Grave obsessions

Making the case: proof argument for parentage of Lavina (Spencer) Bursley
Autosomal DNA, town records of Provicetown, Massachusetts, chain migration shed light on Lavina (Spencer) Bursley's family
Lavina (Spencer) Bursley[1] was born about 1780 in Provincetown, Barnstable County, Massachusetts.[2]  The town was so small that at the time of 1790 census only one page was used to enumerate the town’s 454 inhabitants.  Included on the census was Abigail Spencer, head of household, with one male under 16 years of age, two males 16 years and over, and three females.[3]  This paper will demonstrate that Lavina Spencer was the daughter of Abigail (___) Spencer and her husband, Simeon Spencer. 

Supporting Conclusion #1 – Lavina Spencer was born in or near Provincetown 
Lavina Spencer was the wife of Lemuel Bursley.  The couple’s daughter, Elizabeth G. (Bursley) Bailey died in Boston, Suffolk Co., Massachusetts,[4] where the place of birth for both parents was recorded in the death register.  The informant reported Lavina’s place of birth as Provincetown, Massachusetts.   

Supporting Conclusion #2 – Lavina Spencer married in Provincetown 
Lemuel Bursley and Lavina Spencer married in Provincetown, Massachusetts, 4 February 1797, a fact supported by several documents.  First, the marriage was recorded in the Provincetown records.[5]  Lemuel also reported his marriage to King Hiram’s Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, in Cape Cod, providing the date “1797-2-4.”[6]  Lastly, Lavina verified her marriage to Lemuel Bursley when making an application for bounty land based on Lemuel’s service in the War of 1812, stating “she was married to sd Lemuel Bursley at Provincetown in the year 1797 by one Samuel Parker Clergyman.”[7]

Lavina’s signed declaration, stating she was married in Provincetown in 1797 by Samuel Parker, Clergyman.
Supporting Conclusion #3 – only one Spencer family with children in or near Provincetown 
On Cape Cod and adjacent to Provincetown is the small town of Truro, Massachusetts, where the births of two babies were recorded:  Marther [Martha] Spencer, b. 4 August 1771, and John Spencer, b. 12 January 1773, both to Simeon and Abigail Spencer.[8]  No other births for infants with the Spencer surname appear in Truro or Provincetown records, which limits the potential numbers of parental candidates for Lavina Spencer.
Truro Town Records showing births of Marther (sic) and John Spencer, ch. of Simeon and Abigail Spencer.
The only other vital records recorded for individuals with the Spencer surname in 18th Century Barnstable County were the 1792 marriage of Mrs. Sarah Spencer to Barnabus Downes in the town of Barnstable,[9] and the 1799 birth of George Spencer to George and Polly [__] Spencer in Chatham.[10] 

Supporting Conclusion #4 – only one Spencer family enumerated in Provincetown in 1790 Abigail Spencer was enumerated in the 1790 census as head of household in Provincetown.  With her were one male under 16 years of age, two males 16 years and over, and two females.[11] This census provides the opportunity for both Martha and Lavina to be residing at home with their mother, Abigail, and implies that Simeon is now deceased.  No other families with the Spencer surname were enumerated in Truro or Provincetown.  In fact, there was only one other Spencer enumeration in the entire county of Barnstable: Sarah Spencer, head of household (undoubtedly the same Sarah who married Barnabus Downes in 1792), residing in the town of Barnstable, apparently alone without other persons residing in the home.[12] 

