Category Archives: Research Methods

ICYMI: Research strategies for 2021

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2021.]

A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?

As the editor at Vita Brevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading ICYMI: Research strategies for 2021

ICYMI: A problem in perspective

Culter Kirk. Courtesy of Wikipedia

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 March 2021.]

Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle. Continue reading ICYMI: A problem in perspective

Connecticut Probate Districts

Click on images to expand them.

With the release of the sixth edition of The Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, the town chart of Connecticut added two important columns when it comes to finding the correct probate district for a Connecticut town based on the year of an estate’s probate.

First, in 2011, Connecticut consolidated its probate districts. The fifth edition of The Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research identified districts using a number that referred to the narrative section of the Connecticut chapter and identified these probate districts moving forward, so from 2011 on. Continue reading Connecticut Probate Districts

2021: the year in review concluded

[Author’s note: Part 1 can be found here.]

In July 2021, Christopher C. Child reviewed a surprising feature in his ancestry: that he has 1 (one) ancestor who resided in northern New England during the seventeenth century:

“…My connections to Vermont are even briefer. A great-great-great-great-grandmother, Julia (Vaughan) Perry (ca. 1814-1899), was born in Allegany County, New York. Her parents William and Elizabeth (Foster) Vaughan were born in Massachusetts, Vermont, or Rhode Island (sources vary). Continue reading 2021: the year in review concluded

2021: the year in review

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse – it’s certainly an exhausting way to go through life. As 2021 rolls over to 2022, here is a look back at 2021 in Vita Brevis:

In January, Ann Lawthers urged genealogists visiting cemeteries to apply some of the insights garnered from their research, in this case about how the changing cultural norms around death translated into stone: Continue reading 2021: the year in review

ICYMI: The family historian

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 December 2014.]

Margaret Steward in Goshen, New York

Most families have one: the family historian. Whether or not the focus is genealogical, there is usually at least one family member who keeps track of siblings and cousins, sometimes to the nth degree. My father’s family had one in my great-aunt Margaret Steward (1888–1975). I do not remember meeting her, but I’ve been told I take after her, at least in so far as the mantle of family genealogist passed from her to me when I was still in middle school. Continue reading ICYMI: The family historian

An Instagram find

Mim (at right) and friends in Congress Park, 1922. Courtesy of Skidmore College Special Collections

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

It pays to share

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This time of the year is all about sharing … sharing our time and exchanging visits and gifts with family and friends, perhaps including family history projects. As genealogists, we are always seeking and exchanging information as part of our never-ending quests to find elusive ancestors and learn about their lives, and to share our discoveries with family and other researchers. The opportunities to share – and benefit from – our genealogical research have never been easier in this age of the Internet. The more we share, the more we can help others who may find something big or small in the fruits of our labors. The reverse is also true – the more we share, the more likely it is that others will share with us. Continue reading It pays to share

Remembered in stone

Mary Pearson Palmer’s gravestone in Rowley. Images courtesy of Findagrave

My family tried something new for Thanksgiving: lunch at a (very nice) restaurant in Rowley, up the road from my father’s house in neighboring Topsfield, Massachusetts. As I was there early, I went for a walk up Main Street, past the Rowley Burial Ground. Most of the stones nearest the road were well-weathered, but two popped out at me: stones for a Pearson and a Pickard.

Both are names in my seventeenth-century New England ancestry, so I sat beside a fire pit next to the restaurant and did some online digging.

Continue reading Remembered in stone

Pastel portraits

We all have them, those ancestors who seem to fade into the long-ago background of family history. Perhaps they’re not even our relatives, just names heard frequently but without context, or in a wedding guest book, a newspaper column, or in an obituary. The figures are distinguishable, but so unfamiliar that they are blurred whether pastel in color or in sepia or gray. Continue reading Pastel portraits