This history traces twelve generations of a family descended from Nathaniel Colburn, who joined the Puritan Great Migration from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1637. It has been compiled by a member of generation XV, counting from earliest recorded mentions of the family in the 15th century.
The history will:
I am a descendant of Nathaniel through my mother, Charlotte Colburn Gasperini, daughter of Legrand and Mildred Colburn and grand-daughter of Charles E. and Charlotte Colburn of Otsego County. Please send all comments, kudos, and complaints to me at Jim Gasperini (replace "ATSIGN" with "@".)
The Colburn family, at least in our line, is distinguished more by stubborn persistence, personal longevity, and remarkable fertility than by any great accomplishments on the world stage. No great statesmen, military leaders, inventors, tycoons, Indian princesses, artists or assassins appear in this chronicle. Some generations come close to disappearing entirely from the historical record, making it a challenge to tease some sense of what happened to them from the meager available sources.
This history is greatly indebted to the many historians and genealogists who, beginning in the 19th century, laboriously tracked down and transcribed old records and set down family information. The internet has vastly simplified the process of exploring family history. Sitting at my desk I have been able to consult:
Google Earth enabled me to zoom in to examine satellite views of places where Colburns lived long ago. As the member of my generation most interested, I have also accumulated family memorabilia including photographs, farm logbooks, and medals won at agricultural fairs.
For the most part I have focused on one male "line." This arbitrary choice follows our culture’s longtime system of giving children the surname of their fathers. The women with whom this chain of fathers shared their lives often appear, unfortunately, just as names. For centuries the activities of men were recorded in much greater detail than the activities of women. Chains of mothers and daughters are, of course, just as much a part of anyone’s ancestry as chains of fathers and sons. In an online genealogical database it is often possible to follow human relations in any direction you like. (Dozens of formats exist. The best I have found is at geni.com.) Among the source material is a list of forty-four other seventeenth-century emigrants whose descendants married into the Colburn clan.
I present here an illustrated, linear narrative of the major choices each generation made about where they lived, who they married, what they did for a living, and whatever odd facts I came across (such as the names of some of my great-grandfather's cows.)
My interest in researching family history was inspired by a visit to an unremarkable spot in the middle of a forest in Otsego County, New York. My guide was Eleanor Rider (1916-2005) of Edmeston NY, my mother’s cousin by marriage. Eleanor was an energetic family historian and genealogist. After exploring her own family history she turned to that of her husband, and prepared a detailed typescript genealogy.
In May of about 1983 Eleanor took me on a tour of 19th-century Colburn farms and gravesites. The tour culminated on a hill deep in Plainfield State Forest.
We stopped at a fork in the rough dirt road. It was May. Amidst the lush green of an upstate spring, she pointed out the bright pink of thumbnail-size old-fashioned climbing roses, growing in and around a rough rectangular rock-lined depression in the forest floor. A cellar hole - overgrown to the point that you can only see it if you know what to look for - is all that remains of the cabin my great-great-great-great-grandparents built in 1799 on their arrival at what was then the frontier.
Soon after Eleasnor married into the family in the 1950's, a very old Colburn relative took her to the site and told her that Betsey Colburn had brought the rose with her when she and Ellis moved west from New Hampshire. We cut a rose, took it down the hill to the Burlington Flats cemetery, and placed it on her grave.
Though 1799 seems like a long time ago, Ellis and Betsey's generaton is the middle generation of Colburn experience in America. By 1799 as many generations of Colburns had already lived in America as have lived here since, up to my time.