Supporting Conclusion #5  - Family Migration
Martha Spencer who was born in Truro in 1771 married Theophilus Hopkins 8 January 1791 at the home of her widowed mother, with the ceremony performed by Samuel Parker, Clergyman.[13] The couple moved to Maine, and in 1793 Theophilus was in what was then called the Sandy River Lower Township when he signed a petition to the House of Representatives, asking for the incorporation of Farmington.[14]  Francis Gould Butler in A History of Farmington, Franklin County, Maine, tells us that Theophilus was the first practicing physician in Farmington.[15]  “He settled on the farm since known as the Dea John Baily place, and gave his undivided attention to his practice.  He remained in town but a few years…” Families largely migrated together, so it no surprise that Theophilus (and Martha) are found in the small towns in which other members of the Spencer family resided.  It is in Farmington that Lemuel and Lavina (Spencer) Bursley settled when coming to Maine.  They were in Farmington by 1799, when Lemuel signed a petition requesting meetings of the subscribers to the Farmington Falls Social Library.[16] Not only was Theophilus near Lavina, but it appears he was near other family members as well.  Theophilus is next found in Starks, Somerset County, Maine,[17] the same town in which a John P. Spencer resided.[18]  (Further research will be conducted to determine John P. Spencer’s relationship to the Spencer family.)  Theophilus was also the defendant in a case in which a John Spencer brought suit against him in 1804.[19]  Based on ages in censuses, it seems likely this latter John is the same John Spencer born in Truro in 1773.  (See “Untangling the John Spencers of Massachusetts”.[20])   

Supporting Conclusion #6 – Autosomal DNA match to Martha (Spencer) Hopkins S.U.M. [name redacted for privacy], the 4th great granddaughter of Lavina (Spencer) Bursley, has the following DNA matches with descendants of Martha (Spencer) Hopkins: [21]
AncestryDNA User Name [names redacted for privacy] Centimorgans Shared Segments Relationship
M.B. 33 3 5th cousins 1x removed
B.B. (managed by M.T.) 14.4 2 4th cousins 1x removed
R.L. 15.7 2 5th cousins
P. 32 2 5th cousins 1x removed

Supporting Conclusion #7 – Naming Conventions 
Family associations can often be confirmed through naming conventions.  Such is the case with the unique name, Lavina.  Martha (Spencer) Hopkins named her daughter Lavina,[22] likely after her own sister, Lavina (Spencer) Bursley.  Additionally, both Lavina and Martha each gave a daughter the uncommon name, Lurana/Lurena.[23]  Finally, Lavina used other common family names for her children, including Abigail, Martha and John,[24] likely for her mother, sister and brother, respectively.  

Conclusion: No document names the parents of Lavina (Spencer) Bursley.  However, we know that Lavina was born in or around the town of Provincetown, Massachusetts.  The 1790 U.S. Census and Massachusetts Vital Records, 1621-1850  together demonstrate there were only two families to which Lavina could have been born in the entire county of Barnstable, and only one family near Provincetown, where Lavina married.  Lavina lived near Martha (Spencer) Hopkins in Farmington and had common associates.  Martha named her own daughter Lavina, a unique name that helps distinguish a family connection between two sisters, and both Martha (Spencer) Hopkins and Lavina (Spencer) Bursley each named a daughter Lurena.  Lastly, DNA evidence confirms a genetic relationship between descendants both of Martha (Spencer) Hopkins and Lavina (Spencer) Bursley. All available evidence indicates Lavina (Spencer) Bursley was the daughter of Simeon and Abigail (___) Spencer.  The identification of Lavina’s parents is based on the seven documented conclusions detailed above.  No evidence contradicts these conclusions.

