If you are descended from William Bradford or John Alden you might smile when you see the TV ads for genealogy programs that will help you discover your ancestors – because some people in the TV ads grin from ear to ear when they turn up a grandfather who was a Nova Scotia fisherman in 1932.

If your ancestors were among the first Europeans to settle in New England, most of the genealogical work has been done for you, and only a couple of clicks on the right sites will bring up not only names and dates, but pictures of your ancestors’ gravestones.

My brother Jim has always been interested in local and family history. Before he was 10, he had our family tree diagrammed on a piece of cardboard. Back then, most of us in the neighborhood were descended from Moses Robinson, who lived in Thomaston around 1734. One of his granddaughters married Samuel Gilchrest, who was wounded fighting the British in 1776. In the early 1920s, my mother’s father carved and set up a granite monument that told about it. So this was something all of Samuel’s descendants in the village knew.

The only reason I know as much as I do about my ancestor Edward is that the magistrates in his town kept court records. We read that he was a habitual offender – a troublemaker who distinguished himself in a sword-and-dagger duel.

Edward was in court on a regular basis all his life, mostly for not paying his bills, letting his cows run loose or not taking proper care of a servant. He married twice and sired nine children. As he matured so did his crimes, for he was also found guilty of theft and slander. Anyone displaying such independent thinking nowadays would certainly be admired by many and even elected to high office. Back when standards were higher, the only public service Edward was fit to provide was the building of a wolf trap.

The entire coast of New England is now inhabited by millions of descendants of the first settlers. It would be hard to throw a stone without hitting a neighbor whose ancestor came here on the Mayflower.


Roger Williams got here too late to be considered one of the early settlers. He never did fit in, and was driven out of Boston for spreading new and dangerous ideas. Having spent the past 30 years listening to one of his descendants, I’m not surprised to read that he had a habit of telling people what to do.

In England in 1215, anyone with a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent in common was too closely related to get married. That might have worked in England at the time, but by 1850 almost everyone in my village had the same great-grandfather, so allowances had to be made.

I’m happy to report that around 1777, one of my great-great-great-grandmothers, Mary, married Dennis Fogarty. Their daughter married John, her second cousin. Joseph, John’s son, married a German girl who moved up from Waldoboro. Their son, my grandfather, married a distant cousin who lived a five-minute walk up over the ledges. She died young, so he found a new bride in my Scottish grandmother from Spruce Head – three miles away. So, although two of my great-great-great-grandmothers were cousins, enough new people from Ireland, Germany, Scotland and Sweden moved into St. George to keep me from being my own grandfather.

When I was in the first grade I walked to school on a sidewalk made of granite chips. On the way I passed eight houses plus a garage and a general store that were all owned by my relatives. Back then 25 or so of the houses on the strip of road that constitutes my village were owned by my relatives. When they died, people from away moved in, and for years I thought that I no longer knew anyone in the neighborhood.

But today I realized that around 21 houses in my village are still occupied by descendants of the old relatives I knew. Many of these young distant cousins, however, don’t live on the main road. Shoveling through the snow to get to the road is no longer a problem, so they’ve moved way back into the woods and built on land that belonged to their ever-so-great grandparents.

Their great-great-great-grandparents were my third or fourth cousins and good friends, but the young folks are strangers.


This ancestry thing was thrust upon me, and I haven’t dug into it as you might have done. What luck have you had? If your ancestor had good connections or a police record, you can learn a lot.

Years ago I spoke with a woman whose hobby was looking up her ancestors. I asked how far back she could go, and she said, “King John.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:


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