Friday, May 21, 2010

Comstock Family Origins - Part Two

An alternative viewpoint regarding possible German ancestry for Christopher Comstock can be seen at

If you descend from Christopher Comstock, certainly you should read this blog, as well as the following.

Many of the older history books that now appear on the Internet, particularly on Google books, are known to contain numerous errors.  Inevitably they were compiled from a variety of sources and over a relatively short period of time.  Standards of genealogical proof have improved greatly in the past 100 years, as well as our ability to access records.  These books are important to our research but as clues to possibly more accurate resouces.

One of the most complete compilations of Comstocks is, The Comstock Family in America, published in Los Angeles CA, 1949, written by John A. Comstock. Yes, this book, too, contains errors, as all do; it remains a masterful work.  This book is not found on the Internet in its entirety as the copyright is still in effect and unfortunately it is out of print - but it can be purchased on CD for a reasonable fee from Quintin Publications.  John A. Comstock's manuscript papers are in the library at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society in Boston - many, many boxes of papers. [They have been microfilmed by LDS but I would think extremely hard to read on film as it was often difficult with the materials in hand!]   I have been privileged to visit that library in Boston and look at some of this material.  I reviewed all of the material on the early Comstocks - the first three generations or so - and then only at my own family line which is from Samuel Comstock of Rhode Island.

Two earlier books were written by Cyrus B. Comstock as mentioned in my previous blog, and John A. Comstock's book contains much material that is obviously from those two books to which he gives credit.
What was even more interesting, is that John A. Comstock had also used data from Samuel Willett Comstock, who descends from Christopher Comstock [usually represented as a son of the immigrant William although the evidence is admittedly circumstantial].  Samuel Willett Comstock was also a source for C. B. Comstock - Samuel was born 1865 in Boston and was a member of NEHGS from 1929-1936.  He was still living in Devon, CT, at the time John A. Comstock began his book and John gives him credit for sharing all his material.  Samuel Willett Comstock's manuscript collection is also at NEHGS and that collection, containing 22 volumes of material, was even more interesting.  Part of Samuel W. Comstock's collection was the correspondence of Noah D. Comstock.  Noah Durham Comstock [1832-1890] and his wife [Ellen, nee Comstock, 1836-1914, a sister to Cyrus B. Comstock] both descended from Samuel Comstock of Rhode Island, my ancestor.  Noah was the one that had collected much of the data used by Cyrus B. Comstock, and then by John A. Comstock.  Noah's prodigious correspondence is dated from as early as 1849 and was bound, in what was obviously a homemade binding and was extremely fragile - the tight binding even precluded photographing without extra hands to support the pages.  It was evident that much of the early history of the Comstock family as presented in The Comstock Family in America dates back to the correspondence of Noah Durham Comstock.  However, it is also true that much of the data has been additionally proved with actual New England records by some of the researchers along the way.  Samuel W. had also traveled overseas to research and added his own results and thoughts.  It was obvious that both Noah and Samuel had planned a book, but never got quite that far.  This research through the manuscripts also provided some much earlier documentation for data in John A. Comstock's book that was not directly sourced, although he does give many examples of primary source material throughout his book, as did Cyrus B. Comstock.  All of these Comstock family researchers devoted many years and experience to their quest.

Royal R. [Ralph] Hinman of Hartford, CT, compiled several volumes of A Catalogue of the Names of the Early Puritan Settlers of the Colony of Connecticut, published by the Press of Case, Tiffany & Co, Hartford, 1852-1856.   His work is available for download as one volume, apparently republished or rebound together, from Google Books.  [I'm not sure this is all of Hinman's work but it does contain the material on the Comstocks and at least five volumes.]   He was an attorney and states in his introduction that he had worked for about five years before beginning his compilation - a relatively short time to study so much about so many people.  Without doubt he had collected the material rather than doing the actual research and he furnished no sources.  He did state that he planned to research further in the records, but I believe this was never completed as he never completed his alphabet of names.  What is immediately evident in his first two paragraphs about the Comstocks [p.682] is that he omitted a generation.  He lists children for Samuel Comstock, son of William who had gone to Rhode Island - but these are instead the children of the grandson Samuel, one of the two sons of the Samuel, son of William.  He calls Samuel a Welchman in one instance. Hinman makes errors and omissions as he lists the Comstocks.  A particularly serious omission is that of Abijah, son of Moses Comstock, who was a son of Christopher.  Hinman also suggests Moses had a son David - but that David who married Sarah Leeds was the son of Samuel, Moses's brother, not Moses's son as Moses had no son named David.  Although Moses left a will naming his children, it's obvious Hinman never saw such a document, but made assumptions about the children of Moses.  Many of the Comstock males he lists show no relationships to others, although with the use of John A. Comstock's book, they can now be placed accurately in the family tree.  Some of the marriages are wrong, as are spelling versions of wives' surnames.  Descendants of Daniel & John Comstock are extremely confusing on p.687, and could not ever be sorted without an accompanying genealogy.  Under the paragraph re James Comstock who married Thankful Crosby, 1763, he quotes from "an aged man many years since of the Comstocks of Montville".  The Comstocks in Montville were descendants of Daniel Comstock, but this aged man was not further identified.  The quoted material is confusing, mixes generations, and has errors.  One example of outright error is the genealogy of James Comstock, killed at Ft. Griswold - James was a descendant of Daniel but not by the line herein shown.  Hinman contradicts himself regarding the number of children the immigrant William Comstock may have had and he obviously did not know that William Comstock had previously been in Watertown, Massachusetts, before removing to Connecticut.  In other words, Hinman's work although providing many ideas for research, is not particularly reliable in and of itself.

