Lessons from Ancestry.com

Kristin Luce, July 2014

Is this a likeness of Alice Martin Bishop? Many of our Martin cousins on Ancestry.com think so. And though some of those researchers obviously believe the curls, velvet choker, lace collar, and earrings all scream 1630s Puritan New England, I’m thinking, um, no.

AMB_photo

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Ancestry members who include Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) on their trees, and some of this information is legitimate — for example, many people include scans from the Plymouth Court Records (PCR) that document the investigation into her daughter Martha’s death and AMB’s subsequent conviction. Other documents that appear frequently are relevant pages from The Sutton Family website, the memorial found on Findagrave.com, and some of Erin’s earlier posts from this blog. But I’m struggling to figure out which Ancestry sources I can trust — many contradict each other — as I look for clues to Alice Martin Bishop.

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Martha on the Day After Her Murder

Erin Taylor, July 2014

Who tended to Martha’s body? Was seven-year-old Abigail given this traumatic task? Did neighbors step in, moving the tiny corpse from the upper chamber to be washed and shrouded on the Bishops’ only table? Was Alice allowed to do this? Was she forced to?

It is likely that every Plymouth adult woman had participated in at least one burial preparation. People died of the typical causes — old age and illnesses — but accidental and infant deaths were also common. Tending to the dead was a colony task shared by women and men: the former preparing the body and the latter digging the grave, building the coffin, and often, designing a memorial marker.  There were costs and craftsmen associated with burials (Deetz, 168) and we assume, certainly hope, that Richard covered these expenses for his stepdaughter. The standard for a “decent” burial included washing and shrouding the body in cloth, likely linen, and a simple coffin. Grave diggers were often hired, but perhaps Richard did this task himself.

Burial Hill, near Leyden Street, was the colony’s first graveyard and several notable settlers are buried there. Maybe, Martha rests there. However, since seventeenth-century grave markers were made of wood and not stone, none survive for descendants to visit. The same is true for Alice, although she may not have been admitted into this esteemed cemetery after her execution.

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CSI: Plymouth Colony

Erin Taylor, July 2014

We mean not to offend. But we’re going to talk about the manner of Martha’s death and the coroners’ investigation. Be warned, there’s going to be some gore.

In the 2011 blog comments and on genealogy sites discussing Alice Martin Bishop (AMB), there are numerous questions about the investigation into Martha’s death.  From the outset, two things must be remembered:

  1. Alice confessed immediately in the presence of all five coroners.
  2. The coroners had seventeenth-century investigation skills and tools. None of them were, even by that century’s standards, “men of science.”

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Martha’s Murder: 22 July 1648

Poem excerpt by FP Morris

Erin Taylor, July 2014

Timeline to Martha’s murder: In 1639 Alice marries George Clarke. They have a daughter, Abigail, ca. 1641. In 1644, Martha is born, George Clarke dies, and Alice remarries Richard Bishop in December of that year.  In 1645, Damaris Bishop is born. On Wednesday, July 22, 1648, Alice murders her four year-old daughter, Martha Clarke.

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PCR = Plymouth Confusion Resulting

Depending on the researcher, PCR can mean two things: Plymouth Court Records or Plymouth Colony Records. The two are not the same document nor interchangeable.

Plymouth Court Records, in 12 volumes, was published between 1855 and 1861 (Nathaniel Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds.; Massachusetts General Court may be listed as the author). The actual title of this work is Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England. They are available online at many locations, including MayflowerHistory.com and PlymouthColony.net. These records are the ones from which the entire AMB trial record is taken.

The following Plymouth Court Records citations include mention of Alice Martin Bishop. Make sure you refer to the actual page number printed at the top of the book page versus the pagination provided by the digital reader.

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Lessons from Eugene Stratton’s Applied Genealogy (1988)

Erin Taylor, May 2014

One

It doesn’t matter if Stratton’s book was published before the genealogy mother lode: Internet access. Genealogy is a honed craft requiring discipline and standards. Don’t call it genealogical research if you rely solely on Ancestry.com and the dream that you’re related to the Duck Dynasty Robertsons (no joke, my Louisiana Robertson family’s aspiration). That’s a  self-esteem-building hobby. Or, quoting Stratton, “I have come to believe that wishful thinking is one of the most deadly enemies of genealogists” (134, in footnotes).

Two

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Granddaughters

 Erin Taylor, July 2014

Quote by Hippocrates" Healing is a matter of time, but it is also a matter of opportunity.

Hippocrates

I came to genealogy at peace with familial delusion. My two grandmothers spent a great deal of time trying to convince me we came from families. Not the wealthiest, but rather the ones who gave to their communities. Not the generals but the soldiers. There are no presidents in our direct ancestry, but there are state representatives, county commissioners, and judges. My family crest should probably read “Progenitor of Civil Servants.”

But the stories I always wanted to hear were about the women. How my paternal drove the corpse of her newborn baby, tucked into a shoebox, through the night from San Antonio so she could be buried in the home plot in Monroe, Louisiana. How my maternal grandmother married a Cherokee orphan and somehow made a life for herself as a single mother in Enid, Oklahoma, after he abandoned her during World War II.

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Embracing Alice

Kristin Luce, June 2014

My brother once remarked that I preferred the dead members of the family tree to those still living, and at the time, he was correct. I was happier spending  time squinting at barely legible census records than visiting with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even my brother.

But recently it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t want to spend much time with my dead relatives, if they were alive. As much as I’m hoping to find free-thinking foremothers, fun-loving forefathers — or even just a Democrat — most of the relatives I’ve been researching were probably  boring. Farmers. Farmers’ wives. A spinster here, a tax collector there. They’re prohibitionists. They work hard, and most of their fun is centered around church socials. They’d make me feel guilty about not seeing them more, not calling them, not writing  them, just like the ones I already have.

And then I stumbled upon Alice Martin Bishop. To get to her, I had to climb up a third cousin’s tree, but I think her research and sources are sound, even though I have yet to do the legwork. I did some googling, and landed on this fascinating blog, researched and written by a much more distant cousin, Erin Taylor. I posted one innocent comment and the next thing I knew, I was wheedled into the launch of AliceMartinBishop 2.0, exchanging numerous texts, emails, and phone calls with the person who is now my favorite relative.

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