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Month: February 2019


A bark or barque was a small vessel of coastal or inland waters.

The Elston’s are one branch of my family that came to the New World very early, in the mid to late 1600’s. How they got to Indiana on that fateful day in 1812 is a bundle of stories and interesting history. This is the history we thought was boring in grade school, but it’s not so much about dates and battles, it’s about the fundamental need for meaning and personal growth.

It’s about owning your place in life.

If you’re going to follow my story, you are going to have to endure a review of the early history of our country. If you see some similarities in current attitudes and ambitions, well maybe there are some lessons to be learned.

When the first Elston landed on the shores of what was then called the New World, the scope of that world was a narrow band of land at the water’s edge. Everyone settled on the shore. These were the walls of their lives, the ocean on one side and the dense forest on the other.

One of the earliest members of the Elston family who traveled to the New World, came as a servant or indentured worker, someone who’s passage was paid by a person who expected years of service in return for that investment.

This ancestor, John Elston, was a “waterman.” He operated a small boat belonging to his benefactor, possibly a man named Mr. Craddock. From this boat, John Elston and two crewmen fished and provided transportation of goods and passengers from one settlement to another.

According to passage in Annals of Salem, Vol. II, P210, Joseph B. Felt wrote, “A small bark of Salem, of about twelve tons, coming towards the bay, John Elston and two of Mr. Cradock’s fishermen being in her, and two tons of stone and three hogsheads of train oil, was overset in a gust, and being buoyed up by the oil, she floated up and down forty-eight hours, and the three men sitting upon her, till Henry Way his boat, coming by, espied them, and saved them.”

Being a waterman or fisherman was probably a pretty important job in the days of the infant settlements because fish was a major source of food for the population. The waterman’s family could be assured of eating well. Life was probably good for John and his family…but they didn’t own the boat, they didn’t own the house they lived in and they didn’t own themselves. All the work was towards buying back their freedom, repaying their passage fee. No matter how important the job of waterman…John was owned by, and worked for, “the man.”

But humanity isn’t programed to live by boundaries and limitations. As the forest was pushed back and crops were planted and harvested and animals that were brought from the Old World multiplied to provide milk, butter and meat, land became a valuable resource for the settlers and everyone who came to this country sought their fair share of it.

People came to the New World for two things…freedom from oppression and to own something they could not own in the Old World…land which gave them the means of their survival, not dependent on someone else. They came not to be owned, but to own their future and the future of their families. Owning land was the path to that end goal.

Ownership of land was one of the most important freedoms in this New World.

Why did our ancestors continually move west? No question…to acquire and protect their future and the future of their families.

This branch of my family came from Massachusetts to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Maryland to Virginia to Kentucky to Indiana hoping that their steps west would be a step up.

Along the way, other family stories melted into this family…the Crists, the Richeys, the Phegleys, the Craigs, the Nicholas clan, Donahues and Wells and Bridgewaters and…

John Elston’s great, great granddaughter Anne Elizabeth married William Edward Collings, and she was mother to William Elston Collings, who was father to Sichy Collings Richey who was mother to…well, you see how this goes. Families just go on and on.

Past as Present

Fire as execution method in the 1600’s.

I thought I would share with you some of the rabbit holes that open up to those of us who go searching for ancestors.

I recently received a long note from my niece that illustrated all of the problems I have already detailed…women’s records are difficult and spotty, common names like Jane and John and William are hard to wade through, families often switch between references to first and middle and then compound names (Michelle, I’d suspect that Sarah Jane actually could be the full name for someone referred to as Sarah and/or Jane).

There is the frustrating use of junior and senior, which in the old days did not necessarily indicate father and son (or mother and daughter) but rather meant older and younger closely related family possibly living in the same house or neighborhood.

Then there’s the rabbit hole of a good story possibly unrelated to your family. I went down that rabbit hole yesterday.

One of my ancestors had a unique middle name. In researching his father, I found that I had two choices for his mother, both with the same first name, but one with the last name that matched my ancestor’s middle name. That was a pretty good clue as to which possible mother I should track, so I began to look for that surname which was Elston.

I casually scrolled down several pages of search results, finding several probable new relatives when I was struck by one result that read “A Warning for Bad Wives or The Manner of the Burning of Sarah Elston Who was Burnt to Death on Wednesday the 24th of April 1678 For Murdering her Husband….”


I had no indication that where were any ancestors named Sarah or Thomas Elston in that generation of my Elston line, but how could I pass up a story like this? I couldn’t.

It was a most controversial case, raising all the questions that we struggle with in this day and age. On the bare facts of the case, Sarah’s crime would appear to be a matter of self-defense. During a heated argument, Thomas had beat Sarah severely with a fire shovel and was reaching for a frying pan to continue the abuse when Sarah stabbed him in the left chest with a pair of scissors.

An editorial note here: a frying pan would not have been a lightweight, one-egg Teflon pan like we use today—it would have been a large, cast iron skillet and would have probably resulted in a totally different outcome for Thomas and Sarah.

The story does, however, include much testimony from neighbors and paints a picture of regular marital strife including violent arguments, physical altercations and loud and public threats of future revenge and even death.

