A Father for Martha

Pauline C. Merrick – Research, Analysis and WritingA Father for Martha

Pauline C. Merrick

August 2016


I adore my mother-in-law. No, seriously, I hit the mother-in-law jackpot when I married. Born in 1922, June Merrick is a product of her generation; raised by hard-working parents she scorns any idleness. Rarely still, she sews and knits and crochets, donating most of her output to various charities. When she speaks of her parents, her love for them comes through, and it is obvious that she misses them greatly. So it was difficult when, as a genealogist, I broached the subject that her beloved mother was probably illegitimate.

Many years ago, when first bitten by the genealogy bug, I had looked at her family. It didn’t seem as though there was much for me to do – her father Anthony Hjalmar Hall was born in Sweden, and in that pre-internet age, I had no plans to research Swedish ancestors. Her mother, Martha Haase, was born in Minnesota, of German immigrant parents. And there it all lay for many years.

DNA tests are such a wonderful addition to a genealogist’s toolkit. I tested, my mother tested, my sister tested, my brother tested. With those results, we proved out what had been a weak paper trail to HAMLIN cousins in the Midwest. I made a start at unwinding my tangle of WILLIAMS ancestors, and found some HANEY cousins who were stalled in their family research. Along the way, I started to help others figure out their own results and make similar discoveries. One of the most important things I learned was the importance of testing older relatives, before that DNA is lost forever. Hence, I asked my mother-in-law to submit a sample – not for any particular research problem, but just to have it “on file” so to speak.

In spite of the dry-mouth problem that plagues so many older folks, she produced a decent sample and I sent it off to Ancestry. While waiting for her test to process, I worked expanding her family tree. I entered what little I knew about her HALL ancestors in Sweden, and then started on her mother’s HAASE family in Minnesota. It didn’t take long to run into trouble.


Martha Haase Hall

   Martha Augusta (Haase) Hall


Martha Haase was born 3 March 1893 in West Albany, Wabasha County, Minnesota to Anna Haase, and a father who died shortly after, name unknown. Familysearch.org has (unindexed) birth records for Minnesota so I dove in; found the correct book for Wabasha County, paged through to births recorded in West Albany in 1893, and there was Martha, born March third. Oddly, no father was listed. I checked for the birth date of her younger sister, Helen. No father listed. I looked through the index at the beginning of the book for her brother. There was an index entry for William Haase, born in West Albany in 1888 – book B, page 63, line 7. I found the book and page, and line 7 was – blank. Well, not exactly blank. Before the image had been scanned, someone had carefully run a strip of white-out tape across the entry. In the “condition of birth” column, you can read through the tape. Illegitimate. So much for the “father died young” story – Anna Haase bore 5 children between 1887 and 1902 without the benefit of marriage.

My mother-in-law took it well. Turns out, she always suspected the truth. She knew that her grandmother had been a cook in a lumber camp filled with men. Naturally, she assumed that I could research and find the father with ease. After all, didn’t she just do a DNA test? Suddenly this had turned from a lark into a burden. I had work to do.

When her results were available on Ancestry, I carefully scanned her matches. The close ones were known family members. Fanning out, I found connections to the Haase family in Minnesota, and lots of Swedes. Gedmatch provided much of the same – no match close enough to pin down; no family trees with a young man in the right place, at the right genetic distance, and at the right time (an 1890 census would be helpful!) Once again, I had to set it aside.

Months later, I received a curious email. “*TT” informed me that June Hall Merrick was his closest match on Gedmatch, which he had just joined. He could see that I was in the US; he has no relatives in the US. His great-grandfather had come here in 1881, but returned to Sweden in 1884. The great-grandfather had a brother who traveled with him. The brother remained here, married but had just one child who never married. I asked him if he was related to the Hall family of Vetlanda. He did a bit of research and confirmed that he was not. Please, I asked, send me the information on that one brother who came to the US and remained here. After several agonizing days, *TT responded.

