Genealogy Blog

5 Tips for Resolving Evidence Conflicts

27 Mar 2015



One of the great benefits of online research has been the search hints offered by websites like Mocavo and Findmypast. These are tremendously helpful, and can point you in directions you might not have thought to look. But at the same time, it is critically important to review this hints before blindly adding the information and/or individuals to your family tree. One of the biggest issues we have is conflicting evidence. Sources often provide contradictory facts. We have to evaluate the sources as well as the evidence in order to come up with a theory. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when evaluating your conflicting evidence.


1. Quality vs. Quantity

This problem has been around forever, but the digital age has compounded it tremendously. People find information and post it willy-nilly without checking first to see if it is accurate. Original records created close to the time and place of the event are usually the best. Secondary sources created later can still be accurate, but it is important to review them as well. Finding the same information posted in many places does not mean it is more accurate than information posted in fewer places.


2. First-Person Accounts Aren’t Always Correct

As a rule, first-person accounts of an event have a higher probability of being correct. But that does not mean that they are always correct. Family members, for example, may have an agenda. They may wish to have situations painted in certain ways so people will not think poorly of them. They may hide events, or they may provide misleading information. More than one marriage date, for example, has been fudged so that people would not know that the first child arrived less than nine months later.


3. Lineage Societies Are Not Infallible

There are numerous organizations whose membership is composed of individuals who have proven descent from specific ancestors. Daughters of the American Revolution, Society of Mayflower Descendants, etc., all have records available to the public for research for members who joined, showing their lineage. Unfortunately, requirements are stricter today than they used to be, and earlier records often have errors, and little actual documentation. In fact, many organizations no longer allow new members to enter based on older membership applications because of the lack of documentation. Any information in these records should be verified in original sources.


4. Conflicts Can Occur In a Single Source

Sometimes a single source can conflict with itself. Part of the information may be correct, or all of it may be, or none of it may be. For example, I was recently working with a diary in which a woman said of her brother that he died in 1819 at the age of 56. One of those facts could be correct, but they both could not be. Her brother was born in 1760, which would make him 58 or 59 in 1819. It would take additional research in other sources to confirm which is correct.


5. Sometimes There is No Resolution

When researching we always want to have an answer. Yes or no. This or that. Right or wrong. Unfortunately, in genealogy, sometimes there are no answers. Records are lost or destroyed, or may not have ever existed in the first place. Occasionally we must present both possibilities without being able to prove one way or another which is correct. The American Genealogist runs a regular column called Enigmas that deal with just these types of problems.

Time is a Very Precious Moment

25 Mar 2015

Many families have a tradition of family-owned businesses. Many of these are small companies that get handed down from parents to children. Many automobile franchises and restaurants, for example, are family-owned and operated. Even large corporations such as Mars, Bechtel, News Corp., Ford, and Wal-Mart, can be owned by a single family. One of the great side benefits of such organizations is that the corporate records can be very helpful in providing information on the family itself. Now imagine a family-owned business that can trace its history back for hundreds of years. How amazing would that be?

The three oldest family-owned businesses founded in the United States date back almost to the Civil War. Follett (an Illinois educational-products company), Gilbane (contracors and real estate development), and Kohler (plumbing and other products), were all founded in 1873. For more than 130 years, these corporations have stayed in the control of the founding families and their descendants.

The oldest company in America, however, is one that is near and dear to my heart as a musician. I would venture to say that there is not a musician or singer in the world who has performed with a band who is unfamiliar with the name Zildjian. The Avedis Zildjian Company was formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1919, but its roots go back much further. The first Avedis Zildjian was an alchemist who came across an alloy of tin, copper, and silver that could make music without shattering. Thus he began making cymbals in 1623 in his native Constantinople.

Back in 1591, brothers John and Brian Durtnell built their first home. It is still standing and occupied today. And the company they founded, R. Durtnell and Sons, is still flourishing today in Kent, England. Among their clients have been the Royal Military Academy, Chartwell House (home of Winston Churchill), and Buckingham Palace.

