The Salem Witch Project – Down But Not Out
Alas, the Salem Witch Project has come to an impasse. At this point, more of an obstacle than a wall. But it is definitely impeding progress.
When I last checked in, four generations were in good shape and I was starting to run into the usual 19th century research issues. Thanks to FAN Club work and local history research, I have since managed to resolve Generation 5 (the possibly adulterous Daniel–the juicy stuff is still a mystery!) and I’m confident in Generation 6 with Stephen as the father of Daniel.
But then I started on Generation 7. And promptly ran into problems.
While reviewing the information originally, I suspected this would be the spot where it could go awry. Stephen son of Stephen, in a family that adored the name Stephen. A recipe for difficult research!
Will The Real Stephen Please Stand Up?
When I first encountered The Stephen Question, it seemed fairly straightforward. Vast numbers of online trees and other materials have Stephen, father of Daniel, who died in 1831 (“Stephen 1831”) as the same Stephen, son of Stephen and Deborah born in 1770 (“Stephen 1770”). But there isn’t universal agreement that they are the same person. Let’s take a look.
Problem #1 – Gravestone Woes
First, there is a problem with the gravestone. It appears to say Stephen died in 1831 at the age of 58. Which makes his birth year circa 1773, not 1770. Not too far off of what we assume. And stranger things have happened. But this is now a problem to be solved.
Thankfully, we have Stephen 1831’s will and probate documents. These confirm family member names and align with other data that solidly supports this Stephen being my direct ancestor and the Stephen whose gravestone we see above. But was he actually born in 1770 or 1773? How much of an issue is this?
Problem #2 – Data, Data, Data
From there, the gaps in the data becomes even more glaring. While most people agree that these two Stephens are one and the same, they don’t present any proof. Additionally, the Littlefield Family Newsletter (Vol. 3 & 4) has offered contradictory opinions on the matter. And the FamilySearch entry for Stephen 1831 is full of back and forth updates (and possibly too many children). Basically, the more we dig, the more unclear it becomes!
In order to resolve this, I needed to dive in deep. Research the Stephen. Find the Stephen. Be the Stephen.
Hunting For Stephen
Long story short, Stephen 1770 is firmly the son of Stephen and Deborah. Thankfully, the church baptism record still survives. And I cannot locate a Stephen born in 1773 in the available online documents. However, absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that 1770 is correct. It can simply mean we don’t have evidence (so far) for 1773.
So should we connect the two Stephens? Stephen 1770 was born in Wells, York County, Maine. Stephen 1831 died in Frankfort (now Winterport), Waldo County, Maine. This is ok, story-wise. Everyone agrees that there was a mass exodus to the “frontier” of eastern Maine once the end of the French & Indian War made things safer for British colonists. Migrating became even more popular after the Revolutionary War.
Perhaps it is this migration that can help prove the connection. Was there only one Stephen? If so, hallelujah! If there were two Stephens, maybe it would be obvious which one was which. But our best laid plans…
The Great Stephen Rabbit Hole
Thus began the adventure down the rabbit hole. It is enough to make you as mad as a hatter…
Land and Probate Records: Who Owned What
Let me start with there is an impressive number Maine land probate records available online. An impressive and sadly unindexed number. And yet Stephen in general remained an enigma. A few hits, but nothing new that obviously connected the documents to the known players. The best hit currently remains 1831’s will and probate records.
Census Data: Friend & Foe
Some of the local written histories for the Frankfort/Winterport area stated that the Littlefields were among the earliest settlers. They seem to have arrived before 1800. But the sources were a little vague on specific timing. I went in search of some solid dates to sort this out.
The 1790 Census gives us the head-of-household names, but only an unhelpful 16+ or under 16 age range for household members. Plus, since it was the first U.S. census, there was a lot of inconsistency in what was recorded. And, yes, I’m being generous.
The 1800 census was a vast improvement. Not only did we get better categories (though not ideal), but in Maine there was a column for “from where emigrated.” This was not consistently captured, but every little bit helps!
To track the data, I created a spreadsheet and started going methodically through the entire Hancock county (Waldo’s parent county) 1800 census, recording all the Littlefields and any known associate families. I found the digital index to be spotty, so I ended up manually looking at all the records since Hancock wasn’t too populated at the time. As feared, there were two Stephens. Now at least I knew what I was up against.
