Pin It

How I Became a Genealogy Addict

When I was 11 years old and in the 4th grade, I had a teacher who was obsessed with genealogy. She would regularly come in and tell my class about the new things she had found through her research. Eventually, as a graded project, she had us go home and start our own family tree. She gave us some pointers on how to get started and gave us two weeks to see what we could find. I still wonder if she had any idea the monster she created when she gave me that assignment.

Being as young as I was, I couldn’t drive to town halls and the internet wasn’t around like it is today. So, most of my research was done through phone calls and visits with my grandparents. During those conversations and visits, I learned about my great grandfather who was born in Italy and another who was born in Nova Scotia. I also learned that I came from a line of strong willed women. One of which, who’s story was so interesting, caught the attention of this history loving nerd and is responsible for my obsession with genealogy.

Mary Dyer was one of several women my grandmother (my Dad’s mother) had told me about. At the time, all she could tell me was Mary was hanged for being a witch in Boston. She was unable to tell me how we were related to her, however she said that her mother used to have a family bible that outlined the connection. She also told me that the tree Mary had been hanged from had been cut down and from it; plaques were made and given to descendants. My great grandmother had one of these plaques. However, when my great grandmother died, the bible and the plaque were two of several things that disappeared from her house. Due to my own curiosity and wanting to solve the puzzle for my grandmother; it then became my goal to track down my family’s connection to Mary Dyer.

Mary Dyer came over to Boston in the 1630’s from England with her husband William. Together they had several children and were very active within the small community. Along the way she made friends with another strong willed woman, Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was known for holding her own religious meetings and had a good following. Since it was uncommon for women at that time, Anne became a target and was eventually banished to Rhode Island with her family. During that time, Mary had become a Quaker. Quakers were very unpopular in Boston, which was lead by Puritans. Some of the local leaders disliked Mary and her religion so much, when she gave birth to a stillborn baby they spread rumors about it being badly deformed. They said that it had horns and scales and that it was obviously the outcome of her dealings with the devil. These leaders labeled her as a witch and decided to banish her from the city.

Although she was banished she returned to Boston to bring clothing and food to other imprisoned Quakers. When she was caught, they were going to have her hanged until her husband was able to get her released under the condition he swore they would never return to the city. Mary stayed away for a short time before returning to Boston again to support her Quaker friends. This would be the 3rd and final stand she would take against the city for her religion.

Mary was hanged June 1, 1660 on the Boston Common in front of a whole mob of people. She was then buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on the Common. Mary’s son Samuel eventually married Anne Hutchinson’s granddaughter, Anne Hutchinson and this is the line I descend from. Today a statue of both Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson stand in front of the Boston State House over looking the site of Mary’s hanging.

Having not grown up in a church, I did not understand dying for a religion. However, I did understand the importance of standing up for what you believe in and the importance of knowing right from wrong. Her refusal to back down, while others may have seen it as stubborn or foolish due to the consequences at the time, helped shape the country we know and love today.

MaryDyer“My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth” – Mary Dyer

45 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. I know very little about either side of my family tree. I may need to start researching this soon now that I am retired and have the time.

    1. Hey Margo-I will warn you now, prepare to become addicted!! In a good way, of course! Genealogy really is the perfect hobby-you learn so much about yourself through your ancestors but its also great because you can pick it up and put it down at any time. It’ll always be there ready for you to pick up where you left off. I have the online workshops but I also plan to put together “How To” blogs-so keep an eye out! I hope to be of some help to all you newbies!

      1. How interesting that you are a descendant of Mary Dyer. She is a fascinating woman. I’m looking forward to delving further into my own family story.

        1. Prepare to become addicted, Mindy!! 🙂

  2. I truly understand becoming addicted to genealogy, Kris! After my mom died in 1996 I found all the research she and my uncle had done over the years. I felt closer to them by continuing their work. I had always hears we were kin to Jesse James and was determined to find out and I did! Mom had a saying “If you don’t know where you came from you will never know who you really are.”

