Cheat Sheets

Alicia Crane WilliamsI create cheat sheets for projects, but most of them reside inside my head or on scattered pieces of paper in my office – both of which suffer from notorious clutter issues – so it seems like a good exercise to gather and record the process here. In this case, of course, the cheat sheets are for doing research on seventeenth-century New England families, but the basics can be applied to other situations. Also, no search ever progresses exactly the same as any other, so this list is meant to be flexible. Continue reading

The prisoners of Peddock’s Island

Fort Andrews 1932
Fort Andrews in 1932. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Boston Harbor Islands are popular destinations for camping, sailing, and exploring. Their  development and importance to Boston’s history may perhaps be seen most clearly in the well-preserved Fort Warren on Georges Island. An often-overlooked destination among the islands is Peddock’s Island, which hosts the remains of Fort Andrews, a defensive compound built at the beginning of the Spanish-American War in 1898.  It was named by the land donor Eliza Andrews after her uncle, Civil War brigadier general Leonard Andrews, and was used as a training station for soldiers during World War I and World War II. The structures left today include a barracks, firehouse, stables, gym, and chapel.

Peddock’s Island was also used as a prisoner of war camp, in which at least one thousand Italians captured in North Africa were detained following Mussolini’s surrender to the Allied forces in 1943. Continue reading

Online family trees

onlinefamtrees2A recent reference question led me on an interesting journey discovering more about online family trees. Using a family tree service on the Web has attractive benefits:  a centralized location on the Internet to store your family information, the immediacy of sharing by digital means your information with relatives and potential relatives, the thrill of locating new individuals or information to enhance your tree and further your research, not to mention networking opportunities to really thrash out a stubborn brick wall. Continue reading

Revelations from my recliner: Part Two

Little George Rohrbach
My father George Rohrbach

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a breakthrough in determining the parentage of my great-grandmother, Orella (Turnbull) Turnbull. While stuck in my recliner for several days with my foot elevated, I made another discovery, about Orella’s husband George.

For years I’ve been sporadically working at tracking down the Turnbulls. They are the only English family in my largely Finnish and Swiss ancestry, and it seems they should be much easier to trace. Continue reading

The ‘Do Not Read List’

fallon 3
Courtesy of The Tonight Show/NBC

Jimmy Fallon recently aired his recurring segment, the “Do Not Read List,” which pokes fun at books with unfortunate titles or unconventional subjects. To my surprise, one of the books featured on the spot was the popular genealogical resource, List of Persons Whose Names Have Been Changed in Massachusetts, 1780-1892. Fallon introduced the book with a sarcastic joke: “420 pages of names … changed names. That’s a page turner.” Then, he proceeded to mock those who changed their generic names to something comical. Continue reading

William Aspinwall, Boston notary 1641-51

Aspinwall_front-cover-revNotarization is a legal process meant to deter document fraud. It involves authenticating the person or persons who are signing a document, certifying that they did sign, and keeping records of what was notarized. When the first settlers arrived in New England, there were no banks or law offices where a business agreement could be drawn up, letters of attorney devised, a manifest certified, or a multitude of other legal documents created and authenticated. Continue reading

Tips for searching on

Eldridge search croppedWhen we were deciding how our database search would work, one of the key considerations was that we didn’t want to return search results that contained a lot of ‘noise.’ On other websites, the database architects allowed for a certain (sometimes significant) number of irrelevant search results. This was undoubtedly intended to be helpful, but it is actually quite frustrating. So we decided to do ‘exact’ searches with a couple of twists. The goal was to give results that were exactly what you searched for. We spent quite a lot of time tuning our search algorithm, trying different approaches and analyzing the results. We’re pretty happy with our final approach, but it’s definitely helpful to understand how it works. And what the twists are. Continue reading

Oaths in early New England

oaths of allegianceI was recently asked the difference between the Freeman’s Oath, the Oath of Allegiance, and the Oath of Fidelity in Massachusetts Bay Colony. The history of oaths in the American Colonies actually requires the researcher to go back to the early 1600s under King James I (1603–1625). After all, those who were living in the colonies during the seventeenth century were all British subjects. Continue reading

Some recent discoveries

Young officer
My grandfather Frederick Jackson Bell (1903-1994), named for his mother’s family

I have written here about some of my research strategies, and I thought it might be interesting to inventory a few of my recent discoveries (and brick walls).

It is easy to get distracted, and for the last decade or so I have kept a lot of my research notes in a Word file called “Notes on 1790–1930 Censuses.” (Yes, it predates the publication of the 1940 Federal Census, although I have begun to add information from that source as well.) Built around appearances in various censuses, the Notes document keeps me organized, as it is really my ahnentafel (or ancestor table), listing ancestors along with their children and their children’s spouses. In the footnotes, I keep track of my ancestral aunts’ and uncles’ children and their descendants. Continue reading

“Beginning at a stake and stones…”

Stephen Lincoln house

According to John Emory Morris’ Stephen Lincoln of Oakham, Massachusetts, His Ancestors and Descendants (1895), Stephen Lincoln first built a home in Oakham, Worcester County, Massachusetts, in 1784. As late as 1895, this house stood on the road leading from Rutland to Barre Plains, near the home of his father-in-law, Lieutenant Ebenezer Foster. In theory, locating the Lincoln house – or, rather, where it once stood – should be fairly straight forward, right? Continue reading