Melissa Porter Tourgee Bennett

52 in 52 Challenge:  Week 6

Every family has stories of ancestors that are passed down through the generations.  As with any oral history, the stories, originally based in fact (presumably!) become embellished as they are retold.  The result is family lore that may bear little-to-no resemblance to the truth.  I’ve researched several family stories, and the facts have left us asking, “Why would they say that when this is what’s true?”

One story I was told when I started genealogy involved Melissa Porter Tourgee Bennett.

Melissa is my great-great-great grandmother.  (For family members following along, this is on Grandma’s mother’s side of the family.)  The story goes that when Melissa was a baby, she was kidnapped by gypsies.  She was eventually found by the pastor or minister of some kind, but her family did not want her back after having been with the gypsies.  Melissa was then raised by the minister.

I first heard that story more than 30 years ago.  To this day, I still have no idea how much of the story (if any) is true.  What is true is that prior to her marriage on 27 July 1845 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, to Thomas Moses Tourgee, despite my best efforts, I’ve made no headway in uncovering anything about her .

Melissa was born 1 October 1827 in New York.  That information is consistently given on all other vital and census records I’ve found.  There is nothing more about her until Melissa Porter marries Thomas Tourgee.  The name of one of Melissa’s daughter’s is Josephine.  On Josephine’s death record, she lists her mother as “Melissa Porter”.   Agreement between sources is always nice!

Thomas and Melissa had five children.

  1.  Warren Perry, born either 9 September 1949 in Providence (per a published Tourgee genealogy) or in August of 1853 (per the 1900 Census).  Warren married Mary E. Brown in 1871.  It doesn’t appear they had any children.  He married Isadore V. Downing (“Issa”) in 1879, and they had children George (1880), Harry (1882), Maud (1885), Mertie (1887/90), Arthur (1889), Thomas (1892), and Norma (1900).  They divorced by 1905.  After having had seven children in 11 years, she probably divorced him because she was tired of being pregnant!
  2. Josephine Lavinia, my great-great grandmother, born in September of 1851.  She married in 1869 in Warwick, Rhode Island, to William James Fraser.  They had five children:  George Warren (1870), Thomas Henry (1873), William James, Jr. (1877), Frank Everett (1879), and my grandmother, Flora Josephine, born 8 September 1884.
  3. Ann Amy born in 1854.  She married Job Whipple Rogers in 1873.  They had four kids.  Almy (1875), Edwin (1878), Lavinia (1882), and Harold (1884).
  4. Rowena Francis born in either 1855 or 1862….  Her marriage record says 1862, but she was marrying a man born in 1861, so she may have wanted to appear younger than she was.  Her cemetery marker and census records agree that 1855 is more likely to be correct.  Rowena married John Colin Reid.  They didn’t have any children, but after her death in 1906, he returned to his native Canada and remarried.  His daughter was born in 1910.  He named her “Rowena”.
  5. Almy J. was born in 1861, and she died the following year.


Thomas died on 25 February 1883 in Providence.  Melissa then married George V. Bennett in Scituate in 1885.  George was also older than Melissa.  He was born between 1812-1814, while Melissa was born in 1827.  Sadly, they didn’t have long together as George died in 1893.  Melissa did not remarry.  She died on 6 January 1914 in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Family stories make researching complicated, but they make our ancestors more real to us. New records are being found, transcribed, filmed, and put online all the time.  Although I will likely never know the truth about the gypsy story, I do hope to one day break down the brick wall that is Melissa’s parents.



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