    1. Hey Jay! Yes! Have had had people ask me-why bother? Who cares? When the truth is-if it werent for our ancestors and the paths they took in their lives-we wouldn’t be here today. By getting to know my ancestors, I got a better overall sense of myself which is the last thing I expected when I first got into it. Glad you picked up where your mom and uncle left off! Nothing worse when family does the research and it’s forgotten about after they pass. 🙂

  3. I joined Ancestry.com 8 or 9 years ago. Addicted is exactly it. My family has also been gifting me bits and pieces of history they’ve come across as I’ve become the keeper of the tree. And there’s so much more I need to find.
    It is an exciting journey!

    1. LOL “Keeper of The Tree”… that pretty much sums me up… it’s weird when you get to a point that your grandparents are asking you questions about the family! It’s always fun meeting up with other family members-immediate and distant-to trade stories. Never know what the heck might be brought up!

  4. I too got sucked in by a teacher. Used to rely on the good old US Post back then. Things took forever to research. There was nothing like getting a letter and opening it to find an answer! Fast forward 40 some odd years. I have also sucked many into this maze of people and places. I can’t imagine a day without poking around in someone’s family history.

    1. I hear you on the waiting for a letter! It was funny because there were times I would get fed up with a dead end and just take a break from it all. Then… surprise, surprise… a letter arrives giving me a whole bunch of new names and I am dragged back in! I love turning people on to genealogy, especially younger generations. There so much you can get out of it-I’m so glad I got into it at such a young age. Gave me a sense of belonging and a better idea of who I was based on knowing where I cam from. Also gave me a good appreciation early on for how easy we have it these days. Hoping to corrupt a larger audience through this site-wahahahahaha! (evil laugh)

  5. I was told that I was a descendant of Daniel Boone but don’t know how to get started. Do you have any blogs on this already?

    1. I don’t right this second but I will! Sign up for the newsletter-there will be some how to blogs coming. I also have the online workshops if you’re looking for someone to walk you through the process. I will say though-start with the living. Get all the info you can on the family stories-it’ll give you a better sense of the direction you need to go in to solve the mystery. Start there-then focus on records. I will say-the good thing about well known people-they are usually easy(ier) to track. Everyone wants to claim someone famous, lol and their descendants are usually well recorded. Thanks, Glen!

  6. Hi Kris!

    It makes me smile when I hear about other people’s enthusiasm for family history research. I have been involved in genealogy research on and off for many years. At one point in my life I was employed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It is so reaffirming to your identity, and to who you are to understand where you come from. In high school (40 yrs. ago), I had an overwhelming desire to learn French. I did. Much to my surprise years later I learned that my ancestors came from France to eastern Canada. How ironic, or is it? You’re history is facinating! Best wishes!

    1. Thank you, Cherie!

      Pretty funny with the French! I have wanted to learn Italian for yeeeaaarsss because my great grandfather was Italian. He refused to teach his kids Italian… “In America, you speak like an American!” he was known to say, lol. Lot of respect for his level of respect for this country but a part of me would also like to poke him for not teaching any of us. So, for me-it’s back to trying to learn by CD. Agree 100% on genealogy reaffirming your identity. Not sure what I would have done without it.

  7. Hi Kris! I am looking forward to your blogs! I am a member of Ancestry.com, but I am really a newbie at this and could use some guidance. I have difficulty finding information on ancestors before they come into the United States. My mom’s side of the family are from Ireland, and I’ve had so much fun working on my tree!! I look forward to any help I can receive from you! This is very addicting!

    1. Welcome, newbie! Most of my mom’s side is from Ireland as well. Keep at it! Hoping the blogs I post here will help you in your search. 🙂

  8. Kris,

    I have been researching my family history for 20 years, since the ripe young age of 21. I love finding the new discovery of an unknown line…all by getting a copy of an actual death certificate. It is also interesting to prove or dispel a family legend: Andrew Whitehead was a well known bear hunter in Roan Mtn, TN and he was related to the Cherokee indians, when in all reality, he was a farmer in that area and lived NEAR the Cherokee reservation. I do love finding new cousins and new connections. It is also a plus when my hubby will relate a story that I have gleamed (when I thought he wasn’t listening). 🙂 Looking forward to reading your blog.

