Finding my Connecticut roots

Eleazer Merrill Wells. Courtesy of

I recently passed my first anniversary here at NEHGS, a year during which I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own ancestry as I researched the forebears of people with deep colonial roots in the United States. My mother emigrated from Ireland in the ‘80s and my father’s ancestors are almost entirely nineteenth-century immigrants. The Gaggiolis and Mordinis from Italy, the Beires and Umdenstocks from Germany, and the Sages from England all made their way to the Midwest, and by the beginning of the twentieth century they had coalesced in Libertyville, Illinois, where my grandparents, Richard Gaggioli and Anita Sage, married. These immigrant ancestors shaped my life: the food I eat, the religion I practice, the countries where I travel. The colonists were people I only studied in school; they weren’t my ancestors.

However, I remembered an off-hand comment about part of my grandmother’s family being here in the seventeenth century, so a few months ago I decided to look into it. My grandmother’s grandmother, Isadora Gertrude Wells, was my link to the East Coast. She married Thomas Sage, the son of an Englishman and an Irish-Canadian woman, in Lake County, Illinois on 3 April 1883. Izzie Wells was the daughter of George Washington Wells and Helen Yard. My grandmother remembers Izzie and told me that George was from New York and moved to Illinois shortly before 1860; he broke with his family, so Izzie never knew any of her relatives out East. Thanks to the internet it only took me an evening to find them.

Fortune smiled upon me…

I found George, his wife Helen, and their eldest children (all identified from the 1860 Census in Illinois) in both the 1850 United States Federal Census and the 1855 New York State Census in Johnstown, Fulton County, New York. Also living in that town was an Eleazer Merrill Wells, old enough to be George Washington’s father. Vital records turned up nothing and so, crossing my fingers, I looked for Eleazer Wells’ probate file. Fortune smiled upon me and Eleazer, who died in 1860, had left a will. In it he gave to his son, John Wells:

“the farm & piece of land in the County of Lake and State of Illinois on which my son George now resides … that the said John shall hold the said land during the life of the said George and lease the same and receive the rents and profits thereof … and after the death of said George I give the said land to his children and hereby direct my son John to execute to said children such deeds and do such acts as shall be necessary to put them in full ownership and permission of said lands.”

I don’t know what caused Eleazer to exclude his son from any inheritance or if John Wells actually ensured that the land went to his nieces and nephews, but connecting George Washington Wells in Illinois to Eleazer Merrill Wells of Johnstown, New York (originally from Hartford, Connecticut) introduced me to a whole new set of ancestors I am still discovering. I recognize names from past research cases and find many families that came during the Great Migration, a topic I wrote several papers on in college; these days I feel a little more connected to the work I was doing. I will always identify as an Irish-Italian from the German Midwest, but maybe it’s time I visit Hartford…

About Catherine Gaggioli

Catherine is a researcher at NEHGS. She received her Bachelor’s of Arts in History from Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and went on to earn a Master's of Library and Information Science in Archives Management and a Master's of Arts in History from Simmons College. Prior to NEHGS, Catherine worked for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, where she scanned archival materials as a part of a large scale digitization project.

6 thoughts on “Finding my Connecticut roots

    1. A couple of clicks on your (Perry Streeter) tree and I found a connection, although not a common ancestor. John Whitmore 1589-1648 and Richard Treat, your ancestor; were first settlers of Wethersfield, Conn., and when the early church split, John left for Stamford, selling his land to Richard. Do you have a record of where in Massachusetts Colony the settlers had lived? All I find is that they were somewhere in the Boston area. Or even, where in England they had lived? They seem to have been of like religious convictions, up until the split.

      1. Oops! Forgive me. In my haste I wrote before I looked back at your tree, which of course had much more information available by clicking on Richard’s name — right now I’m looking at a book of Treat genealogy, which was listed as a source. It has a wealth of information and I’ll read to see if it, or the other sources, shed light on my questions.

  1. Based on what I have seen so far I expect you are a descendent as am I of Thomas Welles the 4th Colonial Governor of Connecticut. He came with his children to Mass in 1635 and then on to Connecticut shortly thereafter

  2. Sometimes private arrangement were made between relatives that substituted for a legacy. This could be the case if a child wanted to move or his family had immediate needs.

    1. This is an angle I hadn’t thought of for this situation! I have seen in many wills that a parent will say something to the effect of “my son, X, has received his share of my estate during my lifetime” so perhaps this was the case for George Welles. I got hung up on my grandmother’s story of a break in the family but I’ll keep this less dramatic possibility in mind going forward.

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