One of the Comstocks interested in knowing about his family was Dr. John Lee Comstock, a contemporary of Hinman's living in Hartford at the same time - they can both be found in the 1850 census although their families seem to be quite far apart - at least they are numbered quite far apart.  John Lee Comstock is a descendant of Daniel, proved son of William Comstock - his lineage can easily be traced in the John A. Comstock book.   Dr. Comstock was a medical doctor who had written many books dealing with a wide range of human sciences.  Hinman lists his accomplishments which are many.  One does wonder about how he could be expert in all these fields in this time period.  In reference to Comstock's book on Philsosphy, Hinman states "written by a man who never had an hour's instruction or explanation from any of the learned professors of the country."  Although Hinman seems to regard this self-education as an asset, I would hesitate to place John Lee Comstock as an authority on this or many of the other subjects he wrote about.  Comstock also wrote a history of Greece, a history of the "Hindooes" and "Cabinet of Curiousities".  Although a scholar, he was not a genealogist, nor did he write anything in the area of the history of his own family.  However, it is possible he furnished Hinman with some information, although he probably wasn't the elderly man mentioned - John Lee was younger than Hinman.  It is quite possible John Lee Comstock had corresponded with Noah D. Comstock who beginning in 1849 was collecting Comstock family data. There were numerous other Comstock descendants in the general area of Hartford that could have been consulted for Hinman's work.  John Lee apparently did accept the story about the German Komstohks whose lineage can not now be found, as related in my previous blog.  The second of Cyrus B. Comstock's books describes John Lee Comstock's sister quoting the story of the German Komstohks saying "from my deceased brother I received what I have written, who as he informed me, upon a visit to Frankfort on the Main by a gentleman whose name I do not recollect, copied and gave it to him".

I very much suspect John Lee Comstock was the victim of one of the many genealogical frauds that have occurred throughout history.  Note that he himself did not actually see the original German pedigree, only a copy, and, in fact the statement by his sister says that this "gentleman whose name she did not recollect" is the one who had visited Frankfort, not her brother.  This is not to refute that John Lee Comstock may very well have been an upright, honest and well respected gentleman.   However, it is certain the researchers noted above who spent years of their lives studying the Comstock family, did not place any credence on the suggested German heritage.  It is fairly evident that John Lee Comstock would not have had a great deal of time to spend in genealogy research, given the number of books he was writing on many other subjects.  Many of the churches in Germany still retain records going back hundreds of years - the fact that this record, and not any trace of this family can be found in Germany, does seem somewhat suspect.  The records, could of course now be lost, but it is also possible they never existed, particularly since at least one historical event mentioned, that of the Benedict treason, cannot be substantiated.  It is also evident that the early Comstock researchers made attempts to find these records prior to World War II and likely prior to World War I. Historical events are even less likely to disappear from history than surnames.  The study of genealogy will eventually prove to any researcher that almost anything is possible, but before a fact can be accepted, some sort of primary record must be discovered.  As yet, there is no such record of these German Komstohks beyond what amounts to heresay, originating with an unknown person.

An aside: Go here to read about fraudulent lineages.
I'm sure there were men other than Gustave Anjou that made a living this way.  Certainly in my husband's Haden family, only a few decades ago, an elderly lady in Texas paid out hundreds of dollars over several months as a retainer to a researcher in England.  Although he sent her bits and pieces of data, no actual copies of documents were ever furnished her and, indeed, proved not to exist. All the data sent to her was proved incorrect or nonexistent when the actual depositories and records were researched by another person. Both names and dates had been altered to make the genealogy "fit" and manufactured in entirety when necessary.  We like to believe that in the field of genealogy and family research, we are above this sort of duplicity, but that simply is not so.

