How a Genealogist Discovered Her Family’s Secrets

Genealogist Mékal Tewell uncovers her family’s past through Google Books

By Google Arts & Culture


Google Books is a hidden gem for genealogists, which is what I became after my sister recruited me to help her research our family’s past 12 years ago. I became obsessed, she followed one line and I took the other, but it didn’t take long to run into roadblocks.

I was trying to find the father of an ancestor and, having utilized every resource I could think of, including going all the way to the National Archives in D.C., I sat in front of my laptop randomly Googling names, dates, and places. As I reviewed the search results, I noticed one link that brought me to a Google book and I landed on page 2,000 of Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts. Right before my eyes was not only a story about the father of my ancestor but also his grandfather!

This one little paragraph confirmed his birth year, death date and age, city and state of residence. It verified the name of his wife – with her maiden name - when they were married, and when she died. It listed their children, too. This digitized book also had other relatives listed and, even if I already had documents and records of their validity, I could now add this to my authentication sources. You can never have enough records to prove family history.

[Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, Kansas], Alexander Gardner, 1867, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum


In the History of the Military Company of the Massachusetts: Now Called the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts by Oliver Ayer Roberts, I came across another story that would easily slide into a current day soap opera on Captain Robert Keayne of Boston.

Keayne was the founder and first commander of the Artillery Company. His son Benjamin was born in London and came to America with his parents in 1635 at the age of 16 on the “Defence”. Benjamin later married Sarah Dudley, the daughter of Governor Thomas Dudley, in June of 1639 and they had a daughter named Hannah. However, by 1644, Benjamin had enough of his wife and left her for London – Captain Keayne told people that his son made ‘an unhappy and uncomfortable match,” marrying Dudley. In November 1946, Dudley was disciplined by the church for having a bad reputation as a single woman and by October the following year, she was excommunicated from the church.

From this book, I also concluded that Dudley enjoyed the company of men and that she was a “free spirit”. This assumption was strengthened by excerpts from Captain Keayne’s last will, which provided a legacy for his granddaughter. The will stated: “…that hir [her] unworthy mother (sometimes the unnatural & unhappy wife of my son, that proud & disobedient daughter-in-law to my selfe & wife) Mrs. Sarah Dudley now Sarah Pacye may have no part or benefit in or by what I have thus bestowed upon her daughter.” Dudley is then referenced as Mistress Pacye: “…as long as Mr. Bradstreet, or John Johnson and William Parkes of Roxbury give security to save the towne from all charges that may arise by her.” This shows that, due to her bad reputation, Dudley would only be allowed to be a resident in the town if Bradstreet, Johnson, or Parkes agreed to pay her fines if she got into any trouble.

Evening at Medfield, Massachusetts, George Inness, 1875, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art


After Dudley became a widow, she got in trouble again with the town for living with a man without being married, and he was eventually fined for allowing her to be his “inmate”. Meanwhile, her daughter, Hannah married twice. First to Edward Lane and then after his death, she married into my family through Nicholas Paige.

Another excerpt of this book writes: “She [Hannah] inherited a large share of her mother’s weakness and wickedness; was indicted, and after disagreement by the jury, was at the General Court in May 1666, found guilty of much wickedness”; but great lenity was extended toward her, for having confessed her offenses [and] she was discharged.” Hannah died June 30, 1704 and Paige lived on for another twelve and a half years.

Castle Rock, Nahant, Massachusetts, Alfred T. Bricher, 1877, From the collection of: The White House

This story, containing names, important dates, titles, court proceedings, and first hand accounts, all came from books I found online. I would have probably glanced right over these books if they had not appeared through a Google Books search and they have allowed me to uncover my family’s secret past.

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Words by Mékal Tewell

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