By Jasmine Willis
Originally published in Wellsville Daily Reporter
My family, like many others, came across the choppy seas with a promise of a new world, new life and writing its own story.
If you are obsessed with history like I am, then you know about the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims and a birth of a nation. It could be argued that our story starts here, in 1620, when the Pilgrims set foot on the shores that would be their new beginnings.
They started the story that would one day lead to the formation of our great nation ... America.
My story starts in Massachusetts.
It came time for the pilgrimage to discover where I come from and all the great people in my genealogy who have helped build our country, one stone at a time.
I am related to some amazing people in our history, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Samuel Adams, Richard Warren (who came over on the Mayflower), Elizabeth Warren (who came over a few years later on Anne), Col. Benjamin Church, and Pvt. Joseph Willis to name a few.
A member of my family has fought in every war, so we have a strong military background. The women in my family were just as strong as the men and never backed down.
It is interesting to me to trace everything back to the start of our nation.
Our journey began in Taunton and ended in Plymouth. In Taunton, I discovered the existence of my eighth-great-grandfather Joseph Willis's homestead, which is still standing after 300 years.
We made our way to Little Compton, R.I., where we would explore the cemetery by the church my family built. It is in this cemetery we would find Benjamin Church, along with the rest of his family, buried close to the foundation. Col. Benjamin Church was instrumental in King Phillip's War. Church led raids as a ranger, fought around Taunton, and Comfort Willis, Joseph's little brother, fought under him.
Plymouth we would gaze upon Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower II, the first church in Plymouth and Burial Hill. This is the footprint of Richard and Elizabeth Warren.
A stroll to Old Ship Church and the Hingham Bell Tower would bring us to the Lincolns, who are also part of my family tree. Joseph's wife, Sarah Lincoln was baptized and married at Old Ship Church.
Truth be told, a church could be found at the center of all my roots. My ancestors either built it with their own hands or worshiped in it every Sunday.
It wasn't all about genealogy and telling the story of my family legacy.
Some of it was about exploring the things that have fascinated me most of my life.
This brings me to the three highlights of my journey not involving my personal story.
Before I begin this part of the storytelling, I must point out how deeply disappointed I was to find out that two of these places are not centered in quaint little villages, but in giant metropolises.
When I think of Fall River, two things spring to mind, the children's rhyme, "Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41," and a sleepy little village cozied up to the sea.
However, much to my dismay, the Lizzie Borden House is crammed into a giant city. Still, I was excited to get a tour of the infamous house, where Lizzie Borden butchered her parents with a hatchet, not an axe, and it was 19 whacks to the mother, and 11 to the father.
Our guide was well-informed on the history of that tragic and disturbing time. She showed us the room and position of the mother as she lay dead for over an hour before being discovered. She showed us the black couch the father was napping on when he was brutally murdered.
We looked in horror at the up-close crime photos, which were the second crime photos ever taken in the world, and the first in America, the first being that of Jack the Ripper.
After exploring the bizarre case of Lizzie Borden, we went for a more family-friendly experience by visiting the quiet, little house that birthed "Little Women."
The Orchard House is one of my favorite houses in the world, because it gave me a great childhood and an even better Christmas tradition.
Many may watch the old-school version of "Little Women" with Katharine Hepburn as Jo. However, my childhood is centered around the 1990s "Little Women," in which Winona Ryder played Jo.
We were not able to take photos in the house, which makes me sad, but I did manage to get a couple of photos of the outside. Being able to stand in the very room in which Louisa May Alcott wrote a timeless classic about her sisters will be with me forever. I will have a whole new outlook on the beloved film every Christmas.
The most heart-wrenching part of the trip was also the part I most looked forward to ... Salem.
For a long, long, long time, I have been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials. Again, I thought I would be stepping into some time capsule in which nothing changed and the tiny village would rest on top a grassy hill. This was not the case. Salem is now a giant tourist attraction, which overshadows the deeply tragic story that gave it a household name.
Amongst the modern buildings and loud bustle of the city, is the Old Burying Point Cemetery, and in this cemetery is the Salem Witch Trial Memorial. This memorial will break your heart, whether you believe in their innocence or not.
These 20 souls were killed so violently out of fear of a few. It is a sorrowing experience to walk around the stones with the names of the accused and murdered men and women of 1692.
There is a stone that really pulls at the heartstrings, it reads "I am innocent, I am wronged." There are a couple of plaques describing the history and importance of the site. An old man in a wheelchair tells me that he has lived in Salem all his life and they are still sickened by how these poor souls were treated.
Since my curiosity had not yet been quenched, I made my way to the Witch House, the home of Jonathan Corwin, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. It is one out of two homes still standing in Salem from that time period. The second being that of Rebecca Nurse, who was one of the 20 murdered in the trials.
The house has a dark cloud over it and the gothic structure shows that evil could have influenced the unjust of what happened so long ago. Unlike the other places, this was a self-guided tour.
The thing I noticed about all of these homes is the narrow stairs, low-rising beds, small tables and dark halls. It goes to show you that people of long ago thought differently when they were building a home and that even though they were small, these homes have survived centuries.
One of the best parts of the trip, and this is where I will leave you, was the Pioneer Village of 1630 in Salem. Our guide was a historian and he knew it well. His dedication was admirable, since it was 100 degrees outside, and he was walking around wearing wool, period clothing. We learned the ins and outs of the pioneer days, the survival, the superstitions, the classifications and the way they relied on the Native Americans.
The hero of the story was my iPhone, which guided us to every location flawlessly. Without Google Maps, we never would've been able see so many things, since the Massachusetts roads are hopelessly and gloriously confusing.
In summing up the journey to discovery, I could easily say that in a couple of days I found the heartbeat of America. As we prepare for her future, let us never forget her past. Our nation was born by the shores of Plymouth, built by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Pilgrims, and founded with the belief that a few people really can change the world.