Posted on the Internet are several pages from the John A. Comstock book regarding the "Coat of Arms" promoted as being that of the Comstocks. That reference is here:
Unfortunately there is an entire page in the book which is omitted from this Internet posting - the book shows a picture representing the Crest as well as the proposed family for Frederick Komstohk, listing birthdates of five children and written in a sort-of-German hand.  This is the document disputed as being a fake by Samuel Willett Comstock, because the writing, supposedly German, is incorrect for the era in which it is supposed to have been written.  [Based on German handwriting I've seen, this is a true observation. My stepfather's mother had come from Germany as a child and still could speak and write some German.  I had a German pen-pal in the 1950's.  And I've seen numerous examples of German writing in the colonial records of both Virginia and North Carolina which was very different from the more modern versions - this document as pictured was obviously written with the more modern characters.] When reading excerpts on the Internet, I suppose one should always be aware that something could be omitted, perhaps something important - in this case the illustration.  This chapter from John A. Comstock's book is the one in which Samuel Willett Comstock refers to both this document in connection with Dr. J. L. C. [presumably Dr. John Lee Comstock as Samuel Willett's manuscript papers show he did refer to others by their initials while documenting information], suggesting that this emblem and record of Fredrick's family had come from the doctor.  The coat of arms in this picture is slightly different from the one described by Hinman, but is apparently intended to be the same. It is interesting that John A. Comstock still presents this crest as the Coat of Arms for the Comstock family, in spite of lack of authenticity. But then most surname books do illustrate a crest that has been adopted by family lines, whether or not it was actually awarded someone in the family line. 

Here is a reference to Coats of Arms by the Society of Genealogists in London.
One can Google and find many places today, ready and willing to create a family coat of arms for you for a price - I suspect it was no different in the mid 1800's except that the creator could not advertise on the Internet.

No one has been able to find the suggested Comstock Coat of Arms in British heraldry.

And this Frederick Komstohk was said to be in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1611. If he was an important enough personage to have been bestowed with a coat of arms, it seems likely some reference to him or to his family, would have survived.  Something other than this single document that has no provenance.

Another point. The births of the children of Frederick Komstohk as shown on this parchment would preclude Christopher as the eldest and only an eldest son was the inheritor of any sort of British Coat of Arms.  Hinton relates that Christopher had brought the "family" coat of arms [coats of arms were not actually given to families - only individuals] engraved on a silver tankard which had been melted down at some point.  Sad that it was lost - impossible to confirm what might have been on that tankard.  It is true that there are German coats of arms that represent certain areas of the country, or the entire country of Germany, not necessarily a particular family.  Just "Google" German Coat of Arms for examples.  And we all know about family traditions concerning this sort of relic - there's often a grain of truth, but only a grain.  Apparently no tradition exists about exactly how Christopher came by ownership of the object.  The possibility exists of a tankard made in Germany that made its way across the pond.  Certainly among the artifacts found in excavations in Williamsburg that date back to the earliest settlers, are included objects from several different European countries, brought with the colonists.  Such objects were often passed down in families - Christopher could have received it from his father - and that father easily have been William Comstock, the only older person of that name known to be in the colonies at that time, or it could have been someone else.  The story is clouded by time.  At least actual records of an older William Comstock do exist.  Christopher did name sons Samuel and Daniel and a daughter Elizabeth.  Common enough names, but cannot be discounted since they also could have been for his siblings.

It is interesting that the blog offering the proof that Christopher was a son of this Frederick Komstohk whose very existence is not proved except by heresay, offers only two solutions.  That John Lee Comstock "created" the Coat of Arms, and lied about it, or that he did not and, therefore, it must be genuine.  Genealogy is seldom this black and white, and other possibilites exist.  I would certainly consider the possibility that someone else had created this crest, passed it off as authentic, and it was accepted by John Lee Comstock in all good faith.  That perhaps John was presented with this crest at the same time he received the German pedigree from this unknown gentleman.  As this is a common situation - even today many people accept by faith anything in print or found on the Internet - I can easily believe this is an alternative possibility.  Particularly in that earlier time when honor among gentlemen was more common.  It is true that no direct quote exists from John Lee Comstock claiming to have accepted all three items - the crest, the family of Frederick Kohmstohk, and the nine generation pedigree from Germany - however, the implication that he was some sort of source for all three is present in the later researchers' comments.  Regardless of the origin of this German heritage, it cannot now be substantiated, nor could it be over 100 years earlier.

