“Hocus Pocus 2” is making waves as this spooky sequel hit Disney+ last week. This sequel featured the back-story of the Sanderson sisters. The audience is transported back to Salem and sees the events that led the Sanderson sisters to become witches. But it turns out that one of the Sanderson sister actors had a serendipitous connection to someone from the Salem witch trials that Ancestry discovered.
Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays Sarah Sanderson in the “Hocus Pocus” films, is related to Esther Elwell, who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials.
I spoke with Ancestry’s Director of Research Jenn Utley about this discovery, which Ancestry made in March 2010 in an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are.” In that episode, Parker learned of her Salem witch trial connection — after filming the first “Hocus Pocus.”
Ancestry gave me a copy of the original complaint and arrest warrant for Elwell. Ancestry summarized the account: “The 17-year-old accuser from Salem said she saw Esther squeezing and choking a woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. Though Esther’s arrest was recorded, it was the very last formal accusation of the trials before the court was dissolved, and fortunately, the charges never came to pass.”
Utley said that the original complaint was filed on Nov. 8, 1692. She added that the accuser was named Elizabeth Hubbard and that this complaint was standard accusatory documentation.
According to the arrest warrant, Elwell was accused alongside Rebecka Dike and Abigail (sic) Roe of bewitching Mrs. Mary Fitch. Elwell was never arraigned or tried for her charges and was released.
Learning this, Utley said, had a big impact on Parker. Parker’s family history was half a gold rush story and half a Salem witch trial story.
The impact that learning this had on Parker was deeply personal, Utley said, adding that Parker gave her twins Marion and Tabitha the middle names Elwell and Hodge in commemoration of her Salem witch trial heritage.
“There’s so much unexpected magic that can be found in your family’s past — and you never know what you’re going to find until you start exploring,” said Utley. “Sarah Jessica Parker discovering her ancestors were actually linked to the Salem witch trials is just one perfect example of that. What I love about Ancestry is that anyone can uncover meaningful stories about their own family, while helping us feel more connected to those who came before us.”
How you can discover your family history
After hearing about this incredible connection between Sarah Jessica Parker and Esther Elwell, I asked Utley how to find more of these connections. She said that there are five steps people can take to learn more about their family history.
- Start with what you know and organize your information in a family tree on Ancestry’s website.
- Call your living relatives and gather oral histories.
- Find additional records. Using a website like Ancestry can be helpful for finding additional records.
- Build your tree up and make sure that you keep up with record hints.
- Don’t neglect the context of the people who you add to the tree. Learn more about the historical time period and location where they lived.