Alexander Olsson was born in Sweden 22 April 1859. He arrived in Boston in 1881. His whereabouts for the next few years are not known, but on 15 March 1893 he married a woman named Christina. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, 70 miles up the Mississippi River from West Albany, where Anna Haase had just given birth to her daughter.

Laying out a family tree based on Alexander Olsson, June and *TT are second cousins, once removed. The expected amount of shared centimorgans for that relationship is 106 cM. Their actual number is 113. June’s ethnicity estimates show approximately 75% Scandinavian, with the remainder being Western European, indicating that 3 of her 4 grandparents may have been Swedish, and the other German.

Alexander Olsson, welcome to the family. I never would have found you using standard genealogical research. And thank you, *TT, for randomly deciding to do a DNA test!

Harriet Riggs, 3xgreat-grandma.

This is a portion of what I hope will be a longer article about my 3rd Great-Grandmother, Harriet E. (Riggs) (Talmage) Atwood. She lived a long and interesting life, and I hope to tease out all of her secrets. In the meantime, it is best to start at the beginning……

Who Were the Parents of Harriet, Second Wife of Wheeler Atwood of Woodbury, Connecticut?

Pauline C. Merrick

May 2016

Wheeler Atwood, a large landowner of Woodbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut[[1]] married for his second wife Harriet E. Talmadge (also Tallmadge, Talmage) of Oxford, Connecticut 26 Aug 1837.[[2]] Harriet Talmadge is identified in the genealogy Dr. Henry Skilton and his Descendants[[3]] as Mrs. Harriet (Riggs) Talmadge, widow of Jason Talmadge, daughter of Daniel Riggs and Polly (Sackett) Riggs. As there are errors to be found in this family sketch (including Harriet’s date of death), further research was undertaken to verify the information.

Harriet was born 27 Sep 1816 in Watertown, Connecticut.[[4]] She died 28 Aug 1901 at the home of her granddaughter, Susan (Atwood) Warner, wife of Samuel N. Warner, in Thomaston, Connecticut.[[5]] Susan supplied the details information for the death certificate, and presumably for her obituary, which appeared in the Waterbury newspaper shortly after.

Harriet married first to Jason Talmage 28 Mar 1834[[6]] in Oxford, New Haven County, Connecticut. On 28 Sept 1835, Jason Talmage of Oxford published a notice that his wife, Harriet E. Talmage, had left his bed & board, and that he would pay no further debts of her making.[[7]] 26 July 1837, Harriet E. Tallmadge filed a petition for the annulment of her marriage to Jason Tallmadge,[[8]] alleging that on or about 1 April 1835 he committed adultery with one Marietta Balwin, and with “divers women” since that date. The annulment was granted, Harriet was declared to be a single woman, and married Wheeler Atwood shortly thereafter.

Harriet is enumerated in 1850[[9]] in the household of Wheeler Atwood, aged 34 years, which fits the 1816 birth year, although she did not turn 34 until three days after the census was taken. The 1840 census[[10]] tickmark indicates a female in Wheeler’s household aged 20 to 29 years, also fitting the 1816 birth year.

At the time of the 1850 census, Daniel Riggs, age 50, lived near to Wheeler and Harriet, on the neighboring farm of Leman G. Atwood.

Daniel Riggs married Polly Sackett 29 Oct 1814, probably in Oxford, New Haven County, Connecticut.[[11]] The 1820 census in Watertown[[12]] indicates Daniel Riggs as a male 16-25, with a female of the same age, and a male and female both under the age of 10. They are found in Woodbury in 1830;[[13]] a male and female 30-39, a male under 5, and a female 10-14, again fitting the 1816 birth year for Harriet.

The information on Harriet’s death certificate (supplied by her granddaughter) states that her parents were Joel Riggs and Polly Sackett. Susan, born in 1878, never knew Daniel who died in 1856. However, she may have remembered Daniel’s probable brother, Joel Riggs, who was a noted horse breeder/trainer in Oxford, and died in 1886.[[14]] Joel Riggs was born just twelve years before Harriet,[[15]] so could not be her father.

