Friday, July 21, 2017

Where Did Nicholas Ackley Come From?

The short answer to this question is we don't know, and I'm afraid I won't be able to answer the question in this post. But just like the question of Nicholas' wives surnames covered in an earlier post, the information about Nicholas' origins has been widely reported without any reliable sources to back up the information. While it is somewhat dissatisfying to ask the question without providing an answer, I believe we should bring the issue out in the open so it can be discussed, and hopefully inspire someone among us to do further research.

There has been much speculation about where Nicholas Ackley came from. All of the various locations mentioned have one thing in common -- there are no sources cited for any of the purported origins for Nicholas. What is also notable is that none of the commonly cited sources for information on Nicholas Ackley even mention where he might have come from; for example, the Dawes-Gates genealogy cited frequently in this blog mentions nothing about Nicholas' birthplace or place of origin. The first line of the section on the Ackley line in that work simply says "Nicholas Ackley was of Hartford, Connecticut, probably as early as 1649, and certainly in 1655..." [1]. Another respected source for information on Nicholas, "Memoranda Relating to the Ancestry and Family of Sophia Fidelia Hall" by Sophia Fidelia Hall Coe also has nothing to say about Nicholas' origins [3]. "The Ancestry of Lorenzo Ackley & His Wife Emma Arabella Bosworth" does mention England, but provides no source for that information [4].

Frequently Mentioned Places of Origin for Nicholas

Before getting to the discussion at hand, permit me a small rant. One of the things that has always been puzzling to me is how information like this gets propagated all over the place without a reliable source attached to it. I don't think someone would make this stuff up (at least I hope not), so someone somewhere had to have seen this information in a source, and either chose not to list the source or it got copied all over the place without the original source. Either way, this is something that baffles me and I will continue to fight the good fight to include sources for everything I post. OK, rant over. Here are the most frequently mentioned places of origin for Nicholas:

England - England is a logical choice if one wanted to make an educated guess as to Nicholas' origins. Given that Connecticut was founded by Puritans from England under royal charter, it would not be a stretch to assume that Nicholas came from England. Many online trees list England as his birthplace, but as mentioned above, no source for this information can be found.

Shalford, Essex, England - This location is reported on many Ancestry member trees, WikiTree, and many Pedigree Resource Files and International Genealogical Index on Family Search. There are thousands of member trees on Ancestry that have Nicholas Ackley in them, and over 3,000 of these trees state he was born in Shalford, Essex, England. Although I couldn't check every one of these trees for sourcing, I checked the first 50 and not one had a source for this information (other than user supplied information such as other trees, Millenium files, Find-A-Grave, etc.). WikiTree and the Family Search resources are similar to Ancestry member trees in that they contain user supplied information, and like the Ancestry member trees they do not typically have any source citations associated with them.

Hopton Castle, Shropshire, England - There are some trees online that cite Hopton Castle as Nicholas' birthplace (a much smaller number than Shalford). Although none of those trees gave a source for the information, I would guess that most people who cite Hopton Castle as Nicholas' birthplace probably got the information from the Hackley manuscript discussed in a previous post.

Wales - I have even found a few trees online that give Wales as Nicholas' birthplace. As with the other locations mentioned, no sources are given to support this information.

Other Theories

Before beginning this discussion, I want to point out that I have absolutely no proof that any of the locations mentioned below could be Nicholas Ackley's birthplace or place of origin. I bring them up as food for thought and as a starting point for further research.

