or The Misuse of Genealogy


On May 29th, my son, Carl Zimmer, published a book titled She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity. This is a book that all genealogists and geneticists will love. (I’m not biased at all!) And there is a special reason for New Jersey genealogists to love it.

In his chapter concerning Mendelian eugenics, Carl wrote about Henry Goddard of the Vineland Training School in south Jersey, and his study of one particular family that proved to him that feeble-mindedness and “moral degeneracy” were inherited. A member of that family was institutionalized at the school, which was established to care for “mentally-defective” children.

Henry Goddard

That family member was Emma Wolverton, a charming and very likable child who happened to score poorly on intelligence tests. She was 17 when Goddard met her, and even though she had been living at the school since she was a child, she had not shown improvement.

Goddard was intrigued, and assembled a team of researchers to look into the background of the school’s residents to determine what intelligence, or lack thereof, could be found in their families. One of the researchers, Elizabeth Kite, tracked down Emma’s family. Her mother was Malinda Wolverton, who made a living by “working as a farmhand and selling soap,” in addition to having many children to take care of.1

Goddard summarized his and Kite’s findings in a book he wrote about the family and published in 1912, titled The Kallikak Family. That was the pseudonym he used for the Wolvertons. Emma was called Deborah Kallikak, her mother was Martha Kallikak, her father was Justin Kallikak, and her great great grandfather, supposedly the one who generated the degenerate family, was called Martin Kallikak. Goddard invented the name Kallikak by combining two Greek words meaning beautiful and bad.

The name Wolverton is well-known in southwestern Hunterdon County because of the Woolverton Inn, a very popular place to stay in the hamlet of Prallsville in the village of Stockton. The Wolvertons who once owned that property were only distantly related to Emma Wolverton, but it was indeed the same family. (One of these days, I must write about the family associated with the Woolverton Inn, but not today.)

The Kallikak book relied on Kite’s research. She had identified 480 Wolvertons, all descended from an original John Wolverton. She claimed that 143 of his descendants showed signs of feeble-mindedness, but did not bother to mention that the remaining 237 had no such disadvantage. In fact, some were very successful in life.

The Kallikak Family turned into a bestseller. Goddard thought that the logical conclusion to his findings was that feeble-minded people should be rounded up and sterilized to prevent them from passing on their nasty genes to future generations. This theory fell on fertile soil in the early 20th century when many Americans had become hostile to the unfamiliar people who were immigrating from the poorer countries of Europe. Goddard’s idea was actually adopted in several states that passed sterilization laws. It was not until after World War II that people came to reject the false science of eugenics. By that time, Goddard was no longer running the Training School, which had set aside his approach and become a well-regarded institution for the mentally disabled. Pearl S. Buck was one of its strongest supporters.

So what was it about Emma’s family that made Goddard think his ideas were correct? And how did Emma connect with the Wolverton family of Hunterdon County?

The Wolverton Genealogy

The Wolverton family of New Jersey began with Charles Wolverton and Mary Chadwick, who first settled in Burlington County in the late 1690s and came to Amwell Township as early as 1714, one of the very first families to settle in present day Hunterdon County. The line of descent to Emma Wolverton goes through Joel Wolverton & Elizabeth Robins, Gabriel Wolverton and Catharine McMurphy, John Wolverton & Elizabeth Roads, William W. Wolverton (c.1801-1893) and Anna Hoagland (1813-1858), John Wolverton (1834-1906) and Emma Burroughs (1840-1883), and finally Malinda Wolverton, Emma’s mother.2

As mentioned before, it was Emma’s great great grandfather John Wolverton (aka Martin Kallikak) who was supposedly the source of Emma’s regrettable inheritance. Elizabeth Kite had heard a story from a member of the family about how John Wolverton had enlisted in a local Revolutionary militia at the age of 15, and while traveling through Pennsylvania fathered a child with a tavern worker who gave birth to a feeble-minded son. She named him after his father, and he grew up to be known as “Old Horror.” Goddard’s book says nothing about the tavernworker, even though Kite had identified her. Odd that half of the inheritance would be omitted in Goddard’s study.