There is no other conflicting evidence to suggest that Harriet was not the daughter of Daniel Riggs and Polly (Sackett) Riggs, so it can be safely concluded that the information is correct.

 Who Were the Parents of Daniel Riggs, father of Harriet (Riggs) Atwood?

Proving the parents of Harriet Riggs leads a genealogist to the next logical question – who were her parent’s parents? Little direct evidence exists, but there are some good clues that point to them.

Knowing the exact date of marriage of Daniel to Polly Sackett is key to his identity. Nine days after the marriage, the following notice was submitted to the local newspapers:[[16]]


Left the house of the subscriber, about a week since, his son Daniel Riggs, who has conducted himself in a disobedient and unbecoming manner; and he therefore forewarns all persons from harboring or trusting him on his account, as no debt of his contracting will be paid. David Riggs, Oxford, Nov. 7, 1814.


Daniel was apparently disowned for marrying Polly Sackett. The probate records for David Riggs do not mention any children. Daniel died in Waterbury 12 Nov 1856.[[17]] He left no probate records, and the City Clerk has no record of his death. He was 58 years old at the time of death, implying that he was born about 1798, so would be the son of David Riggs’ second wife, Hannah Wheeler.

DNA – I have done DNA testing, along with one sister and one brother. My sister’s test is through Ancestry, where she is a member of a large DNA circle with descendants of Lucy Wheeler. This Lucy Wheeler was a sister to Hannah Wheeler who married David Riggs. Lucy had lots of descendants; Hannah relatively few that are known to me. I have not yet found any definite DNA connections to anyone descended from the Ct RIGGS family.

  Who Were the Parents of Polly Sackett, mother of Harriet (Riggs) Atwood?

Polly Sackett did not remarry after her divorce from Daniel Riggs, and was known as Polly Riggs for the rest of her life. She died in Ellington, Tolland County, Connecticut 18 Aug 1893.[[18]] She is buried in Ellington Center Cemetery[[19]] next to her daughter, Jane E. Buckingham.[[20]] The name of the informant for the death certificate is not given, but it was undoubtedly Jane. Polly’s parents’ names are given as Wm. O. Sackett and Polly Ann Sackett; her age was 97 years and 2 months, and husband’s name was Daniel Riggs.

There is more evidence that supports the death certificate information. At the time of the 1870 census, Polly Riggs was living in Seymour, New Haven County, Connecticut, in a household that includes Eliza Sperry, aged 28, Howard Sackett, aged 18, and Emma Sackett, aged 10.[[21]] These are children of William W. Sackett, known son of William O. and Polly Ann Sackett.

Another item is found in land records of Woodbridge, Connecticut. 27 Jan 1815 William O. Sackett and Polly Ann Sackett sold a parcel of land; Polly Riggs witnessed the signing of the deed,[[22]] three months after her marriage.

Genealogical Summary:

Daniel Riggs, son of David Riggs and Hannah (Wheeler) Riggs was born about 1798, died 12 Nov 1856. He married 29 Oct 1814 to Polly Sackett who was born about 1796 to William O. Sackett and Polly Ann (_____) Sackett. They were divorced in August of 1840.


  • 1) Harriet E., born 27 Sep 1816, died 28 Aug 1901. Married (1st) Jason Talmage, (2nd) Wheeler Atwood.
  • 2) Possible son born 1815-1820 (tickmark on 1820 census, no further.)
  • 3) Possible son born 1825-1830 (tickmark on 1830 census, no further.)
  • 4) Jane E., born 1832, died 1915. Married Henry Buckingham.

[[1]] Estate of Wheeler Atwood, Woodbury Probate District, #186, 1859. Microfilm, Connecticut State Library, or Ancestry.com, Connecticut Wills and Probate Records, 1609 – 1999, Hartford Probate packets, Ambler, J through Averill, 1720-1880, accessed May 2016.

