Genealogical tangents

A genealogist’s mind can wander infinitely. The inspiration for this post was recent news stories regarding text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; an odd place to start for sure. Where did I go from there?

Twenty-four years ago, NEHGS published Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts, 1742-1998 by Franklin A. Dorman. I have written about families treated here before, including the family of civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter. A friend of mine appears in the section on the Butler family of Boston, which also has a connection to early Native American families of Plymouth, Massachusetts – my friend’s great-great-great-grandfather, William George Butler (1837-1919) of West Medford, Massachusetts, received a pension from Massachusetts regarding his Wampanoag heritage. My friend and I were both interviewed by the late Bryan Sykes about our early New England ancestry for his book, DNA USA. All interesting stuff, but what does this have to do with Clarence Thomas?

When our publication came out in 1998, I checked the index for various African American families of central Massachusetts that I had researched. While the chapters focused largely on families of the greater Boston area, I found one person in the index who also appeared in my genealogical database: Mary Estella Hazzard, who was born in my grandfather’s hometown of Woodstock, Connecticut in 1915, daughter of Edward Prentice and Maud Lillian (Brown) Hazzard, both of whom were Nipmuc, and ancestral to a few childhood friends. Maud’s great-great-great-grandparents (in two ways, see chart below), Christopher and Roba (Coffee) Vickers, were the subject of an 1810 Massachusetts Supreme Court Case regarding the legality of their interracial marriage. Roba’s parents, Ishmael and Hannah (Gay) Coffee, were also the subject of an 1819 case for similar reasons, all summarized in this post from several years ago. Again, you might wonder, what does this have to do with Justice Thomas?

Again, you might wonder, what does this have to do with Justice Thomas?

Mary Estella Hazzard (1915-2009) is only treated briefly by Dorman. She was the second wife of Nelson William Ambush (1915-2012) of Worcester, Massachusetts, who descended from the William Kellogg family that was subject of the tenth chapter of Dorman’s book. Mary and Nelson both had earlier marriages and had no children together. Nelson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and moved to Worcester with his first wife, Shigao Gladys Sato (1917-1984), who was the daughter of Takayuki Yaokawa Sato, a native of Katsurahama, Japan, and his wife Grace Virginia Woods, a native of Cambridge whose parents were from St. Croix and Virginia.

Echoing a recent post on how between 1907 and 1922, when a U.S. citizen woman married an alien, she lost her citizenship, such was the case for Grace after her 1915 marriage to Takayuki. However, unlike the subjects of that post, Grace was aware that she lost her citizenship, and tried to obtain U.S. citizenship again in 1922 on the grounds that she could not acquire any other nationality; she was apparently successful after her husband’s death in 1939.

Okay, so how this relates to Thomas: Nelson and Shigao’s daughter, Kathy Grace Ambush (born 1950), was the first wife of Clarence Thomas, and the mother of his only child Jamal Adeen Thomas (born 1973), and the family is treated on pages 263-64 of this NEHGS publication. Mary Estella (Hazzard) (Barden) Ambush ends up being my eleventh cousin in four ways through our respective double descents from John and Joanna (Hooker) Gay of Dedham, Massachusetts. Of course I can’t say that Mary was even Clarence Thomas’s former step-mother-in-law, as Mary did not marry Nelson until 1987, and Clarence Thomas and his first wife divorced in 1984. So, this post really is a series of minimally connected genealogical tangents. Thanks for the indulgence!

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.

10 thoughts on “Genealogical tangents

  1. Fascinating post … and kudos in how clearly and succinctly you described the complex relationships.

    A tangential question of my own: How does one create a simple and compact descendancy/relationship chart of the form/design shown here (and on other Vita Brevis posts)? Does it involve special software or a specific chart-name that most genealogy programs should have? Or is it laboriously hand-constructed?

      1. Wow! Thanks. So they’re essentially hand-drawn. I’ll have to familiarize myself with MSFT Paint, as I’d like to create some similar charts for some of my relations.

  2. Is Roba Gay or Roba Coffee correct. The marriage was declared legal since they were married in Rhode Island not Massachusetts so wouldn’t she be Roba Coffee?

    1. Roba Coffee and Christopher Vickers did not marry in Rhode Island they married in Natick, Massachusetts in 1789. It was Roba’s parents, Ishmael Coffee and Hannah Gay, that married in Rhode Island after filing intentions to marry in Medway, Massachusetts in 1768. Roba Coffee’s married name was Roba (Coffee) Vickers, and Hannah Gay’s married name was Hannah (Gay) Coffee. Both marriages were declared legal in their respective Massachusetts Supreme Court cases.

  3. Is there a good resource documenting the descendants of John Gay? I have pieced together my line of descent but would love to see something more thoroughly researched. Thanks!

      1. Thanks for the response, my 10th cousin once removed! The book didn’t quite work for me – my descent is Samuel(2-6) and Parthenia(7) – but your article is a wonderful addition to a formerly mostly bare branch of my tree. Again, my thanks to you!

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