As Carl relates in his book, Goddard’s theory about the Wolverton family turned out to be bogus, and all because Kite had misunderstood the story that was told to her, of John Wolverton’s “bastard son.” It took some modern genealogists to figure out that there were two different John Wolvertons, who happened to be second cousins. And in fact, the branch of the family that supposedly produced more ‘horrors,’ actually did nothing of the kind.

The real Wolverton who served in the Revolution belonged to a completely different branch of the family. He was the son of Morris Wolverton and Margery Baker, and was born September 5, 1755. The John Wolverton from whom Emma descended was the son of Gabriel Wolverton (Morris Wolverton’s first cousin), and was born about 1776. So the two John Wolvertons were second cousins.

The veteran John married into the Quinby family. John’s wife Rachel was the daughter of Isaiah Quinby and Rachel Warford of Amwell. (Just a note: John’s great grandson was Rev. Wm. H. Woolverton, clearly one of the respectable members of the family, who owned the beautiful house that is now known as the Woolverton Inn.) John was recruited at Ringoes Tavern to serve in Capt. George Ely’s militia. He served 15 monthly tours until he was accidentally shot in the arm by one of the other recruits.3 Since John, the son of Gabriel and ancestor of Emma, was born around 1776, I suppose Kite assumed that he was the son of John the veteran.

One of the most frustrating things about reading through the various articles critiquing the Kallikak book is the way the two John Wolvertons are conflated.

According to the Kallikak book, the family that descended from John Wolverton and the tavernworker was large, equivalent to the family descended from Wolverton’s proper wife (Rachel Quinby for John, son of Morris; or Emma Roads for John, son of Gabriel). The tavernworker’s descendants were thought to all be degenerates, while the proper wife’s descendants were all morally and intellectually superior, according to Kite and Goddard.

The Parents of Malinda Wolverton

To say that Emma’s parents, grandparents and great grandparents were morally degenerate would be completely inappropriate. The Kallikak book uses remarkably derogatory language for people that Goddard knew so little about. For instance, he described Emma’s grandfather John Wolverton as “feeble-minded, alcoholic and sexually immoral,” and his wife Emma Burroughs as also feeble-minded. Also, John’s siblings were said to all be “feebleminded, immoral, syphilitic, alcoholic and mute.”

But it is true that Emma’s grandparents had difficult lives. According to Goddard’s book, Emma Wolverton’s maternal grandfather, i.e., John Wolverton, gave up farming to work as a laborer in Trenton. In fact, he probably never worked as a farmer. His father, William W. Wolverton, was a cooper by trade, not a farmer. Census records show that John lived with his family in Hillsborough Township up until the time of his marriage in 1862. In June 1863, John Woolverton, a laborer, age 26 and married, was registered with the Union Army from Somerset County. Whether he actually fought in the War, I cannot say. Afterwards, he and his wife moved to Hopewell Township.4

John Wolverton’s wife was Emma Burroughs, daughter of George W. & Hannah Burroughs of Hopewell Township. In the 1870 census, John was described as a laborer living in Hopewell Twp. with wife Emma and four children: Ann 8, George 6, Mary 3 and Marinda, age 2. That ‘Marinda’ was Emma’s mother Malinda, who was born in April 1868.

But in the 1880 census, despite the statement by the authors of The Wolverton Genealogy,5 that Emma Burroughs Wolverton had eleven children, there were none in the household. This is consistent with the claim that John Wolverton was extremely abusive, and that the children had to be removed from the home. It also explains why Malinda was living elsewhere when she was 12 years old.

The census for 1880 tells us that Malinda Wolverton, age 12, was living in the household of William Ivins of Hopewell, a 30-year-old farmer. She was probably hired as a servant to assist Ivins’s wife Adele, age 28, and her one-year-old son George.

