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Madison County Genealogical Society

Minutes of the Meeting - November 8, 2012

The November 2012 meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society was held at the Edwardsville Public Library on Thursday, November 8, at 7:00 pm.

President, Robert Ridenour, called the meeting to order.

It was announced that two of our long time officers, Secretary Barbara Hitch and Librarian Elsie Wasser had decided to retire and volunteers had been found to replace them. The new Secretary is Petie Hunter and the new Librarian is Rebecca Pinkas.The following introductions were written by the new officers.

Secretary Petie Hunter

Your new secretary is a native of Madison County. I was born on a dairy farm located on the shore of the Mississippi River at Wood River. Raised in the Hartford and Wood River area. Graduated from SIU-E. I attended at the Alton Campus. Retired as a math teacher, realtor, and appraiser a few years ago. It seems like a lifetime.

Since then, I have been a state lobbyist for AARP, a cook for Free Friday's Lunch at Immanuel Methodist Church on Main Street in Edwardsville, and a member of the board for Friends of Madison County Historical Museum. I spend time at St. Margaret of Scotland Elementary School and Grandma's Attic as a volunteer. My first love is my family, three children and six grandchildren. My oldest grandchild, Brad Middleton, is in the Air Force stationed in Wichita, Kansas. (I am very proud of him.) The other five are in grade school. My hobbies are genealogy and history. I am looking for parents of Benjamin Kelley, New Douglas township; family of Wuebbe Eihausen (I know where he is, but his family disappeared, somewhere); Sophia Bender's Parents; Robertson of Prairietown; Herrin of Bethalto; Peterson of Bond County; Stroud; Ramsey.

Librarian Rebecca Pinkas

I have been a member of the Madison County Genealogical Society since 2007 and am pleased to begin serving as librarian for the Society. I have some big shoes to fill and am glad that Mrs. Wasser will be providing support and advice while I am learning the various duties. My background is in education as a former school teacher and administrator in the Edwardsville School District. My sister and I have been researching our family (Jones, Howard, Keidel, and Vautrain) for the past 12 years. Our Howard ancestors came from Fairfax, Virginia, to the Alton area in 1829 and were prominent in the early history of the city. Six generations of our family settled in the Godfrey area, particularly in the area known as Melville. I enjoy sharing information with others and helping them discover new facts and interesting anecdotes about their ancestors. I look forward to getting to know about your ancestors too.

The following is the Treasurer's report for the month of October:


Do you have a family member that is interested in (or even obsessed with) genealogy? A membership in the Madison County Genealogical Society would be a very thoughtful gift. A gift card will be sent to the recipient of any gift membership.

The following memberships are available:
Individual/Family Annual Membership $20.00
Patron Annual Membership $30.00
Life Membership $250.00

Contact our Secretary, Petie Hunter, at, about a gift membership.

November Meeting

On November 8, 2012, Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian in the Special Collections epartment of the St. Louis Public Library, made a presentation titled The Witches of Salem: Researching Your High-Flying Ancestors.

Witch Hysteria

Both Catholic and Protestant states in Europe persecuted witches (or, more properly, accused witches - this was one issue on which they could agree. In most areas, a majority of victims of witch hysteria were female (generally 3 of every 4 accused persons). An interesting and very pertinent fact: most men accused of witchcraft were husbands/consorts of accused women (guilt by association).

Obviously the quality and quantity of witch trial primary data varies considerably by time period and region - in some areas detailed court records survive, in others very few records of any kind. Records of colonial New England witch trials are generally quite good.

Witch Trials - English Precedents

The practice of witchcraft or magic was made a felony by statute in Tudor England in 1542 - barely ten years after the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome. This meant that the practice of witchcraft or magic was considered a civil rather than ecclesiastical crime. A practical result of this change for accused witches - conviction on a charge of practicing of witchcraft or magic was punishable by hanging rather than being burned alive. A more comprehensive act in 1563 required that an act of magic or witchcraft had to cause harm to be considered a felony. A witchcraft conviction was likely to invoke most severe penalties, however, if it were "proven" that the accused witch had consorted with/made a formal pact with the Devil or one of his minions.