As a rule, it is exceedingly difficult to trace one’s ancestry back more than four to five hundred years. There are just too few records. Now imagine that your family has been running a business for years, centuries even. The records of the company and the transitions can be very helpful. Even if they don’t provide specific birth and marriage information, you can often find death information (as the business is transferred to the next generation when the last of the previous one dies). At the very least, they can help confirm familial relationships as various family members come and go in their involvement with the business.




Now let’s look at a business in Japan. Zengoro Houshi and his wife run the Houshi Royakan in the little town of Awazu, Japan (a ryokan is a Japanese inn). They are carrying on a family tradition that has run a spa at the ryokan for a very long time. A very, VERY long time. The royakan has been passed down to the eldest son for 46 generations. That’s right: 46. It was founded by a Buddhist monk in the year 718. He took in an apprentice and named him Zengoro, and it has remained in the family ever since.

Unfortunately the business is now facing an uncertain future. Zengoro and his wife Chizuko had one son and one daughter. Their son died, leaving only their daughter to pass the ryokan to. Imagine their struggles as the family tries to preserve the future of a family business that dates back more than a millennia.

The Atlantic recently ran a story, with a short video, about the Houshi family and their dilemma. In the video Zengoro talks about the changing times and the dilemma facing the family and what they are currently going through. He says that “Thinking about how this time is a very precious moment. Those make the history of Houshi family and become tradition.” What better way to describe family history?

Three Resources for Mayflower and Pilgrim Research

22 Mar 2015


If your research leads you to family that lived in southeastern Massachusetts, there is a good chance that you may discover ancestors who lived in the Plymouth Colony. If you are very lucky, you might even find that you have some who arrived on the Mayflower. Here are three resources to help you find out more about Mayflower ancestors.

1. General Society of Mayflower Descendants

The GSMD is dedicated to “education and lineage research on the journey of the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and their lineal descent.” GSMD is the umbrella organization for the state societies which individual joins. Among many other activities (including maintaining a research library), one of their major projects is the “Silver Books.” These compiled genealogies trace the descendants of Mayflower passengers down throw the fifth generation. Amongst the other resources on the website, you can find the official list of passengers from whom one must prove descent in order to join.


Caleb Johnson is a well-known Mayflower genealogist, serving (amongst  other activities) as editor of the Mayflower Descendant (the journal of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants). He created the MayflowerHistory website to help researchers discover more about and help prove their descent from passengers on the Mayflower. The site has links to Pilgrim history, Mayflower Genealogy, sources for research, and online version of out-of-copyright works about the Mayflower,  her passengers, and their descendants.

3. Leiden American Pilgrim Museum Foundation

Jeremy Bangs is the leading scholar on Pilgrims and Mayflower research. He is director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum Foundation, which tells the story of the Pilgrims in a house built in Leiden in 1370. There is also an active project to transcribe, edit, and publish documents and records relating to the Pilgrims. Jeremy himself is a prolific writer and his articles appear widely in historical and genealogical publications. You can find out more about


Family Registers as Gifts

19 Mar 2015

One of the nice things about doing genealogical research is being able to share our family history with our family and friends. In today’s digital age, we have many new and exciting ways of doing this. But sometimes it is the traditional ways that are most fun, even when they carry a modern twist.  Creating new family record or family tree broadsides from antique originals is a great way to gift your genealogical research to other family members.

In days past, artists created masters which printers mass-produced and sold. Individuals would then fill them out for their family. Called Family Records or Family Registers, they became very common in homes in the nineteenth century.

Many of these are now available through antique stores and online auctions websites such as eBay. Often they are already filled out with family information. But many times you can find blank originals. Even if an item is already filled with family information, you could scan it, and have someone familiar with Photoshop crate a blank copy by digitally removing the family information from the scan. This will allow you to make clean copies. If this is the route you choose to take, consider what you will do with the original once you have a clean digital image. Consider donating it to a historical or genealogical society in the area where the family lived. This will ensure its preservation for future generations.