The Secretary of the State (SOTS) of Connecticut has a useful web page discussing the origins of the cities and towns in Connecticut. According to that page:

"Until 1700 almost the only official action of the colonial government (General Court) in regard to town organization, was to authorize the town name, usually chosen by its leading man, from his home in England." [2]
Knowing that, could the places where Nicholas lived in Connecticut provide a clue to his origins? We know that Nicholas first came to Hartford, Connecticut, possibly as early as 1649. Here is what the SOTS web page has to say about the origins of Hartford:

"Hartford, Dutch trading house, 'House of Hope,' 1633; settled as Newtown in 1635; named 1637 from Hertford in Hertfordshire, Indian name, 'Suckiag.'" [2] 

There are a couple of things to think about here. First, Hartford took its name from Hertford in 1637, at least 12 years before Nicholas arrived there, so he was not around to have had any influence over the naming of the town. Further, according to Wikipedia, Hartford was named for the hometown of Rev. Samuel Stone, one of its founders [5]. Having said that, it is entirely possible that Nicholas was from Hertford and was drawn to Hartford because there were people there from Hertford with whom he or his family were acquainted.

We also know that Nicholas was one of the original proprietors of Haddam, Connecticut; i.e., one of the group of 28 young men who founded the town. Here is what the SOTS says about Haddam:
"Haddam, settled in 1662; incorporated, and named Oct., 1668, from Much Haddam parish in Hertfordshire." [2]
So, the situation with Haddam was slightly different than Hartford; Nicholas was present when it was named, and being one of the original proprietors could have had some influence on deciding the name. Again, there is no evidence that this was the case, but it is at least worth considering as a possibility.

It is worth noting that Hertford (blue marker on map below) and Much Haddam (red marker on map below) are both in Hertfordshire in England; in fact they are only about 12 miles apart. Further, although Shalford (green marker on map below) is in the county of Essex in England, it is only about 25 miles from Much Haddam (Hertforshire and Essex are adjoining).

Google Map showing Hertford, Much Haddam, Shalford

Again, I should emphasize that I have no information that actually suggests that Nicholas came from either Hertford or Much Haddam; I am only proposing that these locations might be logical places to look.  Naming conventions for early Connecticut towns could provide a clue as we try to solve the mystery of his origins.

Discussion Questions

  • Does anyone have any reliable sources for any of the more popular birth places cited in various trees? 
  • Does anyone have any other viable possibilities for Nicholas' origins (supported by sources)?

Quote of the Day

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." 

--Thomas A. Edison

Link of the Day

Today's link is for the Connecticut Secretary of the State web site mentioned several times in this post:


1. 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. 33-54.

2. Connecticut Secretary of State, "Connecticut Towns in the Order of Their Establishment; With the Origin of Their Names", (accessed June 27, 2017). 

3. Coe, Sophia Fidelia Hall, Memoranda Relating to the Ancestry and Family of Sophia Fidelia Hall (Meriden, Connecticut: Curtiss-Way, 1902), p. 217-223.

4. Jacobus, Donald Lines, The Ancestry of Lorenzo Ackley & His Wife Emma Arabella Bosworth (Woodstock, Vermont: Elm Tree Press, 1960), p. 1.

5. Wikipedia contributors, "History of Connecticut," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 13, 2017).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ephraim Ackley and His Family (1751/52-1822)

Ephraim Ackley (my 4th great grandfather) was born in East Haddam, Connecticut. He was the son of Nathaniel Ackley and Mary Williams.  Ephraim was the seventh of nine children of Nathaniel and Mary, and was born on February 25, 1751/2.  Below is a copy of his birth record from East Haddam public records. [1] 

The reason for showing the year as 1751/2 is that England and its colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar in that year. Prior to 1752, England and her colonies had used the Julian calendar, under which the year began on March 25th.  Although much of Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 because of inaccuracies in the Julian calendar related to leap years, England had not, and by 1750 the English calendar was 11 days out of sync with the rest of the world.  To correct this situation, in 1750 Parliament passed an act requiring England and its colonies to change calendars in 1752. England's calendar change included three major components. The Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, changing the formula for calculating leap years.  The beginning of the legal new year was moved from March 25 to January 1.  Finally, 11 days were dropped from the month of September 1752. The changeover involved a series of steps:
  • December 31, 1750 was followed by January 1, 1750 (under the "Old Style" calendar, December was the 10th month and January the 11th)
  • March 24, 1750 was followed by March 25, 1751 (March 25 was the first day of the "Old Style" year)
  • December 31, 1751 was followed by January 1, 1752 (the switch from March 25 to January 1 as the first day of the year)
  • September 2, 1752 was followed by September 14, 1752 (drop of 11 days to conform to the Gregorian calendar) [2]


