Category Archives: Research Methods

Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)

2011 photograph of St. Jean Baptiste Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.

In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.

Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.

As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley (1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood. Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)

Lodgers or Relatives? (Part I)

Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere Beach, MA; from a c. 1910 postcard.

We frequently encounter “lodgers” or “boarders” living with our ancestral relations in 20-century U.S. census records. If you’re like me, you probably don’t pay much attention to them. However, as I recently discovered twice while researching the lives and descendants of Irish immigrant Bostonians Edward J. Costello (1866-1926 [?]) and Mary Josephine Maloney (c. 1872-1943), these oft-disregarded “lodgers” or “boarders” can turn out to be your relatives after all. Both cases led to interesting discoveries, but recounting them together would far exceed the average length for posts on this site—so I offer them in two parts.

Our first case of a misidentified relative, 11-year old “lodger” George Stepper, was encountered in the January 1920 census enumeration of the household of Joshua and Mary Harron at 149 Bellingham Ave, in the coastal Beachmont neighborhood of Revere, Massachusetts.

Scan of 1920 census record showing George Stepper

Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part I)

Locating Family Bible Records

Page from an original family bible, with vital records for the family of John Dunlap (1775-1848) and his wife, Betsey Lester (1778-1850).

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

Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

A broken column forms a monument to Adeline Wilhelmina Howell, indicating her early death at the age of 18.

Gravestones have long served as the cornerstone of genealogical research. While the words they bear can be crucial sources of information about our ancestors, don’t forget to look at the symbols, too. Gravestone symbolism can point to information about your ancestors’ religious beliefs, group affiliations, life experiences, and more. Below are just a few noteworthy examples of common gravestone symbols and what they can reveal. Continue reading Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

Think Outside the Search Box

Houston County Courthouse, Georgia

Online genealogical websites like AmericanAncestors.org, Ancestry.com, and FamiliySearch.org can be extremely helpful when researching your family tree. But what do you do when your search comes up empty, and you don’t have unlimited resources to travel in-person to your ancestor town? Sending emails, calling, and filling out inquiry forms for town libraries, historical societies, and local clerks’ offices may be the needed extra step in finding your ancestors.

This past month, we released research on Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ancestry, about 50% of which was conducted with “on the ground” help in Georgia. After fully exhausting records online, we had to turn our attention to collections that may only be available at the town and county levels. Continue reading Think Outside the Search Box

An alter-ego’s tale

Groucho Marx:”Well, whaddya say girls? Are we all gonna get married?”

Woman: “All of us? But that’s bigamy!”

Groucho: “Yes, and it’s big-a-me, too.

Researching the collateral relatives of my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record has brought a host of complicated characters. From “liars, whores, and thieves”[1] and murdering wives,[2] to throat-slashing cousins[3] and snake oil salesmen[4] alongside lawyers for the KKK,[5] to the accompanying tragedies of kidnapping and allegations of rape,[6] it’s no wonder that some of them ran off to join a traveling theater,[7] or, oddly enough (and contrary to all other indications), the police force.[8] Yes, my folks from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Del Marva peninsula were a colorful bunch to say the least. Continue reading An alter-ego’s tale

Mrs. Frank Leslie

In early July I was given the opportunity to attend an online educational event, “Women in the Gilded Age,” with guest speakers Laura Thompson and Betsy Prioleau, part of the American Inspiration series at NEHGS. The draw was my interest in women’s history, and this event sparked my interest further and provided me with a newfound love of the history of the Gilded Age of New York (1870–1910), a captivating era of growth, greed, and deep cultural changes.

I became truly fascinated by one woman in particular, Miriam Leslie, known in her day as Mrs. Frank Leslie. What intrigued me about Mrs. Leslie was the way in which she challenged the societal norms of the time; in a time that expected women to be homemakers, she stepped up, challenged misogyny, and worked her way to success as a professional businesswoman, taking over the publication business of her late husband, Frank Leslie, and inspiring women who sought more than domesticity. Continue reading Mrs. Frank Leslie

This can’t work

I have posted a few times about going back to the original records after looking at transcriptions. Sometimes you may have multiple versions of later transcriptions, or an uncited genealogy may have read the records more correctly than the published transcription, or the original record had a small smudge that has confused later transcribers. While there is certainly value to looking at the original records as they are written, it is good to keep in mind that the original records themselves may also be wrong. Continue reading This can’t work

Pension record insights

Before joining NEHGS as a researcher, I worked with the National Parks of Boston researching patriots of color from Massachusetts who served during the Revolutionary War. While doing this research, I spent time looking through pension records to gain an understanding of these soldiers’ experiences during and after the war. I did not initially know what to expect from these records, but I quickly realized that they can be a treasure trove of information. Continue reading Pension record insights

“The dream and the hope”

History was made on Thursday, 7 April 2022, when the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th associate justice of the Supreme Court. She will be the first Black woman and the first public defender to serve on the court. Several months later, on Thursday, 30 June 2022, Judge Jackson took the oath as the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court.[1] Continue reading “The dream and the hope”