Tag Archives: The Well-Stocked Genealogical Library

Analyze what?

Genealogical articles, such as those published in the Register, very often address a problem or omission from a previously published genealogy. The author explains the problem, describes methods and sources used to address it, reports results and, then, if the answer is not clear cut, presents an argument as to why one conclusion is preferable to another.[1]

Every family has its share of complications that need to be addressed in their genealogy. The most common egregious element of nineteenth-century genealogies, in particular, is the claim of English/royal ancestry. Continue reading Analyze what?

Closer in time

General William Eaton (1764-1811). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Alicia’s post last week on certain advantages to older genealogies reminded me of an example where a published biography was the only contemporary source of a stated relationship (indirectly), despite the kinship being stated in numerous later genealogies.

In a post on my relatives – Tryphena and Tryphosa – I had mentioned that my ancestor Tryphena Eaton (1768–1849), was the daughter of Nathaniel and Sarah (Johnson) Eaton, and that Tryphena’s birth was not recorded.[1] Going back in time, Tryphena gets listed with these parents in Clarence Winthrop Bowen’s Genealogies of Woodstock Families, 4: 630–31 (written in 1932), which also says she married first Eli Kendall (1767–1808), and secondly, in 1809, Amos Paine (1766–1848), and also lists her older and younger siblings. Continue reading Closer in time

ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 April 2016.]

Engraving of the town of Lenox, Massachusetts, by John Warner Barber. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Genealogists and historians of Massachusetts are indebted to the works of nineteenth-century antiquarians: that is, compilers or collectors of historical information and antiquities. The works of several antiquarians – including John Warner Barber, Samuel Gardner Drake, and John Haven Dexter – have become crucial reference works in the study of Massachusetts genealogy. Knowing what these sources contain, along with their respective shortcomings, can be helpful when researching your Massachusetts ancestors. Continue reading ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Rev. Samuel Willard. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I first learned the story of Elizabeth Knapp in 1982, when I read Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos. Demos is a master storyteller, and much of the narrative as well the psychological insights are borrowed from his chapter on Elizabeth Knapp. With the exception of some irresistible passages lifted from William Bradford and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the first paragraph, all the quotations are taken from Samuel Willard’s “A Brief Account of the Strange and Unusual Providence of God Befallen to Elizabeth Knapp of Groton,” in John Demos, ed., Remarkable Providences, 1600–1760 (1972).

In 1671, Groton was an obscure frontier settlement on the far edge of Western civilization. To the west of the Nashua River, all was a “hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men,” “dangerous to travel to known places,” much less to venture into the unknown. Continue reading ‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Peer review

Genealogists can learn from Fantasy Football. The focus with which some people research yards per game or number of completed passes is the same that every genealogist should put into learning about the “team” of authors upon whom they are basing their own work. Is your team reliable in the “red zone”?

Fortunately, today we have pretty nearly full access to thousands of book reviews online. Continue reading Peer review

Perfect 10

With the Winter Olympics almost upon us, we will be hearing a lot about “perfect” scores in the sports where judges assign points for such things as technical difficulty and artistic interpretation.

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Here are ten categories that I came up with, in no particular order (once we have the categories, we will examine them in detail in future posts): Continue reading Perfect 10

Compiling knowledge

Applicants to the Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy (SDCC) must have “a proven lineal lawful descent from a clergyman who was regularly ordained, installed, or settled over a Christian church within the limits of the thirteen colonies prior to 4 July 1776.” Although not a descendant of a colonial clergy ancestor, I was invited to attend the SDCC business meeting on Saturday, 4 November 2017, because I was a speaker during their annual meeting luncheon. Continue reading Compiling knowledge

Getting the most out of a library visit

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends when I learned that one of them did not know what microfilm was. This conversation then turned to talking about why only some of us had heard of and used microfilm and others had never heard of it. As a new archivist (at the time), but a relatively seasoned researcher, I was shocked. It is conversations like that that remind me that not everyone knows why archives and libraries do the things that they do, which can seem intimidating. For someone visiting a repository for the first time, there are a few things that you should expect and can do ahead of time to maximize the amount of time you have available to look through material. Continue reading Getting the most out of a library visit

Fluid genealogy

By now followers of my Vita Brevis posts are well aware that no genealogy is perfect. Period. No matter who wrote it.

The old mindset that a work published in a book or an article is automatically complete and completely accurate should be dead by now. The problem has always been that, once a book is in print, there is no practical way of updating and correcting information without reprinting the entire book.

On the other hand, modern electronic publication (in theory) offers endless opportunity to keep a genealogy “live.” Continue reading Fluid genealogy

Become an expert

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