Genealogy Blog

Beware Colloquialisms

31 Jul 2012

Back in the 1980s I went to college in the Pioneer Valley. I attended the University of Massachusetts. But if you look at a map of the commonwealth, you will probably have difficulty locating the Pioneer Valley.

The Pioneer Valley is a colloquial name for the area of western Massachusetts around the Connecticut River. The valley stretches across three counties (Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire), from the Connecticut border in the south to the Vermont border in the north.

When our ancestors migrated, especially across great distances, the place of origin can be difficult to identify. Colloquial place names make this task even more difficult. Often they are used instead of the official name. While some colloquial names survive through time, others fall into disuse and are lost. Modern inhabitants may have no idea of previous colloquial names.

Often a colloquial name can sound so much like an official name that one can’t even recognize it as colloquial. A perfect example of this comes from my native state of Rhode Island. When I worked in the library at NEHGS, we would often have people come in looking for Rhode Island maps so they could find South County.

Rhode Island county map.

Where is South County on this map?

This is a colloquial term for Washington County, Rhode Island. It is the most southern county in the state, and natives often refer to it as simply South County. Unfortunately for researchers, the towns of Coventry, West Greenwich, and East Greenwich (which lie in neighboring Kent County) are often considered part of South County. All of this can make a genealogist’s head spin.

When dealing with place names, take into account that the information you have on an ancestor may include a colloquial name. If you cannot find it on a map, check gazetteers (especially older ones). If you know what state it should be in from the ssdi, then try contacting the state library or state historical society. They might be able to help you identify the place and thus bring success to your genealogy search.

Taking a Look at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

29 Jul 2012

The New England Historic Genealogical Society is the oldest genealogical organization in the U.S. It was founded by a group of Boston businessmen in 1845. They wanted to work to preserve the history of their colonial ancestors. Over the course of more than a century and a half they have worked to ensure researchers have access to the best quality information.

NEHGS in Boston

The New England Historic Genealogical Society at 101 Newbury Street in Boston.

The compiled family histories in the Society’s collections date back to the earliest published genealogies from the eighteenth century. The Society’s holdings for the New England states are unparalleled, but the have a great deal of information for not only the rest of the U.S., but Canada and the U.K. as well.

The R. Stanton Avery Special Collections contain thousands of notes, original records, Bibles, charts, and unpublished manuscripts. The original 1794 Direct Tax for Massachusetts (which included Maine at the time) was saved from total destruction by a founding member of NEHGS in the mid-nineteenth century. In those days, prior to the formation of a national archives, he arranged for it to be deposited with NEHGS for preservation, in whose custody it remains today. You can also find the research papers of numerous Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists, as well as historically significant documents such as a diary written by Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane (Franklin) Mecom.

The Society’s publications program started in the 1850s with the publication of Henry Bond’s history of early Watertown families. In the late nineteenth century, the Society banded with several other Massachusetts groups to lead the way in records preservation and access, publishing numerous volumes of vital records transcriptions. It is still very active today, publishing the weekly electronic newsletter The Weekly Genealogist, quarterly magazine American Ancestors, and frequently publishing compilations of original records and genealogies.

NEHGS has led the way among non-profit genealogical groups taking advantage of technology. In the late 1990s they published several CD-ROMs of records and launched their first website with searchable databases, NewEnglandAncestors.org. The website has been updated several times and today AmericanAncestors.org provides online access to a wide variety of original records, transcriptions, and published works. Many databases have been created from manuscripts and typescripts among the Society’s holdings, and therefore are unique or rare.

NEHGS also provides a great deal of educational opportunities, for both members and non-members. Some of these take place at the Society’s home in Boston. Many programs are also held around the country. The annual tour to Salt Lake City every fall is always popular. And the Society is starting to put some videos online to assist in learning.

