The Genealogy Blog Party – April 2016: Joseph Coleman

Here is my first post at Elizabeth O’Neal’s brand new Genealogy Blog Party. Since I am not a sci-fi fan in general nor have I ever watched Doctor Who, I will stick to a simple time machine taking me back to the time of the American Revolution.

I actually have some upcoming posts about this family, so my time travel to meet Joseph Coleman fits in nicely with my struggle to connect him to my “for sure” Joseph Coleman, who I believe is his son.

To where must I travel to meet Joseph? Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Nantucket residents throughout time have been limited to seafaring lives, as the land is not good for farming. The Coleman family, therefore, like their friends and family, were seafarers.

First, a bit of background so you will know the same amount of “little” that I know about him.

Joseph Coleman was born on 30 September 1739 on Nantucket, one of the many descendants of Thomas Coleman, who  arrived in Massachusetts by 1635, first settling in Newbury, then Hampton, New Hampshire and finally moving to Nantucket by 1663. He died there in 1685.

Joseph married Eunice Coffin, who belonged to another early Nantucket family and was a descendant of Tristram Coffin, who lived first in Haverhill and then Newbury, Massachusetts before migrating to Nantucket, like the Colemans.

I obviously have no photos of Joseph, but I do have a picture of a great grandson and a 2x great grandson. Perhaps there was a family resemblance to patriarch Joseph:

WilliamColemanCrop   HartwellCrop
Great grandson William and 2x Great Grandson Thomas Hartwell

Both the Coleman and Coffin family ancestries are clearly proven by Nantucket vital records up to the time of Joseph and his wife, Eunice.

Joseph Coleman married Eunice Coffin on 24 January 1760 on Nantucket Island. From there, it is all downhill with the records about this family. The Nantucket vital records note that Joseph died in 1775 off the coast of Guinea of yellow fever. They also note a baptismal record for daughters Tamar, Jeanette and Elizabeth, all in December 1773. There are no Nantucket marriages or deaths for anyone else in this family. The Nantucket Historical Association notes there were three additional children: Eunice, son Joseph and daughter/s Mary Ann and/or Polly, who may or may not be the same person.

My future posts detail the devil of a time I’ve had trying to locate the original sources of these notes, so I don’t want to give away the ending just yet.

However, you can bet that Joseph Coleman Sr. is the #1 ancestor I’d like to meet at the moment and, boy, do I have questions for him.

What questions do you need him/her to answer?

  1. Although you had little choice but to follow the sea to support your family, why did you choose to follow the whales so far from home when you might have been a local fisherman?

Note: Whaling likely paid a much better wage, but that was because of the danger associated with the job.

2. What were the names and birth dates of all of your children and why weren’t their births recorded in the Nantucket town records?

3. Why were three of your children all baptized in December 1773 instead of shortly after birth?

4. What parts of the world did you visit on your whaling trips?

5. What routine did you follow in your daily life at sea? What was it like sailing into a storm?

6. You were only 36 years old when you died. Had you known your fate, would you still have chosen to be a whaler?

Is there a problem you can help your ancestor solve?

Even today, there is no cure for yellow fever, caused by a bite from an infected mosquito, and it brings a quite painful death. From NIH: Medline Plus:

Yellow fever has three stages:

  • Stage 1 (infection): Headache, muscle and joint aches, fever, flushing, loss of appetite, vomiting, and jaundice are common. Symptoms often go away briefly after about 3 – 4 days.
  • Stage 2 (remission): Fever and other symptoms go away. Most people will recover at this stage, but others may get worse within 24 hours.
  • Stage 3 (intoxication): Problems with many organs may occur, including the heart, liver, and kidney. Bleeding disorders, seizures, coma, and delirium may also occur.

However, there is a vaccine to prevent it and, as much as I would love to be able to give the vaccine to Joseph, it would irrevocably change history, which is something that shouldn’t be done.

Will you reveal your true identity to your ancestor? If so, how will your visit impact the future?

As with the vaccine issue, I would probably not reveal my identity to Joseph at the time, as it might also impact the future of the family.

Will you bring your ancestor to the future to meet his/her descendants? What will be the outcome if you do?

Bringing Joseph to the future to meet his descendants would be fun. I think I would restrict the visit to family only, with no access to modern conveniences. He was obviously a brave man to take on a whaling job, but the 21st century might be a bit more overwhelming than working on the high seas. I would like the visit to give him closure, knowing that his family was able to move on past his death, have families of their own and leave descendants seeking him out today.

9 thoughts on “The Genealogy Blog Party – April 2016: Joseph Coleman”

  1. I can’t wait to see what else you find. I had ancestors on Nantucket too, but have not worked on them at all. This post sure makes me want to learn more about them. As the saying goes, so many ancestors, so little time!

  2. I agree that while it’s tempting to solve your ancestor’s problems, it would change history and you might not be here as a result! It’s interesting to look at it through that lens.

  3. It’s always sad when people die young and leave young families behind. Joseph probably work at whaling because of the money as a way to better provide for his family. Sounds like he was a responsible man. Reading about him was bittersweet.

  4. It would be so interesting to meet someone who worked as a whaler – such a vastly different lifestyle from what we’re familiar with! But how could you be sure you’d find him on Nantucket, and not show up when he was off at sea?

  5. It’s sad that your Joseph died at such a young age and that it was due to yellow fever. I think I would ask him questions similar to yours. It seems like asking names, birth dates, and locations of parents, grandparents, siblings, etc., would take up less time than asking him about his work on a whaling ship. If only we really could go back in time!

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