Some of my ancestors are just plain pesky. We all have them, those ancestors who refuse, for seemingly no good reason other than to annoy us, to cooperate with our efforts to document them. For years I had tried to verify the parents of my maternal great-grandfather, Daniel McLeod, without any success. That he was born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1834 without any known church affiliation did nothing to help. Communications with the helpful staff at the Provincial Archives proved to me that I did not have enough information for a specific search of church birth records, so I searched all available church records, still without success. Continue reading Pesky people
Sometimes in the course of studying family history it helps when the right sort of inspiration knocks at our door. Blog sites like Vita Brevis and different forms of social media allow ways for like minded people of similar genealogical concerns to reach out to one another. And while I would not exactly consider Findagrave.com a “social networking site,” a recent experience reminds me that the inspiration to study family history can come from many different sources.
Seven years ago, I placed virtual flowers on-line for the memorial to my great-uncle Ernest Bedford Payne (1902–1970). I find placing virtual flowers on findagrave memorials does two things: (a) it allows me to pay respect to my loved ones, and (b) allows me a trail of bread crumbs letting me know if I have previously visited a memorial I might not readily remember the next time around. I must confess I hadn’t been back to visit Uncle Ernest’s memorial in quite a while. Continue reading Flower power
Each year, on the first Sunday in August, we celebrate National Sisters Day. Growing up together, we often take our sisters for granted. The older we become, the more we tend to cherish our shared experiences and the more we realize that our sisters (and the sisters in each generation) may hold the keys to learning more about our direct ancestors.
My sister and I share responsibilities as memory keepers for our family – but in unique ways. Continue reading Sisters as sources
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 March 2016.]
When researching a family, one can quickly become focused on names, birthdates, and death dates. It is easy to get caught up on going as far back as possible until reaching the metaphorical brick wall, and being left with a “well, what do I do now?” mentality. Seventeenth-century immigrants can be incredibly difficult to trace and track, but learning about them in public records can help add meaning to and information about their lives. Continue reading ICYMI: Middlesex County court records
“Some secrets never leave us alone…” – Diane Capri
In my father’s house, there was a subject we were forbidden to speak of. This was the subject of my grandmother’s adoption and her biological mother.[i] Under pain of reprisal, we were told never to speak of it – or of her. We didn’t even know her name, and what leaked through the hushed whispers of grown-up conversation was not murmured with much kindness.
The secret of grandmother’s adoption was the order of the day as long as my adopted great-grandmother was living. My great-grandmother was greatly revered, so for us to cause her any duress would rank as an unforgivable transgression. These “never to mention” rules stayed in effect long after my great-grandmother’s death in 1970 – though this maxim certainly didn’t stop the budding genealogist in me from finding new angles to find out the truth behind the whispers. Continue reading Never mentioned
I did not learn to spell properly until I learned to type at the Katharine Gibbs School. This may have had something to do with my less-than-perfect handwriting. Seeing a word in type instead of scribble helps me spot the errors.
In genealogy, of course, we run into all kinds of spellings, and it is hard to decide whether we should use the literal spelling from the record or modernize and standardize the word or name. I have had to standardize words for clients who simply could not deal with “misspellings.” Also, in the case of documents where superscripts and abbreviations are used, like “ye” for “the” or strange letters, such as “ff” for capital F, converting to typed text is all the more complicated. Continue reading Become an expert
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
My love of family history came from my grandmother. Growing up, I recall asking a lot of genealogical questions that most of my family couldn’t even begin to answer – except, of course, for Grandma Record. She had the gift of recall, and could summon a second cousin’s birth date as easily as she recalled (by rote) the names of the streets in the small town where she grew up – sixty years later. Indeed it was my grandmother who kept what records we “Records” did keep – when we kept any at all. Continue reading Forgotten lines
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 February 2016.]
From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS
As a researcher at NEHGS, I have learned a great deal about genealogy and have gradually implemented various research strategies as I encountered them, typically by asking my extremely intelligent coworkers what they would do with any given case. However, I tend to learn from doing rather than simply from having someone tell me what to do or how to do it. Which leads me to one case in particular that has really stuck with me as a learning experience, the ancestry of Laura (Smith) Kingsley.
When the records are not there for a certain individual you are researching, one suggestion is to look into other people in the family including siblings, aunts and uncles, in-laws, etc. I admit that when I began doing genealogy I did not fully comprehend how looking at someone other than the research subject would help with my research efforts. However, the case of Laura Smith Kingsley lit up the imaginary light bulb over my head and helped to illustrate situations such as these. Continue reading Circumstantial evidence
While editing an article in Mayflower Descendant, a question came up about the way the testator referred to one of his children in his will. Along these same lines, a grandchild was included in the will who seemed to break the pattern of the way the testator identified everyone else in the family.
The will in question was Nathaniel Brown (1735–1818) of Williston, Vermont. Born in Killingly, Connecticut, he was in Douglas, Massachusetts, in 1778, before moving to Vermont by 1802. Nathaniel and his wife Abi had twelve children, six of whom survived childhood and were identified in some context in the 1818 will of their father. Continue reading Testamentary ambiguities