I was privileged to be on staff at NEHGS for 15 years, working in many departments along the way. The staff is very dedicated and works hard to provide researchers with high-quality resources. And the favorite time is always when they get to work with people in person, whether at the library, on tours, or at conferences and other programs. Check out their resources at The New England Historic Genealogical Society is the oldest genealogical organization in the U.S. It was founded by a group of Boston businessmen in 1845. They wanted to work to preserve the history of their colonial ancestors. Over the course of more than a century and a half they have worked to ensure researchers have access to the best quality information. The compiled family histories in the Society’s collections date back to the earliest published genealogies from the eighteenth century. The Society’s holdings for the New England states are unparalleled, but the have a great deal of information for not only the rest of the U.S., but Canada and the U.K. as well. The R. Stanton Avery Special Collections contain thousands of notes, original records, Bibles, charts, and unpublished manuscripts. The original 1794 Direct Tax for Massachusetts (which included Maine at the time) was saved from total destruction by a founding member of NEHGS in the mid-nineteenth century. In those days, prior to the formation of a national archives, he arranged for it to be deposited with NEHGS for preservation, in whose custody it remains today. You can also find the research papers of numerous Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists, as well as historically significant documents such as a diary written by Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane (Franklin) Mecom. The Society’s publications program started in the 1850s with the publication of Henry Bond’s history of early Watertown families. In the late nineteenth century, the Society banded with several other Massachusetts groups to lead the way in records preservation and access, publishing numerous volumes of vital records transcriptions. It is still very active today, publishing the weekly electronic newsletter The Weekly Genealogist, quarterly magazine American Ancestors, and frequently publishing compilations of original records and genealogies. NEHGS has led the way among non-profit genealogical groups taking advantage of technology. In the late 1990s they published several CD-ROMs of records and launched their first website with searchable databases, NewEnglandAncestors.org. The website has been updated several times and today AmericanAncestors.org provides online access to a wide variety of original records, transcriptions, and published works. Many databases have been created from manuscripts and typescripts among the Society’s holdings, and therefore are unique or rare. NEHGS also provides a great deal of educational opportunities, for both members and non-members. Some of these take place at the Society’s home in Boston. Many programs are also held around the country. The annual tour to Salt Lake City every fall is always popular. And the Society is starting to put some videos online to assist in learning. I was privileged to be on staff at NEHGS for 15 years, working in many departments along the way. The staff is very dedicated and works hard to provide researchers with high-quality resources. And the favorite time is always when they get to work with people in person, whether at the library, on tours, or at conferences and other programs. Check out their resources at www.AmericanAncestors.org.

From the Blogs, July 27

27 Jul 2012

The 1973 fire at the U.S. Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed many service records for those in the army and the Air Force. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Defense seems to be using it as an excuse for not providing information to those seeking to replace service awards. Dick Eastman wrote about this situation in a recent post about Validating Military Valor Medals on his blog.

I enjoy reading Lelend Meitzler’s GenealogyBlog. He often tips me off to things I haven’t yet come across. This week he talked about a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the National Park Service to protect battlefields from the American Revolution and the War of 1812. You can read more in his post Bill to Buy War of 1812 Battlefields Before Congress.

My dear friend Audrey Collins discussed a very valuable resource she recently learned about for those researching their English and Welsh ancestors. “The State of the Poor” by Sir Frederick Morton Eden was published in 1797. It is a three-volume set that includes detailed examination of the poor in select parishes from each county. The State of the Poor and The State of the Poor Update from The Family Recorder will give you more details.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist is at it again. This week she published an excellent discussion of the effects of water on deeds. More specifically, waterways that are mentioned in land records, and what the effects are when the course of the waterways change. Read this fascinating story, and learn the difference between accretion and avulsion and how they are treated differently under the law, in As the River Flows. If you want some entertainment while reading the article, try listening to Let the River Run from Carly Simon.

Over the course of a week Randy Seaver did an excellent review comparing the 1940 U.S. Census index on Ancestry.com  with that on FamilySearch.org. His first post explained the methodology, then he moved on to review several families of interest. On Monday he provided a summary and conclusions. It makes for interesting reading at Geneamusings.com.

Women at Sea: The Secrets of Hen Frigates

26 Jul 2012

When thinking of seafaring ancestors on a merchant ship, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Burly men standing in the foc’sle, water spraying up from the sea? Men with tattoos scrambling around the deck with ropes, deftly raising and lowering sails while avoiding being accidentally swept overboard? The ship’s captain, staring down on the decks and calling out commends to the crew?

How about this for a vision: a ship sailing the seas, her hold full of cargo. The ship’s captain is on the deck, surveying his crew. By his feet is a young boy playing with toys. At his side is his wife. Far-fetched? Not really.

In the nineteenth century this was a very common occurrence on merchant ships. In fact, it was so common that there was a special word for such ships: “Hen Frigates.” In 1998 Joan Druett published a book about them. Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea is an excellent discussion of what life was like aboard these ships.

According to Druett, “Hen frigates were miniature worlds—wildly colorful, romantic, and dangerous.” The stories in this book are based on the amazing adventures of real women and what they experienced: “romantic moonlit nights on deck, debilitating seasickness, terrifying skirmishes with pirates, disease-bearing rats, and cockroaches as big as a man’s slipper.”