Or did I?
Stephen To The Third Power
Both Hancock County Stephens were originally listed as being from York County. And some of the dissenting voices on Stephen 1831 versus Stephen 1770 argue that 1770 never left Wells or York County. In order to be thorough, I started going through York County as well.
And lo and behold, there was a third Stephen:
It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t going to make my Halloween deadline. 😐
What This All Means (Or Genealogy In Context)
While I’m not exactly thrilled at this obstacle, it is a perfect example of why genealogists cannot guarantee results. All they can do is vow to perform their best work while following best practices. In this case, I am my own “client” and have to accept that the desired outcome cannot be achieved in the time allotted. And, in fact, it may never be resolved to the desired satisfaction. At least as the researcher, I still get the thrill of the hunt! But I also have to go with the genealogical flow. This project will take the time that it takes.
When considering hiring a professional, be sure to discuss this challenge. Avoid genealogists who guarantee specific results, let alone ones who guarantee those results in a short time frame. What you should receive for your money is thorough and efficient research with a report of the findings. In genealogy, even incomplete or negative results are progress!
In regards to The Salem Witch Project, the original goal was to confirm already existing information. All projects–yours or paid for–should start with this task. We need to know that we’re climbing the right tree before we can move forward! In this case, at the outset, the confirmation was the entirety of the project. But now it has morphed into a full research project to determine the next branch.
This means a project that has already taken about fifteen hours is going to take much more. As a hobbyist, no worries. But if you are paying for the research, at this point your professional should reset expectations. If this happens on your project–just remember the Triple Stephens! This is how the family history cookie crumbles.
In the end, paying for pro research is a great way to expand your family tree without having to spend your time staring at 18th century handwriting or writing footnotes. You can leave it to those of us that actually enjoy such things.* Just be realistic in your expectations. History is a complicated place and our ancestors are often excellent at hiding there!
What’s Next For The Salem/Stephen Project?
All that said, what is next for the Salem Witch Project? Well, I have not given up hope! I’ve put in the request to Associated Daughters of Early American Witches to get the detailed information on their application requirements.
Once I have those, I’ll better understand what they expect to see. For example, hopefully I’ll find enough information to have some confidence in determining which Stephen is which. But if I can’t meet their documentation standards, I would either need to keep looking or accept that I am not a qualified descendent by their standards.
In the interim, the hunt continues! I’m going to keep researching and collecting information on the Stephens. Currently all the data is in the larger project file. The addition of a third player means I need to review and reorganize the data before moving ahead. I will create separate research reports or basically “bios” for each of them so I can compare them as I go along. They will include all that census, land, and deed data, plus any vital records, FAN Club information, historical research, and other info I can find. Thank goodness for copy and paste!
Freed from the time constraint of Halloween, I will be working on this as I can between my writing, paid research projects, and other tasks. If only Lolo would learn to fold clothes!
What about your research? Did your possible ancestors suddenly multiply? Have you had paid research projects go in unexpected directions? Let us know the details below!
*Well, at least the 18th century documents. I’m not sure anyone really enjoys creating footnotes! 😀
Header: Made with Canva. ©Michelle Keel 2021.
Log Jump: Photo by Taya Dianna on Unsplash.
4 Bar High Jump: Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.
Stephen Littlefield Gravestone: “Stephen Littlefield” 1773-1831, Cole Cemetery, Winterport, Waldo County, Maine. FindAGrave.com, Memorial ID 47795624. Image added by user whistling bird 7 Aug 2013. Image coloring altered for blog.
Data Data Data: Made with Adobe Spark. ©Michelle Keel 2021
1790 U.S Census, Wells, York County Maine.
Wells, York County, Maine. 1790 U.S. Census, population schedule. Database with images. Ancestry. www.ancestry.com : 2021. Series: M637; Roll: 2; Page: 280; Image 161; Family History Library Film: 0568142. Extracted image for demonstration purposes.
Spreadsheet excerpt: Author’s document, made in MS Excel 365.
Lolo The Cat: Author’s collection. ©Michelle Keel 2021
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Yes! We need more homonym humor! 😀 Thank you for your support! Someday the Stephen mystery will be solved…