Picking families for the Early New England Families Study Project

Alicia Crane WilliamsMy father, borrowing a line from Henry Ford, used to tease me that I could pick any color apple I wanted in the basket “as long as it was red.” (They were all red.)  I have been asked to explain how I choose which families to do for the Early New England Families Study Project. The answer is I can pick any family I want – once they are in the basket.

Filling the basket, however, can be a matter of dealing with apples and oranges. While Early New England Families is a companion program to the Great Migration Study Project, it is not a continuation of that project. Bob Anderson’s genius work is arranged by date of immigration. Early New England Families is arranged by date of marriage.  They overlap in a variety of ways, which Bob and I are presently sorting through.

My “1641” basket contains all heads of families married in or by 1641 who are not featured (or expected to be featured) in the Great Migration series, which covers immigrants to New England through 1640. A large number of my individuals actually arrived in New England prior to 1641 as children of the immigrant head of family – e.g., Gov. John Winthrop is an orange (Great Migration), while his sons John Winthrop the Younger and Henry Winthrop are apples (Early New England Families). Also in the basket are individuals who married in or by 1641 for whom the date of immigration has not been established. My guess is that a lot of these will turn out to be oranges, but they all need to be researched.

There are about 100 families in the basket at the moment. I make no attempt to arrange them in exact marriage order, which couldn’t be done anyway since exact dates are not known for all.  I have concentrated first on the second generation sons, taking full advantage of the head-start afforded by their parents’ Great Migration sketches, and I try to choose families in different locations to provide the  widest coverage of New England possible. Then I just pick the family that looks the most interesting and test to see how complex or difficult the sketch is likely to be. I’m not dodging the hard ones, but in the interest of getting sketches published, I need to intersperse at least slightly simpler families with the really gnarly ones.

This first basket is complicated by the need to take care of a lot of different threads. I have already started squirreling away apples in the 1642 basket, which will be the first to address marriages in a single year.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

26 thoughts on “Picking families for the Early New England Families Study Project

  1. Ms. Williams, I am a descendent of several Great Migration families and part of a strong genealogy study group comprised of several near and distant cousins for the Butler family of Stonington, CT/Westerly. RI. We imagine that these Butlers were among the founding families of CT and from Great Migration group in Boston/Cambridge at some point. How can one find out which families you are examining? How can I learn more about your work?

    Thank you,
    Mary Bridget Burns (Granddaughter of Anne Butler Gurry)

    1. Hi Mary Bridget,

      Thank you. I don’t have a list at this point because we’re still trying to sort out the apples in those first changeover years from Great Migration. The best description of Early New England Families Study Project is in “American Ancestors,” Spring 2013 (which you can read on americanancestors.org if you are an NEHGS member). The basis for the project is Clarence Almon Torrey’s “New England Marriages Prior to 1700” and supplements. Generally, you can assume that for the next several years or more I’ll be working on couples who married in New England prior to 1645.

      I will try to keep everyone updated through the blog as things progress.

  2. Congratulations on all your hard work and research. I have been working on my descent from the infamous John Billington, but have had a few stumbling blocks along the way….especially my link of Peter Robinson who supposedly married a Sabin. Do you have any info that would help? thanks in advance.

    1. Hi, Sorry, that’s an 18th century problem. Early New England Families Study Project is only going to cover couples who married prior to 1700. However, I do know that the Mayflower Society is preparing a revised edition of their Billington “Five Generations” book. It will be a completely new edition, but I do not know when it is expected to be published.

  3. Would my family qualify? Their name is Tower and they are from Hingham, England and came to Mass. 1637 John Tower and other info at Tower genealogy society. Thanks!

    1. Margaret,

      John Tower is an “orange” who will be treated in the Great Migration Study Project when it gets to immigrants of 1637. His sons are the “apples” and Early New England Families Study Project will cover them when it gets to their years of marriage — Ibrook will be the first one, he married in 1668. However, that’s a few years into the future of the project yet.

    2. John and Mary Warren Bigelow of Watertown, MA are my 8th great grandparents. It is estimated John arrived about 1632, and John and Mary were the first marriage in Watertown, 1642. Also intermarried with dozens of other families in CT, MA and NY, all with VERY interesting stories. I am researching the roots of many other Winthrop Fleet passengers who are rooted in Chesire, UK landed gentry and the upheavals of the English Civil War.

      1. John and Mary are in the Early Families basket for 1642. I do not know the date of their arrival, but it wasn’t 1632, as John is not treated in the Great Migration Begins. That will be part of the research I will do when I reach that basket and pull them out.

    1. Hi Linda,

      I presume you mean Benjamin Cooley of Springfield (1617-1684). Yes, he is an apple who will probably be in the 1643 basket. Torrey’s “New England Marriages” entry for him estimates his marriage “by 1643?, by 1644” which is typical of the inexact dates with which we are dealing.

  4. Alicia, What a wonderful illustration of the basket! Made complete sense to me in your explanation of a complicated process. Each of us who is the historian for our respective family is waiting for your choice with fingers crossed that it will shed some light on our own bushel. However, I’m sure, whatever heirloom “apple” you pick to dissect, the findings will be fascinating to anyone with an interest in history, especially Early American history. I, for one, look forward to reading your updates because I am just as interested in the process as I am in the findings. Susan

  5. Alicia, Thank you for sharing your project description! The basket and oranges and apples analogy makes complete sense and does a wonderful job of explaining your decision criteria. I can’t wait to hear progress reports. I have several Great Migration immigrants (oranges), including a good number who had “apples” married by early 1640s, so I will be eager to see which families are ultimately included.


  6. My folk never seem to show up… are you researching any of these? Towle, Bland, Bailey, White, Drake, Ela, Bickford…..

    1. Jean, the answer is yes, but, I’m not doing “families” I’m doing “couples” by year of marriage. So if any of your people were married in New England 1642 or earlier, and if they aren’t Great Migration people, I will be working on them in my first baskets.

    1. David, According to Torrey’s “Marriages Prior to 1700” Maturin Ballou married ca. 1646/8, thus he will show up when we get to the 1646 basket.

  7. Like most of the people who have made comments I am hoping that you chose my ancestors to chose for your basket.

  8. Alicia, will the project include any of the early Maine “Lygonia” settlers who were such a thorn in the side of the MBC folks (Jordan/Winter etc.)? Many of my Truro/Eastham/Plymouth families made their way to Maine. I will be coming to NEHGS in the summer to consult about Bridget Strout Cooley….I believe Bowman mistranscribed the original Truro VR re: her first husband’s name.

    It is a very exciting project. Best of luck!

    1. Hi Jane, the answer to both of your questions is yes, eventually. Any couple that married in New England prior to 1700 who had descendants, excluding those who are in the Great Migration category.

  9. John Smith of Sandwich? It is so hard to tease out the Smiths (Ralph and John)….or the Freemans….we still don’t know if Edmund and Samuel were truly related.

  10. Hi. It sounds like a fitting companion to the Great Migration work. Where would Thomas Dutton of Billerica fit in?

  11. Hi. My name is Don Barber. I am a 9th great grandson of Moses Barber and Susannah Waite/West. They were married in Rhode Island in 1691. I have been doing research on my family for about 10 years. If they ever come to the top of your list I would be most interested and willing to help. Thanks.

    1. Hi Don, Thank you. I’m not sure I will be around when Moses and Susannah come to the top of the list, since there are about 30,000 marriages in-between 1691 and 1641 where we are now!

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