Not long afterwards, Malinda Wolverton left that family and joined the household of Samuel and George Bunn, brothers of Hopewell Township, working as a servant.6 Samuel and George were the sons of Jonathan Bunn and Ann Conlon. In 1880 George Bunn was 35 years old, married to Amy E. Scudder. His brother Samuel Fidler Bunn was 48 and still single. He married Ann E. Van Dyke in 1888.

Emma’s Father

Was Malinda still living with the Bunns in 1889? In February of that year she gave birth to her daughter Emma. According to the Kallikak book, when it was discovered that she was pregnant, she was thrown out of the house where she was living and abandoned by the father, whoever he was. Here is what the Kallikak book said about him:

“Deborah’s [Emma’s] father was a young fellow, normal indeed, but loose in his morals, who, along with others, kept company with the mother while she was out at service.”

This suggests to me that the father might have been a friend of George or Samuel Bunn. But although we know Malinda was living in their household in 1885, we do not know for sure where she was in 1888 when she got pregnant. And as Ms. Straney points out, even if we knew the identity of this group of friends, we still would not know for sure who Emma’s father was.

Whoever it was, the Kallikak book states that Malinda ended up in an almshouse or poorhouse where Emma was born. I suppose this information came from one of Elizabeth Kite’s sources. But because she did not use citations, we do not know where this almshouse was located.

Charles Manion

“An unknown charitable family,” or in another version, “a kind woman,” took pity on Malinda, according to the Kallikak book, and brought her to their home.7 But Malinda soon became pregnant again. This time, the father was definitely known, and the “charitable family” forced them to marry. But since that charitable family has not been identified, I have to wonder about this. There does not seem to be anyone on either side of Malinda Wolverton’s family who was available to take an interest in her fate.

The rascal who seduced Malinda (or was it the other way around?) was one Charles E. Manion. He and Malinda were married in the Presbyterian Church at Trenton on November 28, 1889. At that time, Emma Wolverton was 8 months old. The identity of Malinda’s second child is not known. As Carl wrote in his book,

Malinda and her husband had a second child together, and soon the entire family moved into a rented house on a nearby farm. When Malinda got pregnant with a third child, her husband denied that the baby was his. Malinda was abandoned yet again.

Lewis Danberry

This third child was named Frederick B. Wolverton, and he was born in 1893. It appears that Frederick was the son of the man who owned the farm where the Manions were living. That landlord was Lewis Rue Danberry (1866-1942), son of William F. Danberry and Rachel Stout of Hopewell. With Charles Manion gone, Danberry and Malinda began living openly together, and eventually, he admitted to being Frederick’s father.8 So Frederick Wolverton became Frederick Danberry

Malinda proceeded to have two more children with Lewis Danberry, out of wedlock. Daughter Lillian was born in 1896 and daughter Jessie was born in 1897, according to the 1900 census. The still-unnamed family who had rescued Malinda from the poorhouse came to her rescue again and “arranged a divorce between Emma’s mother and her stepfather, and then a remarriage to the landlord.” The marriage took place on February 4, 1900 in Trenton, but on one condition. Danberry did not want to raise Malinda’s other children, the ones not fathered by him, and insisted they be sent away. Accordingly, Emma, now just turned 11 years old, was sent to the Vineland Training School.9

The family was counted in the Hopewell Twp. census of 1900, and included their children Freddie 6, Lillie 3 and Jessie 2. Interestingly, it stated that Malinda had six children altogether, all of them alive. That means that Malinda had three other children with other men, one of them being Emma Wolverton, daughter of an unknown father, and two other children, probably the ones born to Charles Manion. The book and its commentators all mentioned that two of Malinda’s illegitimate children died young. Only two children were born after Malinda and Lewis married: Jennie in March 1904, and Howard William Danberry in 1907, making a total of five children.


