Unburying the Hatchet

By Rhonda McClure Premium

Even if you don’t distance yourself from a notorious relative, you’d probably have a hard time identifying with that black sheep. So maybe it’s good that when actress Elizabeth Montgomery accepted the title role of the 1975 movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden, she didn’t know the suspected 1892 double-murderess was her sixth cousin once removed. Published family histories can be key in a case of alleged genealogical links because they let you trace multiple generations at once. I searched the Family History Library catalog for the women’s family names and found several histories, including Genealogy of the Barney Family in America and Descendants of Joseph Tripp.


It still took quite a bit of sleuthing to find the connection. The books ignored a few generations and — like many genealogies — didn’t continue female lines beyond a woman’s children, so I had to inspect a number of books. Then began the real fun: piecing together the clues to build a pedigree, and verifying it in original records. The evidence suggested that both Montgomery and Borden descend from Samuel Luther and Mary Abell, who were among the first settlers of Swansea, Mass.

Is the beloved star of TV’s Bewitched really related to an axe murderer? You’ll find whodunit theories at CrimeLibrary. We may never know whether Lizzie’s the culprit, but at least we can solve the genealogical mysteries.

Get help researching your genealogy with Family Tree Magazine‘s video class Three Cool Tools for finding Your Family History in Newspapers, with instructor Lisa Louise Cooke

From the April 2004 Family Tree Magazine