Salem Witch Ancestors
By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Many of us have New England ancestors. And many Americans can trace their ancestry back to Massachusetts to the infamous episode in American history known as the Salem Witch Trials. Cotton Mather, Rebecca Nurse, and Samuel Parris are all names that have been made well-known by the witch trial drama of 1692. Aside from those accused (and many condemned and executed) as witches, there were many others involved: the accusers, the ministers, the bailiffs, the judges, and the witnesses involved in court proceedings. What does it mean to be descended from one of these individuals?
If you are a descendant of one of the accused, you can find a place in the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, a genealogical society for women descended from anyone who was accused of witchcraft prior to 31 December 1699 in colonial America. The proclaimed mission of the society is to preserve the memory of those accused of witchcraft in New England and to locate all their living female descendants. On their website at www.adeaw.us, you can view a list of approved ancestors, or you can submit your own ancestor for review.
If you are trying to determine whether or not your ancestor was indeed involved in witchcraft trial proceedings, you can conduct your own historical research or you can check the Salem Witches database of Ancestral Findings, at http://www.ancestralfindings.com/freed5141.htm. Its name is somewhat misleading; the database actually contains the names of more than 200 individuals accused of witchcraft in New England between 1647 and 1697, including people from the villages of Andover and Gloucester. The database lists each individual by first and last name, names the town where he or she was accused and tried, and states the outcome (acquittal, execution, etc.).
For a detailed look at the Salem proceedings, one of the prime resources available online is the Salem Witchcraft Papers Project, a historical project whose aim is to compile all documents pertaining to the Salem disaster and make them available for free online. At http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/texts, you can read the complete court documents. You can also view lists of the accusers, defenders, judges, jurors, and ministers involved. Most significantly, there is a list of the "afflicted" girls, along with plat maps showing where they lived in relation to those they were accusing (and the land their families stood to gain by their accusations).
The 1692 Salem witch disaster is one of the most documented events in American history: countless books, articles, and even plays have been written about it. If you have ancestors who were involved in the saga, learning about them will be easy-and fascinating.