In 1896, in History of Norwalk by the Rev. Charles M. Selleck, footnote on p.250, [another book available for download online] is repeated the family dates concerning Frederic Komstohk exactly as shown in the omitted picture from John A. Comstock's book - which shows Frederic was born Frankfort, Germany, and Christopher was born as his third son, 1618 in Scotland. Then he goes on in a separate paragraph to give a second story that Comstock was born about 1625, a Welshman and three generations removed from Baron von Komstock.  As these two paragraphs seem to offer slightly different stories, there is actually no one place where Frederic is seen as part of the family of Baron von Komstock and since the pedigree cannot be found, it isn't likely he can be placed in the family.   The story of the silver cup or goblet is repeated by Selleck.  Although John Lee Comstock had been dead many years by the writing of this history, it is obvious the stories had been kept alive by family members [references in John A. Comstock's book as late as 1949] and in Hinman's writing [1850's], with which Selleck would have been familiar.  Selleck, did not of course, verify every word of his 500+ page book; he compiled from many sources and likely Hinman, and the Comstock writings preserved in the family, were among these sources. Throughout the last half of the 19th century, several Comstock genetlemen had worked on the family history.  The results of their work appear in the books by Cyrus B. Comstock, 1905 and 1907, and by John A. Comstock, 1949, and with rejection of the German pedigree.

I can only sum up by repeating, the absolute proof for all the proposed children of William Comstock who was in Watertown, Massachusetts Bay Colony by 1640, moved to Wethersfield and then Pequot which became New London, Connectict, and was referred to as "old goodman" Comstock by 1662, does not exist.  He is said to have lived to old age and outlived his wife Elizabeth.  There is no will or estate record of any kind.   History of New London by Frances Manwaring Caulkins, 1895, lists only three children, but then she likely didn't have access to all the Comstock data from other areas, particularly that from Rhode Island.  The major books had not yet been published by C. B. Comstock.  Again these large history volumes tend to contain many errors - the compilers relied on information from a great many sources, and the reliabilty varied considerably.  This doesn't necessarily discredit the intention of the historian - it's just that one must use other sources as well.  The fact remains that William was the only man of his surname and his generation found in New England.  The next generation Comstocks found are John, Daniel, Samuel, Christopher, and Elizabeth who married Edward Shipman, as recorded in Saybrook, CT.  All have Connecticut connections, most in New London, at some point in their lives, and their paths cross.

William most certainly had sons John & Daniel as shown by deed of 4 Dec 1694 in which grandsons William Comstock of Lyme [son of John] and Daniel Comstock of New London [son of Daniel] conveyed land at Nyantik which said land was given to our grandfather William Comstock, deceased, by the town of New London, 20 acres. This is the 20 acres granted William Comstock. On 12 Jun 1647, William Comstock was granted a lot at Pequot [later, New London] by the town, also 10 acres of upland, and 10 acres on East side of River Thames.

Daniel and Samuel, close to the same age, are closely involved with each other in several respects - both going to Providence, Rhode Island, but Daniel returning to New London. He had been in Providence on 19 Feb 1645 when he accepted a grant of 25 acres of land.
24 Jun 1648, Daniel Comstock, with other young men, was arrested in Providence for giving a false Indian alarm.
By 1660, Daniel Comstock was paid 20 shillings in New London for killing a wolf.
Daniel and Samuel Comstock had adjoining lots in Providence and Samuel remained in Providence. Town records refer to both men, indicating Samuel may have retained at least a part of Daniel's town rights - Daniel was one of the first 100 citizens of Providence.  Daniel named a son Samuel & Samuel named a son Daniel. Both the older William Comstock and Samuel Comstock were in Hartford Court Records in 1648 - a map shows Wethersfield to be adjacent to Hartford and the court was held in the larger town.  By 1653 Samuel is found in records both at New London and Rhode Island; giving rise to the presumption that Samuel Comstock of Providence was also the son of William of New London.  Samuel died quite young leaving two young sons named Samuel and Daniel in Providence.

There is also some evidence that both John and Samuel Comstock were apprenticed out when they were youths. John, 1639, and Samuel in 1648. Since they would have been under legal age, yet not very young children, this somewhat indicates their ages. It also suggests a consistency in family custom, and perhaps a relatively low income, explaining perhaps why there was no disposal of the effects of William Comstock when he died. Another notable point, Samuel as an apprentice in 1648, could not have been the son of Frederick Komstohk as his son Samuel is shown with a birth year of 1612, in the peculiar document.

