Is there a witch somewhere in your tree?

9 years ago

The season of ghoulies and ghosties draws nigh. Children look forward to dressing in scary costumes and gloating over heaps of candies. Parents despair about the amount of sugar that will be consumed. And some genealogists may be wondering if there might not be a witch somewhere in the family tree.

Mention witchcraft and most immediately think of Salem. The 1692 hysteria in Salem and its surrounding towns was America’s largest and best known episode of witch mania but it wasn’t the only one. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and other productions have been produced about Salem though many are historically incorrect. Scholars still debate the causes.

Accusations against the Salem American witches included flying through the air, forcing churchgoers to write in the Devil’s book, cursing people, animals, and crops, tempting churchgoing men, and perhaps most famously, causing the accusing teenage girls of having fits and feeling pain. There was no evidence for any of this except the say-so of the young girls involved. Most of the accused were prosperous and opposed members of the teenagers’ families either in church matters or economically.

I confess to having several among the accused witches in my own family tree — aunts, cousins, and an uncle by marriage lost their lives from false accusations. My eighth great-grandmother, Mary Leach Ireson, escaped death only through the intervention of the disgusted Royal Governor who put an end to the Salem madness. I have some accusers in the tree as well. The youngest accused witch by the way was under 5 years old. And, two dogs were also hanged as witches’ familiars.

Today Salem identifies itself as Witch City and markets the entire episode to tourists with museums, tours, and the preservation of participant’s houses. One lineage society, Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, exists for women of direct descent from an accused American witch. The site lists all known accused witches in America. You can visit the website at to see if one of your ancestors is listed. On the site you can find information about how to join. The Association has its own insignia and you can purchase a pin to wear if you are accepted.

Fortunately, researching witch candidates in your tree is fairly easy. Beginning in the nineteenth century scholars and would-be scholars began penning books about the long forgotten episode. Each book has its particular slant and bias as to the cause from the serious to ludicrous. Some of the books give genealogical information which is a nice plus for researchers as names, dates, and clues give you a great place to begin your research.

There are far too many books on the subject of accused witches to mention but some of the best known include: The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut, 1647-1697 by John Taylor; The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, by Carol Carlson; and The Salem Witch Trials by Marilynne K. Roach.

These and many more can be found in large libraries such as the Maine State Library. Visit their website at A search of their online catalog will yield other books in MSL’s collection and in other libraries in the system. Most of these books can be borrowed through interlibrary loan and delivered right to your own library.

And there are untold numbers of websites. If you search for “American witches” you will be overwhelmed with information, illustrations, photos of sites where important witch-related events occurred, maps, monuments, and portraits of judges.

So if your roots go back to 17th century New England and you’re wondering if someone in your family may have been accused or played a part in the witchcraft hysteria by all means do some research. You never know what you may find.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at