Friday, October 7, 2011

Cousin Louisa May Alcott

This past summer, I read Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen, a must-read for fans of the story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. There are several references to family members in the book, many of whom are relatives of mine, direct ancestors and cousins.

The first chapter gives a little genealogy of Louisa May Alcott's ancestry. Since I am descended from her maternal grandparents, it adds to what I know about Joseph May (1760 - 1841) and Dorothy Sewall May (1758 - 1825), my 4th great grandparents.

The names in red below are daughters of Joseph and Dorothy.

Reisen refers to Louisa May Alcott's cousin, Sam Greele several times. This is (my 2nd great grandfather) Samuel Sewall Greeley (1824 - 1916), whose mother, Louisa May (1792 - 1828), was an older sister of Louisa May Alcott's mother, Abigail May (1800 - 1877). According to Reisen, the author was named after her aunt Louisa. (And Louisa May Greeley (1827 - 1903) is the name of Samuel Sewall Greeley's only sibling.)

On page 132, Reisen notes that Louisa May Alcott wrote in her journal about the death of Annie, cousin Sam Greele's wife, in January 1864, and about attending the wedding of her cousin Sam (Samuel Sewall Greeley) to their mutual cousin (his second wife) Eliza May Wells in September 1866. These are my 2nd great grandparents.

Eliza May Wells (1839 - 1880) is not a first cousin, but the daughter of a first cousin of Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888) and Samuel Sewall Greeley. Eliza's mother was Elizabeth Sewall Willis (1820 - 1900), daughter of Elizabeth Sewall May (1798 - 1822), a sister of Louisa and Abigail. (This makes Eliza May Wells a first cousin once removed of her husband, Samuel Sewall Greeley, as well as Louisa May Alcott.) Harriet Reisen also suggests that Louisa May Alcott's sister Elizabeth (1835 - 1858) was named after this sister of her mother's.

Occasionally in the book, Reisen also refers to Wells cousins and Willis cousins. These are also relatives.

If you haven't already figured it out, this family can get confusing. Cousins married cousins, and many names are used over and over, especially if someone died young, either as a child or young adult. It doesn't help that I am descended from Joseph May (1760 - 1841) and his wife Dorothy Sewall (1758 - 1825) in two different ways.

Louisa May Alcott's descent from Joseph May and Dorothy Sewall > Abigail May > Louisa May Alcott.
My descent from Joseph May and Dorothy Sewall > Louisa May > Samuel Sewall Greeley > Ethel May Greeley > Lowell Townsend Copeland > my mother > me.

       Louisa May Alcott is my first cousin four times removed. 

My descent from Joseph May and Dorothy Sewall > Elizabeth Sewall May > Elizabeth Sewall Willis > Eliza May Wells > Ethel May Greeley > Lowell Townsend Copeland > my mother > me.

       In this case, Louisa May Alcott is my first cousin five times removed.


  1. I'll have to check this book out. I love biographies, and I'm a Louisa May Alcott fan from way back. You officially have the coolest ancestor ever. The only thing cooler would be to discover you were also somehow related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. ;) Thank you for the review!

  2. Cynthia - thanks for your lovely comment. Oh - if I could find a relation to Laura Ingalls Wilder, I would be thrilled!