Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Who's Yo' Daddy?

There is a lot of erroneous information on the Internet. That's no surprise to any experienced web-surfer. But I was shocked to discover how much of the information on genealogical web sites is erroneous. Fortunately, it was a shock I received early in my exploits as a family tree researcher, so it didn't do nearly as much damage as it could have done.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, much of my early research focused on the Jenner branch of my family, because I was originally searching only for my immigrant ancestors. My mother was an immigrant, so no search was needed there. I quickly hit a dead end on the Pellman lineage (see The Major Branches and others). So the Jenners had proven to be the easiest to trace at first. That is, until I reached Samuel Jenner I.

Two years ago, all the online genealogical sites that came up on the first few pages of a Google search listed the same information for Samuel Jenner I: He had been born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on 21 March 1669** to Capt. Thomas Jenner III and his wife Rebecca Trerice. This included what I took to be the authoritative sites, including the LDS, RootsWeb,, and With a little more digging, I was able to find information on Thomas Jenner II and the Rev. Thomas Jenner I. By all available accounts, the Rev. Thomas Jenner I had been the immigrant Jenner ancestor -- a Puritan minister who had arrived at the Saybrook colony in 1636. I still recall the excitement I felt when I emailed this information to my family and closest friends. We were descendants of the Puritans! Our family was among the first to colonize America!
**before 1752 events occurring prior to March 25th are usually recorded with a dual date, because prior to the Calendar Act of 1750 the calendar year began March 25th rather than January 1st throughout the British Empire. So 21 March 1669 (by current reckoning) would have been 21 March 1668 at the time. Such dates are now typically recorded in historical references in the format, 21 March 1668/69.

I was a little troubled by this, since it didn't concur with the notation in my grandmother's Bible that Samuel Jenner had been born -- and his father, unnamed, had died -- on the passage to America. But, when I learned that Capt. Thomas Jenner III had died at sea during a voyage back to England sometime between 2 November 1685, when the vessel sailed, and 12 December 1686, when the news of his death reached the Colonies, I chalked the difference up to faulty memories and word-of-mouth. But with each new bit of information I gleaned about Samuel Jenner I, I became increasingly suspicious of this account.

My suspicions became outright doubts when I finally got my hands on a PDF copy of "the Cothren." The Cothren, as genealogists are fond of calling it, is the History of Ancient Woodbury, Connecticut, from the first Indian deed in 1659 ... including the present towns of Washington, Southbury, Bethlem, Roxbury, and a part of Oxford and Middlebury, by William Cothren, published in 1854. William Cothren was the Town Clerk and Town Historian of Woodbury in the mid-19th century, and his book was a narrative presentation of the town's records of births, marriages, deaths, wills, trials, and land transactions.

Reading the Cothren I learned that Samuel Jenner I had purchased land and settled in Woodbury not later than 1682. If he was the Samuel Jenner born in 1669, then he would have been no more than 13 when he ventured off on a life of his own! This might have been feasible if he had been orphaned, but Capt. Thomas Jenner III and Rebecca (Trerice) Jenner were both still living in 1682. He married Hannah Hinman around 1684 and the two had their first child, Sarah, in 1685. That would have made him 15 at marriage and only 16 at the birth of their first child, which would only have been possible in a "shotgun wedding" -- a scenario that seems extremely unlikely given that Hannah Hinman was not only the daughter of one of Woodbury's most prominent citizens, Sgt. Edward Hinman, but would have been three years older than Samuel. Even if, despite the strictures of 17th century Puritan society, Samuel and Hannah could have found a way to sneak off together, what 16-year-old girl would have any interest in a 13-year-old boy?

The real nail in the coffin of this scenario, however, is the Woodbury Town Charter, which was also recorded in the Cothren. The charter states that only members of the local congregation were permitted to own land in the township. And only adults, aged 21 or over, could be members of the congregation! When I read that I knew that my Samuel Jenner I could not have been born in 1669 -- and that meant that someone other than Capt. Thomas Jenner III must be his father. So, now what?

For several months, I had been spending a couple of nights per week tracking down various leads and posting messages on,, and other ancestry message boards. One night I got a reply. Another descendant of Samuel Jenner I had seen one of my inquiries and checked her Jenner family Bible -- one that had been passed down through a different line of descent -- and it contained a notation that Samuel's father had been a Richard Jenner. Not only did it name the father, but mentioned that Samuel's mother had been Hannah Barrett, that Richard had been killed "in a foreign adventure" shortly after Samuel's birth, and that Hannah had remarried after coming to America -- to Capt. John Coe.