King James I, who was convinced that magic had been used against himself and his wife, in 1603 persuaded Parliament to enact stiffer penalties against witchcraft. Conviction for any act of witchcraft, whether or not the offense had caused harm, carried a sentence of either life imprisonment or death by hanging. In areas where large-scale prosecution and execution of accused witches occurred, the ruler of that area himself usually hated/feared witches. Since accused witches were generally women, it seems likely that these sovereigns were probably what we would term misogynists.

Witch Trials in Massachusetts Colony

A Massachusetts law written in 1641 defined witchcraft as making a pact with the Devil or one of his servants, and set death as the penalty. It was not required that the pact-maker use his or her status as a witch to do harm to another's person or possessions - the contact with the Devil was deemed serious enough to warrant death by hanging. Still, Massachusetts did not see many prosecutions for witchcraft, and what trials were held seemed generally to be fairly and impartially conducted (given the standards of the time period), until the time of the troubles at Salem Village in 1692.

Common Charges Against Accused Witches

  1. Causing drought/hail or other bad weather
  2. Causing breast milk to dry up
  3. Causing infertility/stillbirths/deformities
  4. Causing others to engage in adultery or other licentious behavior
  5. Causing others to have "fits"/be possessed
  6. Causing plagues and illnesses
  7. Commanding their familiars (companion animals) to harm others/spy on others
  8. Creating love charms/potions or other charms/potions
  9. Creating "witch's brews" to cure disease
  10. Cursing/denouncing the Lord/Jesus/Christianity/particular religious denominations
  11. Flying to/attending Witches' Sabbaths
  12. Harming/eating children, especially Christian children
  13. Having "witch marks" on his or her body (warts, moles, third nipple, etc.)
  14. Killing livestock/pets through magical means or during magical ceremonies
  15. Openly performing spells or rituals
  16. Setting fires by magical means or other
  17. Signing the Devil's Book/suckling the Devil/having sex with the Devil
  18. Taking on the form of an animal (usually cat, dog, hawk, or snake)
  19. Unwillingness to confess to being a witch or performing witchcraft

Trial Procedure at New England Witch Trials

  1. Accusation - One person accused another of being a witch.
  2. Complaint - Sworn before magistrate.
  3. Indictment/Presentment - Grand jury returned "true bill."
  4. Trial before judge - Types of evidence allowed varied by time period.
  5. Acquittal or Conviction.
  6. Sentencing.
  7. Execution of sentence.

Evidence at Salem Witch Trials

During the Salem witch trials, five main types of evidence were allowed by trial judges:

  1. Physical evidence, such as effigies, images, or charms made by the accused in an effort to cause harm to a potential victim;
  2. Witch marks, i.e., unusual physical features that could be used to suckle or nourish the Devil;
  3. Self-incrimination, obtained voluntarily or through use of torture;
  4. Accusations against others, also obtained either voluntarily or through use of torture;
  5. Spectral evidence, i.e., testimony of the witch's intended victim that a spectral body projected by the witch was the cause of his or her torment.

Methods of Conviction at Salem

At the Salem witch trials, the most-often invoked methods of conviction were:

  1. Testimony of the accuser(s);
  2. Spectral Evidence;
  3. and Self-Incrimination (and/or naming of "fellow witches").

Self-incrimination was highly suspect in these cases, given that no one at Salem Village who confessed to being a witch/consorting with witches was hanged. Only those who maintained their innocence to the end were hanged as witches at Salem Village in 1692. Confessing one's own involvement in witchcraft and incriminating other supposed witches, then, was a way for an accused witch to save his or her own life.

