Monday, October 10, 2011

The Jigsaw Puzzle of Seventeenth Century Women

I know people who love jigsaw puzzles so much they will sit there and work on one for hours. I never had the patience for that. I do jigsaw puzzles on my iPad.

The Puzzles within the Puzzle

Soon after I started the research for my book on seventeenth century women, I realized my project is one big jigsaw with myriad puzzles within. All the research has to be done following men connected to the women on whom I am seeking information.

In some cases, my research turns up a marriage. This is one piece of the puzzle (for one woman). Then I have to ferret out when and where she was born, married, had children, how many children, when were they born and, of course, when everyone involved died.

Making the Invisible Visible

The two prided accomplishments of women in this century were to marry and have numerous children. This was the woman’s value to the Puritan community. The more children reared in the Puritan faith that populated the land, the stronger the strength of the Puritan faith in the colony. Yet, they were and did so much more.

I look at each fact I gather as a way to complete the puzzle within the puzzle and give each woman a visible life.

Even Unreliable Source Give Something

I have found numerous resources but the question becomes one of how much weight to give some of them. Almost no primary sources are available on the seventeenth century. Consequently, it means turning to secondary sources that might not be accurate.

I have found it takes a great deal of discernment to separate the wheat from the shaft. Sometimes the inaccuracies jump right out from the page. An example is when a mother’s death is listed six months before her last baby was born. Another is when the mother would have been in her 60s if she gave birth as listed. I’ve learned to do a lot of math.

Sometimes even an unreliable source will provide one clue that opens my eyes to a possibility I had not considered.

Enter Stepmother

One such instance was one online source had the children of a woman mixed up but suddenly made some aspects of her clearer by the listing of a stepmother that heretofore had not shown up. Another surprising item about stepmother is that they did not refer to their stepmothers as such but as mother-in-law. Talk about confusing!

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