Tag Archives: Joseph Coleman

Delving into Original 18th Century Sources, Part 1

How often do you access original sources? By original, I mean reading the actual record itself, whether you are lucky enough to hold the document or book in your hands or you read a microfilmed version or digital image.

Time and time again, family historians are urged to view the original record rather than reading a transcribed version or just an index entry.

I’ve pursued accessing many original records through the decades, but I have to admit that not many of them have been from colonial Massachusetts. A couple of years ago, I wrote about Emma Adams who married the man who never existed – William Seonnig – in Maine in the late 1800s. In reality, a researcher not only misread the marriage record, he/she transposed the first and last name, changing the surname “Bill” to the given name “William.” Thus, Loring Bill became William Seonnig.

Loring Bill Marriage Entry

More recently, I shared the story about the missing Coleman marriage record. FamilySearch had the record indexed, but the entry was not found in the proper year. It later turned out that the groom’s given name was incorrectly indexed as “David” when it was actually “Daniel.”

Indexed or transcribed records are known as derivative records because they are created, or derived from, the originals. Whenever there is a middleman between you and original sources, there is the possibility of human error.

This is one of the few blog posts I’ve written where I don’t yet know the end of the story because this particular research path is a current work in progress.

I have also written many times about my Coleman family. There is one break in the documented chain proving my grandmother Hazel Ethel Coleman’s ancestry back to Thomas Coleman, who settled in Nantucket by 1662, although he had lived elsewhere in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the 1630s onward.

The break in the pedigree chain is with my grandmother’s 2x great grandfather (my 4x great grandfather), Joseph Coleman who was born somewhere in the span of 1768-1772 somewhere in Massachusetts. He married Ruth Spur in Massachusetts in 1793 and settled in Bowdoinham, Maine before 1800. He died in Bowdoinham in 1852.

The details are already given in the link two paragraphs up “one break” and this post isn’t about the last step of finding proof of parentage. Instead, the focus is on the difference between original and derived sources and actually locating/reading those records.

I don’t often pay professional researchers to do my work. The exception is when I can’t access certain records myself. For example, I paid a pro in Copenhagen to retrieve records from the Danish National Archives which haven’t been filmed or digitized and are not available elsewhere.

With as many New England ancestors as I have, I have maintained membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society off and on through the years. I also know that, in spite of New England’s generally excellent genealogical records, there are gaps that create brick walls and the #1 place to seek help is NEHGS.

I decided that my Joseph Coleman brick wall was in need of professional advice since the only possible parents I had found for him were Joseph Coleman, born 1739 in Nantucket, and Eunice Coffin, his wife. This family left a very small paper trail, which led me to sign up for a telephone conference with Chief Genealogist at NEHGS, David Allen Lambert.

We spoke for only half an hour, but the time was well spent. He encouraged me to seek out original records that corresponded with the following derived records:

In the Vital Records of Nantucket, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, published in 1925, there were several entries for Joseph Coleman’s family.

Death of Joseph Coleman 1775

Tamar Coleman’s Baptism

There were actually three daughters of Joseph and Eunice baptized on 19 December 1773 – Tamar, along with her sisters, Elizabeth and “Jennet” or Jeanette.

If you haven’t used the Massachusetts vital records series, note the citations in each listing. Joseph’s has two – P.R. 38 and P.R. 63. Tamar’s entry has one – C.R. 3.

I will get back to what these citations mean in just a minute. I also found the Nantucket Historical Association‘s online surname database and found further entries for this family:

Joseph Jr., son of Joseph Coleman and Eunice

Family of Joseph and Eunice (Coffin) Coleman

This database was created through the work of Eliza Starbuck Barney.

Yes, I have tracked the family to Newburgh, Orange County, New York, but that has not provided any new information connecting my Joseph Coleman with his parents.

Therefore, Mr. Lambert suggested that I focus on tracking down the original records cited in the Nantucket vital records and contacting the Nantucket Historical Association to learn the sources of the Coleman family information in their database. None of the entries are source cited. Not only should I be looking for clues and/or further details about the family not found in the index, but I should try to fill in the story of Joseph Coleman’s life, as he died of yellow fever off the coast of Africa at the cusp of the start of the Revolutionary War.

Before we break until tomorrow for Part 2 – C.R. in the Nantucket vital records series refers to “Church Record” and P.R. refers to “Private Record.” The numbers after them refer to the list of records found at the beginning of the book. More on that on tomorrow, when I go down the rabbit hole, chasing the BSO (bright, shiny object.) I hope you’ll be following along with me!