Another great source for blank records and registers is Pinterest. Individuals and even small businesses have posted blank forms. Some are available for free download. Others are available for a small fee. More and more I am enjoying Etsy as a source of quality products. I’ve bought a number of handcrafted pieces there. But a simple search for the term “family record” brought up numerous forms, both blank and filled out.


Family Record Website


There are also individuals out there making available items from their own collection. My friend Barbara Mathews posted on Facebook recently about the Family Record website. Here you can find dozens of family records and family registers to download and use for free.

Take advantage of all of these resources. You can make some wonderful gifts to share with family and friends. Whether you fill them in by hand, or do it digitally, your family members will appreciate the time and effort you put into creating something so beautiful and meaningful for them. ­

Remembering Boston’s 10,000 Rev War Refugees with Green Beer

17 Mar 2015

Today is a very important holiday in the history of our country. Such a significant day that it is actually a public holiday here in Massachusetts, when Suffolk County offices are closed. I’m speaking, of course, of Evacuation Day, when the British forces occupying Boston finally left after a year of laying siege to the town. The Siege of Boston caused 10,000 refugees to leave the town, and today is a state holiday celebrated with green beer.

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, American forces moved to form a circular line from Chelsea around Charlestown and Boston, down to Roxbury and Dorchester. Both Charlestown Neck and Boston Neck (the only land access to those two towns) were cut off. The British could only access these areas by the harbor.

It is difficult to imagine the circumstances the thousands of citizens of Boston found themselves in. Among the residents of the town were a number of Benjamin Franklin’s relatives, including his sister Jane (Franklin) Mecom, nephew William Homes, and niece Grace (Harris) Williams, the wife of Boston merchant Jonathan Williams. In a letter written on May 14, Jane wrote of what happened around Lexington and Concord:

“the Horror the Town was in when the Batle aprochd wihin Hearing Expecting they would Proceed quite in to town, the commotion the Town was in after the battle ceasd by the Parties coming in bringing in there wounded men causd such an Agetation of minde I believe none had much sleep, sinch which we could have no quite. . .”

Within days, General Gage met with official from town to negotiate terms for the citizens to move freely in and out of the town. Women and children could leave with their effects, and men who swore not to take up arms against the British troops could leave. No plate (i.e., silver, gold, etc.) would be allowed to leave the town. This sounds like a peaceful process; it was anything but.

Thousands of refugees filled the streets. It quickly became difficult to find transportation. If they did not own livestock and carts to carry belongings, the residents could only depart with what they could carry themselves. And all had to pass through the one small road on Boston Neck. Many walked out with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everything was left behind, with no knowledge of when, or even if, they would ever return.

As the residents were leaving, British regulars and Loyalists looted homes, setting fire to many after absconding with anything valuable. The roads surrounding Boston quickly became clogged with the refugees. The fortunate ones had family and friends in other towns, but many had nowhere to go. Many families were separated during the departure. Forced to leave at different times as passes became available, or separated in the chaos and confusion that surrounded the city, it would take some time for many to be reunited.

Jonathan Williams wrote to Benjamin Franklin from Worcester on June 19th: We relying on the faith of General Gage packed up all his Goods [materials belonging to his son who was with Franklin] in Order to remove them out of Boston, but was forbid by him out of whose Mouth proceds blessing and cursing. They there remain with all my Estate Which was indeed Sofficient for me and all my famely though a few days before I left that once happy Town which is no become a den of theaves and robers, to COmpleat ruin my Stores With all my papers and Some of my Books Were Consumed by fire. I was Oblig’d to leave all except a few trunk of Clouths and house linnen my Sons Goods nine house one of Which I valued at £15.000 Sterling and all its valueable furniture, but blessed be God I have now Colected my Scater’d famley Who are all hear in this Town. . .”

At the same time that Bostonians were fleeing the town, many were swimming against the stream to enter the city. Loyalists from around the area were trying desperately to get to a place where they felt safe, and made their way into the town to be protected by the British Regulars.

