Witch Ancestors: How to Find Witches and Witch Hunters In Your Family Tree
Yo Mama's a Witch!
If we go back in time, we would find that every one of us has a very interesting array of ancestors in our lineage. Some of us may find preachers, movie stars, blacksmiths, even royalty in our family trees. Some of us may even discover we have accused "witches" in our ancestry, and perhaps a few witch hunters too! If we think about how big a family tree can get the further back we go, we can see how this might be possible especially for those who have European ancestry. Hundreds of thousands of people were accused of witchcraft during the Witch Trials that lasted from the fifteenth century through the eighteenth century in various places in Europe so quite a few of us are bound to find at least one accused witch in our lineage. And if you can't find a witch, you might actually find a witch hunter or accuser.
There are various ways to start searching your ancestry for witches and witch hunters, which will be discussed below. Get out your black pointy hats and broomsticks and let's take a ride into the past in search of our most magical witch ancestors!
Finding Your Witch Ancestors: Family Trees
Ancestry.com is a great place to research and document your ancestral line. While it does cost money and time, it is worth both if you can afford it. Now, to warn you, you will have to spend a lot of time researching and documenting your family tree (in most cases) in order to find a link or potential link to a witch or witch hunter ancestor. The reason for this is because most of us don't have the same last name as our witch ancestors, but for those of us who do that makes this a whole lot easier!
Step #1: Build Your Family Tree
So what you'll want to do is go about building your family tree (if you haven't already). If you can't afford an online ancestry database like ancestry.com, you can build a family tree manually. This will probably take you more time and effort but it can be done by talking to people in your family and gathering important documents from family members and libraries, etc. Go back as far as you possibly can until you hit a wall, meaning until you can't find any further ancestors. Sometimes you'll get really lucky and find a story about one of your ancestors while building an online family tree that might tip you off to the fact that one of them might have been a witch or witch hunter. But if not, continue on to step #2.
Step #2: Build A Simple List
Make a separate list of your family's names. This can be in a word document or on a simple sheet of scrap paper, whatever you'd prefer. Keeping it in alphabetical order is probably smart, too so you can easily find information while researching. Leave some space next to each person's name and begin recording their country of origin (and city/town if you have it). You'll also want to make note of their years of birth and death, if available.
At this point, you can move on to step #3 detailed in the next section.
Searching the Web: Witch Databases
Once you have the skeleton to your family tree and your list of names, you can then begin to research your ancestors via online databases. This may seem like a very daunting task, but trust me it's not so bad once you get started.
Step #3: Research, Research, Research!
You have your list of names, locations and dates, so now you can look online for databases of accused witches. You'll first want to start by looking at the locations of each of your ancestors (i.e. if you have ancestors that came to the United States in the seventeenth century start by searching for a list of names in the Salem Witch Trials). Don't forget that there were witches executed/tried in almost every colony of the U.S. so research each state's list of witches' names before you give up.
Here are a couple sources you can use to find your ancestors that might have been in the Salem Witch Trials:
Salem Witch Trials Documents: this website not only has court documents on the trials but also personal diary entries from the people involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Search for your ancestors' names and info. here.
Wikipedia List of People in the Salem Witch Trials: believe it or not Wikipedia has a quite extensive list of people who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials. You may be able to find your ancestor's name on this list. And it's broken down by outcome of each person (executed, indicted, etc)
These are good places to start, but you will find many more websites online that will give you information on all of the people involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Many of us will not find any ancestors involved in the Salem Witch Trials, so we will have to look back further into our European ancestry (or elsewhere, this is just an example).
Here are some witch databases from the Witch Trials in Europe that you can use:
Witchcraft, The Witch Trials: this website has a lot of information on the European Witch Trials, and by clicking on each location you might be able to find your witch and witch hunter ancestors here. However, if you don't have the location of your ancestors or years of life this website will prove rather difficult for you to use.
Wikipedia's List of People Executed for Witchcraft: again, Wikipedia pulls through with a huge list of people who have been executed for witchcraft both in Europe and elsewhere. Just remember that these are only people who were killed...it doesn't include those who were accused and set free or accused and put in jail, etc.
There are so many website databases that can be used to find your potential witch and witch hunter ancestors. It's going to take you some time, so don't get aggravated if you don't find results the first day. Keep going and take notes in the process. If you do find a witch ancestor or witch hunter ancestor, you can then do separate research in detail on that particular person. Add that information to your family tree and records.
Local History and Family Stories
If the online research fails or is wavering, there are other ways to research without using a computer. If your family has been in the same area for centuries, you might consider looking into your local history and see if your family played a part in it.
Step #4: Research your Local History
Often you can find local historical documents at your local library. This might turn up information about your family, if indeed your family has been in the same location for centuries. Through this research, you might find a story about one of your family members being accused or suspected of witchcraft or witch hunting!
Step #5: Talk To Your Family
You might be surprised what you could find out by simply talking to your family members. Often someone in your family has already done research and built a family tree that you can use for your own family tree/records. If you get really lucky, someone might have a story about a witch or witch hunter in your family tree...or give you hints as to who might have been a witch or witch hunter in your ancestry. Keep in mind terms used about ancestors like herbs, herbalist, cunningwoman, midwife, wise man, sin eater, healer, outcast, shaman, etc.
Still No Luck? Logical Reasoning
So you've built an entire family tree, spent hours of time on research and still haven't found a link to witches or witch hunters in your ancestry? Don't fret. This was supposed to be a fun exercise. But if you're that serious about it, think about it like this. By process of deduction, someone in your family tree was bound to have been a witch or witch hunter. Why? Because you have literally thousands if not millions of people in your lineage so someone had to have been one of these things in the past!
And in the meantime, now you have a ton of information on your ancestors that you can use to educate other people in your family or simply enjoy on your own. Put together a photo album or scrapbook about your ancestry. Or write a book or blog including some of the stories you've gathered on your family tree...you never know who might want to read it!
My Very Own Video Giving You Tips:
© 2015 Nicole Canfield
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