As for what happened to Charles Manion, he doesn’t seem to have amounted to much. He was counted in the 1900 census living in the household of George B. and Carrie A. Hunt in Hopewell Township. Manion was 37, divorced, and working as a farm laborer on the Hunts’ farm. By 1910, George Hunt’s son Ernest was 18 and had taken over the farm work, so Manion was no longer needed there. I have not located him in the census of that year. But in 1915, the NJ State Census shows Manion living with Alfred J. and Alma N. Hunt, again in Hopewell. Manion is then 60 years old, still a laborer. Alfred Hunt was not a direct relative of George B. Hunt. It’s just that a lot of people named Hunt lived in Hopewell.

Still, Manion kept moving. I cannot say where he was in 1920, but in 1930, he was working as a laborer at the advanced age of 75, in the household of Samuel and Hannah Hixson of Hopewell Twp. He called himself a widower. Perhaps that is how he thought of himself, having been divorced so many years before. But Malinda Danberry was also living in Hopewell Township at the time, and it is quite possible he knew that she was still alive. I was unable to find a record of Charles Manion’s death. But given his age, it was probably not long after the 1930 census.

For all her early flightiness, Melinda Wolverton Danberry settled down to be a constant wife. She spent the rest of her life with Lewis Danberry, dying in 1932, age 63, after 32 years of marriage.

Emma Wolverton

As for Malinda’s daughter Emma, it turns out she wasn’t really feeble-minded at all. Had she been kept with her mother and the Danberry family, she may have grown up, married and had a family of her own. There is no way of knowing what her children would have been like. But considering that at Vineland she was known for being good with children, there is reason to think her own might have turned out very well.

Want the rest of the story? Buy the book—you’ll be glad you did. The Kallikak episode is just one small part of a much bigger subject: heredity—how it is misunderstood, overestimated and endlessly fascinating.10



Lewis Danberry

Lewis Rue Danberry appeared in the 1880 census for West Amwell Township living with David A. Danberry 26, widower and farm laborer, and David’s mother Rachel Danberry, age 65, a widow. Lewis was 13 years old, but the census did not state what his relationship was to the other two.

In fact, he also was Rachel’s son, and David’s brother. The father was William F. Danberry who died in 1874, age 44. The 1870 census for Hopewell states that William Danberry, age 40, a farmer with land worth $5,500 and personal assets worth $8,000, was living with Rachel, age 39, and their children Mary 19, David 16, Leutia (female) 10, and Charles 6. Also living with them was William’s father Christopher Danberry age 86 (born c.1774). Oddly enough, there was nothing in the census of that year about Lewis Danberry, who would have been 3 or 4 years old. Was he sent to live with someone else? I cannot find him in the 1870 census records, and I’m beginning to wonder if Lewis suffered from the same fate as Emma Wolverton—a son of Rachel Stout Danberry who was not recognized by Rachel’s husband.

Rachel Danberry, wife of William F., was the daughter of Samuel J. Stout and Mary Labaw. Rachel’s sister Ellen married Christopher Danberry, and had a son Lewis L. Danberry (1848-1904) who married Rebecca Snook in 1871. This was too early for the Lewis Danberry who married Malinda Wolverton. He was born in 1866, the last of eight children.

Rachel Stout Danberry died in 1882, age 61. Following her death Lewis, who was 16 at the time, had to be taken in by one of his siblings, most likely brother David. Too bad the 1890 census records have been lost. As mentioned before, in 1900, Lewis and Malinda were living together with three children. In 1910 the Lewis Danberry family was living on the “Harbourton-Glenmore Road” in Hopewell where Lewis owned a farm with a mortgage, Fred was 16, Lillian 13, Jennie 6 and a new child, Howard was 2 years old. Jessie was missing.

I can’t figure out where that road was. There are several Harbourton roads in Hopewell Township: Harbourton-Rocktown Rd., Harbourton-Woodsville Rd., Harbourton-Pennington Rd., and Harbourton-Mt. Airy Road. I see on the map that Harbourton-Woodsville Road is intersected by “Poor Farm Road.” Perhaps that is where Malinda went.

