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Witches in the Family? Resources for Researching the Families of the Salem Witch Trials

Witches in the Family? Resources for Researching the Families of the Salem Witch Trials

Are you interested in the history of the Salem witch trials of 1692? Do you wonder if you have a genealogical connection to any of the people involved in it? It’s a unique distinction, since not everyone in New England was involved. If you have an ancestor who you can connect to Salem Village of Danvers in some way, you may just have a witch trials connection.

The town of Salem was not the exact location of the witch trials. Though the trials bears the name of the town, it was actually neighboring Salem village where the witch trials took place. Today, Salem Village is known as Danvers, and you will find several original buildings and sites associated with the trials there.

Any ancestor who lived in Danvers or in its earlier incarnation as Salem Village may have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents or other more distant direct ancestors who lived there and who were involved in the witch trials. Keep tracing the line back, and you may just discover a name that is associated with the witch trials.

When it comes to witch trials genealogy, there are two groups you should concentrate on…the accused witches and the accusers. Sometimes, you might find that you have direct ancestors in both groups. There were dozens of people in both groups, as well. However, only 19 people were actually executed for witchcraft. All but one of these people were hanged, while the remaining one was pressed to death because he would not plead guilty or not guilty.

The pressing was meant to force a pleading, but Giles Cory refused to plead, knowing if he did, his property would be taken by the town and his children could not inherit it. His wife, Martha, was hanged for witchcraft a few days before he was pressed. The names of all of those who were executed are now on benches on a memorial in the town square in Salem proper. If you find you are descended from someone who was executed for witchcraft, you are in a very unique group, indeed.

The vast majority of people who were accused of witchcraft were never executed for it. Many of them plead guilty, knowing they would be spared if they did so (only those who insisted they were not guilty were executed). Others stayed in jail until the witch mania was over and the town realized its mistake; these people were then set free.

Not everyone who was accused or an accuser left descendants, and some of them disappeared from history altogether. Abigail Williams, one of the original group of girls who began the accusations that started the trials, disappeared from Salem Village as a teenager and no record of her has been found after her departure from the town. But plenty of people did leave descendants. If one of your ancestor was an accused or an accuser, you are part of one of the most notorious and intriguing periods in American history, one with a cause that is still being debated today.

If you discover a possible connection to someone involved in the witch trials and want to investigate it further, or you know you are descended from someone who was involved and want to learn more about the person, there are many resources available to you.

In the town of Salem, the Peabody-Essex Museum has the original handwritten transcripts from the witch trials, where you can read the actual words that were spoken at the trials and who said them. You will also find artifacts, such as items that belonged to both the accused and the accusers, letters to other towns inquiring on the whereabouts of suspected witches, and even letters to the King of England asking him to intervene in the proceedings, so the witch madness would stop. This museum is one of the foremost places for research on the Salem witch trials in the country.

The Bloodlines of Salem website has some good information on the trials, as well as a section on notable descendants of the accused and the accusers. About.com has a site full of links to good resources on witch trial genealogy. You can also check the family trees of the accused and the accusers on Ancestry.com and trace them far backward in time or all the way forward in time with ease.

In addition, there is a lineage society you can join based on your descent from someone who was accused. The name of the society is The Associated Daughters of Early American Witches. Not many people qualify for membership, so if you have a witch trials accused ancestor and you’re a woman, be sure to get your paperwork in and display your credentials proudly.

The Salem witch trials are still very much a part of the American identity. They are an event that has never been forgotten and lives on in the national imagination. Discover your own witch trial ancestry, and know you are part of something incredibly tragic and fascinating at the same time, and something that will never be forgotten.



AncestralFindings.com

Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his Moneymaker surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)

4 Comments

  • Don’t forget the Danes and Johnsons in Andover. I found out fairly recently that my grandmother was descended from Francis Dane. None of them were executed (Francis was a *very* smart guy, hence why he later was called “The Hero of Andover” for getting spectral evidence thrown out and basically wrecking the accusers’ whole modus operandi), but more of his family members were arrested and charged than in any other family during the Salem Trials.

  • A very BIG omission from this page is mention of the Towne Family Association. Sisters Rebecca Towne Nurse and Mary Towne Estey were two of the 19 hanged for witchcraft in Danvers. A third sister, Sarah Towne Cloyse, was jailed for witchcraft but escaped execution. Rebecca, Mary and Sarah were daughters of William and Joanna Blessing Towne, English immigrants in about 1635. They have many thousands of descendants in the U.S., and hundreds are members of the all-volunteer Towne Family Assn. TFA maintains an extensive database of William and Joanna’s descendants which is available to all members. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter, supports genetic research to confirm and refine Towne family links, and holds national and regional annual meetings. Membership is open to all those descended from William and Joanna and to anyone interested in Towne family history.

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