It took several more months and numerous emails between myself and members of the Coe and Hinman families to finally piece the evidence together. And it was during this process that I came to realize that real genealogy was a forensic science; not merely a record-keeping process. It requires extensive research, collection and examination of clues and evidence, evaluating each piece of evidence to determine its authenticity and credibility, and arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion.

In the matter of Samuel Jenner's paternity, I was able to piece together the following evidence in favor of Richard Jenner and Hannah Barrett:
  • The recently widowed Hannah (Barrett) Jenner arrived in America sometime after 1650 with her infant son, Samuel
  • She initially stayed with her brother, Samuel Barrett, in Newtown, New York
  • The will of Samuel Barrett's brother, probated in London in 1666, mentions a nephew, Samuel Jenner
  • Hannah had two children by John Coe: a daughter, Hannah, born in 1654, and a son, Andrew, born in 1655 or 1656.
  • Samuel Jenner eventually married Hannah Hinman, and Hannah Coe married Hannah Hinman's brother, Capt. Titus Hinman.
This Samuel Jenner would have have to have been born around 1650, making him about age 30 at the time he bought property in Woodbury, Connecticut, and eligible for membership in the Woodbury congregation. This Samuel would have known the Hinman family, since his half-sister married his brother-in-law. The Hinmans were among the founders of the Woodbury township, so it would have been natural for Samuel to have been one of the township's earliest landowners. And the Samuel Jenner born in 1669 could not possibly have been mentioned in a 1666 will. It is not proof, but it is certainly a compelling amount of circumstantial evidence.

I will not consider the mystery of Samuel Jenner's parents conclusively resolved until I secure incontrovertible evidence, such as a birth record. But for the time being, the extant evidence makes it all but certain that the 1669 Samuel Jenner of Charlestown is not my Samuel Jenner and makes a strongly convincing case that the son of Richard and Hannah is my 7x-great-grandfather.


  1. Hey Len! Long time no talk.

    Legal/social lineage (and thus name history) is one thing. Biological is another. Studies show that these days, anywhere from 5-20% of presumed biological fathers (guys who think they are the biodad) aren't Sometimes this is deliberate paternity fraud, sometimes it is something else.

    Did this go on as much in the past? Hard to say. People were generally around fewer people in the past - not packed into densely populated areas. On the other hand, there were no DNA tests in the past, either, and if a woman was not bearing children it was hard on the famil business (like farming) because children were put to work helping out as soon as they could. That is a strong motivator to see if it is the husband's issue and not the wife's.

    Of course, heritage is not so much about biology. Our culture is passed down to us by are parents, who are the ones who raise us - wether the biological connection is there or not.

  2. You are spot-on, Ken! If I am correct, then Samuel was raised by his step-father, John Coe. If it turns out that he was raised by Capt. Thomass Jenner III, then one must wonder what kind of upbringing it was that led him to venture out on his own at the age of 13!

    My great-grandfather, Almond Lewis Jenner, was definitely raised by his step-mother, since his birth mother died the year after he was born. That's why I have put as much effort into tracking her down as I have his birth mother. She was more of an influence on him -- and on my great-great-grandfather -- than his birth mother. Neither he nor my grandmother actually KNEW his birth mother. And it is most likely that it was the step-mother who made most of the entries in the Jenner family Bible that I have written about so often in this blog!

  3. I've been thoroughly enjoying your blog! Your writing style is captivating and you have a real knack for helping your people jump off the page and be "real." Keep on keeping on and I'll keep reading!

    That said, I thought I'd point out a small discrepancy in what you've related here. You say, "This Samuel would have known the Hinman family, since his step-sister married his brother-in-law."

    If I'm understanding you correctly, Hannah Coe (who married Titus Hinman, Samuel's brother in law) would have been Samuel's HALF-sister and not his step-sister. The difference, while small and most likely simply an unintentional slip, is important.

    Again, LOVE your blog!!!!

  4. Patti, thanks for your encouragement -- and for pointing out my mistake! Unlike some bloggers I've encountered I appreciate being corrected. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to LEARN from my readers!

    I have edited the blog to reflect the correction, so it now reads "half-sister" for the benefit of future visitors who may wonder what we're talking about.

    NOTICE TO OTHER READERS: If you see any mistakes, PLEASE point them out. It will not hurt my feelings.