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22 September 2008

Citing "Occult Powers" in a New Netherland Genealogy

It happened again - a cousin found in the library - only this time I was an eyewitness. While waiting for last week's board meeting to begin, director John Moore was relating a fascinating story about the Wilsey family. One mention of the name and suddenly he and Shirley Thomson were New Netherland cousins! John sent the full story:

Shirley Pugh Thomson and John Moore.

Last Wednesday, prior to the Board meeting, we had a discussion about the "unusual research" methods used in determining the origins of the family. The story goes something like this.

The Wilsey family is an early New Netherland family with many descendants, including at least two members of the present CGS Board. In 1908 Jerome Wiltsee published a genealogy for the Wiltsee (Wilsey) family. Jerome Wiltsee, Sr., A Genealogical and Psychological Memoir of Philippe Maton Wiltsie and his Descendants, With a Historical Introduction of the Wiltsie Nation and Its Colonies, (Atchinson, Kansas, 1908). The book was given a broad distribution (we have a copy in the CGS Library.) It identifies Philippe Maton Wiltsie as the original immigrant and ancestor of the Wiltsie family. Phillip is described as a Walloon refuge from Wiltz Luxembourg who came to Fort Orange in 1623 and was killed by the Indians in 1631 with two of his sons captured by the Indians before they escaped in 1639. One of these sons Hendrick Martenson is the ancestor of the Wilsey family in America.

Over the years there were several membership applications submitted and approved by the Holland Society based on Phillipe Maton as the immigrant ancestor. In 1975 the Genealogical Committee of the Holland Society asked George Zabriske to research Jerome's account. After a through study Zabriskie determined that many of Jerome's conclusions were pure fiction and had no basis in fact. Philippe Maton Wiltsee just did not exist! Jerome had however warned his readers that his conclusions were based not only on normal genealogical research but also on his "supernatural" or "occult" powers.

Does this mean that the way to resolve "brick walls" in genealogical research is through communication with the spirit world? It certainly would revolutionize our society! Something to think about!

On a more serious note, the Jerome Wiltsee book is now out of copyright and copies are available not only in many libraries but also on the Internet. From time to time we hear from genealogists who have traced their ancestry back to Phillipe Maton based on Jerome's book. Fortunately the Zabriskie analysis is set forth in a series of articles appearing in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (Volumes 106-108). Wilsey researchers who have relied on Jerome can be referred to these articles. Incidentally, the real Wilsey immigrant ancestor is Hendrick Martenson van Copenhagen and his male descendants do qualify for membership in the Holland Society!

I have agreed to bring some of my material to the next board meeting to compare notes with Shirley. We are both descendants of Hendrick Martenson van Copenhagen but we are not yet sure where our lines differ.


John Moore has been interested in genealogy since his law school days when he devoted some library time to research his mother's family. He has more time since retirement from Kaiser Aluminum where he was Vice President Deputy General Counsel and Secretary. John served six years as a Trustee of the NEHGS and is currently a member of the NEHGS Council and a Director of the California Genealogical Society. John has a number of New Netherland ancestors and holds membership in the Friends of the Holland Society.

Shirley Pugh Thomson has held a seat on the society’s Board of Directors 1998-2008 and is a former chair of the CGS Publication Committee. She has been interested in family history all of her life, although these days she admits to spending more time on CGS business than on her own research. Shirley made some progress during the past year using DNA. She recently presented Hints on Publishing Your Family History with Matthew Berry.