Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The (Supposed) Ancestors of Nicholas Ackley

I have to admit that I’m a little skeptical about the information I’m going to present here. In fact, skeptical enough that I have not added the information to my “official” family tree. I need to state at the outset that I am not tackling this topic for the sole purpose of discrediting someone else’s work. I have no incentive to do so – in fact I would really like the work I am going to discuss to turn out to be true because then we would all know something pretty cool about our Ackley ancestors going all the way back to the 1300s. But, I have noticed enough inconsistencies in the work that I have to at least ask some questions and see where that takes us. Warning: this is a pretty long post because there is a lot of ground to cover. Hang in there!

Where Does This Information Come From?

If you’ve been researching the family of Nicholas Ackley for a while, you’ve probably seen some variation of this information on the internet – John Hackley is Nicholas’ father, the line is traced back to Hugh de Hackluite in the 1300s, who was the sheriff of Hereford, England, and there are lots of Hackluites, Hackleys, Hagleys, and Ackleys in between. If you use you've seen this in numerous online trees, usually without any source citations attached. As far as I can tell, the information comes from a book titled The Life of Charles Henry Hackley, Drawn from Old Public and Family Records by Louis P. Haight (see source [1] in the “Sources” section below). Charles Henry Hackley was born 3 Jan 1837 in Michigan City, Indiana. He moved to Muskegon, Michigan as a young man and along with Thomas Hume opened the Hackley-Hume Lumber Mill on Muskegon Lake. Charles was an interesting looking fellow and he had an interesting life (the picture comes from

Charles Henry Hackley

He made a fortune in the lumber business and ended up giving a large portion of his money to the city of Muskegon for all sorts of public projects, including a library, hospital, art gallery, and athletic fields among other things. Charles Henry Hackley died 10 Feb 1905. You will see later that the book asserts that Charles Hackley’s 4th great grandfather, John Hackley, was Nicholas Ackley’s brother, and that their parents were John Hackley and Eleanor Wyman. [1]

While researching the information in the Hackley book, I decided to try to find out how much of it could be verified and how much was questionable. In doing so, I’ve learned that there are some great resources available to help with this task. It turns out that the information on at least the first five generations can be verified by consulting source [4] below, The Visitation of Herefordshire Made by Robert Cooke, Clarencieux, in 1569. According to Wikipedia,

“Heraldic visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms (and more often by junior officers of arms (or Heralds) as deputies) throughout England, Wales and Ireland. Their purpose was to regulate and register the coats of arms of nobility and gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. They took place from 1530 to 1688, and their records (akin to an upper class census) provide important source material for historians and genealogists.” [6] 

I will provide details below on where the Hackley information does or doesn’t match up with the pedigrees recorded in this visitation.

Chapter XI of the Hackley book details the pedigree of Charles Henry Hackley; it is pages 107-120. I will go through several of these pages below, pointing out where the information matches other sources and where it seems to be lacking or inconsistent. Before diving into the comparison, note that the author of the Hackley book states that "The following records are the result of a search made by Mr. H. Farnham Burke, Somerset Herald of the Heralds College, London E. S. in 1901 and are copied from the original manuscript now in the Hackley Library." [1]  I have two comments about this statement: (1) The Hackley Library still exists -- it is the public library in Muskegon, Michigan. I have contacted them about the manuscript and although it is in their card catalog, as of now it is not where the catalog says it should be. They are trying to locate it and will get back to me when they know more. (2) Sir Henry Farnham Burke (1859-1930) was a professional genealogist and held several royal appointments to positions related to English heraldry and genealogy. In 1826 his family established "Burke's Peerage", a guide to royal and other prominent families worldwide, and it is still published today. Thus, he has what would seem to be valid credentials for performing this type of genealogical research.

