Friday, May 19, 2017

Do We Really Know Who Nicholas Ackley's Wives Were?

I belong to a couple of different genealogy-related groups on Facebook, and recently a post in one of those groups got me to thinking. A woman was venting a little bit (maybe a little over-the-top in my opinion) about how some bloggers who were blogging about her family got it all wrong and were claiming to be experts on her family line. She claimed they were "stealing" her family (she surmised because her family was a little more interesting than their own) and blogging about it because they wanted readership and prestige. I have no way of knowing if her protests were valid or not, but it did raise some questions for me that are worth talking about.

First, although there is a certain pride of authorship in writing about my Ackley ancestors, I don't feel like I "own" my ancestors; for that matter no one "owns" their ancestors. If I write about some Ackleys, whether they are "my" Ackley line or a potentially unrelated Ackley line, I hope no one thinks I am trying to "steal" them. I am a fan of all Ackleys (after all I am one), so I want to share what I know and give others an opportunity to share as well. If I am writing about an Ackley line other than my own, I assure you I am not doing it to somehow gain readership or claim them as my own. 

Second, I hope no one who reads this blog feels like I am passing myself off as an expert on the Ackley family. I am an Ackley and I am researching the Ackley family, but by no means am I an expert on the Ackley line. I write this blog because I want to share what I do know and hope other people will share what they know so we can all learn together. I do my best to back up my writing with appropriate sources when I can find them, and if I don't have a good source I try to mention that too so it is clear. And please, if anyone finds anything in any of my posts that does not seem correct, let me know so I can correct it. I am all about the truth here, so if someone has good sources that show I am wrong, I am all too happy to admit it and report the correct information.

Which leads me to today's real topic -- "Do we really know who Nicholas Ackley's wives were?". I mentioned above that I try to include sources for the information I write about, but I have to admit it, I kind of blew it with Nicholas Ackley's wives. I am guilty of following the crowd and putting Hannah Ford Mitchell and Miriam Moore in my tree as the wives of Nicholas Ackley. Look at any public tree on Ancestry, look at WikiTree (I had something to do with that one), look at Pedigree Resource Files on Family Search -- nearly every tree you can find on the internet likely has Nicholas' first wife as Hannah Ford Mitchell, and his second wife as Miriam Moore. But look closer, and you will not find any credible sources backing up the surnames of either one of these women. There are no firm marriage dates to be found, and no birth or death dates for either one of them -- nada, zilch, nothing.

What Do We Know For Sure?

I think it is safe to conclude that Nicholas was in fact married to two women, one named Hannah and one named Miriam.

Both Hannah and Miriam are mentioned in "New England Marriages Prior to 1700", but unfortunately no surnames are given and in fact no sources for this information are offered [1]. So, this publication is not the source of the widely published surnames, nor is it really even a solid source for their first names because it doesn't tell us where this information came from.

However, we do find some reasonable evidence in the Dawes-Gates genealogy that I've mentioned in previous posts that Nicholas did have a wife named Hannah. According to that volume, Nicholas and his wife Hannah are mentioned in a deed on March 19, 1671-2 which deeded land they owned to William Spencer. Once again no mention is made of a maiden name or previous married name for Hannah, but it appears to confirm that Nicholas had a wife named Hannah [3].

Many trees list Hannah's parents as Thomas Ford and Elizabeth Charde. As pointed out to me recently by a fellow WikiTreer, Thomas Ford and Elizabeth Charde did have a daughter named Hannah, but that Hannah Ford was born around 1628 in England and died shortly after and is buried there, so she could not have been the wife of Nicholas.

We can also be reasonably sure that Nicholas had a wife Miriam, and that she was not the mother of his children. In Nicholas' probate records, we learn the names of his children and his widow Miriam as signers of the probate agreement. At one point in this document, Miriam is referred to as "the Mother-in-law"; in early use mother-in-law was another term for step-mother. However, at no point in the document is Miriam's maiden name or possible previous married name mentioned [2].

Miriam’s surname is given as Moore (without a good source) in many online trees, but a note in Dawes-Gates Ancestral Lines disputes that: “Sometimes surmised to have been Miriam Moore (Miles), but that can not be true, for she married first John Willey, and married secondly, 1689, Samuel Spencer (Gerrard) and became his widow in 1705.” [3]

Searches on and for either of these women yield mostly references to user-provided data; i.e., Public Member Trees on Ancestry and Pedigree Resource Files on Family Search. This type of information in and of itself is not necessarily unreliable, but closer examination of these trees usually reveals that these trees are unsourced or refer to other trees as their sources.

While this short discussion in no way represents an exhaustive search for sources to support the widely-accepted surnames associated with Nicholas Ackley's wives, I think it does illustrate the relative lack of credible sources for this information. My objective in pointing this out is to remind Ackley researchers (including myself) to be mindful of where our information comes from and to strive to verify everything we put in our trees.

What Should We Do About It?

Although in reality it is probably too late to put this toothpaste back in the tube - this information has spread all over the internet - I believe that those of us with public trees in one form or another can help by correcting the information we display publicly, perhaps with a note explaining the situation. Personally, I have changed my public tree on Ancestry to show that the last names of Hannah and Miriam are unknown, and have included a note explaining why. Of course this will not remove all of the references to Hannah Ford Mitchell and Miriam Moore that already exist, but at least anyone who views or copies my tree on Ancestry will not proliferate incorrect or unverified information. I have also included notes in Nicholas Ackley's profile on WikiTree explaining what is and is not known about his wives, and I will be working on changing the wives' surnames in their profiles to unknown (for which I'll need the cooperation of some other profile managers to accomplish).

The other thing we can do is research. As pointed out above, there doesn't seem to be any credible evidence online to support the last names of either Hannah or Miriam that are commonly given by many genealogists, but maybe there are some written records somewhere in a library, courthouse, or genealogical or historical society that would give us information about what their last names were. Although I don't hold out much hope for this possibility because I would expect that if such evidence existed it would probably be available online by now, it is still worth pursuing in the name of thoroughness. Maybe when I take that genealogy road trip to Connecticut some day....

Discussion Questions

  • Does anyone have any sources for the last names of Nicholas Ackley's wives, Hannah (commonly reported as Ford Mitchell) and Miriam (commonly reported as Moore)?
  • Does anyone have any other ideas for last names for Hannah and Miriam (with credible sources)?
  • Has anyone done any research of original records in Connecticut that could help with this issue?

Link of the Day

The link below is from the website for the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and discusses the standards which certified genealogists are expected to uphold in their research. Although most of us are not certified genealogists and probably don't aspire to be certified, I believe the standards are relevant to the issues discussed in this post and are worth reading.

Quote of the Day

"The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it."  

-- General Norman Schwarzkopf


1. Torry, Clarence Almon, Elizabeth Petty Bentley, New England marriages prior to 1700 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1985), p. 3.
2. Manwaring, Charles William, A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records 1635-1700 Vol. I (Hartford, Connecticut: R. S. Peck, & Co., 1904), p. 393.
3. Ferris, Mary Walton, Dawes-Gates Ancestral Lines: A Memorial Volume Containing the American Ancestry of Mary Beman (Gates) Dawes Vol. II (Wisconsin: Cuneo Press, 1931), p. 39.