Neighbors told of Sarah’s threats on her husband’s life and how her drunkenness and profligate spending had driven him to try “to beat her out of this wicked course, and to that end [he] did sometimes chastise her with blows…”

Thomas was described as “troubled and disturbed” by his need to use violence on his wife, violence that included throwing her down the stairs on the night of the final argument.

Witnesses heard Thomas “wish himself dead, or that he had been buried alive that day he was married to her” and Sarah’s threats that at one time or other she would kill him.

Historian J.M. Beattie, PhD. is a professor in the History Department of the University of Toronto, and he wrote extensively about crime and law in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He commented on this case, and I’m sure many will be upset by what he says, but remember, he is telling it like it was in the 1600’s.

He says the “self-defense plea was inappropriate in the context of husband-murder” because “in law, wielding a knife or pair of scissors against a man who used mere bodily force or a blunt instrument indicated excessive retaliation,” not legitimate self-defense.

Bottom line, Sarah was found guilty and burned at the stake for her crime. At the stake, before her sentence was carried out, it was reported that she said, “notwithstanding all his Abuses,” she still felt that “she had done very ill in lifting up her hand against her Husband, and offering to revenge her self of him.”

My guess is that all law enforcement officers would recognize these events back in the 1600’s as exactly the kind of domestic situations they find themselves called out on in this day and age.

You see how I get involved in this research and end up being late to work or unable to eke out time to write or forget to go to bed at a reasonable time!

Once again, I must say, schools should teach history this way, with genealogical research. The problems, the relationships, the issues, the hopes and dreams of the past are all present now in the lives we live every day.

Probably some of the truest words ever spoken are George Santayana’s: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Yes, Winston Churchill said something like this, but Santayana said it first.)

I think I might add that those who can’t understand the past will never understand the present.

Still Here 2

Winter scene

Another week of research and tax paper gathering and…oh yes, Indiana weather.

For all those reasons you get my rambling and unconnected thoughts on many random things, weather first.

A confession: I have a usually manageable condition called SAD which is an acronym for Seasonal  Affective Disorder. That stands for: I really don’t like winter very much.

I would love to handle winter like a bear does…go into my cave and sleep through it. I deal with it by staying in when I can, but still function normally by going to work, going to the store, doing what has to be done. I have no desire to travel to a warmer clime, I just want to get through the cold, snow and ice as quickly and safely as possible.

Our recent sub-sub-zero weather here in the Midwest, on a day when schools, stores and even colleges closed and the mailman refused to deliver, (the trash guys, bless their hearts, were on schedule), I was able to stay home with my mildly frozen pipes. Shout out to my favorite plumber who hacked his way under my home and shot warm air under there for about 20 minutes and did NOT give me too much grief for failing to leave my faucet running over night!

I’m trying to spend these home bound days gathering my papers together for the accountant to do my taxes. This is a chore I avoid like the plague, though once I sit down to it, goes fairly quickly and always gives me a sense of accomplishment when finished. I just would rather be doing anything else.

Now for a pet peeve, and I’m sorry if I offend anyone with this, but seriously…in the bundle of mail I finally received after the warm-up allowed the mailman to get to the mailboxes, I received a large packet of coupons that are totally worthless to me and go directly into the recycle box.

News flash to all the restaurants in the world…I’m one person and I cannot eat two of your sandwiches, two meals, or a 20″ pizza, so your coupons for those deals are worthless to me.

I realize there are a lot of families out there that need the coupons to be able to afford your food, but what about the one person who just does not feel like having another bowl of cereal or cheese sandwich for supper, and would love to get 50 cents or a dollar off one of your calorie laden sandwiches?

Honestly, it’s the principle of the deal that annoys me. When I want a sandwich I will buy one but it’s rather annoying to stand in line behind someone who is getting the same meal for half price just because they have a coupon and a friend. When I step up to the counter and say I just want one sandwich at half the coupon price (or can I mark one off, come in tomorrow and get the second one?) I get “the look.” You know the look…what are you crazy?

Look at it this way restaurant managers…there are 1) a lot of singles out here and 2) even some families where one member wants to eat something  besides what all the rest are eating. Can’t we have just one coupon per useless page of 2 for 1 coupons?

Okay, end of rant. You see what winter weather does to me…I get a little worked up about this.

And yes, I’m also spending some of my time researching family for future blogs, so just bear with me. I’m learning a lot of the history I apparently slept through as a child.

Just a hint about what I’m learning, these times we’re in now? Not so unique. There have been some pretty bad actors involved in some pretty shady deals, some dirty politics and some pretty devastating weather events.

If you yearn for the old days when things were simpler…sorry, you are badly mistaken!

And one more family note: I found a petition signed by several Kentucky territory residents asking authorities for land they had been promised as soldiers. Among the signers were William Elston Collings, his brother Spencer Collings and our friend George Crist.

Examining the list for any other familiar names, I came across the name Samuel Wells. That name is a common name on my mother’s side of my family and in my study of that line, I know the Wells branch came to Kentucky and lived near where my paternal family, the Collings settled!

What if both sides of my family have been crossing paths for over 200 years before coming together as my father and mother to make….me! How cool is that?


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