Ephraim married Hannah Jewett, daughter of Gibbons Jewett and Rhoda Hyde. Although no primary record of their marriage has been found, the divorce petition filed by Hannah in 1799 gives their marriage date as January 20, 1780 (more about this petition later) [3]. Ephraim and Hannah had five sons; Ephraim (born February 26, 1781), Warren (born August 18, 1783), Henry (born September 28, 1785), Julius (born August 17, 1787), and Gibbons. (born October 2, 1789). All of them were born in East Haddam, Connecticut [4].

Revolutionary War

Although there is no direct evidence that Ephraim served in the revolutionary war, there are some records that indicate that he may have. In the pension application of Nathaniel Ackley, Nathaniel states:  “That in March 1778 he enlisted into the service of the United States in the company of cavalry commanded by Capt Ephraim Ackley for three years, that he served two years and six months of said enlistment, that he performed all of said duty on the sea coast between New London Connecticut and New York City…” [12]. As part of this pension application Nathaniel provided the discharge note below that he claims was written by Ephraim Ackley.

Ultimately Nathaniel’s pension application was rejected; one of the reasons given was that the handwriting in the release note purported to be from Capt. Ephraim Ackley was suspiciously similar to the handwriting in the rest of Nathaniel’s application.

Although no official record can be found of Ephraim’s participation as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, there is evidence that he participated in other ways. From other records we will see that Ephraim was a farmer, and he apparently was called upon to supply cows to the Continental Army during the war. The following letter from Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt [5] directs Ephraim to deliver four head of cattle for the use of the men of the 2nd New York regiment, which Van Cortlandt commanded.

While it cannot be proven that Ephraim earned the title of “Captain” during the Revolutionary War, he was appointed a Captain by the Connecticut State Assembly in 1785. The appointment was recorded in the Public Records of the State of Connecticut [6]: 

In the same year, the Connecticut State Assembly provided some tax relief for Ephraim, resolving “that Captain Ephraim Ackley be Abated for one Horse” [7].

We will see that tax issues would become a problem for Ephraim later in his life.

Slave Owner

Ephraim appeared in the first census of the United States in 1790. He is found living in East Haddam, Connecticut with his family. Below is an excerpt from that census [8]:

Enumerators collected the name of the head of household, number of free white males aged 16 and over, number of free white males under 16, number of free white females, number of all other free persons, and number of slaves.  So, in addition to Ephraim himself, there were two other free white men over 16 living in his household.  Although not known for sure, it is reasonable to assume that the four free white males under 16 are his sons Warren, Henry, Julius, and Gibbons. This assumption can be made because all four of them are found in other censuses as well as other records into adulthood, while their brother Ephraim is not found in any other records other than his birth record mentioned above, and so he must have died before 1790. The one free white female in the household is presumably his wife Hannah. The final column, the number of slaves in the household, does have a “1” in it, so Ephraim appears to be one of the rare slave owners in the state of Connecticut at this time.


We find further evidence that Ephraim was a farmer from this notice appearing in the Middlesex Gazette in 1795 [9]. Apparently Ephraim’s farm was being used as a location for a well known horse to be bred with local horses in the East Haddam area.

As mentioned earlier, Ephraim experienced some difficulties in paying his taxes. Evidently the practice in those days was to sell off property of individuals who could not pay their taxes to cover the bill. The following is a notice of such a sale of some of Ephraim’s possessions found in the newspaper in May of 1799 [10]:

Note that Ephraim was two years in arrears on his town and state taxes. This notice was made in May of 1799, and the auction was to be held in August, so he did have some time to try to pay the bill before his property was sold. It is not known whether he paid the bill or if the auction took place as scheduled.

