Tracing Unexpected Family Connections


I recently met with the widow of my father’s first cousin Dexter, who died in 2022, to look over some family documents. I had already seen and scanned most of these items, sharing them with relatives through online cloud storage. One item which I hadn’t seen before is shown above—the Fitts and Richards family registers, written on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper. One side shows Daniel Fitts (1776-1875), his wife Abigail Slade (1805-1874), and their children and spouses; the opposite side shows the family of Moses Richards (1783-1852), his wife Bestey Bicknell (d. 1861), and their children and spouses, followed by the children of daughter Harriet M. Richards (1820-1909) and Lyman Fitts (the son of Daniel and Abigail)—a list which includes my great-great-grandparents, Ella E. Fitts and her husband H.T. Child.

I shared the register with my aunt, who noted that all of the events appeared to be written in the same pen except for the death date of Harriet M. (Richards) Fitts on Sept. 21, 1909. She wondered if the register may have been written by Harriet herself, with her death filled in by another relative (similar to another family register I had received from my mother’s side of the family). The most recent event before Harriet’s death was the death of her husband Lyman in 1900, a fact which seems to support this theory. However, as I studied the handwriting, it seemed to me that the “Sept” of Harriet’s death date was written very similarly to how it appeared on the rest of the register.

The Fitts family was from the town of Pomfret, Connecticut, while the Richards family came from neighboring Ashford. Harriet Richards moved to Pomfret when she married Lyman Fitts in 1847. Upon Lyman’s death in 1900, Harriet moved to live with her daughter Ella and son-in-law Henry Thurston Child at Valleyside Farm in Woodstock (which is still owned and operated by the family of my father’s recently deceased cousin). I suspect that the first dates on the family register were recorded shortly after 1900—perhaps by Ella with assistance from her mother. Ella may have been the one to write down her mother’s death date. The register was presumably passed down to Henry and Ella’s son William, my great-grandfather—then to his daughter, then to her son, and now to me.

The register itself may not look like much—just a simple page of notes—but I find it meaningful to keep stewardship over this item, over a hundred years old, which has been in my family for at least five generations and which records our line back to the late eighteenth century.


Photograph of James W. Manning. Source: The genealogical and biographical history of the Manning families of New England and descendants, published 1902.

I decided to start researching the siblings of Ella and her parents as shown on the register. According to the register, Ella’s aunt Emily Fitts married James W. Manning, who I soon learned was a well-known figure in my own hometown of Putnam, Connecticut. I found a few biographies of great-great-great-granduncle James, plus one biographical history which begins with the words “James Winchell Manning, the story of whose life is inseparably connected with the history of Putnam.” According to the 1902 Manning genealogy, when the new town of Putnam was incorporated in 1855, James “was elected town clerk, treasurer, and registrar of births and marriages, which offices he held continuously until 1900, when he declined re-election.” As a teenager, I visited the Putnam Town Clerk’s office frequently for genealogical research, and no doubt took ample notes from the volumes of vital records my uncle James first recorded! James also served in the Connecticut House of Representatives, was President of the Board of Trustees of Day Kimball Hospital where I was born, and was a Deacon at Putnam Baptist Church, which I attended in my youth.

James and Emily had one child, a daughter Helen, whose own only child was Dr. James Manning Kent (1876-1932). James left Putnam and moved to New York, serving as a major in the medical corps of the U.S. Army. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife Florence, son James, Jr., daughter Dorothy, and son-in-law Dewey Ellis.

When I first begin research on a new family branch, I enjoy suggesting edits to listings on in order to connect the various family members. As I was connecting the various family members, I found the New York Times death notice of Florence’s father William Thomas Cornell (1845-1907) of Mamaroneck, New York, which included the intriguing note that he was survived by his daughters Mrs. James M. Kent of New York City and Mrs. Edward T. Childs of Philadelphia.

I have noted that my surname, Child, is frequently misspelled with an “s” at the end, a mistake which seems to have haunted Edward Taggart Child as well. But Edward was from Philadelphia, which is not where my side of the Child family is from! I discovered that Edward’s brother Frederic Child, however, is connected to our Child line, as he was the first husband of my great-grandfather’s second wife, Hazel (Bleecker) (Child) Child.


If these families had all lived in northeastern Connecticut, I would consider these connections no big deal, but it seems unusual to me that the two couples creating this link were from New York City and Philadelphia! Major James Manning Kent shared the same brother and sister-in-law as Hazel, whose second husband was James’s second cousin. If we take it from the perspective of my grandfather, his stepbrother’s first cousin’s first cousin was also his third cousin!

Makes me think of the lines from the Star Wars parody film Spaceballs:

"Dark Helmet: I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.

Lone Starr: What’s that make us?

Dark Helmet: Absolutely Nothing!"


Further Learning

Free Video: Stories from the Archives: Family Registers
Family registers provide a snapshot of a family’s members, the vital events in their lives, and a listing of children. Made popular in the 19th century with the advent of American genealogy, these pre-printed lithographs or hand-drawn registers may be the only source of vital information when church records don’t survive, or civil vital registration had not yet begun. This video discusses what type of information you may find on a family register and provides tips on finding registers at In repositories and archives.

Free Guide: Connecticut Research
This research guide lists a selection of important Connecticut resources available from American Ancestors as well as other repositories, including vital records, church records, censuses, and much more.

Courses on Demand: Building Your Genealogical Skills
Take your research skills to the next level! With the sheer number of online resources at your fingertips, it's easy to dive into your family history research without any formal training, but it's also easy to become overwhelmed and form bad habits. Whether you are new to genealogy, want to refresh your skills, or learn best practices, this course will set you on the right path to getting the most out of your family history research.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child