    1. It is amazing how easily stories can get off track over the years-sometimes the family stories are way wilder than reality… and in other cases reality is wilder than the stories. Like you I love meeting other descendants-some of them have become best friends or feel like immediate family. 🙂

  9. Hello Kris,
    I was really surprised and happy to see your post for genealogy. My husband and I signed up for genealogy.com. We are finding out so much about our ancestors. It is very addicting and I love it. We are going to do the DNA test and see how far our family history goes and where it goes. I could spend hours at the computer looking at old records. It is wonderful to find family information for our two daughters and share with them where their family history goes.

    1. I hear you one spending hours at the computer! I don’t know how many times I have thought “…i could spare 20 minutes…” the next thing I know I’ve been at the computer for 4 hours going cross eyed-usually due to finding some new piece of information that’s lead me down an unexpected path. lol

  10. I’ve been working on my family tree for a while now and I agree, it’s addicting and fascinating. Glad to see there are others with the same interest.

    1. Nice to meet others with the same interest!! Nice to know I’m not the only one hooked 😉

  11. I had a similar teacher – only in 6th grade! I grew up being told certain things by my father and paternal grandmother about our heritage. Then, about 4 years ago, I joined Ancestry and found out that basically everything I thought I knew … was wrong! The best tidbit I learned was about my paternal grandfather’s line. We had been told of a name change from Passeaneau to Pierce because of an adoption. What I found was that my great great grandfather lost his name in a poker game in South Dakoka! Either he bet his name and lost or borrowed money and then lost and had to change his name to get away from the guy to whom he owed money! On my mother’s side, I was able to trace my history back to the Vikings. I found a lot but there are definitely gaps. I am looking forward to your blogs!!

    1. LOL lost his name in a poker game-That is a new one! It is crazy what can be dug up… 🙂

  12. Kris,
    My ancestor, Daniel Gould, also a Quaker,
    came from Newport, RI to protest the executions of Mary Dyer and the others. At one point he was flogged for his actions. It’s a small world isn’t it?

    1. Very small! It’s amazing how-once you start researching… it’s not uncommon to find you are your own cousin, lol. I don’t know how many times I have researched and been like… that name sounds familiar… ooooh wait a minute… makes researching easier, lol. It would be interesting to meet someone who is a descendant of John Winthrop since he’s the prominent, political jackass who pushed to have her hanged.

      I’ll have to look up Daniel! 🙂

      1. I also have Puritans from Boston who were on the opposing side although I don’t know if they were directly involved in Mary’s case. I recently found that my ancestor the Rev. John Davenport who is my mother’s ancestor in New Haven, Conn. Helped found the colony of Southold,IL where my father’s ancestor, William Wells settled in the 1630’s. LOL

  13. i would love to get started with researching my family tree, but I wouldn’t even know how to begin. I know that Ancestry charges a fee that I can’t really afford.

    1. Hey Jen,

      Welcome! Subscribe to my blog and keep an eye out for “How To” blogs. I love teaching newbies. I even have online workshops if you’re looking for a lil more than a blog to get you started. I will say though-it doesn’t cost you a dime to start. The only thing it really costs in the beginning is your time. When you begin-you start with your family. From there-you start looking for records, etc. If you do the leg work yourself it takes time and you will be charged small fees for document copies. You just need to be prepared to wait for them. Ancestry is a great tool (I have used the site for years)-but it isn’t the only tool. There are others that are free, that have a lot of great information that will help you get started. If you get hooked, down the road you could look into signing up with Ancestry (they do have records/databases that free sites don’t have and is worth the convenience). The whole point being-there’s a ton of amazing tools out there and not all of them cost $$. So, get started!!! And keep looking here for some help/direction. 😉

      Kris

  14. Mary Dyer was my 12 times great grandmother.

    1. Nice to meet you, Cousin!! Which one of her children do you descend from?

  15. We are descended through Hannah Dyer, and the Burgess Family to the Shuttleworth and then eventually Leaney’s. Hannah migrated from North Kingston to Hallifax Nova Scotia. She ended up in Ontario. I have quite the extensive family tree from her. Most of your Shuttleworth cousins reside in Sault Ste Marie and Iron Bridge area. I myself live outside Toronto.