The stories are divided into eleven chapters, each with a specific theme. The themes are:

  • The Honeymooners
  • At Sea
  • Sex and the Seafaring Wife
  • Children at Sea
  • Small Ladies
  • Ship Kitchens
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Medical Matters
  • Hazards of the Sea
  • Dropping Anchor
  • On Shore in a Foreign Land

In addition to the stories, there is a valuable appendix. It lists journals, diaries, letters, and reminiscences written by seafaring women, the wives and daughters of ship captains.

I became interested in this topic when I started researching the family of my friends Myke and Alan Lavender. Their ancestors were sailors and ship captains out of Provincetown, Massachusetts. They were involved in a number of trade activities.

Their great-great grandfather, John Richardson Lavender (1823–1878), was a ship captain involved in the fruit trade between New England and the Mediterranean. I had seen references to his wife, Sally Mayo (Dyer) Lavender (1826–1915), and her spending time on ships with her husband. I wanted to discover more about what her life was like. After reading Hen’s Frigates, I had a good idea.

The descriptive and evocative text paints a vivid picture of these women. They were brave souls who saw much more of the world than most of their contemporaries. The book includes lavish illustrations that make their stories even more real.

As I reached the end of the book I scanned through the appendix. Imagine my surprise when I saw the following entry for journals:

Lavender, Sally Mayo. “Journey of a Voyage in the brig Panama from Boston to Marseilles 1854.” Typescript. Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine.

I was able to obtain a copy of the journal, and read of the trip in Sally’s own words. John and Sally’s young son William also accompanied John on the voyage. That Christmas, I gave a copy of Hen Frigates and the journal typescript to Myke.  I also told him to pay close attention to the chapter on Sex and the Seafaring Wife. You see, Myke’s great-grandfather John was conceived during that trip.

The Society of Genealogists

25 Jul 2012

The oldest genealogical society in the U.K., the Society of Genealogists, has just celebrated a century of helping genealogists with their research. They have a great deal to offer researchers with roots in the United Kingdom.

Society of Genealogists

The Society’s home at 14 Charterhouse Buildings in Goswell Road in London is home to an excellent research library, the largest family history research center in the U.K. The online catalog, SOGCat, provides access to more than 120,000 books, microfiche, microfilms, and more.

Over the past few years, the Society has started making information available on their website. There is a county-by-county guide for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. It provides information on the general registers, marriage licenses, censuses, and other records.

Surname indexes have been created and made available online for several collections not included in SOGCat. The Member Birth Briefs indexes records provided to the Society by its members. The Society has a large number of pedigree charts, from small individual sheets to large scrolls. These are indexed in the Pedigree Collection index. The Surname Document Collection index provides access to the large number of individual documents held at the library. These may include vital record certificates, deeds, wills, licences, apprenticehips, wills, etc. Many are original documents and some are abstracts or transcripts. These indexes are available to the public for free.

Because not all individuals can get to the Charterhouse Buildings, the Society operates a search and copy service. If you find something in the indexes, they can make a copy and send it to you. They will also search indexed materials in the collections. Unfortunately, they are not staffed to search unindexed materials or conduct extensive research.

Members of SOG get access to additional searchable information. There is an active program to index and abstract materials from the collections. Boyd’s records (Family Units, Inhabitants of London, London Burials, Marriage Index), marriage licences, apprenticeship records, poor law records, wills, and parish records are some of the most interesting databases available.

One of the biggest projects of the Society is running the annual Family History Fair. It is run in conjunction with the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live! show. For those of you who love used books as much as I do, they always run a book sale as part of their presence at the show.

The SOG staff is quite friendly and happy to assist patrons, whether in person or online. The Society is currently holding a membership special. The £10 membership join fee is being waved. U.K. residents can join for £47, and overseas members pay only £29 (about $45 U.S.). Check them out at www.sog.org.uk.

 

 

 

Church Records

24 Jul 2012

Vital records are the first place to look for information on your family. However, they are not always available. Church records are an excellent substitute for vital records, as records of baptism and burial can easily mirror those of birth and death. And the marriage records of churches can contain more information than the civil record.

First Church of Hopkinton, N.H., 1828

 

Church records can include a wide variety of other information as well. This information can vary widely depending on the denomination. Records of the vestry may contain minutes of meetings, member lists, and financial matters. Financial records may seem boring, but you may find information on how much money your ancestors donated to the church.

Many churches operated Sunday schools or even regular schools for children. Records for these schools may give you insight into how good a student your ancestor was. Attendance rolls may help you pinpoint when a family moved into or out of the area.