It is estimated that over the course of the next eight weeks 10,000 residents would flee Boston, about 60% of the population. General Gage’s army kept control of the town for almost a year. During that time conditions became quite horrible for those left behind. Food was scarce, as was firewood and many of the other necessities of life. And the majority of the residents were British soldiers, making life difficult for civilians.


Nineteenth-century depiction of the Evacuation of Boston from Wikimedia Commons.

Nineteenth-century depiction of the Evacuation of Boston from Wikimedia Commons.


On a stormy night in March, the Continental Trooops, under the comman of George Washington, fortified Dorchester Heights with cannon captured and brought to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga by Henry Knox. General Howe, now in command of the forces in Boston, was desperate to avoid another route like Bunker Hill, decided to retreat. On March 17, 1776, the British troops departed Boston, taking with them many Loyalists, and fled to Nova Scotia. It was Washington’s first major victory in the war.

In 1901 the city declared Evacuation Day to be a holiday. It was established as a holiday in Suffolk County in 1941. It is, of course, a complete coincidence that Irish politicians controlled the city at this point, and that the date of the evacuation is the same as St. Patrick’s Day. Complete coinicendce. So each year Bostonians remember the 10,000 refugees and the end of the siege by drinking green beer. Happy Evacuation Day!

News Stories for Genealogists, March 13, 2015

13 Mar 2015

This week’s roundup of news stories of interest to genealogists includes pieces from millions of years ago in the human family tree to the Brady Bunch and S&H Green Stamps.

We start this week’s news roundup with a story from KFDA in Texas. While performing a routine installation in Fort Worth for AT&T, Scott Martin came across a large scrapbook with hundreds of pictures. Some of them dated back to the 19th century. Learn more about the book, and how Martin and his colleague were able to find a descendant of the family to return the scrapbook to, in AT&T Employee Uncovers Lost Pictures More Than a Century Old.

March is Women’s History month, and many individuals and communities are creating ways to celebrate and honor women past and present. Antoinette van Zelm has created a brochure about Rutherford County, Tennessee, called “In the Footsteps of Notable Women: A Self-guided Tour of Rutherford County.” The brochure focuses on three different areas: Community Service, Education, and Preservation, and discusses notable women, many of whom are associated with typically male locales. It is a terrific example of what can be done. Discover more of the story in Women Who Changed Local History.

This winter has certainly been the worst in a long time in many areas of the country, especially in my hometown of Boston. Rochester, New York, also had a difficult winter. One particularly stormy weekend last month the Democrat & Chronicle tried to bring relief by reminding residents of times where it was even worse, including Lake Ontario freezing over from shore to shore, which does not happen frequently to one of the Great Lakes. Read about it 5 of the Most Miserable Days in Local History.

The human family tree has been redrawn, with changes from a new discovery. National Geographic reports that a fossil found in Ethiopia shows that modern humans (the genus Homo) arrived in East Africa almost a half-million years earlier than previously thought. Learn more about the family tree of Homo Sapiens and where we came from in Oldest Human Fossil Found, Redrawing Family Tree.


Green Stamps


Finally comes a blast from the more recent past. Those of us of a certain age remember Sperry and Hutchinson. For years they provided Green Stamps when shopping at gas stations and supermarkets. Then we pasted the stamps into book, which could be redeemed from a catalogue. They were so much a part of the culture that they were parodied in an early episode of The Brady Bunch, where the kids had to decide what to purchase with the stamps. This was a common problem in families across America. What you may not know, however, is that you can still redeem your S&H Green Stamps. Discover how in Surprise! S&H Green Stamps Can Still Be Redeemed.

When Searching Databases Doesn’t Work

12 Mar 2015

The twenty-first century genealogist would not be able to research as effectively without the plethora of databases available online, especially those that provide access to images of the originals. But there are cautions to be aware of in order to take the best advantage of the information in these databases, which often can be hidden. When searching databases doesn’t work, sometimes we must turn to manual methods to find the information we seek.

