Sunday, May 9, 2010

Comstock Family Origins

The name Comstock, with various spellings, [Columstock, Colmstoke, Coomstocke, Cumstocke, etc] is found in England from the 1200's forward.  There is in fact a village called Culmstock in Devonshire - many early English surnames were taken from locations where the individual lived.  The first Comstock believed in America, William Comstock, was in Watertown, Massachusetts Bay Colony by 1640.  There is proof via a deed of grandsons, that William certainly had sons named John and Daniel.  Various records and relationships suggest strongly that he also had sons Samuel and Christopher and a daughter Elizabeth who married Edward Shipman.  His wife of record in New England was Elizabeth, perhaps Elizabeth Daniel although the surname is unproved.  William Comstock appears to be the only possible parent available for these five younger Comstocks.  Comstock is not a commonly found name this early in America.  Cyrus B. Comstock, a descendant, wrote two books about the Comstock family in the early 1900's, Some Descendants of Samuel Comstock of Providence, RI, and A Comstock Genealogy: Descendants of William Comstock. 

Cyrus B. Comstock, in the Introduction to the Samuel Comstock book, states several instances of the forms of the name Comstock as found in England over several centuries.  As the Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled by so many from England in this early time period, it is supposed that is where William Comstock had come from, although no proof of his passage has ever been found.

There is said to be a pedigree of nine generations of Komstohks in Germany and this pedigree has persisted in challenging researchers and encouraging some to presume that William Comstock, or some of those named as his sons, came from Germany.  Cyrus B. Comstock does review this problem in his Introduction, p. 2, and I quote it here:

"There is a story of the existence in the Muniment office at Frankfort, Germany, of pedigrees of nine generations of Komstohks prior to Charles von Komstohk, a baron of the Roman Empire, who escaped to England in 1547, because he was implicated with other noblemen of Austria and Silesia in the von Benedict treason.
Careful search at Frankfort-on-the-Main, and at Breslau, fails to find any trace of a Baron von Komstohk, or of a von Benedict treason.  Dr. John Lee Comstock of Hartford, CT, accepted this story.  His sister, quoting it, says, on 5 Sept. 1865, '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 genleman whose name I do not recollect, copied, and gave it to him.'"
C. B. Comstock states further, "Dr. Comstock was probably misinformed by this unknown person."

The book, History of New London County, Connecticut, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men, compiled by D. Hamilton Hurd, 1882, has a sketch of W. H. H. Comstock.
In this sketch the above story about Charles Von Komstohk is repeated, describing in detail a crest, or coat of arms, but then does not actually tie this heritage into the family of W. H. H. Comstock in any way.  Instead he describes the father of W. H. H. Comstock, one Peter Comstock, as saying "there came from England four brothers of that name to New London, CT".  Since the family of William Comstock did move to New London about 1849, this last statement seems to be relatively accurate.  Certainly it is curious that no attempt was made to tie the extensive genealogy of W. H. H. Comstock in this article back to that of Charles Von Komstohk - one can only presume the author knew of no actual connection.  And, in fact, W. H. H. and his father Peter are descendants of Daniel Comstock, one of the proved sons of William.
This article is available online:
http://dunhamwilcox.net/town_hist/nl-chap18b.htm


The American Heraldry Society has a webpage, Roll of Early American Arms,  http://americanheraldry.org/pages/index.php?n=Roll.C,
showing a crest for Christopher Comstock [one of the implied sons of William Comstock] and for John Comstock [a proved son of William Comstock] which is apparently the same crest, or arms, described in History in New London.  The chart shown says that Christopher and John are sons of Frederick Komstohk, Frankfurt a.M., Germany.  The chart gives two sources with descriptions.

