All posts by Nancy Bernard

About Nancy Bernard

Nancy holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research program. She has a master’s degree in history and media study from SUNY University of Buffalo, where she focused on American cultural history and writing and producing documentary videos. She also has a B.A. from Hamilton College. She has interned at the American Jewish Historical Society, now at NEHGS, as well as the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA. Her areas of interest include New England and New York history and researching house histories and the families who lived in those homes.

Revolutionary privateering

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection

In attempting to prove Revolutionary War service for a man from Norwich, Connecticut, who did not show up in any militia lists, pension records, war memorials, etc., I turned to the subject of privateering. According to the DAR Genealogy Guidelines, “privateers were privately owned, armed trading vessels, commissioned or issued letters of marque from either the Continental Congress or from individual provisional government[s] (sometimes by both) to capture enemy ships and goods. The bounty or prize was divided by the officers and seamen and the governing body that authorized the privateering. Bounties made privateering very profitable and provided much needed supplies to the American forces. The Continental Congress officially authorized privateering for the war on 23 March 1776, although some states had already initiated privateering prior to that date.”

Norwich, located at the head of the Thames River, was a center for ship-building; the largest shipping firm in Norwich was Howland & Coit. Vessels traveled down the river and then sailed from New London harbor. Continue reading Revolutionary privateering

Overseas military naturalizations

Bernard 1For a recent research case, I was trying to locate a naturalization record which had been listed in an index to the Declarations of Intention, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York 1917-1950, at However, when searching through the actual records, I found that the file number for this record was attached to a record with another person’s name. Continue reading Overseas military naturalizations

Buckman’s Tavern

Buckman Tavern
Buckman’s Tavern. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Along with the Boston Marathon and a home Red Sox game, today Massachusetts observes Patriots’ Day. This holiday, the third Monday in April since 1969, commemorates the Battle of Lexington on 19 April 1775.[1] In Lexington, the reenactment of the battle begins in the early morning hours as the Regulars – the British soldiers – march toward the town’s Common, and the militia company exits the adjacent Buckman’s Tavern to gather on the Common, now known as Battle Green. Continue reading Buckman’s Tavern

Research in organizational records

Temperance signOne of my recent research cases involved searching for information within societies and organizations. It began with searching in newspapers for an 1849 obituary in order to gather more biographical information about my research subject, but I also looked for any references to him in articles and classifieds ads. I first located his death notice, and learned that he was a printer – a compositor of the Boston Transcript. Continue reading Research in organizational records

Manhattan bodies in transit

Courtesy of Cornell University Library and Wikimedia Commons.

In one of my recent cases, I was searching for a woman who had been living in New York in the 1860s, and then removed to Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband and children. After several years in Charleston, she died in 1872. Her death certificate could not be found in Charleston. However, the client provided a document from the record collection “New York, Department of Health, Manhattan Bodies in Transit, Vols. 5-10 (1870-1886),” located at the New York City Municipal Archives and available on microfilm from the Family History Library.[i]

Continue reading Manhattan bodies in transit

The legend of Israel Bissell

Listen, my children, to my epistle
Of the long, long ride of Israel Bissell,
Who outrode Paul by miles and time
But didn’t rate a poet’s rhyme

I was in Lexington the other day, conducting research in the town’s library. I was researching the Lexington Alarm, specifically trying to find out when members of the Connecticut militia first arrived. During my search, I came across a man named Israel Bissell. If any of you already know about him, you can skip this post; but I have to claim ignorance! Continue reading The legend of Israel Bissell

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

Records of Old Norfolk County

MA Norfolk (old) Co Towns (Map available at
MA Norfolk (old) Co Towns
(Map available at

Recently, I was searching for records in Amesbury and Salisbury, as well as in Dover and Newton, New Hampshire. I began my search in Essex County, Massachusetts, but as I went further back in time, I realized that I needed to examine records from “Old Norfolk County.”

The first Norfolk County, now called Old Norfolk County, was one of the original four counties created in 1643 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the other three counties were Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex. Old Norfolk County encompassed the area north of the Merrimac River–essentially what is now part of Amesbury, Salisbury, and Haverhill in Massachusetts, and Dover, Hampton, Exeter, and Portsmouth (originally known as Strawberry Banke) in New Hampshire. Continue reading Records of Old Norfolk County

Town historians: a helpful resource

Southampton blog post
Town of Southampton. Courtesy of

Recently, I was searching for records in the towns of Southampton, Easthampton, and Bridgehampton, all in Suffolk County, New York. I was trying to determine the identity of the father of Abraham C., who was born in 1720 in Southampton and died about 1785. The client had done some excellent research, and through his efforts, concluded that there were two possible outcomes. Since finding direct evidence from records for New York during this time period can be tricky, I examined numerous publications from our NEHGS collection, including town histories, such as the multi-volume series Records of The Town of Southampton, With Other Ancient Documents of Historic Value; published genealogies; and the excellent New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. Continue reading Town historians: a helpful resource