Spectral Evidence

Spectral evidence was an even more suspect proof of guilt that was allowed by Salem judges. It hinged on three very wobbly assumptions:

  1. That a witch could send a spectral double that could torment persons of his or her choosing;
  2. That this spectral double could only be sent by the witch (or on the witch's behalf by Satan or one of his minions); and
  3. Victims of spectral violence could both see their spectral attackers and act as reliable witnesses to that torment.

How Likely Were Accused Persons in New England to be Convicted and Executed?

What do we know about the general fairness of 17th century New England witch trials (given legal practices of the time period)?

134 persons accused (for which some record of the proceedings still exists- 108 F, 26 M):
Note: These figures do not include numbers for the Salem witch trials.

In 31 of those 134 cases - no further action taken against the accused (and 26 of the 31 accused persons sued their accuser for slander - 22 F, 4 M)

In 96 of those 134 cases - complaint filed against accused (72 F, 24 M)

In 4 of those 134 cases - accused person confessed (4 F)

In 3 of those 134 cases - accused person escaped (1 F, 2 M)

Of the 96 cases in which a formal complaint was filed against the accused:
In 85 of those 96 cases - accused person indicted by grand jury (65 F, 20 M)
In 61 of those 85 cases - accused person proceeded to trial (46 F, 15 M)
In 24 of those 61 cases - case settled without trial/no record of trial (18 F, 6 M)

Of the 61 cases that went to trial:
In 39 cases - accused was acquitted (27 F, 12 M)
In 21 cases - accused was convicted (18 F, 3 M)
In 1 case - accused escaped (1 F)

Of the 21 cases that ended in conviction:
In 16 cases - accused was executed (14 F, 2 M)
In 4 cases - conviction was reversed (3 F, 1 M
In 1 case - condemned person received reprieve (1 F)

Why Did the Salem Witch Trials Occur?

Possible explanations offered at various times by various commentators:

  1. Punishment by God for the sins of backsliding Puritans.
  2. Power-hungry clergymen/law enforcement officials.
  3. Play-acting by bored/sexually repressed teenagers.
  4. Socio-economic conflicts between rival families/settlement of old family feuds.
  5. Ergot poisoning.
  6. Mental illness of some accusers/accused.
  7. Mass hysteria induced by Indian attacks/economic uncertainty.
  8. A fairly conservative village taking care of its "outsiders" in fairly dramatic fashion.
  9. A dramatic expression of the ongoing conflict between science and the revealed "truth" of religion.
  10. Some accused persons actually did practice witchcraft (what we would call folk medicine).

I think the most likely explanation is that a "perfect storm" of circumstances occurred and nearly all the above explanations in fact played some part in bringing about and sustaining the witch trials and executions at Salem.

Persons Hanged as Witches at Salem

June 10, 1692

1. Bridget Bishop

July 19, 1692

2. Sarah Good
3. Elizabeth Howe
4. Susannah Martin
5. Rebecca Nurse
6. Sarah Wildes

August 19, 1692

7. George Burroughs
8. Martha Carrier
9. George Jacobs, Sr.
10. John Proctor
11. John Willard

September 22, 1692

12. Martha Corey
13. Mary Easty
14. Alice Parker
15. Mary Parker
16. Ann Pudeator
17. Wilmot Redd
18. Margaret Scott
19. Samuel Wardwell

Giles Corey

A 20th person, Giles Corey, was crushed to death with heavy stones by the town sheriff as part of a ritual of English law used in the case of a person who refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to a criminal accusation.

Why Were So Many Salem Accused Persons Hanged?

Witchcraft cases in England and Colonial New England that resulted in executions typically involved:

  1. An accused person of low social/economic status
  2. An accused person viewed as an outsider by fellow townspeople
  3. An accused person who had been accused previously of witchcraft (or had a close relative who was accused previously)
  4. A local clergyman who believed in/spoke out from the pulpit about the dangers posed by witches and witchcraft
  5. A local ruler/top government official who believed in the dangers posed by witches and witchcraft
  6. Accusers of high status/good reputation
  7. Longstanding "bad blood" between neighbors / feuding families
  8. A time of economic/social upheaval (and / or Indian troubles)

Salem Village was in fact a "perfect storm" of the ten previously named factors. The real wonder would have been if cooler heads had managed to "put out the fire" before the executions began.


