Digging up family roots…

The family wreathe

Bill Miller

Sometimes when you are digging up family roots you find the roots all tied in a knot, which you cannot untwist. That is when your computer says, “This does not compute!” and you say, “This is hopeless.” That happened to me when I started to look up my Morse roots.

Grave stone of Caroline Morse Biggart Smith

My father’s mother, Lillian Morse Miller, always said there was something crazy about her family. Long after she was gone, I found the problem. Lord Nelson Morse, Nelson Morse, Solomon Nelson Morse, Nelson A. Morse, Solomon Morse, all from Bennington, Vermont, were all tied together, but how? I called the national Morse Society and yelled, “Help!” They said, “If you’re dealing with the Morses in Bennington, you are working with a family wreathe!” I laid that ball of roots aside for years, until I finally, through DNA, found an unknown cousin in Bennington who had worked it out. This is the story of how to make and break a family wreathe.

Graves of Nelson Morse, William Biggart and Edgar Smith.

It all started with my great-grandmother, Caroline J. Morse, born in 1869. Carrie, as they called her, had three husbands, Nelson Morse, William Biggart and Edgar Smith. She apparently liked them all because they are all buried beside her in the same grave plot. If you have a four-person plot, it is good to be able to use them all. To give her husbands equal credit, on her grave stone she uses her full name: Caroline J. Morse Biggart Smith. Now, Morse is not just her first married name, it is also her maiden name. Therein lays the problem. Carrie Morse and husband #1, Nelson Morse, were first cousins.

Here is how it happened. On October 28, 1831 Lord Nelson and Ambrey Morse had twin sons, Luke and Solomon. Luke married Lydia Jewell and they had a son named Nelson Morse. Luke’s twin brother, Solomon, married Martha Merry. They had 14 children, one of whom was a daughter named Caroline. On March 2, 1889 Caroline married Uncle Luke’s son, Solomon, her first cousin. As a result, everybody at the wedding knew each other, and the Morse Family Wreathe was created. Therefore, when Nelson and Carrie Morse had a daughter named Lillian Morse (my grandmother), her great-uncles, Luke and Solomon Nelson Morse, were also her paternal and maternal grandparents.

Lillian Morse Miller, Caroline Morse, Nettie Morse Macksey

Now you understand why Granny Lillian Morse Miller had such a hard time explaining why we were different, and why the genealogy program on my computer did not want to have any relationship with me. However, after those family roots were untangled it was possible to trace the Morse family roots back to our Morse immigrant, 9th great-grandfather, Anthony Morse. He and his brother William arrived in Boston on The James of London on April 5, 1635. They were both shoemakers and Puritans from England.

The marriage of cousins was not uncommon in those years, because the choices were limited and families stayed in the same area, but family wreaths can make research difficult. The good thing about being an offspring of a family wreathe is that when somebody says, “What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy?” you can honestly answer – “It’s genetics!”

I suppose that the moral of this story is, if you’re genealogical research gets you tied up in knots, call for help or visit the genealogy center near you.