[[2]] Wheeler Atwood vs Harriet Atwood, Conn. Superior Court Divorce Files, Record Group 3, Box #63, 1752 to 1922, Abbott to Barnard, Micofilm, Connecticut State Library.

[[3]] John Davis Skilton, ed, Dr. Henry Skilton and his Descendants, S.Z. Field, New Haven, Ct, 1921, page 44. Electronic copy on Google Books.

[[4]] Death Certificate, town of Thomaston, Litchfield County, Ct.

[[5]] Obituary, undated, in possession of author.

[[6]] Harriet E. Tallmadge vs Jason Tallmadge, Conn. Superior Court Divorce Files, Record Group 3, Box #84, 1752 to 1922, Soule to Taylor. LDS # 1671903, microfilm, Connecticut State Library.

[[7]] Advertisement, Connecticut Herald New Haven, Ct. Vol XXXIII, Issue 358 page 4.

[[8]] Ibid, divorce.

[[9]] U. S. Census, 1850, Woodbury, Litchfield County, Ct. Roll M432_43, page 373A, image 154.

[[10]] U. S. Census, 1840, Woodbury, Litchfield, Connecticut, Roll 25, page 149, image 304.

[[11]] Daniel Riggs vs Polly Riggs Conn Superior Court Divorce files, Record Group 3, Box #81 1752 to 1922 Powell to Robinson. Microfilm, Connecticut State Library.

[[12]] U. S. Census, 1820, Watertown, Litchfield, Connecticut, M33_1,Page 425, image 359.

[[13]] U. S. Census, 1830, Woodbury, Litchfield, Ct. M19, Roll 11, Page 403. Indexed as “Gane Rigge”.

[[14]] Oxford Vital Records, 1767 to 1907, microfilm, Ct. State Library, film #3705, LDS #1420658.

[[15]] Ibid, Oxford Vital Records, Joel died 11 Jan 1886 at the age of 82.

[[16]] Advertisement, Connecticut Journal, New Haven, Ct., XLVII:2456, page 4, 21 Nov 1814.

[[17]] Death Notice, Connecticut Courant, Hartford, Conn., Vol XCIII, Issue 4297, page 3, published 22 Nov 1856.

[[18]] Death Certificate, Town of Ellington, Ct.

[[19]] Find A Grave memorial # 83483103. Top of gravestone is engraved “Mother”. Jane is buried next to her, memorial # 83434805.

[[20]] U. S. Federal census, 1880, town of Seymour, New Haven County, Ct. Polly Riggs is enumerated in the household of Jane E. Buckingham, and listed as her mother.

[[21]] U. S. Federal census, 1870, town of Seymour, New Haven County, Ct.

[[22]] Deeds, Woodbridge, Ct. Book 10, page 384. Microfilm, Ct. State Library.

The Stones Hold Stories of the Past

(This story was written for the Brookfield (Massachusetts) Citizen, published 2005.)

The historical significance of the Brookfield Cemetery, National Register of Historic Places, does not lie simply in the fact that it is “old”. The gravestones located there are inscribed with information about residents of Brookfield through the years, and also about the formative years of the emerging nation. One such stone stands not far from modern route 9.

Here lies ye Body of Doct Thomas Weld, son of ye Revd Habijah Weld of Attleborough,

The first member of the Weld family to set foot in the New World did so in the port of Boston in 1632, during what historians now call “The Great Migration” of emigrants from Europe, mostly English. His grandson, Habijah, was born in Dunstable, MA, in 1702. Graduating from Harvard in 1732, Habijah became pastor of the church in West Attleboro and served in that capacity until his death in 1782. He married Mary Fox in 1728, and together they reared a family of fifteen children.

Their seventh child was named Thomas, who trained to become a doctor, finishing his training by the age of nineteen. When the call came from the military for young men, Thomas joined up in his professional capacity.