Matthews, John. Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book. 1907; rpt. New York: Crest Publishing Co, 1962.
Mostly a collection of arms in use by prominent socialites of the day, but with a historical section in the back of the book. Illustrated, but in a style that shows its age. (Joseph McMillan)
 
Crozier, William Armstrong. Crozier's General Armory. 1904; rpt. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 1972.
Crozier was an eminent genealogical scholar, but for some reason he did not discuss the sources for the arms included in this collection. He gives the name, date, and location for the earliest known member of the family in America, which tends to create the false impression that this was the first known user of the arms in this country. Nevertheless a valuable resource, although without illustrations. (Joseph McMillan)

A more recent book about the Comstock family, A History and Genealogy of the Comstock Family in America, by John A. Comstock, 1949, also discusses the German origin story.  John A. Comstock repeats the story, simply referring to it as "myth".  He states Gen. C. B. Comstock had made careful search without finding any trace of a Baron Von Komstohk or of a von Benedict treason.  Samuel Willett Comstock, another family researcher, had shared his extensive research and  referred to this German story in a letter dated Jan. 20, 1933 that "he personally investigated it in Germany, Scotland, and England, and nothing of the sort was ever heard of it there."

Another family tradition cited by John A. Comstock, is that some early references to Christopher Comstock speak of him as a Welchman.  The advocates of this theory point to the motto on the Coat of Arms, which is in the Welch language.  [The same coat of arms as shown in the above Heraldry.]  John A. Comstock also gives facts about this Coat of Arms, disproving any Welch or German theories of origin.  He, in fact, devoted a chapter to "The Comstock Coat of Arms".  In this chapter he describes a record on parchment of a coat of arms and family data of a Frederick Komstohk, born in Frankfort-on-Main and married in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1611 to Mary McDonald and lists four sons - Samuel, Daniel, Christopher & John and a daughter Katherine who died young.  An illustration of the document is in the book. Samuel Willett Comstock commented on this document, "the writing is in new, not old German, which proves it's a fake".  [In my humble opinion, an exceedingly good indication that the document was fraudulent.  I have seen German signatures, etc. on 18th century deeds in Virginia and North Carolina, and the writing is considerably different from this "parchment" on which the handwriting looks amazingly modern.]  It is also true that a German immigrant to Scotland would not likely be bestowed with any sort of a coat of arms.  It is also true that two men in New England, John and Daniel Comstock, are conclusively proved as sons of William Comstock of Watertown and New London.

John A. Comstock points out that the coat of arms has a motto found on several others recorded in Burke's General Armory.  He referred to the books of heraldry listed above, both published on American Armory, and goes on to say that the standard works on armory of the British Isles, inluding Burke's, contain no mention of any Comstock coat or arms nor any reference to such a family.  Samuel Willett Comstock stated that after his lengthy research, in his opinion, the emblem was born in Hartford, CT in 1849 and could be attributed to Dr. J. L. C. [Dr. John Lee Comstock].

My conclusions are these.

1.  William Comstock living in Massachusetts Bay Colony by 1640 was in all probability from England, if not elsewhere in the British Isles.  This time and place, does not lend itself to immigrants coming from Germany.
The other younger Comstocks in New England, of the next generation, if not all four his sons, were likely some relationship to William.  DNA tests from the lines of the sons would be helpful.

2.  Although it is known that some persons did travel from Germany to England and then on to America, I believe the German "pedigree" in this case to be bogus - both the nine generations pedigree and the fraudulent coat of arms with family record of Frederick Komstohk.  To my knowledge, no actual pedigree has ever been produced.  Coats of arms were bestowed on individuals, not on families, although as sort of a "social" thing, many have tried to adopt various crests or arms.  This appears to be be just this sort of society trophy.  There is no indication in any record that any of the sons, John, Samuel, Daniel and Christopher, were anything other than English speaking gentlemen. 

It is unfortunate that this highly unlikely German relationship appears in print in these books and is available on the Internet as well.  The unwary will continue to "discover" and promote this highly suspect ancestry.

2 comments:

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  2. I am always open to new proof or evidence. However, I do believe exhaustive research must be done - and much of that research cannot be done on the Internet. In almost every family I research there have been faulty assumptions, particularly in the colonial era, but often in the 19th Century as well. Absolute proof is certainly lacking concerning the children of William Comstock, as he unfortunately died without leaving a will or estate records of any kind. He did not omit anyone from his will - there was no will. There is circumstantial evidence, not the least of which is the naming pattern among those believed to be his children, and the rarity of this surname in New England very early on. Please go to my next blog for additional information.

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