Nick Offerman: A Complicated Colonial Woman
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Once in a while, our ancestors surprise us by showing up where they are unexpected. When it comes to looking for a woman in the early 1700s, just finding her leaving a trail of records at all can be a startling find. It is even more fascinating if she is making waves.

 

On the journey to learn about his past, Nick Offerman discovered a strong female ancestor living in the contentious Albany area of colonial New York. Although most female ancestors either are poorly represented in the historical record or are only known in conjunction with their husbands, we were thrilled to find Eve Claasen (Nick Offerman’s 8x great-grandmother) identified by name in records following the death of her husband Bartholomew Pickard. 

 

Eechje Claasz (Eve Claasen) of Schenectady, New York, was a Dutch woman who married Bartholomew Pickard (Pikkart/Pickard) in 1698. Bartholomew was an English soldier sent to protect the colonists in the Albany area. Documenting the lives of this couple was initially disappointing with no land records, wills or other probate documents, and few vital records for the family. This is also almost 100 years before the U.S. started taking census records. It was not until we turned to government administrative documents that Eve’s story began to develop.

The marriage record of Bartholomew Pickard (Pikkart) and Eechje Claasz

 

In the Minutes of the City of Albany for 1709, we learned that Bartholomew Pickard was licensed to sell strong liquor. As a Dutch woman, and from records later in her life, we know Eve was educated and helped to operate a tavern with her husband. As a soldier he would have been away much of the time leaving Eve to handle the day-to-day operation of the business. It was after Bartholomew’s death in 1742 that records directly naming Eve began to appear.

 

Historically we know the Albany area was a crossroads for travel between New York City and Quebec, Canada. It was also ethnically diverse having Dutch, English, and Native Americans living together. It was that entangled world that Eve operated her business in for many years. 

 

By 1753, Eve came in conflict with the Native Americans. Since the area was administered by English authority, we looked for records held in England. We found Eve mentioned in the published Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York. Among this collection of records is an account of the local Native Americans appearing before the New York Governor, George Clinton, along with his council, and accusing Eve of selling liquor that caused great harm to their people. They said they had allowed her a “little spot of land” but that she took in more and more every year and they asked the governor to “turn her off the Land.”

 

Thanks to these and other government records, including city minutes, colonial governor’s records, and records for the Attendant of Indian Affairs for Great Britain, a story emerged of Eve Claasen. Widowed in 1742, she continued to operate a tavern in Albany area until 1767 and well into her eighties. Without these records, Eve’s complicated story would have seemed to end with Bartholomew Pickard’s death. 

 

To watch Nick Offerman’s entire journey and discover more celebrities uncovering their family history, watch full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays at 7/6c on NBC or stream on Peacock.


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Tips from AncestryProGenealogists®

When searching for colonial ancestors don’t forget to check governmental records. Male ancestors are more likely to be documented but circumstances may also provide details for female ancestors. To identify what records might help in your search the following questions should be asked. 

 

  • Who had jurisdiction of the area? This can be challenging during the colonial period. If your ancestor lived in a city, the city council might have jurisdiction. Matters that affect more than just the city might be found elsewhere. This might be a specific colony, like the Colony of New York, or specific interests such as Native American affairs. The answer to the question will determine where you look for the records. 
  • Where are the original records? Locating the repository might not be intuitive. Although one might think records for the Colony of New York would be in the state archive, many of them are found in England because they were records of Great Britain.
  • Do the records still exist? Sadly, as in the case of the papers of Sir William Johnson, not all records have survived. Sometimes when an original was damaged, a transcript might be available for review. However, you are likely to find unfortunate gaps in the surviving papers.
  • Locating the records. In the case of colonial records, many have been published and might be accessible at a genealogy library, university library or digitally available if out of copyright. When not published, the original records will need to be searched at the archive they are housed at.