What’s her name?


While today a married woman going back to an earlier surname is not that uncommon, such a progression sometimes happened in earlier time periods. The following case was interesting, as this individual appeared to be going “back and forth” between the surnames of her two spouses – her reasoning is hard to follow.

Nancy Lippitt was born at Killingly, Connecticut 17 November 1813, the daughter of Nathaniel and Rebecca (Bartlett) Lippitt. She married Comstock Paine of Smithfield, Rhode Island, at Killingly 17 January 1833; they had one son, Charles L. Paine (1840–1879). I can’t find the family in the 1840 census, but some of the pages for Killingly are now illegible. Nancy L. Paine appears without her husband in the 1850 census in Thompson, Connecticut (which then bordered Killingly), along with her son Charles. Nancy appears next in the 1860 census back in Killingly with her second husband Daniel N. Woodworth, using his surname. Nancy’s son Charles is also in the household. I could not find the record of Daniel and Nancy’s marriage, but there may be an interesting reason for that.

Daniel Woodworth died in my hometown of Putnam, Connecticut (which was formed in 1855, largely from northern Killingly, where this Lippitt family lived), although on his death record, Daniel is listed as a widower and is buried in Killingly with his first wife Lucretia.[1]  Nancy appears in the 1870 census in neighboring Woodstock with her younger half-brother Holden H. Lippitt, back under the name Nancy L. Paine.

So …. Woodworth in 1860, Paine in 1870, Woodworth in 1874, and Woodworth in 1880 on her death record – but Paine on the gravestone!

In Nancy’s father’s will, dated 7 March and probated 4 November 1874, she is referred to as “Nancy L. Woodworth.” She died at Putnam 15 April 1880, also as “Nancy L. Woodworth.”[2] However, on her contemporary gravestone shown above, she is listed as “Nancy L. Paine” and is buried near her son Charles.

So …. Woodworth in 1860, Paine in 1870, Woodworth in 1874, and Woodworth in 1880 on her death record – but Paine on the gravestone! My initial thought was, as Daniel Woodworth was buried with his first wife, perhaps Nancy was buried beside her first husband Comstock Paine, and thus buried with that surname. However, Comstock Paine was not found in the burial records of that cemetery. This is where it gets interesting, as Comstock was not dead by 1850 … he left!

Comstock Paine is enumerated in the 1850 census in Carryall, Ohio. He gets married again on 27 March 1856 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and stays in Carryall, where he is enumerated in 1860 and 1870 and where he died on 27 September 1873.[3]

Did Comstock formally divorce his first wife before he married again, and more importantly, seeing the changing surnames of Nancy, plus Daniel being called a widower on his death, did Daniel and Nancy actually get married? I’ve searched the records of all these towns and can’t find a marriage record. I wonder if Comstock’s possible desertion was an issue.

“Nothing more ascertained…”

Interestingly, Comstock Paine is listed with his parents Daniel and Anna (Ballou) Paine in the 1888 Genealogy of the Ballou family by Adin Ballou. The author did not mince words when it came to treating this family:

“Our efforts to obtain this family record have been fruitless. The following named chn. have been reported to us without birth-dates, but whether in exact chronological order we are not sure. —-

After naming the nine children of Daniel and Anna, followed by Anna’s death at Smithfield in 1855, the author adds “Nothing more ascertained, and further tracement abandoned.”

As it appears Comstock may have abandoned his first family, I wonder what he might have thought about a genealogist “abandoning” him in a family history!


[1] Putnam Vital Records, 2: 470-71, written as Daniel H. Woodard. (This is the first time I’ve needed to use the vital records of my hometown for any NEHGS project!)

[2] Putnam Vital Records, 2: 540-41.

[3] Allen County, Indiana, Marriage Records, 3: 441; Paulding County, Ohio, Record of Deaths 1: 32-33.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

5 thoughts on “What’s her name?

  1. I actually had this situation in my TILLINGHAST genealogy research c1735-1812 Connecticut. Very frustrating and yet intriguing to follow the possible leads and attempt to provide some reasoning. Thanks for an interesting story. A similar situation bogged me down with a family well documented in England c1630-1660 to be Baptist-leaning Separatists…and yet named their 7th child Charles…the Monarch of the time who could be directly accused of preventing this family from acquiring their “freedom of conscience”. I have purchased and read your books and many articles by yourself and others re: naming… and have been unable to unravel that conundrum. Any thoughts? Donna TILLINGHAST Casey

  2. I have this kind of situation in several family lines. Man abandons a family, moves a state or two away, claims he was never married, or is a widower, “marries” again, starts another family. In a time when travel wasn’t easy, and without the means of communication we have now, it was easy to do.

  3. A good friend discovered her ggf had a second wife and son in a town in Illinois, 600 miles from his normal abode in Kansas, all while still married to the friend’s ggm. One of those “you can’t make this stuff up” family secrets that was as humorous as tragic. Legal Wife was tipped off to the “other wife” by a cousin who’d attended their church “wedding” 18 months earlier, so she had divorce papers served on him at the love birds’ home. Which is how the “other wife” learned hubby was a bigamist and father of six living children, after which he wasted no time returning to KS to talk Legal Wife into taking him back (which she did.) The tragedy being that even though the second “marriage” wasn’t legal, because they’d been considered by the community for almost two years to be legally married, Other Wife had to endure the public humiliation of officially divorcing him. The papers were duly delivered to him in KS, but because he’d slightly altered his name on the Illinois marriage docs, the divorce couldn’t be finalized until he appeared in court in KS to swear under oath that he was in fact the man named in the IL divorce action as well as the father of the son born of that “marriage”.

    This and other instances from the 1800s are why I automatically become suspicious of the “death” of a young father shortly after the birth of a second or third child. More often than not I’ll find him alive and well with a new family several counties away or in another state. A second clue that Hubby simply abandoned the original wife and children is the lack of a tombstone, burial record or death notice in the local newspaper of the town or county in which they resided. A third is when a “widow” with young children doesn’t remarry after the normal period of mourning, because she knows hubby isn’t really dead. In fact, the mother of the man in the story above claimed to be a “grieving widow” for nearly 40 years despite having been informed by some of their children a few years after his “death” (translation: abandonment) that he was alive and well in a different state and quietly divorcing him in a different county.

  4. That is complicated! I don’t have anything exactly like that but my 3rd great-grandmother in Scotland always used her maiden name of Patrick (no record of her ever marrying). But on her daughter’s marriage record, she called herself “Mrs. Currie.” LOL! I think she was motivated to do this for who daughter who was born out of wedlock with a man whose last name was Currie. Either that, or they were married but never paid to register !? Her second child, a son, had the surname of Patrick and I still don’t know who his father is!

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