"I wish I could translate the hints about the dead..."

In a previous post, I talked about one of my brick walls: Isaac Burnett; in another, I discussed the unreliability of documents (Silas W Brown's obituary) and the consequent disappointment one feels when such a document does not reveal any additional information.

The crossing of these threads is today's topic, as several new bits of information--all exciting, some perplexing--have recently come across my desk (or, more precisely: into my laptop).

Isaac Burnett (1780 -May 1860), a paternal fourth great-grandfather, has no identifiable parents, and until recently, five children (of ten) whose names are lost: one boy, and four girls. Beginning with the discoveries of two distant cousins, we now know the name of one of those daughters, and are--perhaps--a bit closer to the identity of Isaac's parents.

Over a year ago, I received a reply to an online post inquiring about Isaac Burnett and his family. The respondent was from another Burnett family (that of Daniel Burnett and Mariah Burnham, the purported but impossible parents of Isaac), who, in her research on her Burnetts, had a stray bit of information from a copy of an only partially reliable typescript from the 'fifties she had located: an Abigail Burnett born in Newport, Maine in 1820 to an Isaac Burnett and Deborah (LKU); Abigail married a Rufus Carter in 1840.

A vintage postcard of Newport, Maine. If nothing else, it breaks up my text.

Fascinating! This fit perfectly with one of Isaac's mysterious unnamed daughters. Isaac Burnett was in Newport in 1820, his wife's name was Deborah (Grindle). The birth year was plausible. Case closed. Except I could find no other documentation that there was ever an Abigail Burnett; and while there were numerous Rufus Carters, none that I could locate married an Abigail that made sense. So that got put aside (and, admittedly, forgotten).

Just a few weeks ago, another Burnett descendant with whom I have been corresponding found a daughter as well: Mary Burnett. The document extract below shows her as the daughter of Isaac and Deborah Burnett, born in 1820 in Newport, Maine. Two daughters! Abigail and Mary, both born in 1820...? Possibly they were twins.

For those of you who did not trouble to enlarge the above, I would like to point out that it is a Death Registry, and the deceased in question is named Mary A Carter. A is in Abigail? The Abigail who married Rufus Carter? Connecting the dots, and researching further, it all worked out.
Mary Abigail Burnett was born in 1820 in Newport, Maine. She married Rufus Burnham Carter (12 Sep 1818 - 22 Mar 1884) in 1840. She died in Athol, Massachusetts on 2 Apr 1877.
Apart from the coincidence of Rufus and I sharing a birthday (theme of another recent post here), there were some odd things about him.
First, he was simply difficult to single out; there are two other contemporary Rufus B Carters who seemed to circle him. One lived for many years in Worcester, Massachusetts, at the same time as did our Rufus, although the impostor's wife was Lorena or Lozena, and he was a prison warden, not a furniture painter. The other was born in Maine (check!) and married a woman named Abigail in 1840 (check!), but there similarities ended. Helpful as Ancestry.com can be, family trees there must be triple-checked; there are several entries for the numerous Rufuses (Rufii?) with conflated census data, birth and death dates, and so on, picked out by their descendants like so many columns on a Chinese menu.
Second, the potentially significant oddity about Rufus Burnham Carter is his middle name. Many sources give his father-in-law Isaac Burnett's parents as Daniel Burnett and Mariah Burnham. Although this is not possible, Daniel Burnett just four years old at the time of Isaac's birth, the coincidence is striking, and threatens meaning--but what?
The Death Registry did yield one other factoid of interest: it states that Mary Burnett's parents were both born in Machias, Maine. Who provided this information, and how accurate it is bears looking into. Most other records show Isaac being born in Massachusetts in 1780, although Maine did not achieve statehood from Massachusetts until 1820, so arguably, Isaac might have been born in what was later called Maine. Deborah Grindle was born in what is now Maine, but the Grindle family was more often found in nearby Hancock and Penobscot counties, rather than Machias' Washington County. Anyway....
The really promising information--one hopes!--in regard to the mystery of Isaac Burnett's parents does not come directly from Mary Burnett at all, who is just a paternal third great aunt of mine, but rather her even more distant (first cousin, four times removed) daughter, Almira Ellen Carter (16 Sep 1845 - 6 Apr 1915). Which is why it is useful to follow collateral lines. While adding Rufus and their children to Mary Burnett, I did my usual cross-referencing and found this thrilling lead:

[Pardon the highlighting; it came from Google Books that way.]

Here was a mother lode (cousin lode?) of new and potentially wall-breaking information. Good old snobbish Mrs. Walter Simmons of Quincy, Mass! "...descended from Robert Burnett [!], a member of the Boston Tea Party...!" My recollection of American history needing the occasional assist, I had to use Google to find when the Boston Tea Party occurred. After scrolling through pages of recent right-wing frippery, I found the date: 1773. This being just seven years before Isaac was born (and perhaps confirming Massachusetts rather than Maine), this new (first) Robert should either be his father or grandfather, if Almira was a descendant. Huzzah--a breakthrough!

Except. In the last few weeks I have yet to find any record of a Robert Burnett participating in the Tea Party (and curse those upstarts who clutter the "Search" pages), and no Robert Burnetts who seem plausible for the time and place. It seems likely it should be true (and of course, I would love it to be); after all, in those pre-Internet days, when news sources and reference works were scarce, if someone was said to have had a noted ancestor it must have been passed down through the family, and this "Robert" would have been her mother's grandfather, so it wasn't coming from distant reaches of time. But if true, why can't I find him? If not, where did the story come from? Even if Tea Partier is an embellishment, surely "Robert" must be correct.

That third redskin from the right does kind of have my nose, don't you think?

While Silas W Brown's obituary merely contained errors, looking further into Almira's obituary, I find puzzles.
It states that her father was from Unity, Maine, but that was actually the birthplace of one of those other Rufii, who is well-documented to have continued to live there his entire life. It's possible that both R B Carter's were born there, but....

Continuing: "[a]mong her ancestors were the Rev. Thomas Dalton, one of the founders of Woburn, Mass...." My cursory research into the founding of Woburn revealed no one by that name, although there was a Rev Thomas Carter, which--again, coincidentally? Yes? No?--is her father's surname. More misinformation? Certainly more to research.

Am I closer to discovering Isaac Burnett's parents? Who knows. If nothing else, it's gladdening to see that one of my ancestors was well known for patriotic and charitable work. Rest in Peace, Myra.

Almira Ellen "Myra" Carter was born on 16 September 1845 in Stetson, Penobscot, Maine to Rufus Burnham Carter (12 Sep 1818 - 22 Mar 1884) and Mary Abigail Burnett (1820 - 2 Apr 1877). She would be the oldest of their four children. After living briefly in Wisconsin, the family moved to Massachusetts, where on 22 February 1869, Almira married Walter Everett Simmons (30 Mar 1846 - aft 1820), son of Ichabod Simmons (17 Feb 1801 - 12 Sep [again!] 1869) and Marcia Bates (29 Dec 1806 - 14 Sep 1877). The Simmons had five children, and lived in Quincy Massachusetts for the remainder of their lives, being especially active in civic and charitable works. Almira died on 6 April 1915 while visiting her daughter, Mary Florence (Simmons) Holmes (12 Sep [again!] 1869 - aft 1930), in Detroit  Michigan.

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