Just when I thought I wasn’t going to have an article ready for this weekend, my ancestors came to my rescue. Well, my ancestors with the assistance of two very generous friends, Jennifer Zinck and Keith Wilson, lured by a troll. Yes, a troll!
I’ve been on the road again, and it just so happened that this past week, I was in Connecticut. As luck would have it, about three years ago, a brick wall fell when I discovered that Nabby Hill (married name) was actually Nabby Hall (birth name), and that Nabby was a nickname for Abigail. I knew she was born in Connecticut from the census, but connecting the dots between her parents, Gershom Hall (c1770->1840) and Dorcas Richardson (1769-c1840) to Nabby was a long, complex story.
Nabby’s parents’ stories aren’t quite ready for prime time, in part because I had been unable to complete their research in Mansfield, Connecticut where they lived before they migrated to Vermont sometime after the birth of their last child in 1797.
Identifying Gershom and Dorcas opened the door to several generations of ancestors, including Mayflower and Plymouth Colony lines.
While my trip to Connecticut this past week only scratched the surface of that entire group, it was an incredible experience that I’d like to share with you as an example of how old deed and property records can be a goldmine! Or, in this case, a troll house.
I have proof!!!
Preparing to Visit
In order to maximize my short time in Connecticut, I prepared a summary, in two formats.
- By ancestor including birth, death, burial location, church, places lived between birth and death, parents, a link to FindAGrave and my online tree. These are quick reference sheets, 2 or 3 pages max each.
- By location, meaning that for each location, I included all ancestors born there, lived and died there, churches, burial location, home location, etc. This summary would guide my time in the two Connecticut towns, Mansfield and Willington.
Before I arrived in Connecticut, my friends Jennifer and Keith had surprised me by copying and analyzing the deeds from the town of Mansfield. That was the first location my ancestors settled inland from Cape Cod where they had lived until the later 1600s into the early 1700s. A few of my ancestors then moved another 10 miles up the road to Willington, Connecticut about 1727 where they died and are buried. Both towns are in Tolland County.
Towns are different in Connecticut than in other states further west. In Connecticut, an entire county consists of towns which aren’t just a central settlement, but include rural, forest and farm areas as well. Elsewhere, a town would be much smaller and the surrounding area would either be a township or simply fall into the county outside of the town.
In Connecticut, all records are kept in the town clerk’s office, not the county seat. The down side is that you have to know where to look by town, while a county-wide index makes it much easier to search in general. With town records, you can easily miss something if you don’t know exactly which town’s records to review.
The great news is that each town tends to have a library, often a historical/genealogical society and sometimes a town historian.
I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for all of these organizations and individuals. The historian and societies are entirely volunteer organizations, and without them, much of the transcribed, published and indexed town information and histories wouldn’t exist and would be lost forever.
Gershom Hall’s great-grandfather was William Hall, born in Yarmouth, Massachusetts on June 8, 1651 and who died In Mansfield, originally called Ponde Place, on June 11, 1727. He’s buried in the Old Mansfield Center Cemetery on land he originally owned and traded for other land in order that his original land could be utilized for the local “burying ground.” The original cemetery was only a quarter acre, right in the center of town, but has expanded significantly today.
Here I am with William’s stone on the land he once owned. I can’t even begin to explain the thrill of standing where he stood and visiting his gravesite in person.
In 1696, William Hall arrived “from Plymouth,” [MA] and acquired town land in 1703 by charter. As with many of the early settlers, he bought and sold land, leaving a respectable legacy to his heirs who passed the land to their heirs, often for generations.
Keith discovered work of an earlier researcher who had analyzed the various William Hall deeds and discovered that part of the land William sold to son Theophilus Hall was subsequently sold to Lemuel Barrows; 55 acres and a dwelling. The location noted in 1758 is shown at the intersection of Spring Hill Road and Dunhamtown or Mansfield City Road. By the way, towns change their road names, sometimes more than once.
We know that this property had a “dwelling” in 1747 and we know where the dwelling was located in 1758. What we don’t know, for sure, is whether or not the structure located there today incorporates the original home, or even part of the original.
Regardless, I love to visit the property of my ancestors.
Jennifer, Keith and I set out on a grand adventure to find this location.
We found the house, right where the 1758 notation indicated.
Jennifer started mumbling something about trolls and I was confused, until we turned the corner. Was I EVER amazed at what we discovered next.
I mean, whoever would have thought to look UNDER there for ancestors?!!
Hmmm, maybe that helps to explain this…
Where’s my spare DNA kit when I need one??? What does troll DNA look like anyway?
The following day goes down in history as starting out as one of the most frustrating days EVER. I won’t go into all of the details, because it would sound like a solo whine-fest, but suffice it to say that without Jennifer and her husband helping me for more than an hour on the phone as I tried to navigate massive road closures that encompassed nearly all of downtown Hartford due to a marathon and associated festivities, I would still be stuck in that mess days later! Of course, I didn’t discover the road closures until after I was already downtown and trapped.
I’m incredibly grateful and I hope I didn’t sound as grouchy as I felt.
