This afternoon, I listened to a podcast on the subject of cold-calling. I am very familiar with the term used in sales but this was the first that I have heard of it used in the study of genealogy. The podcast immediately transported me back in time…
I have already shared with you how I began in this field of interest by researching to identify my great-grandmother, Carrie Pierce Mellen. I discovered that Carrie was born in East Calais, of Washington County, Vermont. Following an exchange of letters with historical groups in Vermont, I was soon able to identify both her father and then her grandfather, Asahel Pierce. Those early records stated that Asahel had originally come from Rehoboth, Massachusetts; I never heard of it!
Before I tell you about my first genealogical cold-call, I must tell you that this event occurred in 1984. Thirty-one years ago this month, I typed out a letter of inquiry to the “Rehoboth Genealogical Society,” in the hopes that there really was such a group! Within two weeks, I received my letter back with a note attached. The author suggested that I contact a woman in Rehoboth and also gave me the contact details for a professional genealogist in town.
I soon wrote a new letter of inquiry to the woman referred to me and in the first week of December 1984, I received a hand-written, five-page letter from Rehoboth. The woman, Jeanette Vincent, confirmed that we were very distantly related and that she was happy to share information with me…fantastic news! We occasionally exchanged letters over the following few years. Our shared ancestor was Capt. Michael Pierce who arrived in the place to become known as Rehoboth in 1647. Her knowledge has helped my research a great deal, pointing me in the right direction. Even today as I reread her letters, I am finding clues that I must pursue.
Just over three years later, something really wonderful occurred when I accompanied my husband on a short business trip to Boston in May of 1988. I do not recall if he invited me along but I packed my things and dashed off a quick note to my “cousin” Jeanette to tell her that I was finally coming for that visit! I rented a car at our Boston hotel, grabbed my map and my file on the Pierce family and headed south for the day. Within the hour, I was in Rehoboth and made my way to the home of my “cousin” Jeanette. The closer that I got to Rehoboth, the more twisted became the road as I drove over gentle rolling countryside, dotted with large and small ponds, and with outcropping of rock. I had such an overwhelming feeling of wonder and excitement as I entered the village and found Jeanette’s home.
Jeanette was very happy to share our mutual history with me. She introduced me to a book about the Pierce family, written one hundred years earlier by Frederick Clifton Pierce.¹ The history took my family far back to ancestors who entered England with the William the Conqueror! Needless to say, I took that information with a grain of salt but even so, what an old treasure! We chatted over that book for a while and then she took me out to meet another “cousin” in Rehoboth.
Jeanette introduced me as “our cousin from Michigan!” Ruth was living in an old family home with a family burial plot in the back garden…a site that I had never seen before. Behind her home were buried a few of my Pierce ancestors: Deacon Joseph, Azrikim, and Nathaniel. One of the most interesting things she showed to me was a secret panel/door at the back of her large fireplace. She told me that was where the family would hide from Indians in the event of an attack! Throughout the main floor of the home were pieces of lovely, old heirloom furniture. I could not help but remember my mother’s sadness as she told me about her nearby relatives throwing their family’s old furniture into a large bonfire after the deaths of their parents; precious few heirlooms exist today in my family.
Today, memories of that special spring day have truly brightened my day. I only remember bits and pieces from that first visit and sadly, I only shot a few photographs. In 1991, my “cousin” Jeanette died of cancer; I am so pleased that we were able to meet and share stories. Her family had always remained in Rehoboth while my branch moved west…to Vermont. She was tickled to tell me that she was descended “from Capt. Michael Pierce on at least 5 different lines. That’s what happens when a family stays in a small town.” It was the first of several cold-calls to come, each one having opened new glimpses into my heritage and having brought me a new “cousin.” I will have to tell you about more of them at another time.
thanks for reading!
 Pierce, Frederick Clifton. Pierce Genealogy, No. IV: Being The Record of The Posterity of Capt. Michael, John and Capt. William Pierce, Who Came To This Country From England. Albany: J. Munsell’s Sons, 1889.