For years I have recorded Massachusetts marriage intentions in my family file. Sure, there are errors and suspected omissions, but I never thought about these intentions in terms of record bias.
All that has changed because of the case of John Preston and Mary Cook, 1811, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
I'm on a quest to learn more.
In order to figure out if these intentions were subject to bias, I think I need to understand how the process actually worked. According to the City of Gloucester: Marriage Licenses site, filings today require both parties to appear.
Would both parties have been required to appear in 1811? How did these intentions (aka "publishments") come to be and what form did they take? For example, did someone ask the town or church to publish the intentions? Were the intentions just announcements pinned to the church or courthouse door? In 1811, would these have been published in a local paper? Who could order the publication?
For the most part, I wouldn't think record bias would be very likely if both people were from the same town. In the puzzling case of John Preston and Mary Cook, however, the intended parties are not even from the same state.
Here's the story.
A long, long time ago, the marriage intention between "Miss Mary Cook [of Gloucester]" and "John Preston of Rumney, State of New Hampshire" dated 22 June 1811 was recorded in the "Publishments" of Gloucester, Massachusetts (partial page image follows). A corresponding New Hampshire intention has not been found; no record of a marriage between the couple has been located in either place.
From separate research, the man noticed in this record is almost certainly John Preston born 5 Dec 1789, at Rumney, son of William Preston and Elizabeth Clark John was the brother of my ancestor, William Preston. These two brothers are said to have been soliders in the War of 1812 who became the first white settlers of modern day Defiance, Ohio, after the war.(note 1) John Preston died at Defiance 7 May 1819.(note 2)
As part of the bigger task to advance the proof about these brothers, our family has worked a timeline at both New England and Ohio. The last (latest) known record about either of the brothers at New England had been this 1811 marriage intention.(note 3) Likewise, the earliest record of either man at Ohio is the Miami County marriage 13 October 1814 of John Preston to Sophia Ewing, dau. daughter of Alexander Ewing of Fort Wayne fame.(note 4) Ewing family materials refer to Sophia's husband separately as "Captain Preston" or "Captain John Preston."
I had assumed John Preston was present when the 1811 intention was filed and was working from the hypothesis that he remained at New England long enough for the intention to somehow dissolve, but left soon enough to see service in the war and court his bride, Sophia (probably both at Ohio).
Sex? Scandal? We took the case to Jane Walsh and the Gloucester Archives a year ago, hoping to learn more about how the intention was resolved (breakup, marriage, divorce). Jane could find no record of a marriage or marriage dissolution, but she found research partially identifying Mary Cook (note 5) and reporting her first two children as Martha Perkins (said born 4 November 1810) and John Preston (said born 5 February 1813).(note 6)
As "Miss Mary Cook," the 1811 intended bride married Zebulon Parsons some 10 years later ; it seems the only marriage associated to date with this Mary Cook. Births of three Parsons children to Mary and Zebulon were recorded at Gloucester.
Failure to confirm birth of John Preston, 1813: John Preston's birth is not reported in Gloucester's vital records (nor seems the earlier birth of daughter Martha Perkins). While the research is recent and ongoing, notice of these births is yet to be found in the Gloucester town books (now browsable as part of the FamilySearch Historical Record collections).
If Mary Cook's son John Preston was born in 1813, it seemed not impossible, but less likely that he was the son of John Preston of Rumney. However, the information I developed about this son suggested a birth in 1812, quite possibly 5 February 1812. For example,
- John Preston died 31 August 1868, said age 56 years, 6 mos. [Rockport, Mass. death vital record] (Computes to a birth in February 1812.)
- John Preston's gravestone reports an age of 56. [Union Cemetery, Rockport, Mass.] (So, born ca 1812.)
- John Preston was was age 53 at the time of the Massachusetts 1865 state census. (So born ca 1812.)
- John Preston was age 48 at the time of the 1860 U.S. census. (I viewed at Ancestry.com.) So, born ca 1812.
- John Preston was age 38 in the 1850 U.S. census. [Ancestry indexed as 38; FamilySearch indexed as 35.] Again, so born ca 1812.
If Mary Cook's son, John Preston, had been born in 1812, it seemed likely he was son of my Rumney man--but that analysis supposed dear John Preston (1789-1819) had been a participant in filing the marriage intention.
Wondering whether or not he had been a participant brings us full circle to inquiring about the customs and practices of filing marriage intentions at Massachusetts in 1811.
1. Nevin O. Winter, History of Northwest Ohio (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1917) 1: 405.
2. Isabella H. Taylor (Fort Wayne, Indiana),“Genealogy of the Ewing Family,” 22 Nov 1929, part of p. 1 (of 3), citing "... a few data from my own knowledge gained through many letters from Emily"; full manuscript referenced as “Indiana Biography Series : 99-101,” supplied by Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, Indiana, correspondence of 13 Feb 2009.
3. The latest notice of the older brother in New England is 1808, at New Hampshire (both a deed and comments about an engagement to work on the dam for Dartmouth College).
4. Michael Hawfield, "Ewings played hardball in business, with Indians," archives of The News-Sentinel, cites April 4, 1994; transcribed version, News-Sentinel.com.
5. Stephanie Buck for Jane Walsh to GeneJ, "Re: John Preston - Mary Cook intention, Gloucester, 1811 ...," e-mail of 28 June 2011; privately held. At least in part, the information Jane worked with about Mary Cook was recently published in a work by Mary H. Sibbalds (1926-2009).
6. The Gloucester Archives work suggested yet another child, "Martha Perkins," b. 4 November 1810 could have been aka "Martha Preston." Birth records can not be located about either Martha or John. I work on the assumption that Martha was a Perkins, not a Preston.