After being unable to reach the Connecticut State Archives, I gave up entirely and decided to go to Willington, even though it was raining. In fact, it has rained so much in Connecticut recently that the ground squishes up around your shoes everyplace you walk and mildew is a cash crop.
Willington is less than an hour away from Hartford. I hadn’t prepared at all for this on-the-ground Willington journey that day, because I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to visit. I was headed to the archives, not the cemetery! The last thing Jennifer did, after explaining how to get OUT of Hartford, was to give me the actual physical address of the Olde East Cemetery in Willington.
I figured I didn’t really NEED that address, because the old town cemeteries are always in or near the center of town. I entered the address in the GPS so that I would have at least exit reminders, even though the route was straightforward, or so I thought.
Wow, was I ever wrong.
The rain continued its cold grey countenance as I drove eastward. Many expressway exits were closed due to the challenges in downtown Hartford, and I was simply glad to get on any road out of dodge. Plus, I now had an available day that I didn’t anticipate. How would I spend it wisely?
The dreary rain matched my mood. I was frustrated, dejected and so disappointed. But there has to be some lemonade in here someplace – and I was going to find it.
After exiting where the GPS instructed for Willington and driving several more miles, I found Old Cemetery Road, and it looked nothing like I expected – nor was it in the center of anything. In fact, Old Cemetery Road was a dirt road up a hill.
Willington should have been named Hillington. This looks more like Appalachia than Connecticut – or at least what I thought Connecticut looked like.
Was I lost, again? I was just sure that I had made a mistake. Nope, the cemetery was up the hill to the right, past the swamp.
While I have no ancestors with stones that remain today, there are large gaps in the older front section where stones clearly stood at one time and unmarked graves remain today. Not to mention this was the only cemetery when the town was founded in 1727, and for a long time thereafter.
I honored my ancestors, said their names out loud and talked to them, even though I don’t know exactly where they are buried. Rest assured, they are here someplace, probably in the front near the other stones belonging to people who died about the same time. At least after those hours of frustration, the cemetery was soothing and peaceful. I felt the stress melting away as my ancestors welcomed me.
The rain continued.
Seeing nothing that remotely resembled a town, I decided to find the library and ask for help. Love those librarians who set me up with a fold-out map that included a road index.
Using that map, I located the historic district, the common green, the church and then set off to find the land of Amos Richardson.
Amos was the great-grandfather of Nabby Hall on her mother, Dorcas Richardson’s side. Amos was born August 10, 1698 in Woburn, Massachusetts and died on April 16, 1777 in Willington.
Mark Palmer, the town historian mentioned the following in correspondence a few years ago:
Amos and Abigail Richardson lived off current Polster Road, slightly to the east of where John Watson lived (site of the present-day saltbox.) The time period is sometime from 1725/6 to 1735/6.
I made an important discovery about locating Connecticut farmsteads. Just drive until you see the old rock walls. Whether the original structure remains today, or not, all farms originally had rock fences, and all structures had rock foundations. Those old rock structures have such personality today, holding their centuries-old secrets and memories of those ancestors who stacked the rocks and traversed the dirt roads.
Polster Road isn’t exactly close to the center of the town itself. Miles away, it is very hilly, remote and wooded. After navigating several hills and S curves, I noticed a sign for a one lane bridge ahead. After clearing a sharp curve, into view popped this utterly amazing “salt box” home across the meadow from the river.
Look at the side. I do believe they have a “troll house” underneath too, although I bet they don’t know that’s what it is😊
While this is apparently not the actual Amos Richardson home place, his land, according to Mark, who had not reviewed the deeds at that time, was just east and then subsequently just northwest of this property. Amos’s home was probably similar to this amazing salt box historic treasure.
The raindrops slowed to a drizzle and the sun shyly peeked out from time to time as I was taking my last photos with my phone, happily trotting up and down the road.
It’s really, really difficult to remain upset at not being able to visit the archives when you make wonderful discoveries like this. These aren’t the only photos taken that day, nor the only properties, but I’m saving the rest for the articles about these ancestors.
I do hope these photos and process that I used will entice you to do deed work and search for properties of your own ancestors. Google maps today can overlap older, historic maps and neighbor’s deeds along with landmarks help locate your ancestor’s lands. Sometimes, I need to bring the deeds to current owners, or at least until contemporary addresses came into being, in order to find the property.
Don’t let the fact that you don’t live locally and can’t visit deter your search.
You don’t have to visit in person, although that’s always wonderful. I’ll clearly never be able to visit all of my ancestors’ lands, but I can visit virtually with Google map street view and it’s free. Except for the cemetery up the dirt road. Google cars don’t traverse gravel or dirt roads, or roads without center lines. They also aren’t allowed in some countries overseas,
When I returned to the hotel at the end of the day, I stepped out of the car and was greeted by this stunning double rainbow. It’s like Amos and my other Willington ancestors were apologizing for having to make me so miserable so that I would leave Hartford and visit Willington instead. Or maybe they were just thanking me in the only way they can for remembering them.
My heartfelt thanks to Jennifer Zinck, professional genealogist extraordinaire who writes at Ancestor Central and Keith Wilson, past president of the Mansfield Historical Society for their generosity in making this a wonderful trip and helping me find my very own troll house.