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Who Do You Think You Are?

Tonight, Amy and I watched the new NBC television series, Who Do You Think You Are? It airs on Friday nights at 7:00 pm Central.  Each episode features a celebrity who traces their family tree.  The first episode featured Sarah Jessica Parker.  She knew her mother’s side of the family was German in ancestry but learned from her mom that there was one branch that had the surname Hodge.  Sarah traces this line from Cincinnati to the California Gold Rush in 1849 and after learning that her fourth great-grandfather, John S. Hodge, had died during the Gold Rush, Sarah travels to New England to explore the Hodges in colonial times. In Boston, Sarah meets with genealogist Josh Taylor who tells her that Hodge is a big New England name. In fact, Josh found the estate of John S. Hodge and his father, Eber Hodge. Eber Hodge, Sarah’s fifth great grandfather, was born in Connecticut right after the American Revolution ended. In fact, he was the first generation born as an American.

Josh Explains to Sarah about her family tree. Copyright NBC/Universal 2010

Josh explains a long list of Sarah’s ancestors in New England. Eber’s mother was Abigail Elwell, and her father’s name was Jabez Elwell. Jabez came from three generations of Samuel Elwells. This places Sarah’s family five generations deep in New England, and the first Samuel was born in 1635, only 15 years after the Mayflower arrived.

Robert Elwell, who came over from England and was the first Elwell in America. Sarah discovers that Robert Elwell had been admitted to the Salem Church. Robert died before the Salem Witch Trials but his son Samuel and Samuel’s wife, Esther, were alive during that time. Josh tells Sarah that genealogists know that anyone alive in Essex, Massachusetts in 1692 was most likely involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Sarah is astounded by this news.

Sarah discovers that Esther Elwell, her tenth great grandmother, and two other women were on a list with a marked “warrant” label. Sarah is unsure of what that means–did the women issue a warrant or was it for their arrest?

Salem Witch Warrant, Copyright NBC/Universal 2010

Sarah learns that Esther Elwell had a warrant out for her arrest for practicing witchcraft. According to the warrant, Esther and two other women were accused of performing witchcraft on a neighbor, Mary Fitch, causing the woman bodily harm. Sarah reads the original 300-year-old complaint and learns that Mary Fitch died and Esther and the other women were accused of murder.

However, Esther Elwell was lucky. The date of the deposition, November 8th, 1692, happened after the dissolution of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and her case never went to trial. The court realized what a big mistake they were making in sentencing people to death on the basis of the devil’s work. Sarah is ecstatic to hear this news and more than that, Esther’s accusation is the last one in Salem Witch Trial history. Not only did Esther survive the witch trials, but she lived to be 82 years old.

Amy and I both loved the show and look forward to next week’s episode that features Emmitt Smith.  It is really inspiring to me, as someone who loves family history, to start digging again some of the interesting and various branches of my family, especially my mom’s side of the family that has one branch (Dismukes) that was in America before the Revolutionary War (all other branches in my family immigrated).  In my previous post about Andersonville, I learned some of Amy’s family tree and look forward to learning more of her Irish Allen roots and English Morford roots.

Updated: March 11, 2010 — 6:53 AM


  1. I too have had great success in starting the ball rolling with the 1901 census. I have traced my ancestors back to one of William the Conqueror’s lackeys… this is a fascinating journey…

  2. Really interesting programme. As i’m researching my own family tree – roots in Dorset – I Googled Robert Elwell & found that he was born in Dorset around 1612 & left for America on the ship, Recovery, in the year 1633. The Master of the Recovery was, Gabriel Cornish. You may have this info already, but if not, i hope it helps.

    Kind regards,

    Sue. U.K.

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