Having been upon ye Expedition against Crownpoint, Anno 1756,

By the middle of the 18th century, England was eager to expand her holdings in the American colonies. The western lands – namely the Ohio valley– were rich in natural resources for those strong enough to take them. Unfortunately, the French had already claimed these lands, and were prepared to fight for them. The French controlled traffic on Lake Champlain, an important transportation link between Canada and the disputed lands, by holding Crown Point, at the narrowest part of the lake. War was officially declared in 1756, and several attempts were made to take the French fortifications in the area.

And upon his Return home died at ye House of DoctorJabez Upham, in Brookfield, December ye 24th, 1756, in ye 21st year of his age.

“Home” in this case refers to the settled lands of New England, Brookfield being an important stopping place for travelers. The sick, cold, and discouraged troops would have found rest and food here on their journey back to the east. Among the sick was Thomas Weld, who apparently was taken to the home of the town’s best doctor, Jabez Upham, where the young doctor/soldier died. Out of respect for his profession or maybe for his military endeavors, Thomas was laid to rest in the Upham family plot, with a simple yet eloquent piece of slate to mark the spot. Thomas’ headstone today, nearly 250 years later, is worn and chipped, but still stands to remind us of the short, noteworthy life of Thomas Weld, Dr.


More Stories of My Father

A Short History of the Automobile According to Clarence

All seven of us Atwood kids are pretty good with car maintenance and simple repairs. Dad made sure that we all had something to drive when we turned 16, but with his limited resources (and 7 kids!) those vehicles were a motley bunch. He favored Corvairs in the 60’s and 70’s, Ralph Nader be damned. The reliability of those wheels was questionable, so we all knew how to pop a clutch or clean a spark plug.

Dad’s first vehicle was a “cut down” Model T pickup. Cut down meaning that anything not absolutely required for forward movement had been removed. He paid five dollars for it, and when it broke down far out in the forest, he simply abandoned it. If one knew where to look, the rusted parts might still be found where he left it.

Dad’s Dad drove truck for Gulf Oil and for his brother-in-law delivering cordwood to the brass mills in Waterbury. At one time, he drove a Mack, perhaps a 1918, which had the unique characteristic of having the radiator located directly in front of the driver’s knees. During the winter, the cab was hot enough to drive in shirtsleeves. During the summer – well, on long hills, Grandad would put the truck in low gear, and walk alongside, reaching in through the window to turn the wheel as needed.

When Dad and Mom decided to build a house on the north part of the farm in 1947, Woodtick road was a one lane dirt path. They simply left the car in the road for the time it took to hack a pull-off out of the brush and trees at the front of their building lot. No one came along to complain.

In the 1920’s and early 30’s, cars did not have fuel pumps. The gasoline was fed into the engine by gravity. Thus, depending on the location of the fuel tank, you might have to stop, turn around, and drive backwards to go uphill so the gas would feed into the engine. Driving was much more of a skill than it is today, and quite a bit harder to do well. But lower speeds and fewer cars on the road left room for error. Breakdowns were frequent, and homeowners would normally let strangers in to use the telephone to call for help.

Around 1930, when folks were getting used to being mobile, the need arose to clear the roads of snow. Dad’s uncle acquired a tractor – one of the models that had actual tracks (think modern bulldozer, without the front blade.) The men fashioned a snowplow on the front of a wooden stone boat, and would merrily make the rounds of the town roads; one driving, the rest riding on the “plow” to provide weight. Until the tractor broke down, which was normal procedure. Then, the gang of men would unhook the stone boat, wrassle it around to the front of the tractor, and “donkey” the tractor onto the sled. Borrowing a team of horses from the nearest farm, they would tow the rig home for repairs. On one occasion, that proved impossible, so the tractor was fixed on site, with a fire in a steel barrel providing heat to the mechanics. Repairs took two days.

One of the gems that I drove in high school was a mid-60’s Opel Kadett. It rarely would go into reverse, so I had to be careful where I parked it. One day it refused to run at all, so Dad hooked a chain to it and we towed it to the local repair shop. It turned out to need a new alternator, but when I went back to pick it up, the bill was $65.00, about $15 more than I had. I was highly embarrassed when the guy said I couldn’t take the car without paying the bill in full, but then another man behind the counter spoke up. “Aren’t you Clarence Atwood’s daughter?” he asked. Upon my affirmative reply, he told the other guy to let me take the car, because he knew Clarence was good for it.

