Sunday, 19 April 2015

Out Of Their Trees : Coffee Helps To Clear The Soup

Most families have a mystery. The biggest mystery, of course, is not knowing who your ancestors are. Even if you do, there’s often more unanswered questions. Today we begin with one of them in the family of Cyd Zeigler. We’ll also discover that his ancestry means he can pay for a coffee in Starbucks with a $100 bill and justifiably get away with it!

Cyd Zeigler is one of the world’s leading commentators on lgbt participation in sport. He is co-founder of Outsports, the website on which several leading athletes over the years have chosen to come out.

One of the Zeigler family mysteries concerns the background of Cyd’s grandfather Norman F. Zeigler (1925-1992). He was a foster child in the 1920s and no-one really knows anything about his family. Despite months of research I haven’t been able to uncover the full story. All I know is that at the age of 4 Norman was living with Cyrus C. Williams and his wife Bertha in Orleans, Massachusetts. The Williams’s had arrived in the US from Canada the year before and Norman is referred to as their “lodger”. Norman was still living with them in 1935 and 1940. The census records the birthplace of each individual, but Norman’s parents are always referred to as “unknown”, which indicates he was an orphaned before 1930. Considering he lived with the Williams’s for over 15 years we can assume that “lodger” really means “foster child”. Unfortunately I haven’t had access to any foster records in Massachusetts so can’t say any more than that.

For now the ancestry of Norman Zeigler remains a mystery. That of his wife, however, is far from being mysterious. In fact, its surprises more than make up for it.

Norman married Amy “Honey” Ryder (1939-2005) and had 5 children. Amy was the daughter of Almond Gage Ryder and his wife Wilhelmina Pye. Even though Wilhelmina was born in the USA her parents were born further afield – in Finland. Both of her parents came from near Helsinki, and both emigrated to the States in different years and they met and married in Massachusetts in 1899. The original family name was Pyy.

Almond Gage Ryder came from true colonial stock and from some of the most prominent founding families of Nantucket, indeed the USA itself. Almond’s mother was a member of the Ellis family (sadly, not the same family that gave its name to Ellis Island, the port of arrival of the Finnish Pyy family). Her direct ancestor (Cyd’s 9 x great-grandfather) was Lt. John Ellis (d.c.1676), a Mayflower passenger – but not THAT Mayflower. There was a later ship of the same name on which John sailed from London in 1629 (the same ship that brought Thomas Blossom, ancestor of Barack Obama and Rufus Wainwright).

In 1644 Lt. Ellis married Elizabeth Freeman, daughter of the first Assistant Governor of Plymouth Colony, rather hastily probably as she was already pregnant. In August they were brought before a court on a charge of fornication and having a child too soon after marriage. John was sentenced to a public whipping which his wife was to witness. All very different from their parents’ Puritan beliefs.

Lt. Ellis’s grandson Ebenezer moved to Nantucket in the early 18th century and his family intermarried many times with other prominent Nantucket families. The early history of Nantucket is tangled up in a complex web of family relationships, with siblings marrying siblings, cousins marrying cousins, cousins marrying siblings, men marrying their dead wife’s sister, etc. In fact, the highly respected American genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts, who has appeared in several UK and US editions of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, has called this family web “Nantucket Soup”.

One of these interrelated families were the Folgers. I’m sitting here in a city centre café bar drafting this article with a cup of coffee in front of me. If I was in America it could well be a brand of coffee founded by J. A. Folger in 1860, who, like, Cyd Zeigler, is descended from Peter Folger (d.c.1689) of Nantucket. Folger’s coffee isn’t that well known in the UK, unlike the name of another of Cyd’s ancestral Nantucket families, the Starbucks. The coffee connection in this case isn’t direct, however, as Starbucks is named after a character in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, though in turn he was named after the real family.

Back to Peter Folger. His wife Mary actually gets a mention in “Moby Dick”, where another surprising family connection is revealed. One of Peter and Mary's children was called Eleazer. He was another of Cyd’s 9 x great-grandfathers, and he had a sister called Abiah (sometimes called Abigail). She married twice. Her second husband was a tallow chandler called Josiah Franklin. They had ten children, including (I guess you might be ahead of me) Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the great statesman, inventor, scientist, colonial activist and a Founding Father of the USA. Yes, the man on the $100 note is Cyd Zeigler’s ancestral first cousin. Perhaps Cyd inherits his sense of lgbt rights from this side of the family more than any other.

And that was going to be it. I was ready to write this article when I received confirmation of research into Cyd Zeigler’s ancestry on his mother’s side. I haven’t had time to do more than a brief look, but it reveals more surprises.

Cyd’s family were aware of a French-Canadian connection, but I don’t think even they realise how far back it goes. French colonial ancestry is as well documented as that of colonial New England, so it didn’t take long to trace Cyd’s ancestry back through Quebec to the early French settlers in the 17th century and even back to France in the 15th.

I need to do more a detailed search to say more, but I can tell you that Cyd is descended from some of the most important families in Canada (even today), including the Fortins and Cloutiers. So I’ll end on this tantalising snippet – through his mother Cyd Zeigler is related to Madonna, the Duchess of Cornwall, Celine Dion, Jack Kerouac and Angelina Jolie.

POSTSCRIPT : Perhaps I should also mention Cyd’s distant cousinship to Herman Melville, whose own queer identity is much discussed. Both are descended from Nantucket founder Tristram Coffyn (1605-1681), a member of one of the interrelated families that make up the “Nantucket Soup”. The funny thing is, Benjamin Franklin is one of very few Nantucket Americans who ISN’T descended from Tristram Coffyn! Its all very confusing.

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