The First Five Generations

Starting with page 107, you can see below that the most distant ancestor in the pedigree is Hughe de Hackluite, who was supposedly sheriff of Herefordshire in 1377. Page 107 is on the left of the picture; on the right side are snippets from pages 35 and 36 of The Visitation of Herefordshire mentioned above. Side note: You can see that both of these sources have some references listed; they are pretty cryptic, but they do seem to match up with each other. I haven't completely decoded the references, but Harl. MS., Brit. Mus. 615, ff 14b seems to be referring to the Harley (or Harleian) manuscripts at the British Museum. The Harley collection was started in 1704 when Robert Harley donated over 600 historically significant manuscripts, and was augmented by his son Edward. The original pedigrees that were collected in the heraldic visitations mentioned above are part of the collection.

OK, back to the comparisons. I have color-coded and boxed in the names as they appear in the Hackley book and The Visitation of Herefordshire book below, and so far so good; the first three generations match up nicely, including the wives and other children (which I have not color coded for the sake of keeping the picture uncluttered). Sorry for the small print - if you have any questions about anything let me know in the comments.

Note that the tree for Henry Hacklute is continued on the next page of the visitations book; we'll take a look at it shortly.

This page appears to be where the information about Hughe de Hackluite being sheriff of Herefordshire comes from; note that under his name it says he was the sheriff of Herefordshire in 1377. A little history of the office of sheriff (later called high sheriff):
“The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year. The origins of the Office date back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown." [2]

I did a little digging around, and so far I haven't been able to verify that Hughe was indeed sheriff in 1377. According to the website for the current high sheriff of Herefordshire [2], the following Hakluits were sheriff:

1316-1317: Hugo Hakluit
1356-1358: Edward Hakluit
1508: Radulph Hakluit
1518: Radulf Hakluit

No mention of Hughe in any year. The same website says that Robert Whitney was sheriff of Herefordshire in 1377. I'm not sure where the website got its information, so it may not be correct either. In any case, maybe a minor inconsistency.

On to page 108 versus page 37; again, everything matches up and we have two more generations:

This is the last page of the Haklute/Hackluite pedigree in The Visitation of Herefordshire. Note that there is only one child listed under Richard and Sibill Hackluite and his name was Thomas and he married Margarett. As we'll see below, the Hackley book asserts there is an additional child, which is important to the rest of the pedigree presented.

The Rogers

The Hackley book repeats the information for Thomas and his family, but then at the top of page 109, we see that there is a second son named Roger: 

This is where things start to fall apart for me -- why isn't Roger shown in the pedigree in The Visitation of Herefordshire? Shouldn't he have been there right next to his brother Thomas? What evidence is there that Roger is Richard Hackluite's son?

As with previous pages, there are sources to support some of the information; unfortunately none of it helps with either the Roger in generation VI or his son Roger in generation VII. Sorry for the clutter; the colored boxes above connect the facts from the Hackley book on the left side with additional sources on the right side. The information in the red box shows the marriage of Roger's daughter Anne to Hugo Hybbyns in the Hibbins pedigree; this came from page 236 of source [7]. The yellow box shows the (really small) pedigree for Roger's son Thomas and his son Sir Roger Acheley, from page 7 of source [7]. The green box supports the fact that Sir Roger Acheley was mayor of London; this also came from source [7], page xvii. Finally, the blue box shows the marriage of Sir Roger Acheley to Blyth Moore in the Moore pedigree. This information came from source [8], page 202.

There are virtually no references provided to support the information for Roger Hackley in generation VII -- most of the discussion at the bottom of page 109 and top of page 110 centers around the family of Roger's father-in-law, Richard Wythem, and most of the references cited refer to that information. On page 110 are some facts about some of Roger's children, but once again no references that will support these facts, with the exception of the baptism and burial of one of his grandchildren, which can be found on page 1 of The Registers of Hopton Castle [3] (see red boxed information below). 