    1. Forgot to mention. We’re related through Rogers Williams too (founder of Rhode Island). ANd we have extensive history on Mary Dyer. She and her husband WIlliam (a fish Monger – who owned a peer in Boston before leaving to RI) were responsible for the inclusion of the 2nd Admendment in the US constitution “The Right to Freedom of religion”

      1. Knew about the 2nd amendment… pretty damn cool. Her story really is insane. So is Anne Hutchinson’s…. I can have one hell of a backbone but I’m not sure I could have done what they did. They lost a lot but the country also gained a lot through their deaths. It’s sad.

    2. Sault Ste Marie, Michigan? LOL I’ve been up there a bunch of times for events. Would be funny if I met cousins and didn’t even know it!

      1. Last comment I swear…LOL! So I was online with a bunch of my first and second cousins, who were so excited to know about another family lineage from Mary Dyer. As we really don’t know much about our American Counterparts. So I prepared a document in email to this sites email address, with our lineage. Hope you enjoy seeing it.

  16. Oh sorry meant to mention Hannah was her great grand daughter, I believe. I am at work, so I don’t have the tree in front of me. It’s scanned in on my computer at home. Sorry for all the posts…Just really exicted about this! My kids are big GH fans!

  17. Sault Ste Marie Ontario, but Michigan too…although our family members are mainly in Ontario…I sent you private email, if you ever want a copy of the family tree

  18. All the women in my mom’s family have good backbones too! In fact, my mom said, she was impressed by Mary Dyer’s and Roger Williams spirit. We’ve had many discussions since finding out of this lineage…and how much our family genetics is so strong, when it comes to pioneering liberty and justice. And believe me, you come by your historical skills honestly…It’s your family heritege

  19. My grandmother was the person who got me interested in my family genealogy. I’ll admit I haven’t retained as much information from her as I would like, but I have time and plenty of documentation to really research my family. My grandmother is a member of our local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she had to have all sorts of information to get into the DAR. I will hopefully be a part of the DAR someday. But one bit of family information I have retained since I was little was that two of my ancestors fought in the Battle at Kings Mountain in the Revolutionary War (I still live in that area). I do not know if they were related by blood or by marriage, but I do know that because of all the ancestors after them they are connected in some way. I can’t wait to really research my own family history!

    1. Evelyn,

      I love finding Revolutionary War connections! That and Civil War-even though it was not very nice to my ancestors. Two died of disease and one got shot but luckily survived. It’s amazing when you start finding ancestors who were involved in historical events you grew up hearing about… puts a whole new and personal spin on history.

      I’m glad you are excited to get started!! Be ready though-it’s VERY addictive!

      Kris

  20. Just takes one little thing to get you started. I used to explore what had been my great grandfather’s town store. I found a letter from 1861 about the Civil War and had to find out about my distant uncle that wrote it. Every new piece of info leads to new questions! The search continues.
    Heath

    1. So true, Heath! All it takes is for one little thing to hook your interest and it’s all over, lol. Not sure how many hours Ive got into it at this point but the stories and lessons I’ve gotten out of it are 100% worth it.

  21. I love genealogy and your blog posts are great! I am also a descendant from Quakers. They are fascinating and left great records behind. Through genealogy, I was also able to help my cousin find the family of his biological father!

    1. Hey Diana,

      That is fantastic about the help you gave your cousin! Thanks so much for all your kind words! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Key To Your Tree © 2016 Frontier Theme