Posted by Ancestry Team on April 10, 2016 in Who Do You Think You Are?

New England is a place with beautiful fall colors and a rich history of early immigrant settlements, struggles to survive under harsh conditions, religious growth and strife, military conflicts and witchcraft. Scott Foley’s ancestors faced all of these


As Scott Foley experienced, learning about the civil, social, and economic conditions of this part of the United States is a necessary part of seeking and understanding your New England family heritage. A vital part of the building of Scott’s Wardwell ancestral line involved using Andover Town records. In Massachusetts, each town is its own civil unit, so family births, marriages, and deaths are located in the town vital records rather than county records. Examining town records in each town lying within the county boundaries was an arduous task until records for more than 200 towns were published in the series “Early Vital Records of Massachusetts, from 1600 to 1850” by the Massachusetts Vital Records Project. Included in the publications were the town records, church records and gravestones, newspapers, and even some private collections.

Andover Marriages

Scott Foley1

As with any publication or transcription, there is room for errors; however, this can often be remedied by obtaining a copy of the original documents. In the case of many town records in Massachusetts, though, the original records do not exist. What appears to be the original handwritten document is in fact a handwritten copy of the original made by a town clerk. As town records deteriorated over time, the town clerk’s method of preservation in the 1700 and 1800s was to copy by hand the old deteriorating record, again opening the door to human error.

Marriage of Samuel Wardle [Wardwell]

                                                         [a clerk’s copy]

Scott Foley2

  Birth of Samuel Wardwell

[clerk’s copy]

Scott Foley3

It is not possible to determine which of the handwritten documents is closest to the original without examining the paper and bindings of the volume. This would require an expert going to where the volume is housed. Since it’s not always possible to determine which copy is an original, the most valuable document for a genealogist is the one that provides the most information.

What can a researcher do in this situation? Using the Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, database on Ancestry lets a researcher examine images of multiple records for the same person. It is important to look at all of the different copies because some may contain more information than others. For example, one marriage record may provide the name of the bride and groom, another image the bride and groom with their father’s names, and a third image the names of both parents. When using New England town records, keep looking until you find a document that states the mother/wife’s maiden name. If the maiden names are not stated, look for additional documents, such as estate records, to clarify family relationships. Comparing all the available records can help you find the answers about your own ancestors.

Learn more about Scott’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.


  1. Jacqueline Robinson

    This was a wonderful and emotional show. I am so happy Mr. Foley was able to touch his ancestors in a way all of us want to do. Good luck for your future genealogy experiences

  2. Janice

    I enjoyed this episode. It would be great if, some day, we could make sense of what really happened in Salem – so tragic. But very cool that one of his ancestors was in such close proximity to George Washington.

  3. Marilynn Shapiro

    Enjoy all your programs on who do you think you are. Keep on doing more programs. What about records of people from Russia, Romania and Poland’s records of people that family’s were from there.

  4. Susan

    I thought the whole program was interesting. The section on Washington was full of information new to me.
    I was particularly fascinated by the section on Samuel Wardwell and his conviction on being a witch. The emotional response by Scott Riley to the way his ancestor had been treated rang a bell with me.
    My direct ancestor (10 generations) was arrested and imprisoned after being accused by a neighbor of being a witch. Dr. Richard Toothaker II died of “natural causes” in Salem Prison, Billerica, Middlesex, Massachusetts, USA at age 57. It is suspected that some methods of his interrogation may have contributed to his death. By coincidence, his accuser was also a doctor who had been jealous of Dr. Toothaker’s patient count. He was also interested in some land that Dr. Toothaker owned.
    Dr. Toothaker’s wife and daughter were also imprisoned but were released without trial. They returned to their home where Mrs. Toothaker was killed in an attack by Indians. Her daughter was taken by the Indians and was never seen again.
    Martha Carrier, one of the prisoners who was convicted and hung as a witch, was Mrs. Toothaker’s sister. When people began to realize that the charges were unfounded, the Rev. Cotton Mather described Martha as a “rampant hag” and “The Queen of Hell.” He felt that because of that, Martha deserved to be executed as a witch.

  5. Sandy

    I hope the remainder of the series is far more intelligent than this one. Gosh I loved this show/series when it began a couple of seasons ago, but now it’s making a joke of how much work goes into the research and how incredibly talented and dedicated a genealogist is.

  6. caith

    Yes, Susan, it was really all about land and other personal assets.

    Between 1450-1750 more than 100,000 people, mainly women, in Europe and colonial America were prosecuted for witchcraft. Tens of thousands were executed, often after being subjected to bestial tortures.

    “Witch Hunt, History of a Persecution” by Nigel Cawthorne

  7. Charles TYLER

    Samuel Wardwell was my 7th Great-Great Grandfather. That makes Scott and I seventh cousins, 1x removed. Congratulations Scott!

  8. Jade Passmore

    Samuel Wardwell was my daughter, Katie Reiter’s (dad’s side) 8th great-grandfather. So Scott Foley, Charles Tyler and Katie, as cousins you have more extended family than you thought previously. Did you notice though that the show skipped 3 or 4 generations and about 100 years going from Mary Bliss Wardwell to Simon Wardwell and Ruth Church?

  9. Carrie Anderson

    Watched the show the other night and Scott Foley starts talking about Samuel Wardwell and the trial and my reaction was “hey, that sounds like Samuel Wardell” my cousin’s book! My cousin, David Stouck, wrote The Wardells and the Vosburghs: Records of a Loyalist Family privately published in 1986. I need to pick this book up again – I quickley matched up some names, dates, the quote about “What a sad thing it is to see eight firebrands…”, but it looks like we’re cousins, Scott Foley AND Charles Tyler (in the comment above)… how freakin’ whoa is this!! As Scott said, people walk by and they see the names and they’re going to forget about them, etc. but the story means a lot to Scott and he’s going to take it with him from now on… me too, Scott.

  10. Carrie Anderson

    Jade Passmore, I must’ve missed your comment before I posted and you’re right… the show skipped about 100yrs. In his book, my cousin writes about Samuel Wardell and the whole Salem account etc., but has Samuel married to a Sarah and their daughter Mercy, who was also arrested… hmm… must do further research.

  11. Jade Passmore

    Hi Carrie, Samuel Wardwell (1643-1692) was married to Sarah. Sarah Hooper. Their daughter, Mercy, was born in 1673. I found a link to your cousin’s book. It looks very interesting. How is everyone related to Samuel and Sarah? My daughter is Dole+Georgina Wardwell. Simon Wardwell+Margaret Dodge. Eliakim Wardwell+Lydia Smith. Simon Wardwell+Ruth Church. Eliakim Wardwell+Mary Peavey. William Wardwell+Dorothy Wright. Samuel+Sarah. I’ll have to get out my cousin’s chart to see how everyone is related.

  12. Barbara

    I was unable to watch the show, since the network ran some program(sports)earlier in the day, which ran over my recording. I thought I could find it on the “on demand” section of my cable programming, but could not. How do I find the pre-recorded show? Why are some network shows not recorded in “on demand”? It seems to get switched from one network to the other each year.

  13. Jade Passmore

    I am wondering if we can receive digital copies of the documents Scott Foley received to document our ancestry as well? Simon Wardwell is my daughter’s 5th great grandfather and Samuel Wardwell her 8 times great grandfather. Scott Foley and my daughter are 6th cousins.

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Jade: We have removed your email address from your post for your security. You can search for these records on Ancestry, we have attached a guide that will help you do this

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