Wife Hannah Petitions for Divorce

1799 went from bad to worse for Ephraim. In October of that year, his wife Hannah filed a petition for divorce with the General Assembly of Connecticut, the same body that had appointed him Captain of the militia 14 years earlier. The petition alleged cruel and abusive treatment, and asked for a divorce. A verbatim transcription of the petition (including spelling errors and abbreviations) follows [3]:

Page 1 
To the Honble General Assembly of the State of Connecticut to be Holden at New Haven in sd state on the second Thursday of Oct AD 1799 --- The Petition of Hannah Ayer Ackley late of East Haddam in the County of Middlesex but now residing in East Windsor in the County of Hartford ---Humbly sheweth --- that on the 20th Day of January AD 1780 she was lawfully joined in marriage to Ephraim Ackley of sd East Haddam – that your Petitioner from the Day of her Inter Marriage with sd Ephraim untill this time hath ever on her part continued to fullfuill all the Duties of a Wife to a Husband, enjoined by the Marriage Covenant. 
That the said Ephraim wholly disregarding his Duty toward the said Hannah hath at sundry times within six years last past in the most violent and outragious manner abused your Petitioner, not only by the most Indeacent and abusive language but by repeatedly beating and wounding your Petitioner in the most cruel and Inhumane manner. --- That the said Ephraim not regarding his Duty in any aspect but being devoid of all the feelings of humanity, and conjugal affections, hath taken your Petitioner. 
Page 2 
Petitioner when about Eight months gone with Child and in the most barbarous & savage manner draged her from bed & in the same Indecent, cruel & inhumane manner kicked & beat your Petitioner.
That the sd Ephraim hath repeatedly with in five years last past --- threatened to take the life of your Petitioner --- that at a Certain time within the before mentioned term the said Ephraim in the night season threatened your Petitioner, that unless she would go to bed to one Saml Palmes (then in the House of the sd Ephraim) the sd Ephraim would take the life of your Petitioner before morning ---
That the sd Ephraim Ackley hath repeatedly within the aforesd term threatened to take the life of your Petitioner provided she came, or offered to come to bed to him --- that by the abusive treatment and inhumane conduct of the sd Ephraim Ackley your Petitioner within the aforesd period of time hath been frequently obliged in order to preserve her life, to retire from the House of the sd Ephraim and seek an asylum at her neighbors, or in an adjacent barn --- that she repeatedly has been, and still is, in great fear from the conduct of the sd Ephraim and still considers her life to be in constant danger 
Page 3 
from him --- Whereupon your Petitioner prays Your Honors to take her unhappy life into your consideration and order and decree that your Petitioner be Divorced from the sd Ephraim Ackley and she declared single and unmarried --- and she as is Duty bound shall ever pray --- Dated at East Windsor the 23 Day of Sept AD 1799 ------------
                                                                                                             Hannah Ayer Ackley

To either Constable of the Law of East Haddam in the County of Middlesex greeting 
By authority of the State of Connecticut you are hereby commanded to summon Ephraim Ackley of said East Haddam to appear before the Honorable General Assembly of the state of Connecticut to be holden at New Haven in said state on the second Thursday of October next – on the first Tuesday after next after the opening of said Assembly which will be the 15th of October next – then & there to answer unto the foregoing memorial of Hannah Ayer Ackley if he see cause & you are also to have a true & attested copy of said memorial & this is citation (at least twelve days before said first Tuesday) with the said Ephraim and at his usual place of abode ---- hereof fail not but of this memorial & citation make service & due return dated at East Haddam Sept 25th 1799. 
Two dollar State duty is paid
Thereon Coppied & Signed by
                Jabez Chapman   Justice Peace & Quorum 
Page 4 
East Haddam 30th Sept 1799 I then left a true and attested copy of this memorial and citation with the within named Ephraim Ackley 
Attest Andrew Champion  Constable

It is fair to say that the allegations in the petition can be viewed as no less than shocking and disgusting. Note that at the end of the petition the General Assembly gave instructions to the constable of East Haddam to summon Ephraim to appear before them and answer the allegations. According to the source for this material, no action was taken on this petition, so it is assumed that a divorce was not granted. Note also that the constable attested to the fact that he delivered the petition to Ephraim, and that the constable, Andrew Champion, is the same person who was to auction Ephraim’s property earlier in the year to cover his tax burden.