The child Howard Danberry in the 1910 census was actually William Howard Danberry, who was living with his parents in 1920 when he was 12. By then his sisters had all left home. Lewis and Malinda remained in Hopewell Township until Malinda’s death in 1932. Lewis then moved to West Amwell Township to live in a house he purchased on Pleasant Valley Road. The 1940 census shows him there, age 74, a widower, living alone in a house worth $400. He died in Trenton on September 19, 1942, and was buried in the Harbourton Cemetery, next to his wife Malinda Wolverton.

One Last Surprise

Danberry’s obituary was published in the Hopewell Herald on September 23, 1942.11 It was titled “Lewis R. Danberry Succumbs in 77th Year.” He was known as a “prominent farmer.” Survivors included his brother and sister, his sons Fred and Howard, and his three daughters, all married. Also 16 grandchildren, and a cousin, Mrs. Katherine Danberry of Lambertville. But the most surprising item in the obituary was the identity of his wife: “He was the husband of the late Malinda H. Davis (nee Woolverton).”

Davis? That is the first time I have seen that surname associated with Malinda. Did Lewis and Malinda divorce and then Malinda married someone named Davis? How else would she have gotten that name? The H probably stands for Hannah, which is a name that one source has given her. Perhaps one of those 16 grandchildren knows how she got the name Davis.

One thing I am certain of, it has nothing to do with the father of Emma Wolverton. But it just goes to show, no matter how much work one does on a story like this, there will always be one or two mysteries remaining.

Who Was the “Kind Woman”?

According to the Kallikak book, Malinda Wolverton, and daughter Emma, were rescued from the almshouse by “a kind woman.” Apparently, this woman was interviewed by Elizabeth Kite, and according to Shirley G. Straney, she referred Kite to other members of the family. Ms. Straney wrote that

the “kind woman” was herself a Kallikak [i.e., a Wolverton] from the “good” family, living in 1900 with a family with the same surname as Martha’s mother [Burroughs], and she was the widow of the local census enumerator, . . .

Straney concluded that the kind woman was Sarah (Woolverton) Hunt. So, of course, I had to figure out how she was related to Malinda.

It pains me to relate that on this particular subject, Ms. Straney was mistaken. The two sources she gives are the 1900 census for Hopewell Township and Deats Marriage Records for Hunterdon County.

The 1900 census shows Sarah Ann Hunt, age 86, single, boarding with the family of Edward and Cornelia H. Burroughs. I searched and searched to see if there was any Wolverton connection to the Burroughs family, or to Cornelia’s birth family, the Hendricksons, and found none. So, all the census tells us is that by 1900, not long after this “Sarah (Wolverton) Hunt” had assisted Malinda Wolverton, Sarah Ann Hunt was a very old lady.

As for the marriage record, there was indeed a Sarah Ann Wolverton who married Wilson Hunt on September 5, 1840. He died in 1886 and was buried in the Sandy Ridge Cemetery. But his wife Sarah had predeceased him, dying in 1862, and was also buried in the Sandy Ridge Cemetery. In other words, there is no such person as Sarah (Wolverton) Hunt. Despite Ms. Straney’s assertions that she was writing a proper genealogy, I’m afraid she fell into the same trap as Elizabeth Kite did. She forgot that surface appearances can be very misleading, and that sources must be examined closely. It is a lesson I keep having to learn over and over.

Who Was Sarah Ann Hunt?

I did get intrigued by the Sarah Ann Hunt who was living with the Burroughs family in 1900. In my effort to find a Wolverton connection, I learned that Sarah was probably the daughter of Richard Hunt (1768-1833) and Ruth Smith (1767-1814). She seems to have been accepted by her relatives but unacknowledged as a family member.

In the 1850 census, Sarah A. Hunt was 39, living in the household of Randolph S. Hunt 49, a son of Richard and Ruth Hunt. Like Sarah, Randolph never married. Also living with him were his sister Louisa Hunt Hendrickson, age 32, and her husband Elijah Hendrickson, 34, and their daughters Frances and Cornelia. This Cornelia later married Edward Burroughs. Elijah’s brother James A. Hendrickson was there too, age 38. Even more interesting, the Randolph Hunt household included his mother Sarah Hunt, age 64, a widow, and the second wife of Richard Hunt dec’d.

