Pulling it all together: Part Two

Continuing with my assessment of The Phelps Family of America:

Scope: The work traces Phelps-named males through the ninth generation as well as some female descendants born with the Phelps surname to their children, and occasionally further through a grandchild with a non-Phelps surname. An effort was made to trace the Phelps family in Europe, presented in the form of 70 pages of transcribed, but not analyzed, correspondence with parish rectors and individuals named Phelps. The methodology was limited, but the scope deserves a score of 7.

Citations: With the exception of a number of secondary sources, such as Stiles’s History of Windsor and Trumbull’s History of Connecticut (which are given without page numbers), the only citations (i.e., including volumes and page numbers) are for the Hartford probate records. Score: 1.

Published in 1899, the book obviously cannot be expected to use modern methodology.

Completeness: Biographical text is included for the early generations, including full transcriptions of some wills. Dates and places of birth, marriage and death, and the parentage of spouses are usually provided. A few caveats such as “possibly other children” or “possibly one generation left out” show cognizance of areas that need further research. Information is provided for individuals into the 1890s. My score: 7.

Age and methodology: Published in 1899, the book obviously cannot be expected to use modern methodology. Phelps Family in America was typical for its time, lacking citations, generational numbers, ancestral lines, etc. The greatest contributions of such works is in the contemporary generations of descendants who provided information about themselves and their immediate families. This is a tricky category to score, but I am giving it a 5.

Restraint: Although the Introduction to the chapter on “Our American Genealogy” begins with Adam and Eve, very fortunately this work does not provide a direct lineage from that couple to the Phelps family. (Don’t laugh – there are books that do.) The long, disjointed (and inevitably inaccurate) section on “The Phelps Family in Europe,” complete with an unrelated coat of arms, detracts from the more traditional American section and lowers my score to 5.

Analysis: No attempt appears to have been made to analyze or make sense of the 70 pages of verbatim correspondence from England, nor was there any awareness of the possibility of confusing individuals such as reported by Nancy J. Pennington in her article “Three Men Named Isaac Phelps with Connections to Windsor, Connecticut.”[1] Score: 0.

Access: Downloadable e-book at archive.org. Score: 10.

Next week we will total the numbers and discuss what has been useful (or not) about this experiment.

Continued here.


[1] The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 163 [2009]: 117.

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.

15 thoughts on “Pulling it all together: Part Two

  1. I laughed (before I read your injunction not to). When I was a teenager, my great-grandmother had a caregiver who told us that she’d traced her ancestry back to Adam and Eve. My mother was quite involved in her own Genealogical work at the time, and expressed some polite surprise at this feat!

  2. Alicia, Thank you for tackling this topic in such a systematic and thoughtful manner! I learn so much from your blogs … not the least of which is to attempt to see the ‘big picture’ and, as you advised so cogently a few days ago, “take three peanut M&Ms and get started again” – your insights and focus are much appreciated!

    1. Yes, Lynn, thanks to Alicia’s advice I DID get a whole bag of peanut M&Ms, and opened up my new tree on MacFamilyTree, the one with 950 names I was sure of, and not the one with 2000 names I had with 19th century genealogies as sources. Just one 3+ century old unsupported link causes the whole thing to fall, and I thought I’d removed the most egregious bad links years ago. But I discovered I’d kept those that might “likely” be a true link. That information buried in notes about my need for further proof. Once I put all of that aside, too, ignored my great aunt’s professionally done genealogy of her parents – not even they were proven beyond an “Alicia score” of 2 – (I can only assume my grandmother and her sister knew their parents names, but there is no proof they ever existed beyond a grave in Philadelphia and a lead about the re-married grandmother based wholly on a full name with unique middle name being inherited by a cousin… thin ice, but with a footing!) It is now the shortest branch on my tree, but I am going to continue my M&M challenge. I’m glad you reminded me of Alicia’s encouragement. Because I have just re-upped my membership, and will give it another go.

  3. My chief bone to pick with this book is person # 192 Pages 152-154. The author expects us to believe that this man remarried a women 30 years younger and continued to have kids with her until he was 66 years old. And his will (this part is heresay, I never saw the will myself) supposedly names only his first family not the second. It seems to be a clear case of mixing up two families (I am descendants of the 2nd one). Subtract extra points please

    1. Dave, there are several men in the news lately with what we now call Trophy Wives. Back when women often died in childbirth having a third was common… often a widow. Now? Status, power, ego…

    2. That happened with one of my dad’s relatives in southwest Wisconsin. The guy was a prominent lawyer in town, married 3 times with 21 children, the last when he was 67 in 1902. Vital records and contemporary town histories verify it. That’s why I search out those books.

      Of course, this didn’t happen real often …

    3. Dave, I can’t give negative points! The will they are talking about is on Ancestry, but a little tricky to find. You need to search under wills and probates for Nathaniel Phelps, Connecticut, who died in 1746. This will bring up Connecticut records under that name and date, but then you will see the inventory has two “Cover Pages”. If you go to the second one, then you are in the probate of Nathaniel Phelps who died in 1781. He can clearly be eliminated as Rachel’s husband (unless he was a bigamist) because his will was dated in 1769 and mentions his loving wife “Mary.” Thus, all this kids are from that marriage. The confusion undoubtedly came from the way the Conn VR list multiple records for “Nathaniel Jr.” which was assumed to be the same person, but clearly there was another one in Hebron (and the “Jr.” simply meant the younger one in town, not necessarily son of Sr.). If you can get to the Conn deeds, you may be able to solve the puzzle (unfortunately, not online yet).

      1. This is what happens when you tease a genealogist with a conundrum. The more I look at it, I believe that the Nathaniel who married Rachel was the son of Nathaniel who married Mary, even though there is no birth record for him in the Hebron records. That will for the Nathaniel who died in 1781 with wife Mary includes a son named Nathaniel — who because of the absence of a birth record is not included among the children of the first wife in Phelps. Thus the children by the “second” wife are Nathaniel and Mary’s grandchildren by son Nathaniel. Clear as mud?

        1. Thank you, Alicia, for answering with such great insight. That theory about Nathaniel being the son of Nathaniel looks quite viable. You’ve inspired me to dig into it again.

  4. You’d have to know the date the first will was written. Your conclusion is probably correct, but there’s a slim possibility that the will was written before the second marriage and never revised.

  5. Hope you’ll take on the 2-volume Humphrey Family next!!! And Dave, btw, when my sisters and I were young, we had a sitter who was 50 years younger than her oldest half-brother and had two sisters younger than herself… it did happen.

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