The first thing to be aware of is how databases are created. Where does the information come from? How does it become a database? These databases are either “born digital” or they are converted from a physical original. Databases that are born digital are as accurate as those that created the original digital data, which tends to be highly accurate.

Databases created by converting from physical originals are liable to have more errors in them, introduced during the conversion process. This process usually takes one of two forms. The first is a manual process that has people keying the information into a computer. The best databases area created in a “double blind” system. This means that two (or more) people key the data into a spreadsheet or database, and they are compared. Differences between the two are reviewed by a third individual to arbitrate a final decision.

The second process is an automated one where computers use Optical Character Recognition software to process digital images. This software turns image files into searchable text. By linking that text to an image, companies create searchable databases of image files. Unfortunately, OCR can be impacted by a number of factors, especially the clarity of the text in the original image. When the original is faded or difficult to read, the text can be a misread or unread, and doesn’t make it into the database. Thus, when you search these databases, you may not get a result even if the information was originally there.

If you can browse the database, then you can sometimes find the information by reading through manual. This is especially helpful for finding information in newspapers, where you might have the date of an event and can read through looking for the information.

Another thing to beware of is that different websites may use the same source for data. This will perpetuate the problem amongst various sources.

I was reminded of this problem recently when I was working on my Franklin project and trying to find a death notice. The man was a merchant, and should have had a notice, but none came up in searches of various online newspaper databases. I found a reference to a published death notice, and even though I searched three different websites that held the newspaper, none produced the result.


Illegible obituary from an eighteenth-century newspaper, found only by manually reading, not searching.

Illegible obituary from an eighteenth-century newspaper, found only by manually reading, not searching.


One of the sites allowed me to browse, so I navigated directly to the date and found the death notice. As soon as I saw it, I understood why I could not find it in a search. Either the original scan was terribly bad, or the newspaper in the original was very faded. But the death notices of this issue were very difficult to read, and in some places entirely illegible, including the person I was looking for. No OCR program could ever have discerned the name. It was only because I knew what I was looking for that I was able to find it myself.

Despite the tremendous advantages of searchable databases, there are times when we must return to the tried and true methods of manual searching. We may be using digital images instead of microfilm or books, but reading through materials is still often the only way to find the information we need.

Middle Names as a Genealogy Research Tool

10 Mar 2015

Happy Middle Name Pride Day! The origins of this day are shrouded in mystery, and there is disagreement over the actual day it should be celebrated, but the day was created to honor our “middle” names. These names can help us in a number of ways as genealogists, so we should be pleased to celebrate this day.

During the eighteenth century in America, middle names were sometimes used, but they were not very common. Amongst the member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, only 15% of the delegates used a middle name (or middle initial). Other famous men of the time with middle names include Richard Henry Lee and John Quincy Adams.

It is during the 19th century, however, that middle names came into more common use. Middle names, or even a middle initial, can be very helpful in distinguishing between different individuals with the same name. But one must be careful in researching. Individuals with different middle names or middle initials can easily be distinguished from one another. But, an individual my have a middle name, but not use it all the time. So the lack of a middle name or initial in a record is not conclusive proof.


John Quincy Adams, named for his great-grandfather, John Quincy. (from Wikimedia Commons).

John Quincy Adams, named for his great-grandfather, John Quincy. (from Wikimedia Commons).


Middle names come from different sources. One must be careful about interpreting the names. For example, sometimes it appears that a middle name might come from a surname. Sometimes the name may come from the maiden name of the mother. But other times it may be further back. For example, John Quincy Adams’ mother was named Abigail Smith, daughter of William Smith and Elizabeth Quincy. One might be quick to think that JQA’s middle name come from his maternal grandmother. In truth, he was name for Elizabeth’s father (his great-grandfather), John Quincy. Both his first and middle names came from the ancestor.

