children were as follows:

  • Daniel, born 16 October 1687; died April 28, 1688, both in Guilford
  • Lydia, born May 22, 1689 in Guilford; married John Howe on April 5, 1714
  • Caleb, born January 2, 1691 in Guilford; married Sarah Carr on January 21, 1713 at the Church of Christ in Durham; died July 4, 1769; buried in Old Durham Cemetery
Caleb Seward (the younger)'s grave.  Author's collection.

Caleb Seward (the younger)’s grave. Author’s collection.

Sarah (Carr) Seward's grave.  Author's collection.

Sarah (Carr) Seward’s grave. Author’s collection.

  • Thomas (discussed above)
  • Noadiah, born August 22, 1697 in Guilford; died 1744
  • Ephraim, born August 6, 1700, having the distinction of being the first white child born in Durham; married Abigail Wetmore on October 19, 1743 in Durham; died 1780
  • Ebenezer, born June 7, 1703 as the second white child born in Durham; married Dorothy Rose; died October 19, 1795 in Chester, Hampshire County, Massachusetts

Caleb died in Durham on August 2, 1728, and Lydia followed much later on August 24, 1753. Both are buried in Old Durham Cemetery, and I was able to see and photograph Caleb’s gravestone myself. To see the words “first inhabitant” on the stone, and think: “That’s MY ancestor!” was pretty exciting!

The grave of Caleb Seward, First Inhabitant of Durham!  Author's collection.

The grave of Caleb Seward, First Inhabitant of Durham! Author’s collection.

Next time, we’ll take one more step back in the Seward family tree.

What About Abigail Ford, my Eighth Great-Grandmother?

Abigail Ford was baptized October 8, 1619 in Bridport, Dorsetshire, England. She was the second of the five children of Thomas Ford and Elizabeth (Chard) Cooke. The other children were:

  • Joanna, baptized June 8, 1617 in Bridport
  • Thomas, baptized September 21, 1623 in Bridport; buried in Bridport on October 6, 1623
  • Hepzibah, baptized May 15, 1625 at Holy Trinity in Dorchester, Dorsetshire, England
  • Hannah, baptized February 1, 1628/9 at Holy Trinity in Dorchester; buried in Bridport on March 28, 1629

According to the “History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts” by the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society, many who immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in those early years were influenced by Rev. John White, a minister of Trinity Church in Dorchester, England. He wanted form “a community in New England, where all who felt themselves aggrieved by religious or political persecution might find asylum.” Perhaps Thomas and Elizabeth felt the need, like many others, to pull away from the Church of England.

On March 20, 1630, Thomas, Elizabeth and their three surviving daughters boarded the Mary and John at Plymouth, England. If Abigail was baptized close to her time of birth, she would have been about 11 years old for this voyage. Captain Squeb was in charge of the vessel, which arrived at Nantasket (present-day Hull) on May 30.

Upon their arrival, a dispute arose between Captain Squeb and the passengers: Squeb wanted a “pilot” (a guiding boat) to lead the ship through the harbor to land safely. Of course, no one lived at that spot back then. Some parties left the ship to find assistance. Eventually, Governor Winthrop came from Salem to help settle the dispute. They were still in port on June 28. Many were sick, hungry and in poor health. I imagine that Abigail and her sisters probably wanted nothing more than to go home.

A picture of the Mayflower and the Speedwell in their harbor.  I imagine that the Mary and John was of similar build.  Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collection.

A picture of the Mayflower and the Speedwell in their harbor. I imagine that the Mary and John was of similar build. Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collection.

The settlers didn’t settle in what was to become their own Dorchester until mid-July. Food had to be sent for from Ireland, and people began fishing in Massachusetts Bay. Eventually, land was granted and families began to set up their homes. Thomas became one of Dorchester’s first Freemen in 1631. He was amongst twelve leaders who met every Monday morning to discuss the affairs of the town, a practice established at what is credited to be the first Town Meeting in the country on October 8, 1633. Perhaps Thomas told his family about some of the goings-on at the meetings over supper.

So Abigail came of age as Dorchester became a community. She was still quite young when she married John Strong–perhaps around eighteen, not unusual for that time. Immediately, she was a stepmother to John’s young son and became a mother herself, as discussed here. At this time, she left the town that her family had a part in founding, but played her own role as wife and mother in other towns that John Strong helped mold and grow.