Sunday, July 24, 2011

Synergy Takes Me Where I Need to Go

Most people have their own ideas on what constitutes synergy. The dictionary tells you it is the cooperation of two or more. My idea of synergy is the universe and I working together to bring the events or experiences that I need into my life. I must admit the universe and I don’t always agree immediately. Sometimes it takes me some time to see the light. The synergy of something that I need right now suddenly being plopped right in my lap astounds me. That’s how I look at yesterday. My friend Jane and I set out on one of our adventures. Of course, they always include food so we had brunch before continuing. We do this every few weeks as a way of keeping in touch.

Since my mind is always on Herself, my book, I have been making the rounds of historic houses and museums. Luckily, Jane loves old houses too. I thought we were going to Hill-Stead House so, of course, was surprised when Jane turned into the Stanley-Whitman House (

The Stanley-Whitman house, built about 1720, it was a great opportunity for my research purposes. We were delighted to find out that they admit veterans free, both Jane and I are veterans. They offer both self-guided and docent-led tours and we decided to have a docent tell us the whole story of the house.

Rebecca, our docent, was delightfully informative. She really brought the house to life. She started by showing us a colonial-era map of Farmington, which put where we were in perspective. During the tour, we saw many fascinating eighteenth century items, such as a bed that had hinges and folded up out of the way. Those colonials were very clever people. One undated chest has the most exquisite and intricate designs etched on it.

The house itself, although extremely interesting, was built a few years later than Herstory women would have lived in. However, by going into the lean-to addition, I got a good idea of what the first houses in East Haddam would have been like. Lean-to houses were what the first settlers built in the seventeenth century. It was great for me to see what a buttery looks like with the cheese press and the butter churn that the women in Herstory would have used. We also saw a weaving loom and spinning wheels, as well as the actual flax they would have used as their raw materials. In studying the makeup of the weaving loom and spinning wheels, I marveled at the incredible ingenuity it took for these pioneers to produce the tools they needed.
Some other enlightening aspects of the Stanley-Whitman house are the authentic seventeenth and eighteenth century gardens. I just learned recently that the colonists used raised beds for the kitchen and medicinal herb gardens. Here, I could see them, as they would have been. They even had each plant named. I hate it when I go to a garden site and they haven’t named their plants and there is always at least one I’m not able to identify. Very frustrating.

I also saw their library, which researchers can use by appointment. I will be doing that soon.

I would recommend a visit to the Stanley-Whitman house for anyone with an interest in history. If you want to find out more about them check

Have you ever been to this museum? What museum you've visited, do you like most?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Partially Solved Mystery?

The Middlesex County Historical Society ( on Main Street in Middletown, CT is in the General Mansfield House. Director Debby Shapiro asked me what I was looking for when I called for my appointment. When I arrived, Debby was ready for me.

MCHS houses the collection of genealogical research of Frank Farnsworth Starr, considered a preeminent genealogist who worked for 70 years as a professional genealogist tracking down family histories. He hand copied over 11,000 gravestone inscriptions. For genealogical researchers the collection of files he bequeathed to MCHS is valuable beyond quantification.

Frank’s records were tremendously helpful to me. MCHS has his collection alphabetized so it was easy for me to ask for files starting with the beginning of my outline. Unfortunately, I did not get very far into the  alphabet because I am stuck on A.

My first story is about who was married to Nicholas Ackley. Frank had some information and a reference to probate records, which just deepened my mystery. Hannah (Ford Mitchell) was married to Achley in Hartford and had a dozen children by him. She died in 1680.

At that time, Miriam (Moore) was married to John Willey and had seven children with him. Willey died in 1688 and Miriam next married Samuel Spencer in 1689 and had a daughter in 1690. My research says that Spencer did not die until after 1700 so how then can Miriam (Moore) Willey be the widow of Nicholas Ackley in 1695 as the probate records digest state?

Keeping in mind that what I was looking at was actually a digest, by Charles Mainwaring, of the probate records, I searched on and found the distribution of the estate, which did not mention a widow, only a mother-in-law. I will need to see the real probate records, not a digest to be sure I have the accurate information.

What also complicates the research is that absolutely nothing is known about Hannah (Ford Mitchell’s) mother. Could her first name have been Miriam? Could she have married an Ackley?
I am determined to find an answer to this puzzle. I am going next to Hartford where Ackley came from. I have worked out different scenarios but have to keep an open mind until I have facts that point me in one direction or another.

In addition to Starr’s collection, MCHS has diaries, letters, account books, early court records, probate records, town records and church records. Unfortunately, little of all this wonderful research material is on the seventeen century. Most of the records from the 1600s have been lost or in some cases never kept.

My first visit to the Middlesex County Historical Society was very beneficial and ended with my decision to join after Debby graciously explained that it would cost me $10 every time I came ( I plan on returning) and for $25 I could be a member and not have to pay each time. It made sense to me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On the Trail of East Haddam’s First Settlers

The two places I made appointments with to start my search for information on the families that settled East Haddam, such as Gates, Ackley, Hungerford, Chapman and Spencer, were the Haddam and East Haddam historical societies.

