What is the evidence for the LNAB of the wife of William Osgood of Salisbury?

+3 votes

As noted in her bio which I just wrote :) the only evidence for the identity of William Osgood's wife is a sweet but unprovable anecdote in a 1894 Osgood genealogy:

"The old man... broke out in a sort of musical speech, 'My wife was Betty Cleer, and I loved her before I see her.'"

Genealogies of that era often included all kinds of cute little stories to illustrate the character of their subjects—they weren't literally true and I don't think they were ever intended to be taken as such.

Many online trees did take it literally, though, and now claim wife Osgood to have been "Elizabeth Cleer" or "Elizabeth Clere", and indeed that's how she's been imported into WikiTree.

I have looked for evidence and I have not found any other than the above, which is not evidence.  However, I may very well have overlooked something.

Is there any actual evidence supporting Cleer/Clere as the LNAB of William Osgood's wife?  Is there any actual evidence that an Elizabeth Cleer/Clere was a real person who existed?

If an Elizabeth Cleer/Clere existed but we cannot prove she was William's wife:

  • We should detach Elizabeth Clere from William Osgood, remove "Osgood" from her CLN, and update her bio.
  • Should we create a new Unknown profile to be William Osgood's wife?  Or leave his spouse blank?

If we cannot prove an Elizabeth Cleer/Clere existed at all:

  • We should change her LNAB, making Elizabeth (Clere) Osgood Elizabeth (Unknown) Osgood.
  • We should detach her current parents and update her bio.

The same book also says, but without mentioning any sources:

"His wife's name was Elizabeth, which is all the account we have of her except what comes by way of tradition."

Is there any actual evidence supporting Elizabeth as her first name?  She isn't named in William's will, but there might very well be deeds or other documents I didn't find.

  • If there isn't, then what should we change her first name to?

Is there any actual evidence that "John Cleer" and "Mrs. John Clere" and "Katherine Cleer" were real people who existed?

  • If there is, then we should add sources to their profiles and attach them to their real family.
  • If there isn't, then should we merge them away?
Thank you in advance for your help and wisdom! :)
WikiTree profile: Elizabeth Osgood
in Genealogy Help by Cheryl Hammond G2G6 Mach 2 (21.5k points)

FYI, I reviewed most (those that I could locate) of the references given in Torrey's New England Marriages to 1700 for the marriage of William Osgood to "Elizabeth [?CLEER/?CORLISS]"

1. In your revision of Elizabeth's profile, you state that her surname "originates soley from a colorful but unsourced anecdote in an 1894 Osgood genealogy" for which you provide a reference. That's not quite true, as, In addition to the Osgood genealogy, a reference provided by Torrey: A Genealogical Record of the Ancestors and Descendants of Joseph Ferrin & Elizabeth Preston, Lavisa (Ferrin) Hollinger, Cherokee, Iowa, 1915, p 22, has, of William Osgood, (without reference) "... married Elizabeth Clere(?) ..."

2. I was unable to determine from the references I reviewed where Torrey got "?CORLISS" as her surname.

Just a suggestion: you may want to revise Elizabeth's profile to use less pedantic phrases regarding her first and last names, such as "Her surname may be Clere/Cleer/Corliss as indicated in [citations]. It should be noted that the referenced sources indicate doubt ..." or similar.

I would agree that, at present, there is no reason to conclude that Elizabeth's surname is other than Unknown.

Hi Bruce,

Thank you for your research, especially the work you did to find additional citations from published works. They are helpful, which is why I posted in G2G asking for them. :)

(You probably already know this, but it comes up on G2G from time to time, so I'll explain for others who may be reading along.) Torrey is exceptional and is a secondary source. The "?" suggests that Torrey was unable to find the evidence for it either. The Ferrin/Preston genealogy that you've mentioned is a secondary or tertiary source, simply reproducing the claim plus the "?". The 1894 Osgood genealogy claim is different in that it tries to be a primary source: its author explains where and how he got the information, from "tradition" and a "story". Not exactly vital records, but at least it's something. We'll assume the author didn't just make the story up. :) We might wish he'd also shared which family member he heard it from and who they heard it from. He helpfully conveys his own uncertainty about the info, since on the preceding page (the traditionally-formatted genealogy listing of William's family) he names her as "Elizabeth __" rather than "Cleer".