There are some sources for some of the information for the next generation -- Richard, his wife, and some of their children. However, nothing that really ties him to Roger and Margaret; i.e., there really isn't anything solid that makes me sure that Richard is the son of Roger and Margaret. In the green box we have the marriage information from page 2 of The Registers of Hopton Castle [3], the blue box is the burial of Richard from page 6 of the same reference, and the yellow box is burial information for Matilda, from page 7 of the same reference. Finally, the purple box is the marriage data for their son Edward from page 102 of Allegations For Marriage Licenses Issued by the Bishop of London, 1520 to 1610 [9]. There is a birth date for William, the subject of the next generation, but no source. The detail for William is on page 111:

The only source information we get for William himself is his marriage record from page 102 of Allegations For Marriage Licenses Issued by the Bishop of London, 1520 to 1610 [9]. The rest of the sources support the information for his children and grandchildren. The green and blue boxes are for baptism records for his grandsons Daniel and Thomas, found on pages 3 and 4 of The Registers of Sibdon Carwood, Shropshire, 1583-1812 [10]. The yellow box is for the baptism of his grandson William from page 57 of A True Register of All the Christenings, Mariages, and Burialles in the Parishe of St. James, Clerkenwell, From the Year of Our Lorde God 1551, Vol. I [11]. The magenta box is for the marriage of his granddaughter Mary from page 72 of A True Register of All the Christenings, Mariages, and Burialles in the Parishe of St. James, Clerkenwell, From the Year of Our Lorde God 1551, Vol. III [12], and the cyan box is for the marriage of his daughter Katherine from page 33 of the same reference. Once again, there are no good sources that would help connect William with his father Richard and the previous generation.

Hopton Castle and the Rest of the Generations

The rest of the generations we are concerned with have a connection to Hopton Castle. There are lots of great pictures of Hopton Castle on the internet, such as this one from :

It should  be noted that Hopton Castle is not just the castle – the village associated with the castle is also called Hopton Castle. The register that has been cited above is a record of events that happened in the parish of Hopton Castle, not the castle building itself. Also, you'll see that the Hackley book is full of misspellings/typos concerning Hopton Castle; in the following pages it switches from Hopton Castle to Hampton Castle to Hapton Castle; I assume it was meant to be Hopton Castle in all cases (the records are found in the Hopton Castle register, so that seems to be a correct assumption).

In my mind, the narrative for John Hackley and his family on pages 112 and 113 is key to answering the question as to whether the ancestry for Nicholas proposed in this book and spread all over the internet is correct. On those pages, the children of John Hackley and his second wife, Eleanor Wyman, are listed with their baptism dates. The marriage date given for John and Eleanor, and the baptism dates for all of the children except Nicholas can be found in The Registers of Hopton Castle [3] [note – the last name for all of the entries in the register is Hagley]. In fact, I cannot find anyone named Nicholas in the register during that time period. 

This inconsistency alone is enough to make me skeptical about the accuracy of this information on Nicholas’ ancestry. You can decide for yourself whether you are willing to accept it or not. Pages 112 and 113 are below; the red numbers next to each name were added by me and indicate the page from The Registers of Hopton Castle where the information is found, and the section for Nicholas has a red box around it.

The boxed in section on Nicholas is small, but there is a lot to comment on. The author clearly made the connection with "our" Nicholas Ackley -- the death date is the date we know from his probate records; the reference to "Hartford Ptob. Rec., v,213" [Ptob. is his misspelling of Prob., not mine] is a reference to the probate record we saw in the post on Nicholas. "Hist. Mdx Co. 198" refers to page 198 of The History of Middlesex County, Connecticut with Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men which was also one of the sources for the material in the post on Nicholas. I haven't figured out what the other two references are yet, but the point is that the author is definitely showing "our" Nicholas Ackley as the son of John Hackley and Eleanor Wyman, and that their son John Hackley (married to Elizabeth Bailey) was Nicholas' brother and the 4th great grandfather of the subject of the book, Charles Henry Hackley. A side note -- I have seen a lot of online trees on Ancestry that show John Hackley and Elizabeth Bailey (with different birth and death dates) as Nicholas' parents; obviously impossible if the dates in the Hackley book are correct.