Charlie Farrow, President of the East Haddam Historical Society ( is a fount of information. The Society does not have genealogical files but they are in the process of cataloguing their collections, which will be very valuable to researchers.

I went prepared with a list of specific items I was seeking information about and Charlie could not have been more accommodating. He set me up with a table and chair and a couple of books that had pertinent information.

As we went down my list, Charlie had a name, a phone number, or a suggestion where I might find further resources. My time there, well spent, provided me a “to do” list of researching other resources that Charlie had recommended.

I moved on second to the Haddam Historical Society ( and once again met with gracious assistance. The Executive Director Elizabeth Hart Malloy was very interested to hear about my project. At first, she questioned what information there would be for me at Haddam since my book was about East Haddam women. Once I explained that I was starting with the families that originally were in Haddam and crossed the river to found Macamoodus (which became East Haddam), she enthusiastically  pulled files for me and I added to my data files.

One of the people I was researching was Nicholas Ackley, who it says on the Haddam Historical Society’s website was married to Miriam (Moore) when he came to Haddam. He could not have been married to her if at that time she was married to John Willey as records show. This puzzle has been keeping me awake at night. I am so determined to straighten out this mystery. My first thought when I start researching is Nicholas Ackley. You might wonder why I am so concerned with a man, since I am writing a book about women. In the seventeen century, there is so little information about women that you have to first research the men and see to whom they were married. Even this does not always work because women’s names often were not recorded. After all, they were not important, were they. Oh dear, I let a little of my bias against how women have been treated through the centuries shine through.

Historical societies and individuals such as Charlie and Elizabeth are valuable resources to the community and to historians, and I thank them for their efforts on my behalf.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Face to Face

I am on LinkedIn (Alice Stelzer), Twitter (acscwp) and Facebook (Alice Plouchard Stelzer) - a Facebook fan page in the works - and I have this blog. This is what the experts say I need to do to promote my writing, especially when my first book, Herstory, Stories of the Women of East Haddam through the Centuries, comes out.

One promotional method that is not talked about very much anymore is the glad hand “How are you doing” networking gathering.

I recently attended the annual Women Business Owners Alliance of Western Massachusetts’ (WBOA) ( Business Women of the Year dinner. Some years ago (we will not talk about how many), I was the president of WBOA and also honored to be the recipient of their “Business Woman of the Year” award one year.

Due to the distance (CT to MA) gas prices, and my busy schedule, I have not attended meetings in quite some time but this meeting reminded me of why groups like WBOA are so important and should be as much a part of our promotional routine as the online social networks.
When I arrived at the WBOA dinner, I was remembered, greeted, hugged and told, “We are so happy you came.” 

Listening to the accomplishments of the individuals who received various awards during the evening left me awestruck. These women are involved in incredible endeavors and making strides every day to make the world a better place. While they are doing all this, they are taking care of families.

Dee Emery Ferraro, who received the “Business Woman of the Year” award, at the meeting is one example. I was fortunate to have Dee as an employee a few years ago when I was publishing Women Unlimited Magazine. I know what a hard worker and creative thinker she is. Listening to what she has accomplished since she worked for me astounded me. I know for a fact she does not sleep.

They also presented awards to Janine Fondon of Unity First Direct and ten “Pioneer Valley’s Top Women in Business.” It was wonderfully uplifting to hear the success stories of these women. I left that meeting feeling as if I could take on the world. 

I believe in all the social media circuit of connections but no tweet, status update or comment on my blog could empower me the way these women did.

Therefore, do your tweets, status updates, connections, emails and blogs but also get out and press some flesh.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From One Book to Three

When I started the research for Herstory, Stories of the Women of East Haddam through the Centuries, I thought I would have trouble finding information on the seventeenth century but after I started to fill out my outline, I realized I had as much for the seventeenth century as for the eighteenth and nineteenth.

About the time I was considering the organization of my research, I attended a writer’s conference. Two of the speakers, one a literary agent and the other a writer, said that publishers like series. They also said that if you self-publish the first book of a series, if you run an effective book promotion platform, and if your book receives some attention, there is a chance a publisher will pick up the rest of the series. I just love synergy of having information comes my way just when I am making a decision.

This added another dimension to my thinking. When I was planning the Herstory project, I worried that reading about three centuries of women might be too much for a reader to manage at one time. Could I make the stories different enough to keep a reader’s interest through 300 years? It is a legitimate concern.
After looking at it from the readers’ perspective, it became easy to make the decision to break Herstory into three separate books, one on each century.

Before I made a final decision, I emailed individuals whose opinions I respect and explained that I was considering turning Herstory into a series of three books. I gave them my reasons for doing this and they all agreed with me that it made sense to separate the centuries.

 I think it is important for writers to reach out to others before making major decisions. As writers, we are somewhat isolated and when we get involved in a project we can develop blinders that narrow our view and shield us from the whole picture.

From my perspective, breaking Herstory into three segments made the project a little less daunting. I could focus on one century at a time, although while researching that is almost impossible to do. It does help me keep myself from straying too far from my research plan.  A book on the seventeenth century, of course, is not the amount of work a book on three centuries would be. I have to admit I felt a little relieved.

Working on one century at a time also makes it easier to approach resources with request for information on the seventeenth century.  So on I go in my quest.