Unless another more primary-source-like source can be found for the Cleer claim, I still figure the secondary and tertiary repetitions of it most likely originated from 1894 Osgood—they either found it there, or found it in another source who found it there. Having said that, you are absolutely right that "solely" in the bio is confusing and overstates the point. I'll rephrase it. Thank you for that feedback!

Finally, just a suggestion, since this is at least the second time you've called me "pedantic": though I take it as a compliment, many other people would find it insulting. You may want to find more affirming, or at least neutral, language when working with collaborators who prioritize evidence and attention to detail in our work.

Cheryl, I apologize for characterizing your phrases as "pedantic." That is, indeed, a bit strong.

Perhaps better (after reading your changes in Elizabeth's profile):

Though not in the case of Elizabeth's surname, there are some indications that Ferrin-Hollinger obtained information from specific research. E.g., there are references to wills and probate records, with specific volumes and pages, and repositories ("on record in Salem, Massachusetts", etc.) To me, that indicates, at a minimum, some basic research. Although the author acknowledges the use of other genealogies and histories, I didn't find a specific reference to the Osgood genealogy.

It's a detail - the Ferrin-Hollinger genealogy differs in the spelling of Elizabeth's surname, Clere(?)" (p. 19 & 22) vs "Cleer" (from the story in the Osgood genealogy.)  It may indicate information from an unknown scrap of info somewhere. If the author was merely repeating the Osgood genealogy story, it's not clear why she would change the spelling.

Just sayin'

EDIT: You're absolutely correct regarding Torrey. That's why it's important to regard Torrey as a reference to references.

For those with access to americanancestors.org, a PDF of Torrey's references is available by clicking on "About This Database" in the menu above any of the pages opened from the database. Also available is a PDF explaining how Torrey should be interpreted and used.

I find it insulting.

Thank you Bruce! Great resource on Torrey - I do have access and will check it out.

Didn't notice that about Ferrin-Hollinger. Wish she'd shared a bit more about her sources, but if they are out there then perhaps someone'll uncover them at some point.

Do we know whether a Cleer/Clere family even existed, by which I mean, is there any documentation of anyone by that name at that time other than attached to this specific claim? As you point out, examining records from that side is often the way we manage to verify a daughter's/wife's identity, and wills/probates/deeds can be the absolute best evidence when they spell out both sides of the relationship ("my daughter __ the wife of __" for the win).

Jeanie, your blog was actually my starting point for this cleanup, and I have had a link to you in my private Ancestry tree for ages! Thanks for your great work!

It would appear that there were at least one or two families with surname a variation of Clere/Cleer in Mass. early.

Savage (Geneal. Dict., v1:406) has surname Clear: George, Newport, 1639; John, Boston 1674, shoemaker; John, Boston 1677, Jr., a shoemaker

familysearch.org  (search last name Clere, born Massachusetts, 1650-1720) has several dozen birth records (all Boston except for 1 Sandwich, all Massachusetts Births and Christenings, 1639-1915) for Clere, Cleer, Clear; from 1670s to early 1700s,

This was never resolved. I made her parents uncertain.

3 Answers

+1 vote
Best answer


  1. We found evidence (from children's birth records in Salisbury) that William Osgood's wife's given name was Elizabeth.
  2. We found evidence that Clere/Cleer/Clear families existed in New England during that time period.
  3. We did not find specific evidence of an Elizabeth Clere/Cleer/Clear existing, though I'm not sure how hard we looked.
  4. We did not find specific evidence that John Cleer, "Unknown Clere", or Katherine Cleer existed; their current profiles are either blank or nonsensical.
  5. We added a citation from the 1915 Ferrin-Preston genealogy which also gives Elizabeth's LNAB as "(Clere?)". The author of this work generally cites sources but does not offer any evidence or explanation for Elizabeth's LNAB, and indeed includes the same "?" as other secondary/tertiary sources.

To summarize: we found evidence that William Osgood's wife was Elizabeth and we did not find evidence that she was Clere/Cleer/Clear.

