Witch Ancestors: How to Find Witches in Your Family Tree
Every one has an interesting ancestors in their lineage. We find preachers, movie stars, blacksmiths, villains, even royalty in our family trees. Some of us have accused witch ancestors, too! Think about how big a family tree is the further back you go – the likelihood of witch ancestors increases. Hundreds of thousands of people were accused of witchcraft between the eighth century and the eighteenth century in various places in Europe and the United States. The web gives access to ancestral information including lists of accused witches.
There are different methods to research ancestry for witch ancestors, discussed below. Get out your black pointy hats and broomsticks. Let’s take a ride into the past in search of our magical witch ancestors!
Finding Your Witch Ancestors: Family Trees
Ancestry.com is a great place to research and document your ancestral line. While it does cost money and time, it is worth it. You will have to spend time researching and documenting your family tree to find a link to a witch ancestor. Most of us don’t have the same last name as our witch ancestors, so we will create a list of last names in our tree. Also keep in mind, there are variations of names over time and place. For example, your last name might be Spade now but two hundred years ago your ancestors’ last name was actually Spaht. When they moved, they changed it. This is a common occurrence.
Step #1: Build Your Family Tree
Build your family tree online (if you haven’t already). If you can’t afford an online ancestry database like ancestry.com, build a family tree manually. This will take more time and effort, but it can be done by talking to people in your family and gathering important documents from family members and libraries. Go back as far as you can until you hit a wall, until you can’t find any further ancestors. Sometimes you might get lucky and find a story about one of your ancestors that might tip you off to the fact that he or she was a witch. If not, continue on to step #2.
Step #2: Build A Simple List
Make a separate list of your family’s names. This can be in a word document or on scrap paper. Keep the family names in alphabetical order for easy access while researching. Leave some space next to each person’s name and record their country of origin (and city/town if you have it). Make note of the years of birth and death, if available.
At this point, you can move on to step #3 detailed in the next section.
Searching the Web: Witch Databases
Once you have the skeleton of you family tree and a list of names, research your witch ancestors via online databases. This seems like a daunting task, but it’s not so bad once started. Don’t forget to look for variations of your familial surnames!
Step #3: Research, Research, Research!
Use the name list with locations and dates and compare to databases online of accused witches. First, look at the locations of each of your ancestors (i.e. if you have ancestors that came to the United States in the seventeenth century, search for a list of names in the Salem Witch Trials or New York Witches). Don’t forget there were witches publicly accused in almost every U.S. colony, so research each state’s list of witch names too.
Check for your ancestors’ names against the Salem Witch Ancestry:
Salem Witch Trials Documents: court documents on the trials and personal diary entries from the people in the Salem Witch Trials. Search for your witch ancestors’ names and info. here.
Wikipedia List of People in the Salem Witch Trials: Wikipedia has an extensive list of people who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials. You may be able to find your ancestor’s name on the list. And it’s broken down by outcome of each person (executed, indicted, etc).
The Witches of New York: ancestry allows you to search for your witch ancestors in their database of accused NY witches. If your ancestors immigrated to New York, this is a great tool to use.
There are dozens of websites that provide information on the people in the Salem Witch Trials. Most of us won’t find any witch ancestors involved in the Salem Witch Trials, so we’ll have to look back into our European ancestry (or elsewhere).
Check the witch databases from the European Witch Trials:
Witchcraft, The Witch Trials: information on the European Witch Trials. Click on each location to find your witch and ancestors from Europe. Note: if you don’t have the location or dates of your ancestors, this website will prove rather difficult for you to use.
Wikipedia’s List of People Executed for Witchcraft: a huge list of people executed for witchcraft in Europe and elsewhere. Just remember these are only people who were killed – it doesn’t include the accused who were set free.
Scotland, Names of Witches, 1658: a huge document detailing names of the Scottish witches is available to search on ancestry.com. Access to the digital copy is available online to manually research (if you don’t have an ancestry account).
It’s going to take time. It’s likely you won’t see results the first day. Keep going and take notes. If you do find a witch ancestor or witch hunter ancestor, do detailed research on that particular person. Look up the name online or at your local library.
Disclaimer: When a Name Matches But You Can’t Prove it
DISCLAIMER: in most cases, you may find a witch or accused witch with your familial surname and even location of your ancestors. If you found this person via witch databases but you can’t link him/her to your actual family tree, it doesn’t mean you aren’t still related! In many cases, witches’ names were erased from family trees and some public records in an effort to further shame them or cut them off from their lineage.
For example, I’ve found two witches that I believe are ancestors of mine. Their last names match my ancestors including the time period and location in which my ancestors lived. But I can’t find either in my family tree nor can I find them in anyone’s family trees online. This leads me to believe their names were expunged from their family trees.
Local Witchy History and Family Stories
If the online research fails, there are other ways to research without a computer. If your family has been in the same area for centuries, look into your local history to see if your family played a part.
Step #4: Research your Local History
Often, local historical documents are available at the library. Through this research, you might find a story about one of your family members being accused or suspected of witchcraft!
Step #5: Talk To Your Family
Find information about witch ancestors by simply talking to family members. Sometimes another family member has already done research and built a family tree. If you are really lucky, there might be a story about a witch ancestor or witch hunter passed down through your family tree. Talk to your oldest surviving family member for closer insight. Keep in mind other terms used like herbs, herbalist, cunningwoman, midwife, wizard, alchemist, occultist, wise man, sin eater, water witch, witch doctor, healer, outcast, shaman, hag, crone, granny, sage, etc.
Still No Luck? Don’t Forget Logic! Or Let Us Do It For You!
So you’ve built an entire family tree, spent hours on research, and still haven’t found a link to witch ancestors in your family tree? Don’t fret. This was supposed to be fun! But if you’re that serious about it, think about it like this. By process of deduction, someone in your family tree was a witch or a witch hunter. Why? Because you have literally thousands of people in your lineage. Someone was either accused or executed as a witch! We all have witch ancestors, it’s just about finding them.
In the meantime, now you have information on your ancestors to educate other people in your family or simply enjoy on your own. Put together a ancestry photo album or scrapbook. Write a book or blog with the stories you’ve gathered on your family tree. Your witch ancestors will thank you.
And if you still can’t figure it out or want help, we offer a service called Magical Ancestral Origins Profile in which we research your ancestors’ ancient origins, pagan tribes, ancestral elements and animals, AND we look for magical ancestors in your ancestors’ history like witches, occultists, midwives, alchemists, and more! You can find the service here in our shop.