In many Protestant denominations the ecclesiastical records were considered the property of the minister. As such, they often get separated from the church. Ministers often moved from place to place. They might change churches rarely or frequently. When the ministers went to another church, they took their records with them.

Because of this, the records may end up far from where the events took place. And When a minister passed away, there were no rules for what to do with his records. Because they were considered the personal property of the minister, they were part of the minister’s estate. Probate records may reveal where the records went.

Local histories can help you to identify the names of ministers who preached in the areas where your ancestors lived. Church archival repositories can also help. Organizations like the Congregational Library can also help you to identify ministers. They may even be able to help you locate their records.

Once you have ministers’ names, check the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections for clues to the whereabouts of surviving records. ArchiveGrid is also an excellent source of holdings for various repositories. You should also check local historical and genealogical societies and libraries, who may also have important records for you.

“It’s Just For My Family”

23 Jul 2012

I cannot tell you how many times I have head those words through the years. And recently, they (or words to that effect) have just appeared too many times. Let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating to a professional genealogist than to hear those words.

They are so disheartening for us to hear, because they are always used as an excuse. In reality, they are used by researchers who do not care whether or not their work is correct. They may be lazy researchers who are happy to go along with whatever they find on the internet. What these folks really mean to say is “I don’t want to do the work.”

I am continually astounded at the number of people I encounter who think that citing sources and questioning undocumented information is only for professionals. After all, if they are only sharing their information with their family, who cares where it came from? If one is going to approach research from that perspective, then why bother researching at all? Why not just make up names, dates, and places and fill in the blanks. What’s the difference?

The reason that professionals encourage researchers to verify everything and cite where they got the information is so that they can be confident that they are sharing correct information with their family. We want you to be able to be proud about your work. And when your descendants look back at the work you have done, we want them to be proud of the work you do. We want them to be able to be confident about the information, not questioning all of your work because it was not carefully done.

And let me be clear, this does not mean that researchers shouldn’t use online sources. Online data can be quite reliable and helpful to your research. But you must do the work to verify information.

In working on a blog post about my great-grandmother recently, I was doing some checking online. I discovered an online family tree created by a second cousin. Her grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. The tree was quite good through our great-grandparents. Unfortunately, she had clearly attached information from another family tree to her own. Our great-grandfather had an unusual name, Anselme Morin.

Unlike other French-Canadian names, such as Joseph and Jean-Baptiste, Anselme is a rare name in Quebec. Unfortunately, she had misidentified a different Anselme Morin as our great-grandfather. The family tree went back 10 generations from Anselme. It was well-documented with sources and original documents. But not a single one of these individuals is our ancestor.

The correct information is available online. It is also available in the Catholic cemetery where Anselme is buried, about a half hour from where the cousin lives. He is buried in a large grave with his wife, three children, and his parents.

Please do yourself a favor. The next time a professional suggests you verify the information you have discovered, follow their recommendations. They want you to succeed. And they want you to leave a compiled genealogy that your descendants will be proud of!

From the Blogs, July 20

20 Jul 2012

Once a week I sit down and review blogs to present you with items that may be of interest to you. While I do this weekly, the articles may be older because I just ran across them. Just because something has been around for awhile doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, so I include those as well. Here are some of what I found this week.

 

54th Massachusetts Memorial by Augustus Saint Gaudens.

 

Mel Wolfgang of Jonathan Sheppard Books is a font of knowledge when it comes to history and genealogy. This week, he remembered the famous 54th Massachusetts from the Civil War. This famous unit, led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw, was on of the first regiments of black soldiers created by the Union after the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 1989, the story of these brave men was turned into a movie, Glory, starring Matthew Broderick as Shaw. On July 18th, 1863, many of these men, including Shaw, were massacred by Confederate forces. Mel’s two-part column on Mnemosyne’s Magic Mirror this week remembers the 54th Massachusetts, and Acting Adjutant G.W. James (brother of novelist Henry James).

Michael John Neill in RootDig.com talks this week about a new feature from Google. While most everyone knows about Google maps, that help you navigate outdoors, did you know that they are starting to create indoor maps as well? Michael discusses Google’s mapping of buildings on the college campus where he works, and shares a preview video in Google Maps-Indoors.

Randy Seaver writes a thoughtful commentary on the current controversy surrounding a CNN Money story on the Social Security Death Index.  Randy analyzes the article, and points out a number of mistakes. Unfortunately, any fact checkers that may have been employed in reviewing the article seem to have been asleep at the wheel.