Neither Ephraim nor Hannah can be found in the 1800 Census. Ephraim is found as head of household living alone in East Haddam in the 1810 Census [11], and once again neither of them can be found in the 1820 Census.


Although there are no reliable primary sources documenting Ephraim’s death, there is some evidence that he died around 1822 or 1823. In the pension application of Nathaniel Ackley mentioned above, Nathaniel states “That he enlisted into the service of the United States as a volunteer in the month of March in the year 1778 or 1779 according to his recollection and as he verily believes, and belonged to a Company of Cavalry consisting at that time of about sixty men of which Ephraim Ackley of East Haddam who died in said East Haddam about twelve years since was the Captain…” [12]. This statement was dated December 2nd, 1835, so that would put Ephraim’s death around 1823 if he died about 12 years earlier according to Nathaniel’s statement. Another source, “Ackley & Winton Genealogy and Allied Lines” [13], gives a specific death date of October 12, 1822. This genealogy offers no source for this date, and all searches to date have failed to find anything to verify that particular date.

Discussion Questions

  • Are any of you descendants of Ephraim Ackley? How do you descend from him?

Link of the Day

Today's link is for the Connecticut State Library. This is where I initially found the reference for Hannah Ackley's divorce petition.

Quote of the Day

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."   



1. East Haddam (Connecticut). Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1687-1915, Volume 2,  (Births, marriages, deaths v. 2; Family History Library Microfilm 1398798), page 3.
2.  “The 1752 Calendar Change”, Connecticut State Library Website,
3.  Connecticut General Assembly, “Lotteries and Divorces, Second Series, 1718-1820”, Hartford, Connecticut, microfilmed 1967, p. 1-4.
4.  East Haddam (Connecticut). Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1687-1915, Volume 2,  (Births, marriages, deaths v. 2; Family History Library Microfilm 1398798), page 227.
5.  Jacob Judd, “Correspondence of the Van Cortlandt Family of Cortlandt Manor”, (Tarrytown, NY, Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1977), p. 143.
6.  Forrest Morgan, Leonard Woods Labaree, and Charles Jeremy Hoadly, “The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, May 1785-Jan 1789, Volume 6”, (Connecticut, Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainerd Company, 1945), p. 25.
7.  Forrest Morgan, Leonard Woods Labaree, and Charles Jeremy Hoadly, “The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, May 1785-Jan 1789, Volume 6”, (Connecticut, Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainerd Company, 1945), p. 13.
8.  1790 U.S. Census, East Haddam, Middlesex County, CT; page 447; NARA Microfilm M637.
9.  “The Beautiful Full Blooded Horse Hyder Alley”, Middlesex Gazette, March 7, 1795.
10.  “Notice is Hereby Given”, Connecticut Gazette, May 29, 1799.
11.  1810 U.S. Census, East Haddam, Middlesex County, CT; page 300; NARA Microfilm M252.
12.  Revolutionary War Records for Nathaniel Ackley, NARA Series M805, Roll 3, Image 339, File R20.
13.  Carol Ackley Winton, “Ackley and Winton Genealogy and Allied Lines”, (Salt Lake City, Utah, Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971).

Monday, July 3, 2017

How Many of Your Ancestors Do You Really Know About?

A while back I read an interesting blog post by Blaine Bettinger on his "The Genetic Genealogist" blog. The title of Blaine's post was "How Much of Your Family Tree Do You Know? And Why Does That Matter?" [1], and was mostly concerned about the implications of finding connections with DNA matches. This is a very interesting idea and I would encourage you to read his post if you are interested in using DNA testing in genealogy (as I am), but I bring this topic up for other reasons, which I'll discuss below.

