All posts by Michelle Norris

Michelle Norris

About Michelle Norris

Michelle holds a master’s degree in history from Salem State University, where she specialized in women in colonial New England. She completed her bachelor’s degree with concentrations in history and gender studies from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Michelle has a background in public history and has worked with the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, the Beverly Historical Society, and the Sargent House in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her research interests include women’s history, society and culture, early America, and the American Revolution.

Proof summaries

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As part of the NEHGS Research Services team, I spend a lot of my time documenting lineage society applications. We often receive requests to document lines that require some additional attention. For instance, there can be some generations that simply cannot be connected through birth, marriage, and death records. Perhaps there are no vital records for the time period and location, or you may have vital records that do not include critical information such as parents’ names. When these genealogical obstacles occur, a proof summary may be needed to demonstrate the connections between the generations.

A proof summary, also called a proof argument, is simply an essay which summarizes all sources you have gathered to link the generations. It is compiled in a way to be persuasive enough to connect generations, despite the lack of vital records or direct evidence for the generational connection. These proof summaries are a surprisingly common addition to lineage society applications. Continue reading Proof summaries

Elusive sources

From time to time while researching someone’s family history, I incidentally come across a piece of information that catches my attention or leaves me intrigued. Recently I found myself in this situation while researching a family in the town of Lee, Oneida County, New York. As I often do, I searched local histories for this area of New York State to try and gather more clues for further research.

Our County and its People: A Descriptive Work on Oneida County, New York, edited by Daniel E. Wager, mentions a Colonel Alpheus Wheelock and his wife Rachel. This source claimed that Rachel was actually “a famous female physician.”[1] However, a search of the rest of this source showed no additional information about Rachel. This stuck with me and I sought to find more information about Colonel Wheelock’s “famous” wife. Continue reading Elusive sources

A Mulcahy mystery

Michael Mulcahy on his wedding day.

On 7 May 2018, my maternal grandmother Eleanor Margaret (Buckle) Sadlow passed away at the age of 89.  She was born 22 August 1928 in Arlington, Massachusetts, the daughter of William and Frances (Mulcahy) Buckle; in 1947, she became the wife of Chester Francis Sadlow.

Following this sad event, as I was helping to go through some of my grandparents’ belongings. I came across a photograph of my great-great-grandfather Michael Mulcahy. The back of this photo had my grandmother’s handwriting indicating that her maternal grandfather was born in 1869 and died in 1960, and that this photograph was taken on his wedding day. I immediately recognized the name from my previous research on this family line and felt a strong pull to discover more about him. Continue reading A Mulcahy mystery

Revolutionary women

Needlework (including black silk, silk and gilt thread, beads) attributed to Sally Cobb Paine, circa 1760-65. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society online collections

March is women’s history month, which makes me think of my favorite women’s history topic, women in the American Revolution. Specifically, I enjoy learning about the social history of the time. Working as a family history researcher, these themes generally take a back seat to primary source documentation like vital, church, and probate records. But diaries and letters between family and friends remains one of my favorite sources to examine. What was the time period like for women? What were society’s expectations of them and how did they fulfill them? While women still held tight to traditional female roles, the American Revolution provided extraordinary circumstances for women and their daily lives.

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds papers for the Paine family of Taunton, Massachusetts. These family letters and diaries are full of details about life at the time and demonstrate themes of politics, marriage, and wartime separations. Continue reading Revolutionary women

Circumstantial evidence

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

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

The lives of women

The beginning of summer and the influx of tourists to the city of Boston has me thinking about a fun activity I did last year: a historic tavern tour. This was an entertaining group outing where we went on a historical tour of the city, all the while stopping at historic bars and having a beer or two at each. I enjoyed this experience as it combined two of my favorite things, history and beer.

Shortly after the tour I came across a book in our library called, Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs, by Samuel Adams Drake. Continue reading The lives of women

The language of colonial relationships

Typically, when researching family history, finding documents in which individuals state their relationship to each other is a source of excitement. These kinds of discoveries provide researchers with crucial information for genealogical research. However, during my time as a researcher here at NEHGS, I have come across some examples of direct statements of relationships that are not always what they appear to be. This insight specifically relates to colonial era documents, where relationships might be described differently than they are today. Continue reading The language of colonial relationships

A Boston blueprint

Photo courtesy of Diserio.com

I was recently enlisted to help my boyfriend clean out his mother’s basement; while not the most exciting of tasks, it actually led to an interesting historical discovery. Throughout this process we came across the usual repertoire of items that eventually made their way into a long-term storage area: unused kitchen appliances, tools and craft supplies, as well as old toys and keepsakes. However, in moving things around, one object in particular caught my attention. It was a large framed photo of a building. Continue reading A Boston blueprint