[1] Our subject spelled her name “Levina” on her application for bounty land.  Others have spelled her name Lavina as well as Lavinia, as it is pronounced.  This author will use the spelling Lavina which was also used by the subject’s granddaughter, Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood, as the name was undoubtedly passed down through the generations.   
[2] Gravestone of “Lavinia, wife of Lemuel Bursley, Died Aug 4, 1858, AE 78, Blake Cemetery, author’s visit, May 2017, and age 70 on the 1850 census.   Also, Massachusetts, Deaths, 1841-1915", database with images at; entry for Eliza G. (Bursley) Bailey, d. 4 April 1888, providing mother’s place of birth Provincetown; Citing Massachusetts State Archives. "Deaths, 1841-1971". 
[3] 1790 U.S. Census, Provincetown, Barnstable Co., Massachusetts, roll 4, p. 487, viewed at   
[4] Massachusetts, Deaths, 1841-1915", database with images at; entry for Eliza G. (Bursley) Bailey, d. 4 April 1888, providing mother’s place of birth Provincetown; Citing Massachusetts State Archives. "Deaths, 1841-1971". 
[5] Provincetown, Barnstable, Massachusetts, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, marriage certificate, Lemuel Bursley and Lavinia Spencer m. Feb. 4, 1797, Provincetown, Massachusetts, by Rev. Samuel Parker. Citing Provincetown records of 1797, vol. II, p. 2, no. 6. 
[6] "Massachusetts: Grand Lodge of Masons Membership Cards, 1733-1990", database and images online at; entry for Lemuel Bursley, membership 1797-1-2, citing Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts. 
[7] Bounty Land application of Levina (sic) Bursley, widow of Lemuel Bursley; Lemuel Bursley (Ensign, Col David McGaffey's attached Regiment of the Massachusetts Militia, War of 1812), bounty land warrant file 55-160-28329; Case Files of Pension and Bounty Land Applications Based on Service between 1812 and 1855; Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1960; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C. 
[8] "Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1626-2001", browsable images at; Truro town records, vol. 2, p. 49. 
[9] “Barnstable, MA: Church Records, 1639-1892,” database with images at; citing records of Barnstable, Massachusetts transcribed by Gustavis A. Hinckley. 
[10] “Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1621-1850,” database with images at 
[11] 1790 U.S. Census, Provincetown, Barnstable Co., Massachusetts, roll 4, p. 487, viewed at 
[12] 1790 U.S. Census, Barnstable, Barnstable Co., Massachusetts, roll 4, p. 63, viewed at 
[13] Attestations from David Brown and Isaac Cook, "U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900", database with images (, citing Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (NARA microfilm publication M804, 2,670 rolls). Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.  Also, "Find-A-Grave", database at, combined grave marker for Theophilus Hopkins ([-?-]-1836) and Martha, his wife,  ([-?-] – 12 January 1848), aged 76 years, 5 months and 8 days; Find A Grave Memorial no. 11,072,171, citing Mount View Cemetery, Camden, Knox County, Maine; the accompanying photograph by William Hopkins provides legible image of Martha’s death date and age. 
[14] Francis Gould Butler, A History of Farmington, Franklin County, Maine, From the Earliest Explorations to the Present Time, 1776-1885 (Farmington, Me.: Knowlton, McCleary & Co., 1885), 64. 
[15] Francis Gould Butler, A History of Farmington, 280. 
[16] Ben Butler & Natalie S. Butler, The Falls: Where Farmington, Maine, began in 1776 (Farmington, Me.:  The Knowlton & McLeary Co., 1976), p. 82. 
[17] 1800 U.S. Census, Starks, Somerset Co., Maine, roll 7, p. 63, viewed at 
[18] Lauren Rogers, “Untangling the John Spencers of Maine,” unpublished report. 
[19] Kennebec, Maine, June 1804, John Spencer vs. Theophilus Hopkins; browsable images at 
[20] Lauren Rogers, “Untangling the John Spencers of Maine,” unpublished report. 
[21] "AncestryDNA database, AncestryDNA ( : downloaded 8 December 2018), using the search options to query for descendants with Spencer ancestry; results from this dynamic database require the private passcode and user ID of the tester or test administrator. 
[22] Revolutionary War Pension Application of Theophilus Hopkins (Vinalhaven, Maine); viewed at 
[23] J. S. Swift, “Local Reminscences,” Farmington Chronicle, 19 August 1875, Lemuel Bursley obituary, p. 1, c. 6., Farmington Historical Society.  Also, notarized transcription of Bible record for family of Theophilus and Martha (Spencer) Hopkins, supplemental documentation submitted with membership application, Marjorie Virginia Sellon, no. 606,936, Daughters of the American Revolution. 
[24] Swift, “Local Reminscences,” Farmington Chronicle, 19 August 1875, Lemuel Bursley obituary, p. 1, c. 6