Top Ten Genealogy “Close Calls”

A couple of weeks ago, Heather Wilkinson Rojo shared her Top Ten Genealogy “Close Calls,” ancestors who almost weren’t, and I thought that was a great idea. I decided to take another look at my own lines to see if I could come up with my own ten “close calls.” Here are my own ancestors, who were lucky to have survived:

Close Call #1
Joses Bucknam (1761-1835) was a Revolutionary War soldier and pensioner who, at first, was thought to be a deserter. That wasn’t the case at all – he was captured by the British and sent to England, where he spent months at the infamous Old Mill Prison. Joses not only survived his imprisonment, he survived the Revolutionary War and the trip across the Atlantic, not once, but twice.

Close Call #2
Elizabeth Knapp (1655-after 28 July 1700) was the daughter of James Knapp and Elizabeth Warren of Groton, Massachusetts. When she was 16 years old, she had an “episode” from 30 October 1671 to 12 January 1672 during which it was claimed that she was “possessed.” It was documented in the writings of minister Samuel Willard and, later, by Cotton Mather. Given the fact that the Salem witch trials were a short 20 years later, Elizabeth was quite lucky that her “possession” quickly disappeared and was attributed to some type of hysteria, rather than witchcraft. She went on to marry Samuel Scripture in 1674 and raised a family of ten children.

Close Call #3
John Shepley (c1678-1734) was another of several of my ancestors who lived in Groton, Massachusetts. Two years after Elizabeth Knapp’s “possession,” the Indians attacked the small town and killed a number of its inhabitants, including the parents of John Shepley – John Shepley Sr. and Susannah Wheeler and probably one or two siblings of young John. He was captured and carried away for several years. Eventually, he returned to Groton, married Lydia Lakin, and raised a family of six children. This John Shepley is the progenitor of most of the New England Shepley family.

Close Call #4
Because John Shepley survived, Sibbel Shepley (1755-1834), his great granddaughter, came to be. Sibbel also survived a close call. She was the first and only child of Jonathan Shepley and Mary Lakin. These Lakins also lived in Groton, but soon moved to nearby Pepperell, Massachusetts, which suffered from a summer pestilence of some kind. Mary Shepley died on 6 August 1757, ust before daughter Sibbel’s second birthday. Her father, Jonathan, died five days later, on 11 August 1757. Both were in their 20s and I surmise that Mary might have been months along in a second pregnancy, given Sibbel’s age, when she died. Sibbel survived the pestilence that killed a number of Pepperell citizens.

Close Call #5
Johannes Jensen (1810-1865) was born to unwed mother Kirsten Jorgensdatter in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Danish king was a forward thinking man. There were so many children being born to unwed women, who abandoned them in the streets to die, that he established Den Kongelige Fodselsstiftelse, the Hospital for Unwed Mothers. At this hospital, young women received maternity care, anonymously if they wished, and their babies could be placed for adoption or a future apprenticeship. Luckily, Johannes was not abandoned in the Copenhagen streets, he was born in the hospital and, when he was a few days old, placed with the family of a master tanner, to be taught the trade when he was of age. Although the master tanner died when Johannes was five and I have no documented knowledge of where he lived from that time until he was fifteen years old (I suspect in the Copenhagen Orphanage), he went on to have a career in the Danish army, married and had a family of his own.

Close Call #6
The Marche family were French Huguenots. This close call involves two family members, both my direct ancestors – William Marche (c1543-c1613) and his son, Richard Marche (c1568-c1612). It isn’t known exactly when or how the Marche family escaped France and settled in Sherford, Devonshire, England. However, Protestants had long been persecuted in France and many had been killed with the apparent blessing of local and national authorities. If the family had remained in France, it is very possible that there would have been no Eulalia Marche, my ancestress, who married Henry Burt, and had a family of thirteen children.

Close Call #7
Benjamin Burt (1680-1759), like John and Sibbel Shepley, survived two close calls. The first was the Marche family’s move to England, which likely save family members from almost certain death. Then, like John Shepley, Benjamin Burt and his wife, Sarah Belden, were living in a town prone to Indian attacks. They were unfortunate residents of Deerfield, Massachusetts on 29 February 1704. Deerfield was decimated by the attack, with 44 people killed and 109 taken captive. Benjamin and Sarah Burt were two of those captives, forced to trek (300 miles in the winter) to Canada, where they remained for a number of years until ransoms were paid. Benjamin and Sarah survived and eventually returned to a semblance of a normal life, although they left Massachusetts for the safer environment of Ridgefield, Fairfield County, Connecticut. What perhaps is most amazing is that Sarah was seven months pregnant at the time of the attack. She survived the walk to Canada and gave birth to their son, Christopher in Montreal on 14 April 1704.

Close Call #8
The strength and perseverance of my ancestors was truly amazing. Close Call #8 is the second child of Benjamin Burt, who is Close Call #7. This child was named Seaborn Burt (1706-1759) because – yep, he was born at sea – in July 1706. Benjamin, Sarah, and little Christopher Burt were ransomed and sailing from Quebec back to Boston when Sarah went into labor. Seaborn survived birth at sea and grew to adulthood. His mother, Sarah, not only survived the birth of her second child, she had nine more children after the Burts made their new home in Connecticut.

Close Call #9
John Patorai (c1810-after 1859) is the only known child of Andrej Patorai and his wife, Maria Janoskova, who lived in the little village of Udol, Slovakia. Church records for the very early 1800s are scarce, but if Andrey and Maria had any other children, they didn’t survive childhood and died before the village records begin in 1828. John was strong and healthy enough to survive birth and the poor living conditions of the time. If he hadn’t survived, I believe the Patorai surname (today, in the U.S., often Patoray) would be defunct. John married Anna Szurgent and raised a family of three sons and three daughters. It is through the three sons that Patorai/Patoray survives today. I am descended through their oldest daughter, Maria, who married John Scerbak.

Close Call #10
Michael Scerbak
(1868-1932) is the last of my Close Calls. Those who lived in Udol, Slovakia in the 1800s and earlier had very tough lives. The village was small and most were peasant farmers, renting their abodes from the landowners. Those dwellings, and I hesitate to call them homes, were tiny, often with two or more families living in them. Educational opportunities were extremely limited (to not much more than writing one’s name and perhaps an introduction to reading and arithmetic), medical care didn’t exist as we know it, and making a living involved long hours of physical labor. Diphtheria and cholera made regular appearances every twenty years or so, decimating the population, which hovered around 700. Women often died in childbirth and many babies didn’t survive the ordeal either. Michael’s parents, John Scerbak and Maria Patorai, had eight children, of whom five died as infants or in early childhood. Michael, his older brother, John, and younger sister, Anna, were the only three to live to adulthood.

It was interesting looking through my family lines to find the “close calls.” What surprised me the most was that several in my list had double close calls in the family line – the Shepleys, the Marche/Burt families and the Patorais. I had a difficult time finding ten close calls and then realized these generational connections.

Thank you, Heather Wilkinson Rojo, for a great topic. Our ancestors certainly deserve our respect for all they went through. If any one of these close calls turned out differently, I wouldn’t be here today!

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