A Look at the Numbers

First, let's look at the numbers; we've probably all seen some variation of this idea somewhere. We all have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, etc. The number of direct ancestors in any previous generation is just 2 to the nth power, where n is the generation number, parents = generation 1, grandparents = generation 2, etc. The table below shows how many ancestors each of us has in 10 generations (along with how I am doing); I will explain the columns as we go.

Consider this for a moment -- Nicholas Ackley is my 7th great grandfather (I suspect for most readers of this blog he is probably around there as well); that is 9 generations away from me and from the "Total # of Possible Ancestors" column under the "BY GENERATION" heading we can see that he is only one of 512 7th great grandparents that I have. The same is true for any more distant generation -- your Ackley ancestor is only one of tens, if not hundreds, of direct ancestors you have in that generation. The point here is that if you spend all of your time researching your direct line, you are ignoring a large part of your ancestry that could be just as interesting as the line that gave you your surname. I know I have been guilty of spending more time on my Ackley line than other lines at times; I think we are naturally drawn to the family that gave us our surname.

Another interesting point that can be taken from this table -- if you go out 10 generations (which gets back to around the year 1600 for me), you can see from the "Total # of Possible Ancestors" column under the "OVERALL" heading that you have 2046 people in your tree, which means 2046 people to research. You can see that I am not doing so well when I look that far out; I have only identified 49 of my 1024 tenth generation direct ancestors (only 5%), and in total I have only identified 295 of the 2046 ancestors within 10 generations, which is only 14%. I'm doing pretty well out to the 5th generation; I am only missing 4 of the 62 ancestors in the first five generations, so I have identified 94% of those generations. But, if anyone asks me if my family tree is done yet, all I have to do is point to the 10th generation numbers and say "Not even close!".

How Much Do You Know?

In the process of populating the table above, I decided to make a list of all of the direct ancestors that I have identified as well as the important pieces of information I have for each one. Here is what the table looks like for the first four generations (I have hidden my parents since my dad is still living). Note that the color coding for each generation matches the color coding in the first table above. (My actual table goes all the way to the 10th generation, but for space considerations I only included the first 4.) 

I try to get at least the five pieces of information given in the table above when I add someone to my tree -- birth date, marriage date, death date, burial location (with a picture of the headstone), and an obituary. Of course I don't have all of these bits of information for everyone in my tree, but that is always the goal. Looks like I am doing pretty well for the first four generations. For this table my standard for putting a "Yes" in the "Document?" column for each of the first three dates is pretty strict -- if I don't have a piece of paper (or an electronic copy) with official verification of the date, I put a "No" in that column. That is probably a little more stringent than I need to be -- for many of those dates I have actually viewed the official records at a courthouse and taken notes on it, but since I didn't want to pay up to $20 to get a copy of each one (and courthouse rules prevent me from taking pictures of the records) I don't have a physical document with the date on it. So, for most of the dates shown above I do indeed have a reliable source for the information, but I don't necessarily have the piece of paper to go along with it. There are only 3 dates that I don't know and 4 burials I don't know, but I have some work to do obtaining actual documents. I'm also doing pretty well on headstone pictures and obituaries.

There are two main benefits that came out of this exercise:

(1) I now have a good summary of the basic facts I know about my direct ancestors
(2) I have a good quick reference that shows me where I have work to do

I could probably get reports from my genealogy software that would give me similar information, but going through the exercise made me realize what I have left to do. I feel good about what I have done so far, but there is much more work to be done.

Discussion Questions

  • How are you doing -- how many of your direct ancestors have you found?
  • How do you track your important data for your direct ancestors? Any other suggestions on how to stay on top of this?
  • What standards do you use for proving vital dates; i.e., what documentation do you personally require to be satisfied that you have the right information?

Link of the Day

The following link is for an article that was written quite some time ago (2011), but it is relevant to the topic of this post. It has an interesting discussion on the notion of pedigree collapse:

Quote of the Day

"Well done is better than well said."

--Benjamin Franklin


1. Blaine Bettinger, "How Much of Your Family Tree Do You Know? And Why Does That Matter?", The Genetic Genealogist, posted 11 August 2015 ( accessed 6 May 2017).