Take care, however, when looking at individuals who have names that derive from famous individuals. Throughout the nineteenth century can find individuals named Benjamin Franklin Smith or George Washington Smith. These individuals were likely named to honor the famous individuals, but rarely do they indicate a familial relationship.

Other clues can be taken from middle names. For example, the infamous outlaw John Wesley Hardin was, unsurprisingly, a son of a Methodist preacher. Lorenzo Dow was an itinerate preacher in the early nineteenth century, and an important individual in the Second Great Awakening. In the first half of the century one finds many individuals named Lorenzo Dow as their first and middle names. My full name is Michael John Leclerc. My middle names comes not from any family members, but from John F. Kennedy, who died nine months before I was born.

5 Things Mr. Spock Taught Me About Genealogy

07 Mar 2015



The world got a whole lot smaller last week. The death of Leonard Nimoy hit me like the death of a friend. I’ve been following the adventures of Star Trek, in all of its incarnations, since I was a boy in the 1960s. Perhaps it was because of the amazing message of humanism that is incorporated into the show that I so identify with. Certainly no other television show in history can be said to have influenced us as much as Star Trek, inspiring countless individual over the last half-century. And although all seven of the original characters were critical to the success of the show, it is Mr. Spock as the backbone of the triumvirate that lead the team (the other two being Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy) who is perhaps the most pivotal. His character is the only one to have appeared in the series starting with the original pilot, through to the Next Generation series, and into the modern reboot by J.J. Abrams.

And it was the Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock that made such a difference. Nimoy himself was an incredibly talented individual. Not only as an actor, but a producer, director, poet, photographer, and tremendous supporter of people. Spock’s signature phrase was “Live Long and Prosper.” Nimoy identified with this phrase so much that he often used it, along with the acronym LLAP. And perhaps the best that can be said of him is that in the end, he certainly did.

Spock had many words of wisdom through the years. And many of these are very helpful to us in our genealogical research. Following are a few of my favorite things I learned about genealogy from Mr. Spock.


“Insufficient facts always court danger.” ~ Space Seed
One of our biggest challenges is not to make assumptions. Unfortunately, genealogists often create theories, which take on a life of their own without sufficient evidence to back them up. It is critical to find as many records as possible with as much evidence as possible to support our theories and turn them into facts.


“No. ‘Fascinating’ is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think ‘interesting’ would suffice.” ~ Squire of Gothos
One of Spock’s most famous catch phrases is herein explained in a discussion with Dr. McCoy in the is episode. Here Spock shows the important of language, and that words can have specific meanings. The same is true in genealogical research. Words may not mean what you think they do. It is important not to assign your own definitions to them, even if you think you are correct (I would say, “especially if you think they are correct”). It is important to understand the nature of the records you are examining to determine what, exactly, the words within them mean, given the context of the time and place in which they were used. For example, the word gay can mean happy, but it can also mean homosexual. Context is everything.


“May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.” ~ Day of the Dove
How often in your research have you come across something odd or intriguing about your ancestors? Something that causes you to think “Why did they do that?” Often we humans act in logical and though-out ways; often, but not always. When following a migration route, perhaps, we might find some odd directions that the family took. Sometimes we can use logic to figure it out, but sometimes their actions defy logic. Perhaps it was an emotional decision, trying to avoid people or places. Perhaps they went there because of people they knew there. Or perhaps it was just the way they decided to go for no particular reason. Think about some of the things you’ve done in your own life. Have you always behaved logically and made logical decisions? Stop trying to enforce it on your ancestors, then.


“In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.” ~ The Tholian Web
Few greater errors are there than reading a record expecting it tot say something. Often we can turn the record into meaning what we want it to mean, but that doesn’t make it correct. It is important to take a step back sometimes and reevaluate our evidence. Did we miss an important clue? Did we dismiss some piece of conflicting information too cavalierly? Go back and look again to be certain that you haven’t misinterpreted something, or forgotten to check a particular record set because it was too easily dismissed.