Another thing that is puzzling about Nicholas' information is that it says he was baptized in St. Ansel (which I think is supposed to be St. Anselm). Perhaps this is why he is not found in the Hopton Castle registers. But that begs the question as to why all of Nicholas' siblings were baptized at Hopton Castle and he wasn't. Further, a Google search for St. Ansel turned up nothing; Google changed it to St. Anselm, and the results were underwhelming. Searching for St. Anselm on Google Maps turned up nothing in the way of a town or village in the U.K.; just a bunch of Roman Catholic churches and schools. So far that remains a mystery to me.

Another inconsistency here is what about Shalford? We have seen (unverified) information that Nicholas was born about 1635 in Shalford. First, the date raises a question -- the page above says Nicholas was baptized in 1642. It is possible that he was baptized seven years after his birth, but is that likely? On the other hand, if 1642 is the correct year for his baptism and he was baptized close to when he was born, it would be unlikely that this could be "our" Nicholas because by no later than 1655 we think he owned land in Hartford, Connecticut and was probably married in 1656. It is unlikely that a 13-year old would own land in America and be married. Finally, Hopton Castle and Shalford are almost 200 miles apart. All of Nicholas’ supposed siblings were baptized at Hopton Castle, while we think he was born at Shalford. This just doesn't quite add up.

The rest of the pages in this chapter go on to detail the line of descent to Charles Henry Hackley. I didn't spend a lot of time verifying them since it isn't really relevant to the central question of Nicholas Ackley's ancestors.

Final Observations

In summary, the first five generations seem to have adequate sources supporting the relationships proposed in the Hackley book. However, starting with Roger Hackley in generation VI and going through William Ackley in generation IX, there is a decided lack of evidence linking each generation to the next. There is a fair amount of support for other family members (children, grandchildren, and even in-laws), but for the most part this does not help with supporting the main players. John Hackley (or Hagley) in generation X and his family have some good documentation from the Hopton Castle registers, with the key exception of "our" Nicholas Ackley.

So, my overall conclusion is that although much of the information contained in the Hackley book appears to be accurate, there are too few supporting sources and too many inconsistencies on a couple of key points to be able to trust the veracity of it as a whole at this point. I would love to be proven wrong – this part of my tree has long been a brick wall as far as I am concerned, and I want to break it down. I will keep this information in my back pocket and continue to dig for the whole story. You can draw your own conclusions. I’m hoping that DNA testing might help lead us down the path to the true identity of Nicholas’ ancestors; we’ll save that discussion for the next post.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think – is John Hackley listed in generation 10 the father of Nicholas Ackley?
  • The research requires us to accept that Hackluite = Hackley = Acheley = Atcherley = Hagley = Ackley. Surnames evolve over time, and spelling was highly variable, but is this reasonable?
  • Does anyone have any verifiable information that would support or further refute the Hackley claims?
  • Does anyone have any other clues as to who Nicholas’ ancestors might be?

Link of the Day

Today’s link is to The Registers of Hopton Castle, Shropshire 1538-1812. The link will take you to As noted above, the surname is consistently spelled Hagley in this reference.

