Jen Shakshober earned a dual BA in English and Economics from Westfield State University, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bennington College, and a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University. She is currently pursuing an MLIS in Archives Management from Simmons University. Her past research has involved nineteenth and twentieth-century Vermont records from local and state-level repositories. Most recently she wrote two articles about the murder of labor organizer Joseph Shoemaker for The Walloomsack Review, a biannual publication of the Bennington (Vt.) Museum, and she is always interested in crafting narrative genealogical reports.
View all posts by Jennifer Shakshober →
On November 2, 2022, my husband and I welcomed our first child: a son, named Jack William for his great-grandfathers. Several weeks after Jack’s birth, I requested a copy of his birth certificate from the town offices, an errand which immediately reminded me of submitting vital records requests for genealogical research. Obtaining my son’s birth record was far simpler—I only had to wait a few minutes—and I left the town offices that same day with the record in hand. I looked down at the certificate, with all the fields neatly filled out, and realized genealogical researchers are perhaps the only people who wouldn’t take this record for granted.
Vital records are often the first and best places to check when seeking information about our ancestors. But what is a researcher to do when a vital record simply doesn’t exist, or provides minimal information? In a previous blog post, I discussed the usefulness of family Bibles as vital records substitutes. There are numerous other record types that link parents and their children, with baptismal records and wills being the next best options. Other records that can identify the names of an ancestor’s children include the following types: Continue reading Linking Parents and Children—Without the Help of Vital Records→
Discovering the existence of a family bible can be one of the most thrilling revelations in family history research. Original Bibles possess what archivists refer to as artifactual value: intrinsic worth as objects apart from their content. We often revel in family heirlooms because their very survival is a matter of chance. At least one representative from each succeeding generation must cherish the item, or serendipitously leave it forgotten in a secure location for it to be recovered decades later.
For genealogists, family Bibles can also convey unique information. Heirloom Bibles often contain records of birth, marriage, and death dates—usually scrawled on the Bible’s inside flyleaf—and can serve as proof of parentage in the absence of a vital or church record. Continue reading Locating Family Bible Records→
While the 1950 census was still in its planning stages, a primary concern of the United States Census Bureau was minimizing cost. Executing the 1940 Census had cost the federal government $67.5 million. Not only had the U.S. population increased by 14% between 1940 and 1950, but the Census Bureau reported the cost of maintaining enumerators and clerks on the scale of the 1940 census would exceed previous expenditures more than twofold. To offset higher costs, the Bureau eliminated “all but the most basic items” from the census schedules, asking 14 fewer questions in 1950 than in the decade before. However, the 1950 census would ask a series of supplemental questions to a larger sample of the population compared to the 1940 census. Continue reading Comparing censuses: 1940 and 1950→
One night several years ago, I recalled that it had been a while since I last Googled some of my favorite ancestors. Slouched in my chair, I scrolled idly through the Google hits for “Miriam Shakshober,” my grandfather’s aunt whom I never met but regarded with interest. Towards the end of her life she was supposed to have been a recluse, dying quietly in her house in December 1980 as Christmas cards piled up in her mailbox. The house she died in—her childhood home, possessing the uncanny power of always drawing her back—is now rented out to multiple tenants. Continue reading An Instagram find→
Many years beyond the lifetime of Sybilla Shakshober Phillips (1872-1947), I discovered a pocket-sized daybook in my grandmother’s living room cabinet, which turned out to be a Masonic almanac or “National Diary” registered in 1879 for the Year 1880. In pencil on the flyleaf was written: “Miss Sybilla Shakshober.” Several pages in the front and throughout the volume were removed and only a few pages had been used at all. One or more members of the family had sporadically used the book for household accounting before it fell into the hands of young Sybilla, who mimicked its adult style by recording her transactions. Continue reading Sybilla’s daybook→
When I began researching my paternal ancestors as a high school student, I had many questions about Barbara Shakshober, the oldest sister of my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Shakshober. Because the 1860 and 1870 censuses report her birthplace as New York, I concluded she must have been born in or near New York City, her parents’ port of arrival to the United States. Finding Barbara’s birthplace might lead to the discovery of her parents’ neighborhood, and perhaps other ancestors with their elusive, often corrupted surname. Continue reading Barbara’s story→
The following advisory was printed in the Virginia Gazette on 21 January 1775:
Prince Edward, Dec. 1, 1774
“Whereas my wife Delphia hath been a naughty, furious Housewife for some Years past, and hath invented, and reported certain Slanders, to the Prejudice of my Character, and hath often threatened to ruin me, which she hath in Some part effected; This is therefore to forewarn all Merchants and others, from crediting her on my Account, as I will pay no Debts of her contracting; and I do hereby forewarn all Persons from receiving at her Hand, any Goods or Chattels appertaining to me, as they will answer the fame at their Peril.” THOMAS COLDWELL Continue reading A ‘naughty’ wife→
In researching the origins of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I came across an article about the Society’s fiftieth anniversary in the Boston Post dated 20 April 1895, which omitted the names of founders Charles Ewer, Lemuel Shattuck, Samuel Gardner Drake, and John Wingate Thornton, but credited the efforts of William H. Montague specifically. Surely the Post had a reason to single out Montague; though he had died by 1895, he was the last surviving founder of NEHGS. Continue reading The last founder→