The name’s the same

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There’s something that happens when researching genealogy and family history. It’s actually a lot like a trip to the House of Mirrors or the “Ye Olde Fun House.” It’s one of those things that occur when you’ve examined someone’s life but find there’s something that you still can’t quite resolve. I mean, it’s not exactly a brick wall – as everything else about the subject’s life in question will look “just fine” – “but.” Really, all the pieces of the puzzle go together perfectly … or do they? It seems that there is always one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit quite right.

So we genealogists dance around the puzzle. For me, I like to use words and phrases like “probably, likely, could-a-been, might-a-been,” and my all time favorite, without a doubt. We might even build a sketch of the person’s life, ever careful not to disturb the tenets of our research, all the while practicing a little bit of the X Files mantra that “the truth is out there.” And then we “swat at it” (our genealogical problem/issue, that is), much like flies in summer time, as the issue or flaw in our genealogical research/argument never really goes away. (It just needs a good dose of bug-spray…)

Regrettably, this has happened to me more times than not. One of my “better cases” (in this regard) has been my study of (and gathering of facts for) the life of my great-great-great-grandmother, Lucinda (Russell) Sage.[1] Now, Lucinda has always been one of my “favorites.” Born 14 September 1798 in Connecticut to Roswell Russell and Elizabeth Carrier, Lucinda has carried the “double witch gene” on down to my mom and later generations. Lucinda’s mother was a descendant of Martha Allen Carrier, and her father was a descendant of Rebecca Towne Nurse, two of our ancestors accused and hanged at Salem in 1692. Lucinda is not only my lifeline to the Salem Witch Trials, but as an added bonus, the lovely and talented Lucinda was (like my own daughters) a twin – to her equally lovely sister Lavinia. I have to tell you that, as the father of twin girls, this has been a fun (if not relatable) aspect in “the telling” of the “witches” stories to my kids.

Lucinda’s mother was a descendant of Martha Allen Carrier, and her father was a descendant of Rebecca Towne Nurse, two of our ancestors accused and hanged at Salem in 1692.

And by and large I haven’t had any problem with Lucinda’s lines. She shows up just like she should in Descendants of David Sage, and is a notable entry in Descendants of William Russell of Cambridge. All the ‘vitals’ look good, with all the census records looking ‘reasonable’ (census records being intrinsically rebellious things) in connecting the dots from me to Grandma Lucinda. That is, except for one – one lone death certificate – one making it all near impossible to resolve.

So I did what we all do – I stared at that darn death certificate – for years really. And no matter how hard I tried, examined, or stewed about it, that one lone death certificate just didn’t make sense. The death certificate in question was for one of Lucinda’s children, her second to the last of ten children, a son named William E. Sage (1834-1913). It just didn’t fit. Can you see what the problem is? (Aww, sure you can!)

There, under the area for “MAIDEN NAME OF MOTHER” it says “Lucinda Hall.” Okay, there’s only one expression that works well here, and that is: What the heck?! Who is “Lucinda Hall??” In seeing this, I went through my usual litany of questions: Do I have the right Lucinda Sage? (Believe me, there are a mess of them) Do I have the right Harlehigh Sage? (So many ways to spell this name and, again, so many Sages called “Harlehigh.”) Do I have the right William E. Sage? The problem was, in the absence of any other evidence – I did.

Did the boys have different mothers, both named “Lucinda”? (Hey, it happens.)

So I didn’t reconcile the name. I left it alone. It didn’t fit – and admittedly, I didn’t want it to. Whoever “Lucinda Hall” was, well, she was trying to cause me problems back in Salem and in 1692. I compared William’s younger brother John Sage’s death certificate to William’s. No problem. It said his mother’s name was “Lucinda Russell” just like it should have. Did the boys have different mothers, both named “Lucinda”? (Hey, it happens.) And who was this “informant” on William’s death certificate? “Mrs. Rebecca Sage?”[2] As William’s second wife, she seems to have been a bit of a “late comer” to the party. What the heck did she know? So, my friends, it simply stayed that way with Lucinda (Russell) Sage’s “Salem 1692” ancestry regrettably, “asterisked by the informant.”

Courtesy of contributor JustinM.

Then, recently, a strange email arrived out of the blue. A lady was writing to me with information about Lavinia – Lucinda’s twin. Now, like an idiot, I hadn’t paid much if any attention to poor old Lavinia. The lady who wrote to me said that Lavinia went by the nickname “Lovina” and that she had been married to a ne’er-do-well sort of man. Sadly too, Lovina’s life had been a short one, and it’s unclear if she had any children. Lovina died shortly before her forty-second birthday, on 27 August 1839. (Her sister Lucinda lived to be about 90, passing away on 13 August 1889.) However, for me what was most interesting about Lovina was not so much her all-too-brief life – but rather the name of her husband – Mr. Daniel Hall.

Now I’d like to take credit for what I’m about to tell you, but honestly I can’t. Serendipitously, a descendant of Mr. Hall and his third wife is the one who solved this riddle and cracked the case. You see, Mr. Daniel Hall was quite the gadabout and was married five times – no big deal on the surface right? (Well, I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now.)