Quote of the Day

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore is not an act but a habit."
- Aristotle


  1. Haight, Louis P., The Life of Charles Henry Hackley (Muskegon, Michigan: Dana Publishing Company, 1948), p. 107-120.
  2. Website: High Sheriff of Herefordshire
  3. Elton, Rev. E. D., The Registers of Hopton Castle, Shropshire 1538-1812 (London: Shropshire Parish Register Society, 1901)
  4. Weaver, Frederic William, The Visitation of Herefordshire Made by Robert Cooke, Clarencieux, in 1569 (Exeter: William Pollard, and Co., 1886), p. 35-37.
  5. Sims, Richard, A Manual for the Genealogist, Topographer, Antiquary, and Legal Professor (London: John Russell Smith, 1856).
  6. Wikipedia contributors, "Heraldic visitation," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed January 27, 2016).
  7. Grazebrook, George and Rylands, John Paul, The Visitation of Shropshire, Taken in the Year 1623 by Robert Tresswell, Somerset Herald, and Augustine Vincent, Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms (London: The Harleian Society, 1889)
  8. Rye, Walter, The Visitacion of Norffolk, Made and Taken by William Hervey, Clarencieux King of Arms, Anno 1563, Enlarged With Another Visitation Made by Clarenceux Cooke, with Many Other Descents; and Also the Visitation Made by John Raven, Richmond, Anno 1613 (London: The Harleian Society, 1891)
  9. Armytage, George J., Allegations For Marriage Licenses Issued by the Bishop of London, 1520 to 1610 (London: The Harleian Society, 1887)
  10. Baxter, H. F., The Registers of Sibdon Carwood, Shropshire, 1583-1812 (London: The Parish Register Society, 1899)
  11. Hovenden, Robert, A True Register of All the Christenings, Mariages, and Burialles in the Parishe of St. James, Clerkenwell, From the Year of Our Lorde God 1551, Vol. I (London: The Harleian Society, 1884)
  12. Hovenden, Robert, A True Register of All the Christenings, Mariages, and Burialles in the Parishe of St. James, Clerkenwell, From the Year of Our Lorde God 1551, Vol. III (London: The Harleian Society, 1887)
Note about sources: Source 1 is not available online; I believe it is still under copyright. Source 2 is a website maintained by the current High Sheriff of Herefordshire. Sources 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 can be found on both Google Books and (the copies on tend to be clearer). Source 6 is good old Wikipedia.

Blog Housekeeping

You may have noticed that there are now tabs at the top of the blog -- one for "Home" (this is where the blog posts are), and one for "Sources". I decided to keep a running list of all of the sources used in one place for quick reference. I will still put sources at the end of each post, but will also add them to the master list.

Next Post Topic

How Can DNA Help Us?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I received an e-mail from a reader that I'd like to share as a comment. Carol Harrison is a descendant of Nicholas Ackley as follows:

    Nicholas -> Samuel -> Elijah -> Stephen, Sr. -> Stephen Jr. -> Sophia

    Carol has the following question:

    "Stephen Junior married Deborah Beckwith in 1794 in East Haddam. There are probate records for Stephen Junior in 1799. A widow was mentioned, but no children. Mrs. Deborah Ackley married Ezra Rogers in 1800 in Lyme. They are shown on the 1800 census of Lyme with two young females, probably Ackley daughters. I believe one is my ancestor, Sophia/Sophiah Ackley born 14 February, 1796 (date from age on tombstone). A Bible record says born in Hadley, Connecticut, but Hadley is in Massachusetts, so I think it should be Hadlyme or East Haddam. Sophia married William McKenzie in 1809 in Genesee County, New York. (He was from Essex County, New York. They later lived in Wyandot County, Ohio). Ezra and Deborah Rogers are on the 1810 census in Lima, Ontario County, New York which is very near Genesee. I have a DNA match with a known descendant of Deborah Beckwith and Ezra Rogers who told me about the probate and Deborah's second marriage. That, plus the circumstantial evidence, has me convinced Sophia was the daughter of Stephen Ackley Junior and Deborah Beckwith, but I would love to find actual proof of Sophia's birth. She is not listed in the Barbour collection. I contacted the Rathbun library in East Haddam and they do not have the record there. Mike, if you or anyone else, knows of this record or has any ideas where I can look for it, I would appreciate it greatly."

    If anyone can help Carol or has any suggestions on where she might look for evidence, I know she would appreciate it. Thanks!