Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tracing your Minister Ancestors


A photo of the Rev. I. E. Bill
from page 45 of the "The Bills of Billtown" Genealogy
by Harry Bill, of Billtown, Nova Scotia

I’ve found quite a few ministers in my family tree. I can only come to the conclusion that ministers’ children marry ministers’ children, because this pattern repeated itself from the 1600s on down to the 19th century. Perhaps it was a class distinction. Ministers were educated, yet poor, so their children tended to marry teachers and other ministers instead of lawyers and businessmen? Perhaps it was due to the fact that they led a stricter upbringing than the other young adults in their communities? This is just my theory, but it held true for at least two centuries for several branches of my family tree.

Finding a minister in the family tree can open up lots of information to the family genealogist. Just Googling all the variations of your ancestor’s name can bring up many results. Try “Rev. John * Smith” or “Reverend * Smith” or “Rev. * Smith DD”, etc. in regular Google or in Google Books. I’ve found sermons, weddings, funerals, news clippings, and obituaries this way. Contact the historical society of your ancestor’s hometown to find out church denomination, and then contact the main headquarters of that church for more information. A search of local newspapers of the era can also lead to lots of stories and clues.

Most ministers, but not all, tended to go to institutions of higher education. Some of the Puritan ministers who came over with John Winthrop’s fleet in the 1630’s went to Cambridge and Oxford, and that is a great place to look for personal family information. Harvard was founded as a place to instruct these ministers in the New World. You can contact the colleges and universities in your ancestors’ area to find out if they attended, and what record might be available.

Sometimes someone in your family tree will just “see the light” and become a minister out of the blue. This is what happened to my ancestor Ingraham Ebenezer Bill, who was the son of Asahel Bill, a Connecticut farmer who relocated to Nova Scotia during the planter movement of the 1760s. Ingraham Ebenezer Bill was the youngest of eleven children, born in 1805 in “Billtown”, Nova Scotia. During his youth he experienced a religious conversion to the Baptist faith. He was uneducated beyond grade school, yet went on to be one of the founders of Acadia College in 1831, and was later granted an honorary Doctorate of Theology.

Whilst researching Rev. I. E. Bill, I knew only that he was a Baptist minister from the Maritime Provinces. I used some compiled genealogies on the Bill family to fill out some of the details on his life, and then I contacted the Canadian Baptist Society. They gave me copies of some of his sermons, and I found out that he had traveled all over the East Coast of Canada and the United States, and had written for a Baptist newspaper.

Upon finding out his connection with Acadia College, I contacted the college archives and received a large envelope with copies and news clippings about his activities, photographs, sermons and life. The college also had a copy of his personal journal, and a biography written by one of his sons! This was a gold mine for a genealogist! You can be sure that I wrote a nice donation check to the Acadia library in lieu of regular copy charges. The journal outlined how he made his conversion to being a Baptist, how he met and wooed his first wife, and his early preaching in Canada.

The lineage of Reverend Ingraham Ebenezer Bill:

Gen. 1. John Bill, b. abt 1598, d. 21 Jan 1637/38 at Boston; married about 1612 in England to Dorothy Tuttle, daughter of Symon Tuttle an Isabel Wells, b. about 1592 in England, d. about Dec. 1638 in Boston. Many of the Bills in this family are buried at Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, near the Old North Church in Boston. They lived at “Bill’s Farms” which is now part of Winthrop and Chelsea, visible from across the harbor from the Copp’s Hill Burial Ground.

Gen. 2. Philip Bill, b. Apr. 1629 in Ringstead, Northamptonshire, England, d. 8 Jul. 1689 in New London, Connecticut; married on 8 Jul 1689 to Hannah Waite, daughter of Samuel Waite and Mary Ward, b. abt 1625 probably in Finchingfield, Essex, England, d. 1709 in Groton, Connecticut. Philip settled first in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and then at “Pulling Point” which is now Chelsea, and finally at New London Connecticut. He died of “throat distemper” on the same day as his daughter Margaret.

Gen. 3. Samuel Bill, b. about 1665 near Boston, Massachusetts, d. 27 Jan. 1729/30 in Groton, Connecticut; married to Mercy Houghton, daughter of Richard Houghton and Catherine (?), b. about 1669 in Groton, Connecticut.

Gen. 4. Ebenezer Bill, b. 14 Dec 1695 in Groton, Connecticut, d. 23 May 1788 in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia; married on 8 Sep. 1726 in Lebanon, Connecticut to Patience Ingraham, daughter of William Ingraham and Elizabeth Chesebrough, b. 2 Apr. 1706 in Stonington, Connecticut, d. Oct. 1770 in Groton, Connecticut. Ebenezer Bill removed to Nova Scotia upon the removal of the “French Neutrals” after the French and Indian War.

Gen. 5. Asahel Bill, b. 7 Apr. 1748 in Lebanon, Connecticut, d. 10 Nov. 1814 in Billtown, Nova Scotia; married on 18 Jun 1778 in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia to Mary Rand, daughter of Caleb Rand and Mary Mayhew, born 1758, d. 19 Feb. 1845 in Billtown. Asahel Bill’s large tract of land in Cornwallis was called “Billtown” in the fertile Annapolis Valley.

Gen. 6. Ingraham Ebenezer Bill, b. 19 Feb. 1805 in Billtown, Nova Scotia, d. 4 Aug. 1891 in St. Martin’s, New Brunswick; married 1st on 20 April 1826 in Nova Scotia to Isabella Lyons, daughter of Thomas Ratchford Lyons and Ann Skinner, b. 28 Jan 1806 in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, d. Apr. 1872 in Carleton, New Brunswick; married 2nd on 14 May 1873 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Mrs. Susan L. (Nichols) Dove, daughter of John Nichols and Margaret (?), b. Dec. 1825 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, d. 25 May 1904 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Rev. I. E. Bill and Isabella had five children born in Billtown, and the eldest son died whilst a student at Acadia, and the youngest son went on to become a Baptist minister, too.

See my blog post on Sept. 1, 2009 for a continuation of this line through Rev. Bill’s son, the music Professor Caleb Rand Bill (not to be confused with his cousin, the Canadian Senator Caleb Rand Bill.)

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Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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