Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Die Deutsche Schrift Cover
First two images from Fritz Verdenhalven, Die Deutsche Schrift (The German Script) (Neustadt an der Aisch, Germany: Degener, 1991).

An article linked from The Weekly Genealogist had me thinking about how to conduct research in unfamiliar languages. I will soon receive eight microfilm reels containing German Catholic church records. The contents will be recorded in Latin, but key information could appear in German script. Sometimes it melds together to the point I’ve completely forgotten which language I am reading.

For the most part, church, and vital records adhere to a template, so even those of us who do not know the language can parse out facts pertinent to our ancestors. The key to accomplishing this feat lies in referring to guides to the language and/or records.
To help, Rhonda McClure has created a guide to German research for us. Some institutions post online translation tips and vocabulary lists. Brigham Young University offers some great script tutorials, and the FamilySearch wiki features a variety of language aids. Continue reading

How I became a genealogist: Part One

Alicia Crane WilliamsI got a chuckle out of Bob Anderson’s preface to Elements of Genealogical Analysis, where he described his path to genealogy through military intelligence and molecular biology. It reminded me of the days back in the 80s and 90s when we belonged to a small group of Boston-area genealogists who gathered every month for a pot-luck dinner and genealogy talk. The dinners were the brainchild of Ann Lainhart and, although informal, the group at one point included the editors of the Register, The American Genealogist, and The Mayflower Descendant. When you have the opportunity to sit and listen to the likes of Jane Fiske, Ruth Ann Sherman, Bob Anderson, David Dearborn, Melinde and George Sanborn, and Roger Joslyn to name a few, one cannot help but learn genealogy. Continue reading

“My ancestor was born … where?!”

T 316 (Folio A)
Detail, view of Saint Helena. Images courtesy of bweaver.nom.sh

One must always expect surprises when researching family history, because you just never know what you might uncover.

When researching my paternal ancestors, I discovered that our family had ties to one of the most remote places on the planet: the island of Saint Helena. Made famous as the location of Napoleon Bonaparte’s second exile, Saint Helena is a rocky, volcanic island located in the South Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. Continue reading

Mapping Vermont

New_Hampshire_grants_(1776)-croppedAs part of the Society’s Ask a Genealogist service, I was recently asked about locating someone in post-Revolutionary War Strafford, Vermont. The time frame in which this person lived reminded me of the special considerations for this region, which was once hotly disputed  by New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and even Massachusetts.

The territory that would become today’s Vermont was claimed by both New Hampshire and New York in the mid-eighteenth century, a squabble that took years to sort out. In general the land grants made by New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth between 1749 and 1764 lay in territory already claimed by New York. A royal decree of 1764 awarded jurisdiction over the disputed territory to New York, which created four counties: Albany (established in 1764), and from Albany County Gloucester (1766) and Charlotte and Cumberland Counties (1772). Continue reading

Inscribed in the Book of Life

2014-08-15 (1) from the united states 1918As we approach the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was reminded of a variety of early twentieth-century Rosh Hashanah postcards that I had seen in the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society–New England Archives. I remembered how detailed, ornate, and beautiful many of them were, works of art really, so I thought it would be fun to share some of them with all of you as the holiday approaches.

First, here is a brief note for those of you who may not be familiar with this particular Jewish holiday. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is this year celebrated from the evening of September 24 to the evening of September 26. Continue reading

Insights from my great-grandmother’s diary

Siekman 10If your family is anything like mine, you heard plenty of stories about your great-grandparents from your parents. From those stories I have been able to get a sense of their personalities and how they lived, but it is a view limited to how my parents knew them as their grandparents. Learning who your ancestors were as young adults is difficult, since most standard documents do not reveal an individual’s personality. My mother has a genealogical file on each of my relatives, where she keeps news clippings or other documents pertaining to their lives, which I often refer to while I am researching my family. During my last visit home, while searching through her files, I discovered the diary of my great-grandmother, Gladys Tompkins, from the year 1924. Continue reading

The Le Roy family register

Le Roy Record 1Here at NEHGS, we are always on the lookout for interesting genealogical books, pedigrees, or other formats for documenting family history. One of my first blog posts here covered the Society’s acquisition of a fascinating (and literal) family tree showing all of Queen Victoria’s descendants at the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Recently, I was directed to – and subsequently acquired – a Le Roy family register compiled by my cousin Edward Augustus Le Roy (1833–1913), one that showed all the descendants of the Le Roy immigrant down to about 1890. Continue reading

An unexpected helping hand

Robert Muir and Margaret Lavery
Marriage record for Robert Muir and Margaret Lavery. (Click on the images to expand them.)

Tracing one’s family back to their country of origin can be daunting; often the birthplaces found on census records are just countries, with no indication given of province or county. Therefore, when I found my great-great-grandfather on the 1920 United States Federal Census, I groaned inwardly when I read the birthplaces of his parents: Scotland and Ireland.

William Muir’s parents were a Robert and Margaret Muir. As I noted yesterday, I found them in the 1860 United States Federal Census living in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Continue reading

Finding William Muir

Frederick Muir and Mabel Lynch
The marriage of Frederick Muir and Mabel Lynch. (Click on the images to expand them.)

When I began working as a genealogist, my mother expressed great interest in learning more about her father’s family: the Muirs. While she had much information on her mother’s side of the family, which was quite large, she knew little about her father’s side of the family beyond her grandparents, so I began there. Continue reading