As you probably have guessed, Daniel Hall married twin sisters! (Cuz that’s so normal!) He married Lavinia “Lovina” Russell as his second wife. And when Lovina died in 1839, he married in 1847, as his fourth wife, her widowed twin sister Lucinda Sage – widow of my great-great-great grandfather, Harlehigh Sage. (Daniel had married his third wife Elizabeth Duncan after Lovina died.) Lucinda must have woke up and smelled the coffee, though, finding marriage to her sister’s “ex” wasn’t the joyful bliss she’d hoped for. And, thus, a divorce was granted to Mrs. Lucinda Sage from Mr. Daniel Hall just two short years later, in 1849.[3]

I guess Daniel was just one “busy” dude – and it kind of looks like he had a thing for sisters, too. You see, in addition to the Sage sisters Lovina and Lucinda, Daniel’s first wife Sabrina Nocks and his fifth wife Margaret Nocks were also sisters. (I won’t mention that the Nocks family and the Sage family had been inter-marrying for awhile.) So, seeing as Grandma Lucinda never again remarried after her brief nuptials with Mr. Hall, her legal name was indeed, at the time of her death, “Mrs. Lucinda Hall.” Her daughter-in-law Rebecca (probably grief-stricken) incorrectly reported this as Lucinda’s maiden name. However, Lucinda had truly already taken steps to correct the situation herself. You see, she was pretty clear as to what she felt her name was when she left instructions for it to be carved on her tombstone: “Lucinda, wife of Harlehigh Sage.


[1] Obituary for Mrs. Lucinda Sage (1798-1889) in The St. Joseph Herald, St. Joseph, Mo., 14 August 1889.

[2] Rebecca (Clifton) (Cull) Sage (1835-1916).

[3] From the family notes and research of “Rae M,” a descendant of Daniel Hall: “To Lucinda (Russell) Sage, the widow of Harlehigh Sage and sister of Lavinia (Russell) Hall, a divorce was granted from Mr. Daniel Hall, 22 Oct. 1849.”

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

22 thoughts on “The name’s the same

  1. “the truth is out there.”
    I think that will be the sub title of my recent Walker family chapters.

  2. I’m also a descendant of Rebecca Towne Nurse and joined a Facebook group of descendants of Salem Witches. There are a lot of us.
    No wonder you struggled with your ancestor and her surnames. We sure find some fascinating tidbits on the family trees.
    I had no idea that Harleheigh was such a common name. I have several but on my Buckland line.

  3. That is a great story and I am so glad you solved it! This also gave me a new path to look at with my similar “square peg round hole”.
    Maybe my Eliza Clark, whose maiden name is variously reported as Marcum and Bethel on her children’s death certificates, (and can be found under neither) married Mr. Bethel after her Clark husband died! It never occurred to me before. Like you, I constructed a narrative to explain it but was never quite comfortable with my thought process.

  4. Thank you for your great story and how much in emphasizes the importance of researching siblings to solve nagging questions and solidify ones conclusions. You have prompted me to be more attentive to siblings as I admit to often being somewhat negligent to that aspect of family research.

  5. I have a similar one in 1800s Scotland. A Crawford couple had several children. The mother of all but the last child was Anne Brodie; the last was Anne McBride. I was not able to find marriage or death records for the mothers so don’t know if there were really 2 wives. A trip to Scotland isn’t an option so I may never resolve the issue.

  6. I greatly enjoyed the topic and especially the jolly way you write. I know what you mean about those “facts” that puzzle, and agree that sometimes it is best let them simmer until your unconscious mind solves them or, as in your case, new information arises. I have a same-name situation that almost tripped me up a couple of days ago. My mother was born in 1909, as was another girl of the name. Their mothers and fathers also have the same first and last names, and used the same less-common spelling of the surname. Although my mother was born in Chicago, she had lived during her childhood in Minnesota — where the other girl was born. This week I almost entered the baptismal information for the same namer, you see, it took place at a Norwegian Lutheran church — which was the denomination of my mother’s family. It was dated 9/3 and my mother was born Aug. 3, and it took a second for me to remember that August is the 8th month, but still, she could have been baptized a month after her birth. I decided against THIS record because I’m pretty sure the family hadn’t moved to Minnesota during the month after her birth. But if I didn’t have the family stories, I sure could have gone off on a tangent and followed the wrong ancestors!

  7. What a great story and how you finally solved the mystery! That said, I learned the hard way to put little stock in information given by an informant on a death cert. Second wives and daus-in-law seem to be the least-accurate sources of death cert info.

  8. Yes, a really great story. Reminds me of a truly saintly lady at our church, who died a couple of years ago. I did a little research on her family, because she had always spoken so glowingly of her parents, who I knew were Greek (fairly unusual in the Pacific Northwest…especially in Southern Oregon, where she grew up). I started with the biographical information presented in her funeral bulletin, and it turned out that there was quite a bit more to her family story than she’d presented. I assumed that the name given for her mother was the mother’s maiden name, but it turned out that it was her mother’s name at death, after she’d remarried. It also turned out that her father had married at least three times, with his last wife being an “import from the homeland”…unlike our lately-lamented church member’s mom, who was a “homegrown” Oregon lady and not Greek in the slightest!

    1. Thanks Pamela – I sure appreciate your note. I’ve come to realize (being a bit dim) that the folks who fill out these death certs honestly just don’t know the right information – and rather than ask of find out, they just do they best they can in the moment. Sure makes it tough for us down the road. Stay well!

    1. Dan, I didn’t follow Dan Hall’s lines back – the census says that he was born in Maine.But now I’m curious to learn more about him – let me see what I can find out. And thank you for this!

  9. Those closest to the deceased are most likely to be upset at the time. Hence one gets a man as informant for his mother-in-law, and in the case I recall he gave the names of HIS OWN parents rather than hers!

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