The St. Louis Public Library's genealogical collections provide researchers with a wide variety of published materials covering witchcraft trials in Europe and colonial New England. Following are just some of the many sources available:

1. Foulds, Diane E., Death in Salem: The Private Lives Behind the 1692 Witch Hunt. Guilford, CT;
Globe Pequot, 2010. Genealogy Room, 133.4309744

Biographical sketches for each of the accusers, (so-called) witches, clergymen, and judges involved in the Salem witchcraft trials provide clues in the lives of each person as to why these people became involved in the tragic events at Salem.

2. Genealogical Research in New England, Ralph J. Crandall, Ed. Baltimore; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984. Genealogy Room, 929.374

Compiled by a former Director of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, this guide provides a discussion of the various records, collections, and repositories available for genealogical research in each of the six New England states.

3. Hoffer, Peter Charles, The Devil's Disciples: Makers of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Baltimore;
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Central Stacks, 345.7445028

The author (a legal and social historian) offers a fresh look at the numerous causes of the breakdown in family, social, religious, governmental, and judicial structures that helped fuel the horrific mass hysteria that raged during the notorious Salem Witchcraft trials.

4. New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston; New England Historic and Genealogical Society, Volume 1, 1847, to the present. Central Stacks, 'P" Current issues and indexes, Genealogy Room

The Library owns the entire run of this esteemed and long-running magazine. Many articles on the ancestry of the witches and other participants in the Salem Witchcraft Trials have been published in this periodical. Check under the names of the individual in the Index of Persons. There are indexes for Places and Events as well. The magazine is indexed in PERSI (Periodical Source Index), which is available via HERITAGEQUEST, a genealogy reference database available to SLPL cardholders.

5. Perley, Sidney, The History of Salem, Massachusetts. 3 vols. Salem, MA; The Author, 1924 Central
Stacks, 974.4

This extensive history of Salem includes genealogies of the early planters and settlers. Volume 3 contains an account of the "witchcraft delusion." An interesting feature of this set is the inclusion of signatures of many of the subjects of biographical sketches. Many photos and drawings of Salem buildings and homes are also included.

6. Records of Salem Witchcraft, Copied from the Original Documents. Roxbury, MA; Privately printed for W. Elliot Woodward, 1864. Genea6gy Room, 133.4 and Rare Books and Special Collections, 133 4, vols. 1 & 2

This work contains various records for each accused 'witch," including oaths, warrants for jurors, warrants for the arrests of witchcraft suspects, summons for witnesses, as well as the courtroom examinations, testimonies, and indictments. The original wording and spelling of these documents is produced verbatim, providing readers with a bird's eye view of the life-and-death proceedings.

7. Salem, Massachusetts. Vital Records of Salem, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849. 6 vols. Salem, MA; Essex Institute, 1916-1925. Genealogy Room, 929.3774 ESSEX

Records of births, marriages, and deaths are listed under each category alphabetically by surname. The records are taken from town clerk records, church records, court records, cemetery records, and family Bibles. The source is given for each entry, as well as dates and parents' names for births. Relationships are also noted in the death records. Similar sets of vital records are found in the Genealogy Room for many other towns in Massachusetts.


8. The University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center's "Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project" at

9. Witchcraft Archives at

10. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law's "Salem Witchcraft Trials - 1692" at:

11. "An Account of Events in Salem" by Douglas Linder at:

12. Transcriptions of petitions for compensation at:

13. National Geographic's "Salem Witchcraft Hysteria" provides historical insight at:

14. The Salem Witchcraft Trials at:

15. "Salem Witchcraft: the Events and Causes of the Salem Witch Trials" by Tim Sutter:

This was an interesting presentation and generated questions and comments from the audience.