Proof for Christopher and Elizabeth is less evident and seems to rest on their surname, names used for their children, and the fact that no other older Comstock is present.  Either, or both, could have been from another family, or could have been some other relation to William.  It was not uncommon for cousins, nieces & nephews to come with older relatives to the new world.  Elizabeth and Edward Shipman did live in Saybrook CT, where John Comstock was also found - their children were named Edward, Elizabeth & William.
Saybrook is quite near New London, by the way, and the marriage record of Elizabeth Comstock and Edward Shipman exists.  Elizabeth died quite young, by 1659, and Shipman remarried. 

Since the Comstock surname was one found in England, and many instances of its occurrence there can be cited, including a location from whence the name could have derived  ....and such a surname has not been found in Germany, it seems most likely all were of British Isles heritage.  Looking at a map, Devon, a shire or county in England, and Wales are just acros a bay from each other.  Certainly there is less proof for German origins - all of a secondary nature, and little reliability.  It seems almost certain, too, given the habits of the citizens of this time in history, that somewhere in Christopher's family the name of Frederick would have been bestowed on a child, had that been the name of his father.  Instead the names of his descendants are consistently common British Isles or New England given names - none suggest German heritage.

In the manuscript papers at NEHGS, there were assorted versions of the Comstock origins that had come from different branches of the family. One letter suggested they had come from Switzerland. Wales was mentioned as a possibility as well, for both Christopher and Samuel.  Devonshire, England has been chosen by those who did all the actual research as likely because there was a town named Culmstock and many British surnames were derived from a place - that basis is stated in their writings.  German surnames more often derived from the occupation. Various other sources, as in the histories above, have suggested the German origin.  Dutch origin is also not out of the question, as there are records of Samuel Comstock in New Amsterdam [New York], prior to his appearance in Rhode Island.

A fun place to look at surnames is:
One can research the locations and find out where a surname occurs today.
The Learning Center tab on Ancestry also leads to interesting facts and distribution of surnames. The occurence of the name Comstock was concentrated in Devonshire in England as late as 1891.

Proving whether or not the younger generation of Comstocks in New England were indeed kin to each other and kin to William Comstock could be done with DNA studies.  I have hoped for some time that someone would undertake to moniter such a study for the family.  FamilyTreeDNA shows no project for the surname.  Those tested must be male descendants that still carry the Comstock name and can trace their ancestry back to John, Daniel, Samuel or Christopher.  I have male first cousins still carrying the Comstock name and would be happy to pay for a test for one of them - that would be descent from Samuel Comstock of Rhode Island.  However, multiple men must be tested because of the possibility of paternal accidents after so many generations.  DNA could prove after adequate testing whether or not they were all related, although it would not indicate what the relationship would have been.


  1. don't confuse german coat of arms with English... in the german tradition all families had a coat of arms and there was no college of arms equivalent in Germany to catalogue the families that used them. In the German tradition the baronial cornet would have 7 or 5 points depending on how old the family was... For Fredrick Komstohk to be a German baronial prince who fled Frankfurt after the death of Martin Luther does not imply that he was particularly important and certainly would not be recognized by the English arms system which was well established at this time... If you look at the history many german puritans fled to wales after the death of Martin Luther and there army was destroyed outside of frankfurt by forces loyal to the pope... The Welsh were sympathetic in the anti pope sentiment. The MacDonald Clan was very prominent in that region at this time.. ie Mary Macdonald (shortly after this time frame the Macdonalds were massacured by English trechery after an invite to seek shelter from a storm...alot written about this) The ealiest english census also places a Comstock in this region. If John Lee was to be a victum of a hearldry scam the criminal in question would presumely have to know all of this background information which stands the test of time. Keep in mind the DR. John Lee Comstock is a esteemed published college professor with works involving physics and mathematics. It seems unlikely that he would be fooled by a simple chareleton. And if that were the case... this details just described would certainly be in Ralph Hinemans Book.

  2. If a male desendant of Christopher Comstock would consent to a DNA test, we would likely know whether or not the "German connection" has any validity. Two descendants of Samuel Comstock, supposed brother of Samuel, have been tested - a third is in process.
    I would also be honored to see actual paper proof of the existence of Fredrick Kohmstohk - birth records, marriages, land records,etc. - and the proper proof for lineage to Christopher.