Tag Archives: family trees

The Letter

More often than not, paperwork overwhelms my desk and makes me grumpy. Organizing financial records, bills, checks, insurance forms, airline receipts, etc., gets more complicated every year. My computer, which is supposed to make things easier, just seems to add to my confusion. Some days I long for simpler times, even though I know they were neither simple nor easy. They just left a smaller paper trail.

In 1825 my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall, Esq. wrote a letter summing up his life. The document hung in the farmhouse parlor next to his portrait, and although it was always referred to as his “letter,” it’s really more of a statement left for posterity. In it he sets down the facts of his time on this earth.

It’s easier for me and fairer to Aaron if I quote the letter instead of printing a photograph of the document, as it’s very hard to read. The misspellings and the missing punctuation are his, and I’ve added hyphens to clarify his sentence breaks.

Aaron Hall's Letter - Detail

Aaron Hall’s Letter – Detail

Wallingford, January 5th, 1825 – “I Aaron Hall son of Asahel & Sarah Hall was born November 11th 1760 and lived with my father and worked on his farm until the 25th of May 1777 which was the 17th year of my age – having a thirst for liberty with the consent of my father I inlisted a soldier for three years in the Amarican revolution during which time I indured many hardships and was in sundry battles at Germantown & Monmouth and being troubled with the rhumatis at times but not so as to prevent me from doing my duty – but since I have bin very much troubled and am at this time – after my term of service expired I returned and when I have bin abel have worked on my farm ever since – in 1781 May the 24th I was married to Elizabeth Cook by whome I had Eleven children and I believe are all alive at this time –   my wife Elizabeth died July 16th 1820 in the 58th year of her age – in December the 11th 1820 I was married to Sarah Hall with whome I have lived until this time September 12th 1826 when my wife Sarah died in the 70th year of her age – June 11th 1827 I was married to Annis Brooks

Because of this letter I could, if I wanted, become a Daughter of the American Revolution. I think several of my cousins have done this. But it wasn’t his participation in the revolution or the fact that he had eleven children that impressed me when I was young. Instead, I was amazed that he had THREE WIVES. The statements about these three women are so short, and so matter of fact, that I always pictured the three wives married to him at the same time. But in truth he was first married to Elizabeth, then to Sarah, and finally to Annis.

I’d like to know what these wives looked like and how they lived their lives – how Elizabeth managed to raise eleven children, how Sarah was courted when she was 64 years old, and how Annis met and agreed to marry 67-year-old Aaron. The paper trail for these four people is practically non-existent.

But in my photo collection, I found a tintype from the 1850’s with a label on the back written by my grandmother. The woman in the photo is the fifth of Aaron’s children, Mary Hall. She was born in 1790 and died in 1871. She never married, and, in fact, may have lived her entire life on the farm. In her portrait she looks like a precious and beloved aunt. Her cheerful expression makes me smile. She’s taken great care to dress in her finest clothing with what looks like the parlor rug wrapped around her shoulders and an oversized bow tied under her chin. It seems like this may have been her one chance to look good for the camera, and she was determined to make the best of it.

Mary Hall, 1790 - 1871

Mary Hall, 1790 – 1871

On Wednesday:  Muddy River


Last spring we had a Hall family reunion. We came from all over the country to gather on a Saturday in May at the Crump barn on Whirlwind Hill.

On my first day back east before the event I took my favorite walk around the Whirlwind Hill block. The three mile circle starts at the end of our driveway, winds around the reservoir, passes the swampy and woodsy stretch of Scard Road, straightens out and turns to the right on Branford Road, then turns right again to navigate the roller coaster that is Whirlwind Hill. Names of former and present neighbors, some still on their farms or in their houses, come to mind as I pass by – Hale, Riotte. Keogh, Scard, Barnes, Bartholomew, Cella, Foster, Mahan, Kranyak, Pyskaty, Farnam, Parks, Williams, Hall, Ives, and Guidone. Near the end of the walk, on the last downhill stretch, I reach the site of the Hall farmhouse that burned in 1971. Since then, the remains of the house have been taken away, but the foundation endures – a dirt-floored, stone-lined hole invisible from the road because of the trees and weeds and bushes that grow where the house used to stand.

Farmhouse Foundation, May 2013

Farmhouse Foundation, May 2013

My feelings about this spot are bittersweet. I’m sad that the house is gone and that trees grow where the walls should be. But I’m happy that the foundation is still there for me to look at. Looking at it is not easy, however, because I’m afraid of ticks – the little ones that you can hardly see and that give you Lyme disease. I had to steel myself to make my way through the brushy growth to reach the edge of the cellar hole. I stayed only long enough to take a few photos and spent a long time afterward brushing imaginary bugs off my legs and arms and head.

For the reunion on May 4, I sketched a very rough family tree putting our great-grandparents William Ellsworth and Lydia Jane Hall at the top. My cousin Nancy and I made nametags that were color coded to indicate the Hall brothers and sisters who were grandparents to the cousins in my generation. At some point during the day people started adding to the tree – family members whose names I hadn’t known, or didn’t remember, and names of the newer generations, many of whom I was meeting for the first time.

Hall Family Tree with Additions

Hall Family Tree with Additions

The poster board filled up, and by the end of the day it had begun to look like the old foundation. A small stone here, a larger one there, all joined by the mortar of family. I suppose this is a tenuous comparison, but it pleased me to think of the strength of family ties this way.

We had a glorious day – sunny and warm and infused with the joyful cheer that comes when families gather to celebrate the past and build memories for the next generations.

Hall Family Reunion, photo courtesy of Charles Peters

Hall Family Reunion, photo courtesy of Charles Peters

On Friday:  Violets

At the Top of the Tree


Creating a family tree is a complicated business. The generations grow in number, names become confusing as they are repeated from family to family, and, to an outsider, the result can be just plain boring.  But there’s always a starting place – a first person – who is either at the bottom (on the trunk) or on the top of the tree.

I’ve always pictured our genealogy looking like the growing Christmas tree in the Nutcracker Ballet with the star family member at the top and the heirs and assigns adorning the branches below like ornaments lovingly collected over the years.

Our star, the Hall at the top of our tree, is John, The Immigrant. Sometimes called “The Emigrant” and sometimes “The Immigrant,” he was twenty-five years old when, in 1630, he left his home in Old England to come to New England. I’ve read that he traveled on the ship “The Griffin,” but haven’t been able to verify that. What I do know is that he got on a boat one day and left his home, never to return.  Did he bring with him on his journey a treasured pocket watch, a family Bible, a lock of a loved one’s hair? Did he hold close a letter, or a journal, or a map of this new land? Maybe his crossing was rough and his cabin small and dark. It can’t have been easy, and I wish I knew more details so I could have a sense of who he was, what he felt, and what he left behind.

Alexis de Toqueville said of the Puritans, “I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.” It would be a good guess to suppose that John was a Puritan, and that he left England to pursue religious freedom.

But I also want him to be an adventurer, eager to cross an ocean and build a country. His travels took him first to Boston and then New Haven. He married Jane Wollen, fathered seven children, and in 1670 helped establish the town of Wallingford, Connecticut. Three of his sons were among Wallingford’s first settlers, and were it not for this great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather venturing into the unknown, there would have been no Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill.

In the middle of a field on the farm stands a lone maple tree. I visit it every time I go back to Wallingford. When I stand under its branches I can see the farmland, and I imagine how it used to look. The tree makes me think of John, and I thank him for this place.

The Tree, Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil

On Wednesday: Wilderness