I thought perhaps the Burroughs connection might link Malinda Wolverton with Sarah Hunt. But the Edward McIlvaine Burroughs (1830-1908) married to Cornelia Hunt was only distantly related to the Emma Burroughs (1840-1883) who married John Wolverton and had daughter Malinda.

In 1860, Elijah Hendrickson was the head of household, with wife and children present. But also James N. Hunt 35; Sarah A. Hunt 47, servant; Sarah Hunt 73 “Lady,” and Randolph S. Hunt 60. That “Lady” seems so pretentious. It does suggest that Sarah Scudder, widow of Richard Hunt, was a person to be reckoned with. It was common for widows to move in with their children and then to suffer because they no longer had control of their own household. That was probably not the case with Sarah Scudder Hunt.

In 1870, the younger Sarah Ann Hunt was still with the same family. She was then 53, and identified as a “domestic servant.” And in 1880, when all the family relationships are noted, Sarah is still just a servant. Why? The 1870 census showed that she owned some personal property amounting to $400; Louisa had $300, and Randolph had a whopping $10,000, while the widow Sarah had nothing. That must have come from some bequests to the children of Richard Hunt, made sometime before 1870.

But I could not identify any relative who might have made those bequests. None of Richard Hunt’s other children died in the 1860s. Richard himself died in 1833. Thanks to the information available in Find-a-Grave, I was able to construct Sarah Scudder’s family, but none of them died in the late 1860s.

But the bigger question is, if Sarah could share in the inheritance why wouldn’t she be recognized as a relative? Perhaps she too, like Emma, was born on the wrong side of the blanket. and suffered for it.


  1. Note: Members of the Wolverton family generally spell their name with one ‘o,’ but originally it was spelled Woolverton. I will only use the earlier spelling if I am quoting something.
  2. The family tree I am publishing along with this article makes an exception to my limit of five generations. In this case, I include Emma, who was in the eighth generation. I had a lot of information already on the family, but just recently was able to borrow a copy of The Wolverton Family, 1693-1850 and Beyond, in two volumes, by David A. Mcdonald and Nancy N. McAdams, 2001, 2015—an essential source for Wolverton researchers. In addition, Carl sent me a copy of an excellent article by Shirley Garton Straney, C.G. titled “The Kallikak Family, A Genealogical Examination of a “Classic in Psychology,”” in the April 1994 issue of The American Genealogist, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 65-80. Also, see “Who Was Deborah Kallikak?” by J. David Smith and Michael L. Wehmeyer.
  3. Straney cites NJ State Archives, Revolutionary War Records, File Inv. 4698 and Widows Pension File 2507.
  4. Note that William W. Wolverton’s sister was Catharine Wolverton (c.1816-1897), who married Elias M. Rake in 1834. She was listed in the Rake Family Tree, and will also be listed in the Wolverton Tree.
  5. The Kallikak story is treated in an appendix in volume 2 of the Genealogy, and includes a chart listing all of the Kallikak aliases and the actual names of the Wolvertons. Most impressive.
  6. 1885 NJ State Census for Hopewell Township.
  7. For my failed attempt to identify this kind woman, see the Endnotes.
  8. I confess I have not taken the trouble to locate the farm of Lewis Danbury in Hopewell Township. It would be interesting to know who his neighbors were. The name Danberry also appears as Danbury.
  9. It was reported in the Kallikak book that Emma was eight when she arrived in Vineland. If that was the case, then she was rejected as early as 1897, two years before Malinda married Charles Manion.
  10. For more about the Kallikak story, you can hear Carl interviewed about it in this podcast: https://www.gimletmedia.com/science-vs/how-science-made-morons#episode-player You can purchase the book at Amazon and most bookstores.
  11. Sincere thanks to Larry Kidder and Jack Davis for finding it and sharing it with me.