Many of you may be familiar with Julie Mitchuka. Among her many talents, she and I are teaching assistants together for the Boston University Genealogical Research Program. This week she is in Washington, D.C., attending the National Institute on Genealogical Research for the first time, with another friend and B.U. teaching assistant, Robert Stanhope. For those who have wondered what it was like to attend NIGR, she is posting on her blog this week about the experience.

Following the Paper Trail

19 Jul 2012

For those with ancestors in non-English-speaking countries, one barrier to research can be reading documents. Even those in English-speaking countries may find records written in Latin that can hamper them. Americans can face records of ethnic churches and other organizations here that employed the native tongue of the members. There is a great resource that has been around for quite some time to help researchers with these records.

 

 

Published by Avotaynu, Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman first appeared in 1994.  It contains more than 200 pages of valuable assistance for reading and translating non-English documents. Thirteen Germanic (German and Swedish), Romance (French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish), Slavic (Czech, Polish, and Russian), and other (Hungarian and Lithuanian) languages are represented.

The discussion of each language starts with the alphabet for that language. The alphabet is shown in Roman (or printed) and cursive forms from A to Z (or Zed). Letters with diacriticals appear. There may be other assistance as well. For example, the German alphabet includes Fraktur versions of the letters, and the Russian alphabet includes English phonetic equivalents of the letters.

Each section also includes a list of vocabulary terms. These are words that appear in records that are commonly used in genealogical research and their English equivalents. You will also find a list of first names, and their English translations.

But one of the best features of the book comes in the sample documents. For each language, you will find examples of all types of records you may come across in your research. From civil vital records and church records to ship records, passports, and other immigration records, a wide variety of information is presented.

Images of the records are accompanied by an analysis of the record and translation of the significant words. These samples are critical to learning how to use records. What better way to learn than by seeing original records analyzed and transcribed to you can understand them?

It says a lot that an eighteen-year-old book is still in print. You can buy Following the Paper Trail directly from Avotaynu, or from Amazon.com and a number of other online retailers.  Through the years, I have found this book very helpful in working with records in unfamiliar records.

The 1841 U.K. Census

18 Jul 2012

The  General Register Office (GRO) in England and Wales was created in 1836 to record births and deaths. Because of the nationwide structure of registration districts and sub-districts that the GRO created, it was decided that the agency would be given responsibility to conduct the fifth decennial census in 1841. It also coordinated the census for Scotland in 1841 and 1851. The original census act required that enumerators should record in writing the name, age, sex, and occupation of every person living in the home. The schedules also recorded whether the individual was born in the county in which he/she was residing in 1841, or if they were born in Scotland, Ireland, or “Foreign parts.”

Map of London and Environs in 1839 from GenMaps.

John Rickman was the clerk to the House of Commons, and started implementing procedures for taking the census. Registration sub-districts were subdivided into enumeration districts for the purposes of taking the census. When Rickman died in August 1840, he was replaced by Thomas Lister, the first registrar general.

Lister was eager to introduce some changes. Just two months before the census was due to be taken in June, he managed to push a bill through Parliament to implement three major changes:

  1. The census date was changed from Wednesday, June 30, to Sunday, June 6.
  2. Originally, everyone was to have their exact age reported. With the new bill, individuals over the age of 15 would no longer have their age expressed exactly. Every person age 15 to 19 would have their age represented as 15. People aged 20 to 24 would be listed as age 20, and so on in five-year increments. Each person would be listed according the five year increment below their actual age (or their actual age if it was a multiple of 5).
  3. Census schedules would now be filled out by householders, not the enumerators. The householder schedules would be collected by the enumerator and  the information copied into books known as the enumerator schedules, which would become the official copy. This process remained in place until the 1901 census.

While the first change does not impact genealogists very much, the second and third changes have a major impact. When using the censuses, it is important to understand that ages of adults are represented as a five-year date range.

Also, the process for taking the census leaves data open to potential problem. The enumerator may have had difficulty reading the householder’s handwriting, or may have omitted information. Pages may have been accidentally lost. Transcription errors may have occurred when copying the information into the enumerator schedules. Unfortunately, the original householder schedules were destroyed, thus they cannot be examined.

U.K. census records can be consulted on many websites, including Ancestry.com and Ancestry.co.uk, FindMyPast.co.uk, ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, FamilySearch.org, and FreeCen.org.uk.  For more information about the 1841 U.K. census (or other censuses), consult Peter Christian and David Annal’s Census: The Expert Guide (Kew, England: The National Archives, 2008).