Monday, May 12, 2014

Who Really Was the Father of Sophia Newton (183?-1923)?

I've been pecking away at finding records for Thomas J. Newton, the purported father of my 2nd great-grandmother, Sophia (Newton) Hildreth (1834-1923).  I say "purported" because some records for Sophia give his name, and some records do not, and now I have enough information to at least question whether Thomas J. Newton was actually her biological father.  I don't have evidence that he wasn't, but the evidence that I have that he was is fairly scanty.

I'm thinking that better minds than mine can figure this out.  So, if this mystery intrigues you, please contribute your ideas and suggestions to me at  I will appreciate any contributions.

1)  Here is what I think I know about Sophia (Newton) Hildreth and her identified parents:

*  When last I summarized my evidence, I wrote Evaluating the Evidence: When and Where was Sophia (Newton) Hildreth (183?-1923) Born? (posted 27 November 2012).  I had 13 pieces of evidence, and hypothesized that:

*  The only actual birth date I have is 14 September, calculated from the age at death in the death record, and supported by the 1900 Census record that indicates September as the birth month.

*  The available evidence indicates that the year of birth is between 1832 and 1837.  The two earliest pieces of evidence (1850 Census and 1852 marriage record) imply 1834 by the age given in the records.  The 1880 Census evidence implies 1833.  The 1860, 1870 and 1900 Census evidence implies 1835.  The 1910 Census evidence implies 1836.  The 1920 Census evidence implies 1837.  Her age at death calculates to be 1836.  Ages given on census records, and death records, are notorious for being one or two years off if the specific person did not provide the information to the enumerator; also, people fibbed at times.  My working hypothesis, based on all of the available evidence, and weighting the earliest bits of evidence the most, is that Sophia Newton was born in 1834.  I should note that all of the evidence, save the death record probably provided by her son, is Indirect Evidence of the birth year.  

*  The place of birth may be Massachusetts, Cambridge, Vermont, or Springfield, Vermont.  The entries for Cambridge, Vermont were in birth and death records for her children, and were possibly provided by Sophia herself.  The birth place information on her death record was probably provided by her grandson, Frederick Walton Seaver (since his parents were already deceased).  My conclusion is that she was born in Cambridge, Lamoille, Vermont based on the evidence at hand.

*  The only record that provides a father's name is her marriage record on 25 December 1852 to Edward Hildreth in Northborough, Massachusetts - it says her father was Thomas J. Newton and her mother was not listed.  Sophia (Newton) Hildreth's death record in 1923 does not provide a father's name, but identifies her mother's name as (Buck) Newton.

*  Sophia Newton had a brother, Thomas J. Newton (1835-1915), whose marriage record in 1864 identifies his parents as Thomas and Sophia, and his death record in 1915 identifies his parents as Thomas J. Newton (born in Maine) and Sophia Buck.  His death record says that his birth date was 3 June 1835 in Burlington, Vermont.  The 1900 U.S. census says he was born in June 1835, but the 1850 (age 17), 1870 (age 37) and 1880 (age 47) census records imply he was born in 1832-3, as does his 1864 marriage record (age 32).  So we have a birth year range of 1832-1835 for Thomas J. Newton.

*  Sophia (Newton) Hildreth's mother was likely Sophia (Buck) (Brigham) (Newton) Stone (1797-1882), who married (1) Lambert Brigham (1794-1834) in 1817 in Sterling, Massachusetts, and had two Brigham sons in 1820 and 1830; (2) Thomas J. Newton (????-????) at some time between 1830 and 1850, possibly in Massachusetts; (3) Jonathan Stone (1795-1868) in 1862 in Westborough, Massachusetts.

2)  Here is what I know about Thomas J. Newton (????-????):

*  I've written about Thomas J. Newton in Mystery Monday - Thomas J. Newton of Maine (19th century) (23 March 2009), Using the FAN Club Principle - Thomas J. Newton, Father of Sophia Newton (1834-1923) - Post 1 (19 November 2010), and Post 2 (22 November 2010).

*  I have found just one record for a Thomas J. Newton that I can identify as probably associated with Sophia Newton (183?-1922).  I wrote about it in Found a Record for My Thomas J. Newton! (17 January 2014).  This record is dated 3 December 1832 and is in Westborough, Massachusetts.

*  I'm still looking for more information when I find new databases that might be helpful.

3)  Another factor - Lambert Brigham:

* I recently found a death record for Sophia (Buck) Brigham's first husband, Lambert Brigham, dated 5 May 1834 in Westborough, Massachusetts.  See Finding Lambert Brigham's Death Record in Massachusetts Town and Vital Records Collection.

*  Now I have another research question to answer:  Was Lambert Brigham still Sophia (Buck) Brigham's husband when he died on 5 May 1834.

*  If they were still married, then it is likely that Sophia (Buck) Brigham did not marry Thomas J. Newton (assuming they married!) until after 5 May 1834.

*  If they were still married, then it is likely that Sophia (Newton) Hildreth (183?-1922) was the daughter of Lambert Brigham if she was born on 14 September 1834.  If she was born on 14 September 1835 or later, then her father was likely Thomas J. Newton.

4)  Some hypotheses:

*  Lambert Brigham (1794-1834) was the biological father of Sophia (Newton) Hildreth (183?-1922), but died before Sophia was born on 14 September 1834 (?).  Thomas J. Newton, second husband of Sophia (Buck) Brigham, married her before or after the daughter Sophia was born and took the family away to Vermont.  In this case, Lambert Brigham is likely the father of Sophia and perhaps Thomas (depending on his birth year).

*  Sophia (Buck) Brigham and Lambert Brigham divorced before 1834, and Sophia married Thomas J. Newton and had children Sophia Newton and Thomas J. Newton in Vermont as their subsequent records indicate.  In this case, Thomas J. Newton is likely the father of the children Sophia and Thomas.

*  Thomas J. Newton is the father of Sophia and perhaps Thomas by an unknown wife who dies before 1834.  After Lambert Brigham dies on 5 May 1834, Thomas J. Newton marries Sophia (Buck) Newton in Massachusetts or Vermont, and she acts as mother to the children Sophia Newton and Thomas J. Newton.  The children are raised thinking that Sophia (Buck) (Brigham) (Newton) Stone is their mother.  The 1852 marriage record, which names the father but no mother, supports this hypothesis.  Is it coincidence that the son Thomas J. has the same given names as the purported father?  In this case, I've been researching the wrong mother for many years!

5)  What other possible scenarios can you think of?  What records would you try to find that might help me determine which hypothesis, if any, is correct?  If you have any thoughts on this matter, please let me know via email at

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copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Janice Harshbarger said...

This is very helpful to me. I recently learned that a person I have been researching for years and was finally close to solving his puzzle is possibly not the biological father of the person I'd believed was his. Your post will give me some avenues to think about and explore. Good luck with your mystery, too!

Diane B said...

Randy, I'm sure you've looked at deeds and probate somewhat, especially if the deeds for that Massachusetts county happen to be online at FamilySearch, but have you completely gotten to the bottom of what deeds or probate exist for these folks?

As far as a possible divorce goes, the Vermont State Archives could give you information about a possible divorce (you could email them, they are pretty quick) and likewise the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court - they are also very helpful. In each case I believe I found the emails on the web.

And of course you should keep checking your newspaper subscription sites since they add new things all the time.

That's all I've got, but I agree with your analysis that those probably are the possibilities at this point.