Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Despite political and economic challenges, one American institution still remains a source of hope: The American educational system. It needs improvement. It is not fairly distributed. Some students work much harder and longer than others to obtain a college degree. But higher education remains available to all.

A recent incident underlined this. In researching an ancestor, Thomas Wickham, who arrived in America from England around 1640 and made his way to Wethersfield, CT, I found that an incredible amount of research has been already been done on him, some of it as early as 1852 and some centuries earlier. Why?

He was a Puritan wool merchant. His wife ran a school for girls. They raised seven children. Neither Thomas Wickham nor his descendants were particularly important. None signed the Declaration of Independence. None ever held high office or discovered anything.

In trying to find an answer, I found many researchers had tried to link him to the family of William of Wykeham, born in 1324, 300 years before Thomas. Wykeham, a powerful man, was Bishop of Winchester, twice Lord Chancellor of England, as well as founder of New College at Oxford. 19th century American wanted the link for the novelty. But 15th century and 16th Englishmen wanted a blood link for the political and social clout it carried. Why? Because then, college matriculation required a pedigree.

I'm not sure I or anyone will ever prove a link to the more famous Wykehams, even given the newly digitized information available. Most likely, Thomas Wickham, like so many others, left England because he had no claims to a title, and therefore no opportunities in England. He came to America where slowly, higher education became a possibility for all. No pedigree necessary. Happy Fourth!


  1. Yes, Happy Birthday to America. I agree Linda, this is still the land of opportunity. It should be more equal, but it is better here than in many places. Happy Fourth!

  2. Sounds as though researchers were playing a social climbing role in trying to link to a more famous family.
    My mother used to tease me about my famous ancestors who would get me into the DAR, knowing I wasn't the least interested!