Most families have a mystery. The biggest mystery, of course, is not knowing who your ancestors are. Even if you do, there’s often more unanswered questions. Today we begin with one of them in the family of Cyd Zeigler. We’ll also discover that his ancestry means he can pay for a coffee in Starbucks with a $100 bill and justifiably get away with it!
Cyd Zeigler is one of the
world’s leading commentators on lgbt participation in sport. He is co-founder
of Outsports, the website on which several leading athletes over the years have chosen to come
One of the Zeigler family
mysteries concerns the background of Cyd’s grandfather Norman F. Zeigler
(1925-1992). He was a foster child in the 1920s and no-one really knows
anything about his family. Despite months of research I haven’t been able to
uncover the full story. All I know is that at the age of 4 Norman was living
with Cyrus C. Williams and his wife Bertha in Orleans, Massachusetts. The
Williams’s had arrived in the US from Canada the year before and Norman is
referred to as their “lodger”. Norman was still living with them in 1935 and
1940. The census records the birthplace of each individual, but Norman’s
parents are always referred to as “unknown”, which indicates he was an orphaned
before 1930. Considering he lived with the Williams’s for over 15 years we can
assume that “lodger” really means “foster child”. Unfortunately I haven’t had
access to any foster records in Massachusetts so can’t say any more than that.
For now the ancestry of
Norman Zeigler remains a mystery. That of his wife, however, is far from being
mysterious. In fact, its surprises more than make up for it.
Norman married Amy “Honey”
Ryder (1939-2005) and had 5 children. Amy was the daughter of Almond Gage Ryder
and his wife Wilhelmina Pye. Even though Wilhelmina was born in the USA her
parents were born further afield – in Finland. Both of her parents came from
near Helsinki, and both emigrated to the States in different years and they met
and married in Massachusetts in 1899. The original family name was Pyy.
Almond Gage Ryder came
from true colonial stock and from some of the most prominent founding families
of Nantucket, indeed the USA itself. Almond’s mother
was a member of the Ellis family (sadly, not the same family that gave its name
to Ellis Island, the port of arrival of the Finnish Pyy family). Her direct
ancestor (Cyd’s 9 x great-grandfather) was Lt. John Ellis (d.c.1676), a
Mayflower passenger – but not THAT Mayflower. There was a later ship of the
same name on which John sailed from London in 1629 (the same ship that brought
Thomas Blossom, ancestor of Barack Obama and Rufus Wainwright).
In 1644 Lt. Ellis married
Elizabeth Freeman, daughter of the first Assistant Governor of Plymouth Colony,
rather hastily probably as she was already pregnant. In August they were
brought before a court on a charge of fornication and having a child too soon
after marriage. John was sentenced to a public whipping which his wife was to
witness. All very different from their parents’ Puritan beliefs.
Lt. Ellis’s grandson Ebenezer
moved to Nantucket in the early 18th century and his family
intermarried many times with other prominent Nantucket families. The early history of Nantucket is tangled up in a complex web of family relationships, with siblings marrying siblings, cousins marrying cousins, cousins marrying siblings, men marrying their dead wife’s sister, etc. In fact, the highly respected American genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts, who has appeared in several UK and US editions of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, has called this family web “Nantucket Soup”.
One of these interrelated families
were the Folgers. I’m sitting here in a city centre café bar drafting this article with a cup of coffee
in front of me. If I was in America it could well be a brand of coffee founded
by J. A. Folger in 1860, who, like, Cyd Zeigler, is descended from Peter Folger
(d.c.1689) of Nantucket. Folger’s coffee isn’t that well known in the UK,
unlike the name of another of Cyd’s ancestral Nantucket families, the Starbucks. The
coffee connection in this case isn’t direct, however, as Starbucks is named
after a character in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, though in turn he was named after the
Back to Peter Folger. His wife Mary actually gets a mention in “Moby Dick”, where another
surprising family connection is revealed. One of Peter and Mary's children was
called Eleazer. He was another of Cyd’s 9 x great-grandfathers, and he had a
sister called Abiah (sometimes called Abigail). She married twice. Her second husband
was a tallow chandler called Josiah Franklin. They had ten children, including
(I guess you might be ahead of me) Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the great statesman, inventor, scientist, colonial activist and a Founding Father of the USA. Yes, the man
on the $100 note is Cyd Zeigler’s ancestral first cousin. Perhaps Cyd inherits
his sense of lgbt rights from this side of the family more than any other.
And that was going to be
it. I was ready to write this article when I received confirmation of research
into Cyd Zeigler’s ancestry on his mother’s side. I haven’t had time to do more
than a brief look, but it reveals more surprises.
Cyd’s family were aware of
a French-Canadian connection, but I don’t think even they realise how far back
it goes. French colonial ancestry is as well documented as that of colonial New
England, so it didn’t take long to trace Cyd’s ancestry back through Quebec to
the early French settlers in the 17th century and even back to
France in the 15th.
I need to do more a
detailed search to say more, but I can tell you that Cyd is descended from some
of the most important families in Canada (even today), including the Fortins
and Cloutiers. So I’ll end on this tantalising snippet – through his mother Cyd
Zeigler is related to Madonna, the Duchess of Cornwall, Celine Dion, Jack
Kerouac and Angelina Jolie.
POSTSCRIPT : Perhaps I should also
mention Cyd’s distant cousinship to Herman Melville, whose own queer identity
is much discussed. Both are descended from Nantucket founder Tristram Coffyn
(1605-1681), a member of one of the interrelated families that make up the
“Nantucket Soup”. The funny thing is, Benjamin Franklin is one of very few Nantucket
Americans who ISN’T descended from Tristram Coffyn! Its all very confusing.