Did I Find a Family for Joseph Coleman?

To continue from yesterday’s post, after Joseph Coleman died in 1775, Eunice Coleman and her family removed to Newburgh, Orange County, New York probably at the same time as her cousin, Benjamin Coffin sometime before 1790, when he appears in the census there.

To have a starting point, I need to assume that the data found at the Nantucket Historical Association is correct. That would produce the following family configuration:

Joseph Coleman married Eunice Coffin, 24 Jan 1760 in Nantucket. Joseph died in 1775. Eunice died after 9 Mar 1799 when Benjamin left her a legacy in his will. She was “widow Eunice Coleman” at that time so she apparently never remarried.


1. Tamar, baptized 1773

2. Elizabeth, baptized 1773

3. Jennette, baptized 1773

4. Eunice – unmarried, per NHA database

5. Joseph – possibly married a Polly, per NHA database

6. Mary Ann. Since there are no birth records for these children, for the time being, I am also going to assume that Mary Ann is the same child as Polly.

From the few records found in Orange County, NY:

Adolphus Van Duzer married Unice Coleman, 25 Sept 1783, but there is no documentation found, other than the record of marriage, for Eunice. Eunice is not nearly as common a name as Mary or Elizabeth, but it is too soon to say if this Eunice is the daughter of my family or an unrelated woman. As Eunice was probably born in the early 1760’s, 1783 would be a good fit for a first marriage for her.

Isaac Belknap married Elizabeth Coleman, 31 Jan 1786 at New Windsor Presbyterian Church. There is a gravestone for her giving 9 Jan 1816 as her date of death and her age as 47 years, 4 months and 10 days, giving an approximate date of birth as 29 Aug 1768.

Daniel Birdsall married Tamar Coleman, 7 Feb 1781 at New Windsor Presbyterian Church. As her father had died and they were apparently living with and/or depending on Benjamin Coffin, she may well have been only about 18 or 19 when she married. That would put her birth about 1762 or 1763. She may have been the first born child. Tamar also may have died before 9 Mar 1799 when Daniel Birdsall and Elizabeth Birdsall witnessed the will of Benjamin Coffin.

Chauncey Griswold married Mary Ann/Polly Coleman, 9 Feb 1795, also at the New Windsor Presbyterian Church. Assuming this was Mary Ann’s first marriage, and she was also young, she was likely born about 1774-1776 and the last child of Joseph and Eunice.

Jennet reportedly married Henry Watson, which I found on the NHA database, but no date was given and I have not found any information on this couple or even on a Henry Watson in the Orange County area post-Revolution.

Joseph‘s birth year, calculated from the age he gave on the 1850 census would have been 1772. In my experience, when someone’s age wasn’t known for certain and they passed away, their ages at death often had years added on to what their true age was. So, again assuming, let’s say that Joseph knew his date of birth and he was born about 1772. The NHA database said he possibly married Polly?, but no further information was given.

Based on the little evidence found so far, a possible birth order might be:

1. Tamar, about 1762

2. Eunice, about 1764

3. Jennet, about 1766

4. Elizabeth, about 1768

5. Joseph, about 1772

6. Mary Ann/Polly, about 1774

As a side commentary, there is little room for births after the December 1773 baptisms  of Tamar, Elizabeth and Jennet and their father’s death at sea on 17 Apr 1775. Then why aren’t Joseph and Eunice included in the baptismal record? I have no idea!

A preliminary search in Orange County for more information on mother Eunice, her cousin Benjamin Coffin and son Joseph Coleman produced little. Absolutely nothing was found for son Joseph Coleman, yet the NHA had the name of a possible wife for him, indicating they must have had some evidence that he lived to adulthood. This Joseph probably then removed from the area.

Eunice Coleman was found in only one record – the 9 Mar 1799 will of her cousin Benjamin Coffin, where he left her a legacy. His will was probated on 19 April 1802 so Benjamin likely died earlier that year.

The last clue that I have tying my Joseph Coleman to the families in Orange County is an Isaac Belknap, a cousin of his possible brother-in-law, listed in the 1790 census of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Like the Coffins, the Belknaps had deep ties to Massachusetts and some were mariners.

Could this be the explanation of how Joseph came to be the only Coleman in Roxbury when he married Ruth Spurr there in 1793?

I have no proof-positive answer right now, but when I visit the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City in December, I will be scouring every record I can find to support my belief that Joseph Coleman of Bowdoinham and Richmond, Maine was the son of Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Not a single puzzle piece has yet been found to disprove this theory.