“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” ~ Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the entire Star Trek canon is Spock’s death scene in the Wrath of Khan movie. I remember the tears being shed with the good friend I went to see the movie with when it was originally released. Friends are important. And no less so in genealogy. Our genealogy friends understand our madness. They are also an important sounding board for us, listening to us and offering advice on how to attack problems. They are also a great place to turn to for help in testing out theories. I wouldn’t be half the genealogist I am today without all that I have learned from my friends throughout the years. And, on top of it all, they just make genealogy more fun!

The Sixth Victim of the Boston Massacre

05 Mar 2015

235 years ago today occurred one of the seminal events in American History. Festering tensions in Boston erupted one evening with British soldiers murdering civilians. Members of the Sons of Liberty were quick to take advantage of the situation, and thus was born the Boston Massacre.

King Street was the longest street in colonial Boston. It stretched from the Towne House all the way down past the customs house and down the Long Wharf. The Towne House was the seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In June of 1767 the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, increasing taxes on the Colonies. Over the course of the next eighteen months tensions in Boston got higher and higher.

In the fall of 1768, Parliament started sending British regulars to occupy Boston and protect the Crown’s interests. They sent 4,000 troops; approximately one soldier for every five residents. The troops were not received well by the inhabitants, and the redcoats were treated very poorly. They managed to make life quite difficult for the soldiers.

By the waning days of winter in 1770, tensions were sky high. Trouble began on the night of February 22. Ebenezer Richardson, a Loyalist, caused a scene when trying to burn an effigy outside of a merchant’s shop. A mob gathered and he fled to his house. As the mob began to move towards his house, Richardson shot randomly from indoors. One of the shots killed eleven-year-old Christopher Snider. This incident fanned the fames of fury amongst Bostonians.

On March 5 a crowd gathered at the Towne House on King Street. Samuel Adams, among others, called for the demonstration against the troops guarding the customs commissioners. The scene turned into a near riot. Captain Thomas Preston and his troops tried to bring order, but things quickly turned to chaos. Shots were fired by British soldiers and three men were dead on the scene, while others died later.

History class often discusses the five victims of the Boston Massacre. The first to die, and the most well-remembered, is Crispus Attucks. He was a fugitive slave who worked as a seaman. John Gray, a ropemaker and veteran Boston brawler , and 17-year-old sailor James Caldwell also died at the scene. Samuel Maverick was also 17 years old when he was shot that night. He died the next morning. Irish Immigrant Patrick Carr was the next to die. He lingered for more than a week and died on March 14th. The doctor who tended him later testified that Carr did not blame the soldiers and felt that they had fired in self-defense.

Captain Preston was brought to trial for the killings, along with eight of his men. Preston was defended by John Adams, and was acquitted. Six of his men were also acquitted, but two more were convicted of murder, but escaped punishment by invoking a Medieval defense. The trials were also the first time the concept of “reasonable doubt” was used in America.


Image of the marker for Boston Massacre victims in the Granary Burying Ground.

Image of the marker for Boston Massacre victims in the Granary Burying Ground.


Snider and the five who died that March are buried together in the Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston. A marker is placed there to honor their memory. Unfortunately, in an effort to “beautify” the cemetery in the mid-nineteenth century, grave markers there were rearranged and (with the exception of the large tombs) it is no longer possible to correlate a marker with the exact burial location of anyone.

In addition, there was another victim of the Massacre. Christopher Monk was also shot that night, and was severely injured. He was never able to work again, but the citizens of Boston always cared for him. It took him ten long years, but he finally succumbed to his injuries in April 1780. His death notice in the Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser of April 20 reads: “Died. Mr. CHRISTOPHER MONK, who has been long languishing under the wounds he receiv’d on the evening of the fifth of March, 1770, by a party of British mercenaries, under the command of Capt Thomas Preston. His funeral will be attended this afternoon.” [emphasis in the original]. Although it is known he is buried in the Granary Burying Ground, there is no surviving marker, and the exact location of his burial is unknown.

To find out more about the Boston Massacre, and its significance in American History, visit the Boston Massacre Historical Society.