Tuesday’s Tip: Mary (Bliss) Parsons- Which Witch??

Painting that many attribute as Mary Bliss Parsons, but it is not. No known images exist of her. Unknown source.
Painting that many attribute as Mary (Bliss) Parsons, but it is not. No known images exist of her. Unknown source.

McMurray Family, Burnell Family (Click for Family Tree)

Tuesday’s Tip: Be careful with names.

Even when the occupation or another trait seems to “fit,”

do an ‘exhaustive search’ to make sure you have the correct ancestor.


Initial research on Mary Parsons as an ancestor provided confusing results.

Two women with the name of Mary Parsons lived in two of the same towns during the same time period. That is challenging enough, but during the early research, I knew that “our” ancestor had been accused as a witch. That was not enough to distinguish one from the other, however- both of these Marys had been accused as witches! WOW!- so were they the same person?


The key to this problem was to find the maiden names of the women- not always easy to do, especially in very early records. For women, looking at their children is also a clue. Well, sometimes children can be a clue, however the same few names were often used, children died young, etc. But the number of children, their birth years, and names, can be tidbits that might also prove helpful to differentiate two people, or prove they are the same.

In our case, the children helped but maiden names were the definitive way to show they were indeed two different women.

Mary (Lewis) Parsons, wife of Hugh Parsons, lived in Springfield, Hamden, Massachusetts at the same time as Mary (Bliss) Parsons, our ancestor. We have posted extensively about both families in our series on Mary (Bliss) Parsons. Once we found the maiden names of “Lewis” and “Bliss” it was fairly easy to distinguish between the two women. Additionally, Mary (Lewis) was older and had fewer children than “our” Mary (Bliss) Parsons.

Interestingly, though, some additional research shows that “Lewis” was NOT the maiden name of the wife of Hugh Parsons. I have never seen this mentioned in any of the scholarship on the two families, however.

How do I know that? It’s that BSOS- “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome,” where one has to look at just one more piece of evidence… though at least this one did not take me far from the original focus.

American Ancestors, the website of the New England Historic & Genealogical Society (NEHGS), has a database with the papers of John Winthrop, Deputy Governor of Massachusetts. In a letter from William Pynchon in Springfield to Winthrop, dated 15 September 1645, Pynchon states:

I wrote to you… about one Mary Lewis the wife of Lewis a papist. [a Catholic- something abhorred by the Puritans.] she hath been aboue [about] 7y[ears] seperated from her husband, and is perswaded by others that she may marry by the lawes of England: she is easely perswaded to that bec[ause] she liues [lives] vnder [under] temptations of desyer [desire] of mariage and I vunderstand [understand] lately that she is falen into a league of amity [a “friendly” relationship] with a bricke maker of our Towne…

This “bricke maker of our Towne” was none other than Hugh Parsons.

Thus “Lewis” was the married name of Mary, from her first marriage. Some researchers do note that she was deserted by her first husband (the “papist”), but none that I have found note her maiden name; I have not found it either.

Gov. Winthrop must have approved the “league of amity,” as the marriage of Mary and Hugh is is recorded in the Springfield, Massachusetts Vol. 1, page 20 of “Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850” on It is written as:

Hugh Parsons & mary Lewis joyned in m[torn] 8 mon. 27 day 1645.

Researchers have therefore assumed that Mary’s maiden name was Lewis. But it most likely was not, as can be deduced from Pynchon’s letter stating she had married a man named Lewis. Of course, her maiden name could have been ‘Lewis’ and she married a man named ‘Lewis’- such things did happen, but it was less likely. Either way, technically, her name should be genealogically written as “Mary ( __ ) [Lewis] Parsons.”

So another tip: don’t assume!


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. See resources listed in previous posts about Mary (Bliss) Parsons, Parts 1-4 beginning with:

    No Ghoulies, No Ghosties, But a Witch? Yep. Part 1“–

    “Wedding Wednesday: Mary Parsons and Ebenezer Bridgman”

  2. Gov. John Winthrop Papers, Vol. 1-5, 1557 to 1649. (Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2016.) Originally published as: Winthrop Papers.Boston: Masssachuestts Historical Society, 1929 -. Vol. 5, page 45.

  3. Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 (Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016).

  4. Newer usage in genealogy includes using brackets around previous married names, in addition to the convention of parentheses around maiden names.
  5. Reading colonial writing is not as hard as it seems- if stumped, say the words out loud, as they were often spelled as they were said, and with whatever accent was used. Also note that sometimes “v” and “u” were used interchangeably as in ‘vnderstand.’ Additionally, an “f” was often used as an “s,” especially if it was a double “s” in the word, as in “difmifsed” for “dismissed.”


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