I began my career as a genealogist and family historian several years ago and joined ancestry.com for their two-week free trial period. Surely, if I was diligent, I could uncover everything there was to know about my ancestors in those fourteen days! I can hear all the genealogists chuckling…
Genealogy became an obsession, and I quickly developed some skill and good habits. I soon noted that family trees on ancestry.com were rife with errors (didn’t that person notice that his mother was born after her son?…). My maternal ancestry was the most mysterious and I had no information other than just knowing my grandparents. My grandfather, Leander Chapman, died in 1964, and I did not know him very well. The Reformation was still going on in my family, but that topic is for another post.
I discovered my 2nd great-grandparents Charles C. Chapman and Fanny Dorcas Chandler Chapman were my goldmine ancestors. Fanny’s mother, Fanny Bartlett Chandler Smith, was my “gateway ancestor” and led me back to the Mayflower. My cousins knew we had a Mayflower ancestor, but neither of my siblings or I was aware of this connection.
I met Mehitabel along the way in my research on ancestry.com. My first thought about Mehitabel was “wow, that’s an ugly name” and then those little shaking leaves led me to stories that included the words “Salem witch.”
Mehitabel (or Mehitable) is a well-known character from Ipswich’s early days. Further research revealed an amazing life, but it was never told completely or accurately. Mehitabel is written about in history one foible at a time. My friends were forced to endure my ancestors’ stories, but I found the one of Mehitabel to be the most fascinating and kept thinking “someone should write a book about her!”. It didn’t take long for me to decide that someone would be me!
I researched Mehitabel for over a year before I began to write. My biggest challenge was how to present my main character as one who was emotionally complex considering her birth and upbringing by a woman who obviously despised her. Mehitabel certainly didn’t appear to be an innocent woman according to the town records.
A week-long trip to Ipswich was necessary, but of course, nothing related to the Braybrooke family remains. I am grateful that so many records and histories from the town exist and that Mehitabel, Richard, and Joan left their stories with the historians and town officials in Ipswich.
Mehitabel Braybrooke’s story is told in the upcoming historical novel “In the Shadow of Salem” by Donna B. Gawell. The release date is June 18, 2018.
Click here for a story on Charles Chapman of Medina (I believe it is on page four) focdec2014newsletterfinalpdf_c2fd