A friend recently received a document from a cousin, outlining her family’s ancestry. It was quite long, she said, and mentioned a Mayflower ancestor — but she didn’t know how to interpret it. There were lots of numbers, some of them roman numerals.
My well-trained husband, hearing this, asked, “Is it an ahnentafel?” It sounded like it might be. I asked one more question: does it start in the past, or does it start at or near the present? “It starts with me, as number 1,” my friend said. “Ah, yes,” I said, “it is an ahnentafel.” Continue reading 1, 2, 3 . . . it’s an ahnentafel!→
Before I began researching my ancestry, I was overwhelmed by the undertaking. It seemed like an impossible task that would take up all my time — trying to make sense of all those great-great-great-greats with their shifting residences, repeating names, and overlapping dates. I’ve always been bad with numbers and dates, and tend to be distracted by anything new and exciting, so my past attempts at uncovering information about my ancestors have resulted in a confusing game of Internet hopscotch through random records I couldn’t really understand concerning people to whom I may or may not have been related. I had convinced myself that I was uniquely ill equipped for genealogical research.
But kind fate reached out a helping hand in the form of my friend and colleague Chris Child. Not only is Chris a really nice guy, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and a legend in the genealogical community. He offered to help me begin and guide me through my research. I accepted immediately, before he could change his mind. Continue reading A helping hand→
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→
Regina Shober Gray kept a diary for 25 years. Taking a smaller portion of the diary – the period between 1861 and 1870 – and with a focus (for Women’s History Month in March) on some of the women the diarist mentions, I have assembled a few representative entries from those years.(Seelast week’s postfor the 1861–1865 entries.)
Mrs. Gray’s reflections range over marriage for money and position (March 1861), the servant question (June 1862 and October 1867), women in the public sphere (March 1863), her own emotional state (April 1865), a chastening romantic episode (February 1866), the coarsening effects of modern life (February 1868), and a modest attempt to aid poor but proud working women in Boston (January 1870):Continue reading Women in the Gray diary: Part Two→
Church records can be a valuable resource when vital records fall short. NEHGS has a large collection of published church records for New England and throughout the United States. For learning more about the Church family of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Congregational Church records, held by the Congregational Library and Archives on Beacon Street in Boston, have also proved especially helpful.
A Caleb Church of Hanover purchased land in Rochester, Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1770, went on to marry a woman named Hannah Pool in 1772, and died in 1827. However, the ancestry of Caleb Church was a mystery. Though he was listed in the 1770 land record as being originally “of Hanover,” there was no birth record for Caleb Church in the Hanover Vital Records.Continue reading Church records in early New England research→
My husband inherited several dozen Civil War–era letters from his great-great-grandmother Susan (Berry) Dill and her daughter, Ida Alice Dill, who lived in Sangamon and Christian Counties, Illinois. Ida married Frank Stratton, the brick wall in my husband’s ancestry. One day, in frustration at not finding anything about Frank, I took to Google and entered a string of names and dates from the letters: George Elizabeth Susan Benjamin Berry Christian County Illinois 1850 1860—something like that. If no clue to Frank turned up, I figured, I would learn more about the Berrys. And indeed I did. Continue reading A surprising brush with history→
One of the things I enjoy most about family research is to go beyond locating ancestors’ names and the dates of birth and death, and find out as much as I can to develop a picture of their lives. I want to know where they lived, what they did for a living, what their hobbies were, etc. I also like to try to place my ancestors in a broader historical context.
Like many of you, I have connected ancestors to World War I. When approaching a topic as daunting and nuanced as the Great War, I figure that one can never know enough. Luckily, there are a wide variety of resources available. Here are some my favorites: Continue reading Resources for World War I research→
Regina Shober Gray kept a diary for 25 years, through the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the deaths of several of her siblings and, in 1880, her husband Dr. Francis Henry Gray. Taking a smaller portion of the diary – the period between 1861 and 1870 – and with a focus (for Women’s History Month in March) on some of the women the diarist mentions, I have assembled a few representative entries from those years.
Mrs. Gray’s reflections range over marriage for money and position (March 1861), the servant question (June 1862 and October 1867), women in the public sphere (March 1863), her own emotional state (April 1865), a chastening romantic episode (February 1866), the coarsening effects of modern life (February 1868), and a modest attempt to aid poor but proud working women in Boston (January 1870): Continue reading Women in the Gray diary: Part One→
After eleven years on the staff at NEHGS, I finally had to face the fact that I had never investigated my own family history. Colleagues had urged me to undertake my own genealogy, and I always said I would, absolutely . . . some day in the future. And so it went, year after year — my ancestry was always something I’d trace later, when I had more time, when things calmed down a little at work and at home, when I could really dedicate myself to it. As any of us who’ve made that “when things calm down” promise to ourselves know, things never calm down. Continue reading The perfect time to begin→
It’s St. Patrick’s Day! What better time to review NEHGS resources — both in print and online — that can help you research your Irish ancestors? Irish research offers particular challenges, largely owing to the destruction of many records in a 1922 fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin.
One great resource for getting you started is the Portable Genealogist Problem Solving in Irish Research, written by Marie E. Daly (who herself is a valuable NEHGS resource for Irish research). Marie notes that “the prevalence of common surnames, the lack of a nationwide search capability, and faulty family tradition can make it difficult to discern your ancestor’s true origins and will give anyone a genealogical headache.” To help readers, the guide identifies common brick walls that you might encounter and helps you identify research strategies. For instance, a little checklist notes records for determining a more exact birthplace. The guide also addresses some common assumptions that prevent researchers from moving forward with their Irish research. Continue reading Researching your Irish ancestors→