I was no longer embarrassed. I was Clarence’s daughter, and he was good for it.

Stories of My Father

          The Sinking of the Walker


     My Dad, born a Connecticut farm boy in 1922, was prime age for the service when the U.S. entered WWII. Always interested in radios and electronics, he joined the Navy in the fall of 1942 to train as a Sonar Operator. After training, he was assigned to the new USS Walker DD-517, a Fletcher-class destroyer headed for the Pacific. Although Dad and his future wife had met, romance had not yet bloomed. His letters to her were what finally turned her head and won her heart; she was corresponding with no less than three lonely boys far from home.

     Dad’s younger brother Ted was in the Army, and heard through the service grapevine that the Walker had been involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima and had suffered casualties. This letter was Dad’s response to a frantic letter from Ted, checking to see if he was okay.

     The letter is undated, probably written in April of 1945.

“I was mighty surprised to hear that you had found out about our (the Walker’s) misfortune. No I didn’t write home about it so as not to worry anyone. We were cruising up and down one night about eleven thirty or so. Everything had been pretty quiet all day so we were a bit relaxed. About this time, the moon started to rise over the island and since everyone expected any trouble to start on the island side, that’s the only place we were watching. With a poor watch being kept on our port side, it gave a jap two man sub just the chance it needed to slip in. It was one of their newer ones and instead of having torpedoes, it had a solid head holding some half a ton of T.N.T. It was designed for a one way trip to join honorable ancestors. Well it made it. It hit us right in the magazine for number 1 gun. It was quite a nice explosion and it blew all of us on the bridge except the helmsman off into the water. I hit about two hundred yards away making a beautiful jackknife dive into the water. As I came up to the surface, I grabbed a salmon which happened to be swimming by and then lay comfortably on the surface in my little rubber boat watching the Walker on fire and eating the can of tuna fish. The great flames of the fire in our magazine were towering thousands of feet into the air and they soon attracted a squadron of Kamikaze planes. As they closed in on us, we threw up a murderous barrage of AA fire and only one succeeded in getting thru. He dove madly for the ship and hit her squarely midships, knocking out both engine rooms leaving us with no power at all. It also made another big hole in our bottom and we started to sink. The captain decided to try and beach the ship so the medical corpsman broke out their absorpant [sic] cotton and we jammed it into the hole to sop up the water. The machinist mates took a piece of iron pipe and an old peanut can for a piston and made an outboard motor which we hung over the stern and we started toward the beach at about fifty two knots. However our efforts were doomed and about fifty yards from the beach, the gallant Walker gave a last gurgle and sank. However, the water wasn’t very deep and we only sank till just the tops of the stacks were sticking out.

San Bernardino CA 1944

Clarence, right, and Ted Atwood

The Seabees came over the next day and they decided we could save the ship. I forgot to tell you, the air around Iwo Jima has a lot of hydrogen in it. Well anyway, the Seabees brought over a bunch of bicycle pumps and all hands went to work pumping the hydrogen into the Walker. We worked about half the day and then the old ship started to rise. Boy did she come up fast. We got just a bit too much hydrogen in her and she came right up out of the water. Its lucky one of the Seabees was standing on the forecastle and when the ship was about 10 feet out of the water he released the anchor; holding her in place. Then the Seabees brought up a barge and welded new plates over our holes and we returned to service little the worse for wear. There were absolutely no casualties aboard the ship except me. I got pretty badly sunburned in my rowboat eating my fresh fried trout.

No, I guess perhaps that sailor had a few too many drinks. We’ve never been near Iwo Jima. We were in the states when it was invaded and we’ve had no cause to go there since.

Well, I’m tired from thinking up all that bulloney so I’ll quit now. Lets hear from you soon.

Your brother,