Thus, her LNAB should be changed to Unknown and her parents detached, and we probably want to PPP to prevent merging a "Clere" back in. PGM, can you assist?

by Cheryl Hammond G2G6 Mach 2 (21.5k points)
+2 votes
The births of some of the (later) children in SalisburyVR list the mother's name as Elizabeth, so maybe a new Elizabeth unknown.  


John, s. twin, William and Elisabeth, 8: 8m: 1648. (p. 185)

William, s. twin, William and Elisabeth, 8: 8m: 1648. (p. 189)

Mary, d. William and Elizabeth, 3: 1m: 1649. (p. 185)

Joseph, s. William and Elisabeth, 18: 1m: 1651. (p. 185)

Sarah, d. William and Elizabeth, 7: 12m: 1652.(p. 189)

As a note, their dob's seem to be incorrect on these profiles, appear to be from an ancestry source that didn't convert the above to the actual calendar month/year for the time frame.
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (737k points)
Oh, perfect! I'll get those citations added and perhaps take a look at the children's profiles as well. Thank you for finding that!
Source: Vital Records of Salisbury, Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849.  The Topsfield Historical Society, Topsfield, Massachusetts. 1915.

As Chris points out, these birthdates use the Julian calendar, in which the first month of the new year is March, so "3: 1m: 1649" translates to  "March 3, 1649/50" using split year notation, where 1649 is the Julian year, and 1650 is the Gregorian calendar year -- the year odometer didn't turn over till March 25. 

John, s. twin 8: 8m: 1648. October 8 1648  
William s. twin 8: 8m: 1648. October 8 1648
Mary, d. 3: 1m: 1649. March 3, 1649/50
Joseph, s. 18: 1m: 1651. March 18 1651/2
Sarah, d. 7: 12m: 1652. Feb 7, 1652/3

I've used split-date notation, where 1649/50 means 1649 Julian/1650 Gregorian.  This was frequently but inconsistently used in records and on tombstones at this time; it confuses a lot of researchers,  transcriptionists, and software. 

(Split date notation was used because Catholic countries were using the Gregorian calendar,  while most Protestant countries were still using the Julian calendar, so better-educated town clerks used split-year notation during January, February, and March; some didn't use split-year notation, and many just used split-year notation rather haphazardly in March.)

See: https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/92495/julian-gregorian-dates-more-than-just-which-year-use-problem

You're doing excellent work to try to convert those dates from their original notation to a more modern one!  That's something I often avoid doing, for mostly the exact reasons you have outlined. :)  Unfortunately, in addition to the March 25 conversion (which I usually do, too), there's also an 11-day adjustment between the two systems... and often a lack of clarity about exactly which set of date rules a community was using at any given time.

"The best advice for transcribing Quaker dates seems to be 'don't change them!' Copy them exactly as they appear in the original source material. If you are looking at a Quaker date that has been transcribed by someone else, be wary!"

(From this awesome resource: http://www.erblandbrown.org/before_1850/documents/QuakerDates.pdf)

Having said that, I realize I do not know whether WikiTree has a clear standard for how or whether to adapt not-perfectly-convertible dates into values a computer can accept for a person's profile.  My concern in providing a precise-looking converted date (and all the arguments for it) is that we are communicating far more certainty than we can possibly actually have.

I agree that, for example, March 18, 1651/2 is probably the best consensus we can reach with the data we have.  I am slightly concerned that a strong, declarative statement like the one on John's profile, which states that his birth date is October 8, 1648 by our calendar, is too exact and too confident.  I might soften it: "8m: generally referred to our modern month of October rather than August, so 8: 8m: 1648 was approximately October 8, 1648."  If we're going to go to the trouble of explaining it, that feels like a more accurate summary because it leaves room for what we know we don't know.  You know? :)

+2 votes
I agree with you, in fact I wrote in a blog article,  a few years ago, the same thing. A ditty does not a surname make.  If your are interested here is my blog post. http://www.jeaniesgenealogy.com/2012/02/william-osgood-of-salisbury.html feel free to point out any errors.
by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (126k points)

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