Collection Gem: November 2022

Ye Colonial Kinsmen, a Genealogical Curiosity
By John Matsen

Those of you who have explored the Deats Library may have come across sets of eight 3 ft. x 2 ft. beige charts titled “Ye Colonial Kinsmen from Plymouth Rocke to York Towne.” HCHS has been displaying and selling the charts since 2010. I noticed a set of the charts several years ago and was intrigued by the foreword printed on sheet 1:

COLONIAL KINSMEN is unique. It weaves together into a single “fabric” of kinship, approximately 3500 of our early colonial ancestors spanning six generations and covering roughly the two centuries following the voyages of HALF MOON and MAYFLOWER.  Stated differently, it provides the connecting “linkage” (however obscure) between each of the 3500 persons charted, and ALL of the other 3499.

The foreword continues for a while without really telling the reader anything very useful about the intended audience or the mechanics of the chart arrangement. It turns out that our Librarian, Pam Robinson, has a separate seven-page instruction manual which explains how the charts are used and decodes all of the otherwise cryptic notation of relationships and data sources. Even with the manual it is a mental exercise to understand how to navigate the chart and understand the relationships and where the information was found. There is also a twenty-two-page index of names which you can find here.

I could not find any of my ancestors therein, but there were several members of the branch of the Bray family that built my house. My suggestion is that you consult the index first to see if there is anyone of interest included.

After a bit of study, it became apparent that the present counties of Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Mercer are where a lot of the action is. On sheet 3 of the charts is a 1766 map of the road between New Brunswick and Princeton and continuing to Hunterdon County. It shows landowners, many of whom appear on the charts. Then the preponderance of cemetery records referenced is in that area:  Hunterdon 6, Mercer 3, Middlesex 10, Monmouth 14, and Somerset 14. Other New Jersey counties account for 11 cemeteries, and all other states contribute 11. Similar statistics exist for other types of primary sources. There are a lot of Dutch names. A lot of the names ring a bell for local historians.

Finding why the charts were created and what their frame of reference was took a lot longer. I finally came across a 1977 letter written by Joseph N. Kearney, creator of the charts, on a Piatt family genealogy website. (Click here to view it.)

The letter rambles on a good bit, but the critical passage reads:

The 1970 questionnaire which I circulated all over the country entitled “Six Mile Run’s early settlers and its five Piatt Brothers of the Revolution” was an early step in the evolution of a monster charting of Piatts and kinsmen spanning six generations from the early days of the 1600’s up thru the early 1800’s. I finished this last January. It is now with the publisher and I expect it to be in print by July-August of this year. This thing is the first of its kind — it is NOT the genealogical charting of the roots of any one person — or family. It is the charted “mix” of 3500 people from Plymouth to Yorktown and beyond ALL OF WHOM are kinsmen in one way or another — however obscure. And the connecting linkage in all cases is on this chart. So if a person can establish in 1977 their connecting linkage to any individual on the chart (there are about 70 Piatts, Pyatts, Pyeattes, etc. on it), then they automatically are connected with all 3500. Among the 3,500 are Alex. Hamilton, Aaron Burr, John Jay, Pres. William Henry Harrison, numerous signers of the Declaration: signers of the Mayflower Compact; etc. etc. Data is all coded as to source, there being some 350 basic data sources.

That tells us that the project was genealogy centered around the five Piatt brothers. Their homestead is shown on the 1766 map where the New Brunswick-Princeton road (now Route 27) crosses Six Mile Run in Franklin Park. The interesting thing is that Kearney traced not only the ancestry and descendants of the Piatt brothers, but also the ancestry of their wives and of the spouses of their descendants. Thus the charts contain a wealth of information about the genealogy of central New Jersey. On the other hand they are not really a go-to resource if you are tracing Mayflower ancestors, despite the hype in the title of the work.

There is no reason to build such a chart today, because available genealogy computer programs are a much better way to handle things. The charts were published in 1978. That was in the very infancy of relational data base programs, of which genealogy programs are an example. They ran on main frame IBM computers the size of a couple of living-rooms and might require several shoe boxes full of punched cards simply to store the program, with another big bunch of punched cards to store the data. Kearney was most certainly working from hand-written file cards. It is probably a one-of-a-kind genealogical database.