Census records for tracking economic mobility

“The Ghetto, New York, N.Y.,” Detroit Publishing Co.
“The Ghetto, New York, N.Y.,” Detroit Publishing Co.

For a school assignment, my daughter had to identify a family member who rose in social and economic class through means of employment and education opportunities. I immediately thought of her great-great-grandparents, Louis and Emma. Each had emigrated from Austria to New York, where they met, married, and had ten children, including her great-grandmother, Anna. I knew that the family had lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and that Louis had been a tailor in a factory. But I did not really know much beyond that except that at some point the family had moved out of the tenements, and some of the Anna’s siblings had professional occupations. I suggested that we examine census records to find out more. Continue reading Census records for tracking economic mobility

Women in the Gray diary: Part Two

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Regina Shober Gray kept a diary for 25 years. Taking a smaller portion of the diary – the period between 1861 and 1870 – and with a focus (for Women’s History Month in March) on some of the women the diarist mentions, I have assembled a few representative entries from those years. (See last week’s post for the 1861–1865 entries.)

Mrs. Gray’s reflections range over marriage for money and position (March 1861), the servant question (June 1862 and October 1867), women in the public sphere (March 1863), her own emotional state (April 1865), a chastening romantic episode (February 1866), the coarsening effects of modern life (February 1868), and a modest attempt to aid poor but proud working women in Boston (January 1870):[1] Continue reading Women in the Gray diary: Part Two

Church records in early New England research

Baptismal record of Caleb Church, First Congregational Church, Hanover, Mass. From Congregational Library and Archives.
Baptismal record of Caleb Church, First Congregational Church, Hanover, Mass. From Congregational Library and Archives.

Church records can be a valuable resource when vital records fall short. NEHGS has a large collection of published church records for New England and throughout the United States. For learning more about the Church family of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Congregational Church records, held by the Congregational Library and Archives on Beacon Street in Boston, have also proved especially helpful.

A Caleb Church of Hanover purchased land in Rochester, Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1770, went on to marry a woman named Hannah Pool in 1772, and died in 1827. However, the ancestry of Caleb Church was a mystery. Though he was listed in the 1770 land record as being originally “of Hanover,” there was no birth record for Caleb Church in the Hanover Vital Records.[1] Continue reading Church records in early New England research

A surprising brush with history

Abraham Lincoln in 1850, the year after he represented George D. Berry in a lawsuit. Lithograph by Edw. Mendel, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-102366.
Abraham Lincoln in 1850, the year after he represented George D. Berry in a lawsuit. Lithograph by Edw. Mendel, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-102366.

My husband inherited several dozen Civil War–era letters from his great-great-grandmother Susan (Berry) Dill and her daughter, Ida Alice Dill, who lived in Sangamon and Christian Counties, Illinois. Ida married Frank Stratton, the brick wall in my husband’s ancestry. One day, in frustration at not finding anything about Frank, I took to Google and entered a string of names and dates from the letters: George Elizabeth Susan Benjamin Berry Christian County Illinois 1850 1860—something like that. If no clue to Frank turned up, I figured, I would learn more about the Berrys. And indeed I did.  Continue reading A surprising brush with history

Resources for World War I research

A woman working at National Shell Filling Factory Number 9 in Banbury, England, during World War I.
A woman working at National Shell Filling Factory Number 9 in Banbury, England, during World War I.

One of the things I enjoy most about family research is to go beyond locating ancestors’ names and the dates of birth and death, and find out as much as I can to develop a picture of their lives. I want to know where they lived, what they did for a living, what their hobbies were, etc. I also like to try to place my ancestors in a broader historical context.

Like many of you, I have connected ancestors to World War I. When approaching a topic as daunting and nuanced as the Great War, I figure that one can never know enough. Luckily, there are a wide variety of resources available. Here are some my favorites: Continue reading Resources for World War I research

Women in the Gray diary: Part One

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Regina Shober Gray kept a diary for 25 years, through the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the deaths of several of her siblings and, in 1880, her husband Dr. Francis Henry Gray. Taking a smaller portion of the diary – the period between 1861 and 1870 – and with a focus (for Women’s History Month in March) on some of the women the diarist mentions, I have assembled a few representative entries from those years.

Mrs. Gray’s reflections range over marriage for money and position (March 1861), the servant question (June 1862 and October 1867), women in the public sphere (March 1863), her own emotional state (April 1865), a chastening romantic episode (February 1866), the coarsening effects of modern life (February 1868), and a modest attempt to aid poor but proud working women in Boston (January 1870): Continue reading Women in the Gray diary: Part One

The perfect time to begin

Kiss me -- I'm pretty sure I'm Irish
Kiss me — I’m pretty sure I’m Irish

After eleven years on the staff at NEHGS, I finally had to face the fact that I had never investigated my own family history. Colleagues had urged me to undertake my own genealogy, and I always said I would, absolutely . . . some day in the future. And so it went, year after year — my ancestry was always something I’d trace later, when I had more time, when things calmed down a little at work and at home, when I could really dedicate myself to it. As any of us who’ve made that “when things calm down” promise to ourselves know, things never calm down. Continue reading The perfect time to begin

Researching your Irish ancestors

Irish PGIt’s St. Patrick’s Day! What better time to review NEHGS resources — both in print and online — that can help you research your Irish ancestors? Irish research offers particular challenges, largely owing to the destruction of many records in a 1922 fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin.

One great resource for getting you started is the Portable Genealogist Problem Solving in Irish Research, written by Marie E. Daly (who herself is a valuable NEHGS resource for Irish research). Marie notes that “the prevalence of common surnames, the lack of a nationwide search capability, and faulty family tradition can make it difficult to discern your ancestor’s true origins and will give anyone a genealogical headache.” To help readers, the guide identifies common brick walls that you might encounter and helps you identify research strategies. For instance, a little checklist notes records for determining a more exact birthplace. The guide also addresses some common assumptions that prevent researchers from moving forward with their Irish research. Continue reading Researching your Irish ancestors

Dowry versus Dower Right

Land record mentioning Abigail Adams’s
Land record mentioning Abigail Adams’s “voluntary surrender of all her rights of dower.”

Family historians use a variety of records, some of which require some understanding of legal terms. And when it comes to land records, one term that is very often misunderstood is dower. Many look at that word and think of dowery. While both terms have to do with women, marriage, and property, they have different meanings. Continue reading Dowry versus Dower Right

Many hands, many cradles

Detail of The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass. Dec. 22nd 1620, lithograph by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Detail of The Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass. Dec. 22nd 1620, lithograph by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I’m in the middle of doing some research for a lecture that I’ll be giving in April at NEHGS entitled “The Hand that Rocked the Cradle.” It will use an informal statistical sampling of the women who have been included in the Early New England Families Study Project so far to see if we can form any general pictures about these ladies and their families. Preliminary statistics are interesting.

The gross totals: 88 women who had 116 husbands, 608 children (an average of about 7 each) and 174 step-children. I think that is what they call “populating a wilderness!”

On average these women were born about 1620, came to New England about 1636 (about age 16), were married for the first time about 1640 (age 20), and lived to about 1682 (age 62). Those who had multiple marriages averaged age 41 for the second marriage (22 women), 46 for the third (4 women), and 42 for the fourth (1 woman).

The youngest at first marriage was 15, oldest at first marriage, 32. The woman who lived to the greatest age was 97, and the one who died the youngest was 21. Continue reading Many hands, many cradles