Family research and family reunion in Massachusetts

I had a very good morning of research in the Massachusetts Historical Society at the end of last month. My grandmother’s cousin Henry Seaver (a noted architect, probably named after my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard, and the father of writer Elizabeth Helfman) had carried out a lot of research of his own, including interviewing several of his surviving relatives; his daughter then lodged his papers with the MHS in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I’m going to salute the approachability of the Massachusetts Historical Society. They were very helpful in how best to deal with archival material (I have handled twelfth-century manuscripts in the past, but they could not have known that), and crucially they allow photography of everything, provided that you do not use a flash. This basically meant that rather than spend hours copying someone else’s unreadable handwriting into my own unreadable handwriting, as I have done in my previous archival work decades ago, I was able to instantly capture everything for later analysis.

The most glorious find was in fact an 1889 letter from Henry Seaver’s uncle, my great-great-uncle Thomas Hibbard, to Henry’s mother, my great-great-aunt Susan Seaver, saying that he had been doing research in the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Genealogical Society on the origins of the Hibbard family. I failed to leave a message at the MHS for my own great-great-nephew or -niece to find in the year 2145.

Last Tuesday I visiter the rooms of the Mass[achusetts] Historical Society, and the N[ew] E[ngland] Genealogical Society to try to find out something about this Rob[er]t Hibbard of Salem. I only found that he was a salt maker in S[alem] 1639 and afterwards removed to Windham Conn[ecticut]. Could not find his name in the emigration list to tell what vessel he came in or when. Perhaps the genealogy will tell and I am anxious to see it completed.

There was plenty more. I have written before about the mysterious origins of my great-great-grandmother. She was Henry Seaver’s grandmother, and he wrote a memo in his notebooks which totally contradicts my speculations about her maternal ancestry:

On Mar 2 1908 my mother [Susan Seaver, my g-g-aunt, who died the following year] wrote me as follows about her mother’s family: “On my mother’s side, her father died when she was 11 yrs. old. He was a sailor and was impressed about 1812, imprisoned at Dartmoor, and there contracted the consumption from which he finally died. His name was John Smith and hailed from Portsmouth, N.H. I think, or Dover, N.H.as my mother was born there. My mother knew very little about her ancestors as no one cared much about such things in her day. I tried once to hunt up Judith Locke my mother’s grandmother. She was born at Barnstead N.H.. I found out by her burial certificate that her father’s name was James and mother’s was Sarah but no last name was given. She died in 1852 at the age of 91 (I think, haven’t time now to look it up in the Bible). She wa a little girl at the time of the Revolution and held me in her arms when I as an infant. She died out here in the old house, then a new one.” (West Roxbury)

Other notes on Smith family written by my mother told her by her mother: “Dr Smith was a Scotch physician who came to this country with his son John Smith, but not liking the country he returned. That is all she knew of her family on her father’s side.:

John Smith b. Scotland Nov 14 1784
died Dec 6 1827 married Jan 23 1812
Sally Lock they had
3rd child Sarah Ann Smith
my [Henry Seaver’s] grandmother [my great-great-grandmother]

The dearth of information about the Smiths is a bit frustrating, but made less so by the very clear DNA evidence that Sarah Ann Smith’s biological father, and my 3xgreat-grandfather, was not her mother’s husband John Smith but Benjamin Cleveland of Otsego, New York, whose family is very well documented.

I am tremendously grateful to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for leading me to the genealogical trail which connects me through the original Cleveland settler, Moses Cleveland, to my sixth cousin three times removed President Grover Cleveland, to my ninth cousin, sf writer Fritz Leiber, to Leiber’s third cousin, also my ninth cousin, Shirley Temple, and to my Worldcon colleague and seventh cousin twice removed Jesi Lipp.

Having sorted out Sarah’s paternity to my own satisfaction, her mother’s lineage is the biggest trailing thread of my American ancestry. Henry Seaver wrote another note summarising what he knew, which was not much.

Judith Lock born Barnstead N.H. Jan 1 1762 d. West Roxbury Mass Nov 30 1852
married (not known) Lock
her maiden name not known, her father was James, mother Sarah ?
[children]
Sally Lock b. July 27 1793 d. Jan 28 1870
Ann Burbank Lock b. May 18 1796 d. Nov 29 1845 m. Jos. Akarman

Sally Lock married John Smith Jan 23 1810
[children]
John Smith, Dover family
Sarah Ann Smith b Ap 3 1815 d Nov 18 1891
Susan Watkins Smith Heath whose oil portrait we have [what happened to it?]
(4 other children)
Sarah Ann Smith married William C Hibbard Apr 3 1849 and the descendants are the Seaver ancestors in this book.
[later note] and Mary J. who married John Deming of St Louis a Union pilot on the Mississippi River in the War.

This completely kills my previous theory that Sally Lock was the daughter of Joseph Locke and Tirzah Arms of the Connecticut Valley in western Massachusetts; what we have points only to New Hampshire, and my genetic links to Joseph and Tirzah must be from another route. The 75 years since Henry Seaver died in 1947 don’t seem to have added very much to this, but I will keep digging.

I took the opportunity to meet up with the descendants of Sarah Ann Smith and her husband William Charlton Hibbard. The day before I met in Plymouth with W, one of my third cousins through my great-grandfather’s older brother Thomas (who wrote the letter quoted at the top of this post); we had met in February but failed to take photos.

The following day I met for the first time with a bunch of third cousins, and the younger of the two surviving members of the generation above us, and we paid our respects at the graves of our great-great-grandparents in West Roxbury.

Left to right:
L1, the younger of the two surviving great-grandchildren of Sarah and William Hibbard
J, L’s nephew, my third cousin
L2, L1’s niece and J’s brother, also my third cousin
P, daughter of the baby in the park, also my third cousin, second cousin of J and L2, first cousin of W
Me

This came after a great fish lunch in Dedham – can you call it a family reunion when many of those present had never met before? My brother WW came to the lunch, but was not able to come to the graveyard; the other W, who I had seen two days before, was not able to come at all, but sent his wife and mother-in-law to represent his part of the family.

Left to right:
R, W’s mother-in-law
WW, my brother
J
L1
N, W’s wife
L2
P
Me

This was not the first such family excursion. In 1934, my great-grandfather Henry Hibbard together with his brother Thomas Hibbard, great-grandfather of J, L2, P and W, and grandfather of L1 in the photos above, led a family gathering to New Hampshire to the home of their great-grandfather. There were 23 of them on that occasion, 88 years ago. We only had eight attendees; maybe we’ll have more next time.

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