The Grounding of Betty Hill
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Ancestors of Betty Hill


The most famous UFO abductee was grounded in New Hampshire history. In 1999 Betty Hill talked about her ancestral background in an exclusive down-to-earth interview with (Portrait of Betty Hill's ancestors used by permission)






READ: Betty Hill Dies at 85
SEE: The UFO Incident (film)
SEE: The Romance of Betty and Barney Hill 


Note: This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. 

Betty Hill is sick of talking about UFOs. The story of her 1961 abduction by aliens in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is old news. But the phone in her Portsmouth home never stops ringing.

"I bet I've done 250 radio interviews since last June," Betty says. "They call from everywhere on Earth. I've done as many as four and five talk shows in a day."

They all want to know about little green almond-eyed men, about close encounters and X-Files stuff. It's been that way since 1965 with the publication of John Fuller's best seller, "The Interrupted Journey," about Betty and her husband Barney. It's still the bible among "ufologists" who consider it the best-documented abduction study. In the movie version, Betty was played by Estelle Parsons, and her husband by James Earl Jones.

But Betty has moved on. She's into history now in a big way, and all she wants to talk about is her roots.

Betty hill"I'm so grounded that some of my ancestors met the Pilgrims," the grand dame of flying saucers says proudly. She has been tracing all four branches of her family tree and finds herself deeply rooted in the Seacoast. Although she's been living in Portsmouth since 1941, in the same house she bought in the 1950s, Betty says studying local history makes her feel, finally, that she really belongs here.

A retired social worker who will turn 80 in June, Betty leaps from an elderly armchair like a gymnast. Actually, she was a gymnast while a student at the University of New Hampshire before the war. Back then her acrobatic act almost landed her a summer job with the circus, but her conservative East Kingston family did not approve. She glides back into the living room thumbing a giant dull-looking volume. She has all the genealogy books tracking the lineage of each grandparent - Rollins, Dow, Trafton and Barrett. Born Betty Barrett in 1919, she has followed three lines back to the earliest colonial days.

And here we make a major discovery; Betty was not the first in her family to be abducted. A number of early Trafton and Rollins colonists were carried off by Indians. But back then, technically, the European settlers were the aliens, colonizing the New World they had recently discovered. The metaphor doesn't hold together, but that's Betty's point exactly. Every thing she's done since 1961 has a flying saucer spin. Now she wants to be just plain down-to-earth Betty Hill.

Her mother Florence, was half Dow, half Rollins, two names synonymous with Dover, New Hampshire (now divided to include the town of Rollinsford) and Hampton.

James Rollins, Betty says, originally settled on Bloody Neck, at what is now Newington. He pops up in local court records in 1634 when he received a fine, likely the first labor relations penalty in New Hampshire history. Ancestor Rollins, Betty notes gleefully, was a bit of a scalawag. Seems he loaned a slave to a neighbor and illegally attached a portion of the slave's wages, which he was required to pay. In 1640 James Rollins was fined again for neglecting to go to church -- a distance, he explained, that was too far to travel along dangerous Indian trails. Later Rollins was dragged all the way into a Boston court for his "association" with Quakers.

"Now I want to tell you about Col. John Rollins, back five generations, or was he six?" Betty hesitates, retrieving the data from a storehouse of family trivia. "He was in charge of the troops that attacked Fort Ticonderoga -- but they lost."

Nathaniel Rollins, meanwhile, was in charge of the encampment at Peirce Island in Portsmouth during the Revolution. His job was to protect the city from the British -- but the British never showed up.

"I almost forgot Thomas Rollins," Betty says excitedly. She seems to favor the odd ducks in her family tree, the ones who shook things up a bit. Convicted of treason for joining Gove's Rebellion in the 1600s, Thomas fits the mold. He and others attacked the town hall in Hampton, waving their sabers, and threatening to unseat the British governor. Sure the Rolins family produced bank presidents and prominent town officials too, but these stories are more fun, she says.

She's part way into the story of John Wallingford (his son married a Rollins) who sailed from Portsmouth aboard the Ranger with John Paul Jones and who died in the attack on the ship Drake, when Tassy appears. Five cats roam the premises and Betty seems unable to turn any cat away, even Tassy, who has one eye, no teeth and a severe lack of intelligence from one too many encounters with moving vehicles.

