All posts by Sam Sturgis

About Sam Sturgis

Sam was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and worked as a Human Factors researcher in automotive safety for 13 years. He entered the field of commercial software development in 1983 and acted as software developer and development manager at Wang Laboratories and The Foxboro Company. Sam joined the NEHGS staff in 2005. Sam's interest in genealogy began shortly after moving to Massachusetts, when he and his family chanced upon the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, during a vacation on Cape Cod. There he discovered that he is a descendent of the Sturgis family that settled on Cape Cod in the 1630's. Sam and his wife Gail live in Medway, Massachusetts. They have two grown children: Katie, a Registered Nurse in Wrentham, and David, a software developer in Somerville.

‘I was much amazed’

Elizabeth (____) Sturgis’s letter, in the Winthrop Family Papers, 1537-1990, at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Captain Daniel Patrick was a well-known and powerful figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 1640. He had been a “common soldier in the Prince’s guard” in Holland, and that experience was sufficient for him to be appointed Captain of Militia in Massachusetts Bay. He commanded 40 soldiers in the Pequot War, and he and his company were notable for executing the “fighting age” Pequot male prisoners captured near present-day Ledyard, Connecticut, on 5 July 1637. Captain Patrick was clearly a formidable character.

He was also a well-known philanderer and eventually departed the colony: “For though he had a wife of his own, a good Dutch woman and comely, yet he despised her and followed after other women and perceiving that he was discovered, and that such evil courses would not be endured here, and being of a vain and unsettled disposition, he went from us… ” Continue reading ‘I was much amazed’

ICYMI: Tips for searching on AmericanAncestors.org

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 July 2014. Since the time of that posting, we have made enhancements to our search functionality on AmericanAncestors.org that return broader results without using wildcards.  The wildcard strategy still works as advertised, however.]

When we were deciding how our AmericanAncestors.org 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 ICYMI: Tips for searching on AmericanAncestors.org

17th-century occupations in Massachusetts

PioneersMA_front-cover-mock-upIn his monumental work The Pioneers of Massachusetts, Charles Henry Pope summarized the occupations and trades of 1,725 of the 6,000 “pioneers” for whom the information was available. These 6,000 individuals were identified “in the journals and lists of the colonies, towns, churches and counties of the period 1620-1650, inclusive, as well as those perpetuated in the passenger-lists of that time which have survived to our day.” (Pope’s “day” was 1900, 115 years ago.) Continue reading 17th-century occupations in Massachusetts

Detective Stories

Sturgis Hartman Smith Fish Jones Bull
Back row, left to right: Mercy Elizabeth (Fish) Smith, Edgar Leslie Smith, Cyrus Cressey Sturgis, Angeline (Hartman) Sturgis. Front row, left to right: Berintha Lydia (Bull) Fish, Una Coy (Smith) Sturgis with Cyrus Cressey Sturgis Jr., Jane (Jones) Hartman. Author’s Collection

A few nights ago, I was watching Hercule Poirot on TV, working to solve a complicated mystery. At one point, he found himself stumped and said, “I am an imbecile. I see only half of the picture.” As an aspiring genealogist (read: amateur detective), I can certainly identify with the great detective in that way. I get that feeling all the time! I feel much more like Miss Lemon, who replies, “I don’t even see that.”

I guess it’s common knowledge that many aspiring (and even accomplished) genealogists see genealogy as a British murder mystery, a puzzle just begging to be solved. I know I do. And I have at least as much trouble solving my genealogical puzzles as Hercule, Miss Marple, and, dare I say it, Inspector Morse. Of course, the big difference is that those fictional detectives solve every case by the end of the episode. We genealogists can struggle for years, trying to solve our mysteries. Fortunately, very few of our cases involve murder. Continue reading Detective Stories

A Ruth by any other name

Ruth Will Little
My great-grandmother Ruth (Will) Little

When I was a child, my classmate Jimmy would often tease me about my middle name: Paine. “Why is your name ‘Pain?’ Were you a pain to your mother when you were born? (Tee-hee!)” When I complained to my mother that my name was a problem and a target for Jimmy’s teasing, she replied, “Well, the name Paine is an old and extremely honorable name. You are, in fact, a descendant of Thomas Paine, who wrote the famous pamphlet Common Sense, which was one of the main inspirations for the American Revolution!” Wow! Was Jimmy impressed!

Not only do I have an old and honorable name, I’m also the descendant of a famous patriot! Of course, Jimmy stopped teasing me and I became a bit of a third-grade celebrity, for a day or two, anyway.  Continue reading A Ruth by any other name

Who was Robert Henry Eddy, and why should you care?

MA VRsRobert Henry Eddy was a life member of NEHGS who died in 1887 and bequeathed a substantial sum of money to the Society.* Mr. Eddy had been an architect, civil engineer, and in later life, a very successful patent attorney. In 1902, NEHGS used $20,000 of the Eddy bequest to establish the “Eddy Town-Record Fund, for the sole purpose of publishing the Vital Records of the towns of Massachusetts.” This fund would become the basis of a major project to preserve early Massachusetts vital records. Continue reading Who was Robert Henry Eddy, and why should you care?

Tips for searching on AmericanAncestors.org

Eldridge search croppedWhen we were deciding how our AmericanAncestors.org 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 Tips for searching on AmericanAncestors.org

Searching journals on AmericanAncestors.org

John Smith only highlights 800
Click on images to enlarge them

NEHGS members have the ability to search a large number of genealogical journals, including The New England Historical and Genealogical  Register, The American Genealogist, The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Rhode Island Roots, The Essex Genealogist, The Mayflower Descendant, and many others. To view a list of journals available on AmericanAncestors.org, go to our database search page, select the Category ‘Journals and Periodicals,’ and then open the ‘Database’ drop-down list. Journals may be searched by first and last name, and also by article title keywords.  When searching a journal, be aware that the year range fields apply to the year of publication, not the year of an event, so these fields are best left blank. Continue reading Searching journals on AmericanAncestors.org

A suspicious first cousin

Timothy and Louisa_Cropped
My mother’s grandfather and her aunt

One day a few years ago, my mother (who was 85 at the time) got a phone call from a young lady who said “Hello, I think I’m your cousin!”  Mom, who was well aware of and always on the lookout for scams, immediately assumed that this was just one more.  The caller said that she was the great-granddaughter of my mother’s father’s sister, ‘Louisa.’ Mom, who knew all of her father’s siblings, had visited the family regularly in Detroit when she was a child and never met or even heard of an aunt with that name. Continue reading A suspicious first cousin