A New England Brick Wall – Joseph Coleman

My grandmother Hazel’s Coleman family seemed to me to be an easy line to research, given that they lived in New England. I had an easy time working my way backward:

Hazel Ethel Coleman, born 7 Feb 1901, Calais, Maine

Hartwell Thomas Coleman, born 27 Dec 1869, Calais, Maine

William Coleman, born 10 June 1834, Nelson, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada

Thomas Coleman, born 23 Jan 1800, Richmond, Sagadahoc, Maine

Joseph Coleman/Colman, born between 1768-1772, Massachusetts, with his age on the 1850 census putting his birth about 1772, but a note from the Bowdoinham, Maine town clerk saying that his gravestone gave his age as 84 years and one month when he died on 15 Apr 1852. At least I had a birth month of March and noted that he was the husband of Hannah (second wife.)

I also found Joseph’s marriage record to his first wife, Ruth Spurr/Spur in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1793:

Three land deeds in what was then Lincoln County, Maine (and now Sagadahoc County) proved the migration of Joseph and Ruth Coleman from the Boston area to southern Maine shortly after their marriage.

I spent years searching the Suffolk County, Massachusetts and Lincoln County, Maine areas for clues to Joseph’s parents and possible siblings and came up with nothing. I read court minutes, land deeds, census records, church records, anything I could find. One by one, I eliminated every Colman/Coleman family I came across and I was out of options. Joseph must have been dropped off in Massachusetts by martians.

Every so often, I looked again at my Joseph Coleman brick wall. During one of these return visits, I happened to chat with a gentleman on the phone at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. We talked about all the items I had researched with no success. I had a time frame for Joseph’s birth – probably in March and likely between 1768-1772. I also knew from my years of Coleman hunting that Joseph was an uncommon given name in that time period in the families that I had found EXCEPT for Colemans found in the Nantucket area, most of whom appeared to be descended from Thomas Coleman, resident there from about 1660 until he died in 1682.

That’s when I learned about the Nantucket Historical Association. I wrote just the other day about overlooked gems, including local historical associations.  If you have Nantucket roots, the website for the Nantucket Historical Association is a must-visit site. They have been in the midst of building an on-line searchable database of early Nantucket families. I clicked on “Search Collections” and then “Genealogical Information” at the top right.

Then, I chose “Search Our Online Barney Genealogical Record.”

Up came a Surname Index, so I scrolled down until I found “Coleman.”


One of the Coleman men who was listed was “Joseph Coleman, Jun., born 1739, died 1775.” He was married to Eunice Coffin, with a family of seven children – six daughters and one son, Joseph Jun. Joseph was a seafarer and the record notes that he died of yellow fever off the coast of Guinea.

Here was a new Coleman. He was even named Joseph and was the right age to be the father of my Joseph. I was used to finding heads of Coleman families by now so I followed my usual pattern – what could I find to eliminate this prospect as the father of “my” Joseph?

Delving further into Nantucket records, a marriage date popped up. This Joseph Coleman married Eunice Coffin in Nantucket on 24 Jan 1760. I could not find birth records for their children, but did find that Elizabeth, Tamar,  and Jennet, children of Joseph and Eunice Coleman, were all baptized on 19 Dec 1773. The NHA database also attributed Polly, Joseph, Eunice, and Mary Ann to this couple and noted that this family MOVED to Newburgh, New York.

Something had to be wrong here, because I couldn’t find any obvious way to strike this family off my list of possibilities! Hmmm. Parents are the right age, father died when children were small and this Joseph only had sisters. This could definitely explain why I never found any apparent familial ties in the few written records that Joseph left behind. If he married Ruth Spurr in Roxbury, Massachusetts, how did he end up there if he was part of the family that moved to Newburgh, New York?

More digging was needed so I will continue with Part 2 in the next post.

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