"You've heard the Dow motto?" Betty asks, switching now to her maternal grandmother's heritage. "It goes like this: Any sane person who claims to be a 'dow' is an imposter. No kidding!"

Copyright (c) byJ. Dennis Robinsons, All rights reserved



The Dow line digs to the core of Hampton history. Henry Dow, the first Dow born in America in 1640, practically invented the town. Betty tells the story of Hampton's founder with her familiar deep voice, honed to talk show perfection by a lifetime of chain smoking. Her source is the weighty "History of Hampton" by Henry's 19th century descendant Joseph Dow. The Dows, despite their motto, appear eminently sane. One branch of the family turned a dye-making business into Dow Chemical. Another parlayed a small newspaper job into Dow Jones, now owners of the Wall Street Journal.

The male half of Betty Hill's gene pool appeared on the scene in the nick of time. It seems Betty's mother Florence Rollins was afraid of the water, but her sister braved the waves at York Beach in the summer of 1914, only to be pulled under by the dangerous undertow. Enter Raymond Barrett, a strapping young athlete who rescued one Rollins girl and wed the other.

The Barrett wing turns out to be the Johnny-come-lately relations, arriving in America from Galway, Ireland among the first wave of Potato Famine immigrants in 1847. Outside of Great Aunt Mary, a Gold Rush girl who painted her three-story house solo at the age of 94 and made national headlines, the Barrett line appears relatively normal.

"But what about me?" Betty jokes. "I'm a Barrett!"

Betty & Barney HillBetty and Barney Hill The interview has taken nearly two hours, the same time missing from Betty and Barney's watches after their close encounter in the New Hampshire mountains. The cats are beginning to assemble in the parlor now. They stare wide-eyed from around the room. Something is afoot, so Betty quickly trims the final branch of her family tree.

"No one knows how the first Trafton came to the New World," she says. "There are no records. It's a little mysterious." When the first settlers arrived in nearby York, Maine, there he was, right on the beach where Florence and Ray would meet 300 years later.

The longer Betty talks, the more grounded she appears. Her history is accurate, filled with rich detail and supported by scads of research. Sitting in her Victorian chair, surrounded by hungry cats, chatting in her old Portsmouth home, she might be a famous historian, say Barbara Tuchman or Doris Kearns. But they never got to write "A Common Sense Approach to UFOs" like Betty did. They never got to take the big ride.

"Did I tell you how I got interested in genealogy?" Betty asks, and fires into another anecdote like a lit bottle rocket. It is the energy that makes everything she says so compelling, boundless energy compounded by a child-like sense of wonder, a sense we all remember and of which, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot help but grieve the loss.

"About ten years ago I went to the Yucatan and I went to some Mayan ruins. The Mayans were telling me how their ancestors came here in a space craft back around 3,000 B.C. from their home planet."

Nothing in her demaenor indicates that Betty has just crossed the reality barrier; there are no speed bumps of doubt, no warning bells of fiction. This tale is as real as the last, and the listener, despite himself, is drawn into the vortex of Betty's animated perception.

It's true, Betty insists. Anthropologists think the Mayans came from Siberia, but they're wrong. The Mayans have a unique physique, unlike any other people on Earth. They only grow to five feet and all have round heads.

Come to think of it, sitting in that high-backed chair, surrounded by almond-eyed cats, Betty looks a little Mayan herself, despite all the Rollins, Trafton, Barrett and Dow in her blood. The reporter interrupts with a question and asks, just for the record, how tall she is. Betty knows where this journey is going.

"I'm five feet tall," Betty says proudly, as if she would consider no other height. She pauses, seems to wink, then launches into laughter.

Article and photo by J. Dennis Robinson
Copyright © 1999, All rights reserved.
Originally published February 5, 199 on

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Photo of Betty and Barney used by permission of Betty Hill from "Interrupted Journey" by John G. Fuller, Dial Press, 1966


FURTHER READING: Tales of an Exeter-Terrestrial