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Articles by Conrad Wilcox - Connie
Submitted by Connie Wilcox with permission for reprinting on the Tri -County Genealogy Sites of Joyce M. Tice
Joyce's Search Tip - November 2008
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Struggling With Bad Apples on the Tree

By Conrad H. Wilcox
DCGS Publications Committee Chairman

All of us who have become interested in family history are familiar with all of the jokes relating to finding a “horse thief” on the family tree. I have a file of genealogy cartoons and most of them relate to the comical hazards of finding a bad apple on the tree. For example, one of my favorites features the following text: “Leroy paid a big fee to have his genealogy looked up, now he has to pay a bigger fee to have it hushed up”.

I have been extremely thankful for the many wonderful ancestors and cousins that I have uncovered in my own family research. In fact, when I become excited to share some of the stories and lines leading to well known people, my wife often hints about the dangers of being too proud and smug about my ancestors. For example, my grandma Wilcox, Blanche A. WILCOX who died November 12, 1947 at age 67, was an unbelievable person who played a major role in shaping the tone of my own life and ministry. Some excerpts from her obituary printed in the local Tioga County, PA newspaper in 1947, will demonstrate what I mean.

“Mrs. Wilcox was the daughter of the late William and Hannah WELCH HARVEY. She was born January 7, 1880, in Sullivan Township where she spent much of her life. On May 1, 1902, she was married to Herrick WILCOX, of Covington, and together they spent many happy years in Christian service in Sullivan and also in Covington.

“Mrs. Wilcox was probably best known for her outstanding interest in propagating the Gospel of Christ. At the age of 15 she accepted Christ as Savior. Since that time much of her life has been spent in studying and giving forth the word of God. She was a leader and was a teacher of great distinction. She not only taught her students the marvelous deep Gospel truths, but also taught them to give them forth to others.

“Missionary work was given an outstanding place in her life. She thought not only of those across the water and in the mountains of the homeland, but also of those in her own community who were in need. Even in times when she was pressed by her own household duties, she found time to serve others. There was never a task too large or too small for her to do and it was always done as unto the Lord.”

How thankful I am for a grandmother, a rural farmer’s wife in the hills of Tioga County, PA, who passed on to her son the importance of a personal relationship to God, who in turn passed it on to me.

I’ve also been thinking about several other very unusual women in my ancestry, like Ann MARBURY HUTCHINSON, my 10th great grandmother who was one of the most remarkable and famous women of New England in the 1630s. And then there is my 9th great grandmother, Ann DUDLEY, the first American poetess. Mary BROWNELL HAZARD, my 7th great grandmother, had her obituary in The Boston Gazette for Feb. 12, 1739. It stated that she died in her 100th year, had 500 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, of which 205 were still living. It also says she was the grandmother to George HAZARD, the late Deputy Governor of Rhode Island and that “she was accounted a very useful gentlewoman, both to poor and rich and particularly among sick persons for her skill and judgment, which she did gratis”.

So, just as I was beginning to feel a bit too smug about the wonderful women in my ancestry, I received a note from a cousin in Texas. In it she referred me to a recently published book, The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. She mentioned that Helen Jewett’s real name was Dorcas Doyen and since we had a common Doyen ancestral line, she wanted me to check on how Dorcas fit into our line. So, I soon began an internet search and also obtained the book.

It was then that the bombshell hit and that beautiful picture of a lovely apple tree full of rich, healthy fruit burst like a balloon. Even the subtitle of the book, The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-century New York, made me feel a bit apprehensive. My research quickly showed me that this Dorcas Doyen, alias Helen Jewett, was my 2nd cousin 4 removed. Francis DOYEN, the immigrant, is my 6th great grandfather and my  line goes as follows: 1. Francis DOYEN, 2. Jacob, 3. Francis, 4. Hannah, 5. Hiram WELCH, 6. Hannah, 7. Blanche HARVEY, 8. Hildreth WILCOX, 9. Conrad. Dorcas’s line is: 1. Francis DOYEN, 2. Jacob, 3. Jacob, 4. John, 5. Dorcas.

Since Helen Jewett is really Dorcas Doyen, I had just discovered my most infamous 2nd cousin. Helen Jewett had become New York City’s most desirable and sought after prostitute in the 1830s. She was known as the lovely, lustrous, bewildering “girl in green” and was universally acclaimed the most beautiful woman in New York.

On April 10, 1836, this beautiful prostitute who worked in a upscale brothel in Lower Manhattan was discovered bludgeoned to death in her bed. Her head had been bashed in with an ax and her body set on fire. After his cloak and a hatchet were found near the crime scene, Richard P. Robinson, a 19 year old clerk and one of Jewett’s clients, was arrested. But in the trial in June of that year, Robinson was acquitted. Helen’s murder and the ensuing trial captivated the nation. The murder made headlines in New York City and across the country and began a sex and death sensationalism in news reporting that is still with us today.

I had never heard of Helen Jewett or the supposed murderer, Richard P. Robinson, but the famous incident soon had a familiar ring, an eerie similarity to one of the most infamous murder trials of our time. A beautiful woman slashed to death, a surprising suspect and lots of circumstantial evidence. Hysterical press coverage of a sensational trial, a brilliant perverse defense strategy, a bungling prosecution team, a wayward judge and finally a swift and stunning acquittal followed by public outrage. Could this be O. J. and Nicole? No, but it became the O. J. Simpson case of its time. Jewett was not the ordinary prostitute and Robinson was no ordinary clerk and their relationship wasn’t the usual commercial transaction. So, it’s not surprising that the case inspired at least five novels and innumerable newspaper stories and pamphlets.

Patricia Cline Cohen, the author of this new book giving detailed historical documentation of the case, is a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. I appreciated the thorough research and unusual contribution to my Doyen ancestral research. She has placed Dorcas and my Doyen families with much detail in the early settlement of New Hampshire and Maine. Not only does she unravel a famous murder mystery of one of my 2nd cousins but at the same time weaves it into the rich historical tapestry. One whole chapter deals with Dorcas’s ancestry and background from a poor family in the small frontier towns of Maine, then serving as a servant girl with a respected Maine family and finally arriving in New York City.

So, how does one who has spent his life in the Christian ministry handle this sudden discovery of such a licentious part of his family history? It is easy to feel family pride when we find kings, leaders, famous citizens and even spiritual giants on our tree. But the discovery of Dorcas Doyen, alias Helen Jewett, has served as a timely reminder to me that every one of the individuals on my entire family tree is actually born as a sinner. It has reminded me that my Bible clearly explains that the willful disobedience of my very first two ancestors brought sin into my entire family tree. I am actually related to every one of the most vile criminals, murderers, prostitutes, child abusers, military deserters, town indigents, and even the proverbial “horse thief”. And as I look over my pedigree charts and family group charts, I realize anew that it is only the grace of God and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, that has provided a way for any of us to be restored to fellowship with Him and become a member of God’s family tree.

The murder of Helen Jewett, my wayward and prostitute cousin, has reminded me that God’s love has provided a way for every future descendent on my family tree, to be transformed from a bad apple to a good apple.

Published as Connie’s Column in the DCGS REVIEW – November 2000
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