Category Archives: Research Methods

Proof summaries

Click on image to expand it.

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

Time travelers

The Place de la Concorde leading into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

With good weather and summer’s long-awaited arrival, many of us will be traveling near and far to new and exciting places. Traveling today is still frustrating, even with fast transportation and constant access to technology, so I was very curious to find out what obstacles our ancestors faced centuries ago.

Many diaries have been digitized and added to the NEHGS Digital Collections on the American Ancestors website. In this new grouping I found two travel diaries that sparked my interest on what the similarities and differences of the diarists’ travels in the nineteenth century and my own in the twenty-first century might be. Continue reading Time travelers

Happy error

In genealogy, mistakes are rarely fortuitous. They often send us down time-consuming rabbit holes and frustrate us to no end. But, sometimes, they work in our favor.

Recently, I had been working to extend my Garvin line in Mallow parish in County Cork. I had been able to confirm my great-great-great-grandparents, Francis Garvin and Ellen Coleman, but I had been unable to locate a marriage record for the couple. Though there were several Garvin family groups in Mallow parish and the surrounding area, I could not place Francis Garvin with a family. Continue reading Happy error

A light-bulb moment

A “family record” from the Sefrit collection.

This past week I began to explore the large collection of Bible records on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website, and I was expecting to find just ordinary records, not anything surprising. What I uncovered, however, is just how helpful these records and registers can be in understanding your family history. While the records typically convey very simple information to the reader, such as births, deaths, and marriages, they sometimes contain other information that can result in a “light-bulb” moment when you are piecing together your genealogy. NEHGS has digitized a series of Bible records and family registers, and continues to add new records regularly, creating a selection of nearly 300 so far in the Digital Collections. Continue reading A light-bulb moment

Stubborn facts

Joe Pease. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

My second-ever Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] became a stationmaster for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. On the morning of 8 December 1941 (on his side of the International Date Line), Papi oversaw the departure of a Pan Am Clipper flying boat from Noumea, New Calendonia, which would immediately thereafter enter aviation history by flying “the long way” back to New York over uncharted routes. At almost the exact same time (on the American side of the International Date Line), a young man named Joe Pease was at the dock of Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor facility, awaiting the arrival of another Clipper. Needless to say, Joe had the more exciting morning! Continue reading Stubborn facts

Mixing it up in Middlesex

At the end of my last post on locating digital images of Middlesex Probate Court records, I promised to deal with the topic of other “Court Records.” Pull up a chair, this may take some time.

For this discussion, for the sake of simplicity, I will only be talking about records in Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the beginning, a “General Court” was established in Boston for the entire colony. These colony records have long been published in Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, 1628–1686, 5 vols. in 6 (Boston, 1853). Continue reading Mixing it up in Middlesex

What’s in a name?

‘What’s in a name?’ asked Juliet of Romeo, concluding that the name of something does not define what it really is. A rose, after all, by any other name would smell as sweet, but for family genealogists, a rose by any other name can become an obstacle to progress and success. Naturally, we go in search of a name as we expect it to be, as we’ve always known it to be and, in doing so – in not considering all the possible variations or that any given spelling may not necessarily be the “correct” spelling – we may overlook vital clues and new pathways for our research. I suspect that most family genealogists who stay at their research beyond the “low hanging fruit” stage, who don’t give up too soon, eventually double back and realize their earlier oversights. Continue reading What’s in a name?

‘Eyes dry as dust’

The Civil War was a time of conflict and distress. While we often hear stories of the courageous men who fought the bloody battles of a terrible and long war, the battles did not stop on the fields. Citizens from all states and backgrounds gathered strength and stepped into positions they never thought possible, including Betsey Jennings Nixon, who discovered fresh reserves of strength as the war progressed.

The NEHGS Library holds the diary of Betsey Jennings Nixon in its R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. The diary has been digitized and is available on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website. Betsey, the daughter of William and Louise (Sheldon) Nixon, was born in 1839 and grew up in Ohio, living in several neighboring states before eventually moving to Colorado where her sons had settled. Continue reading ‘Eyes dry as dust’

Cousin confusion

Agnes Horan Bento

My grandmother Anne (Cassidy) Dwyer never met her father, Patrick Cassidy, who was killed in a Fall River (Massachusetts) mill seven months before her birth, but from the Cassidy side of the family, she knew a dozen or more Irish-born first cousins. Six sisters from one family alone came to Fall River to escape the grinding poverty of rural Ireland. Agnes Horan, a favorite cousin, arrived at age 20 in 1908. Agnes’s elder sister, Annie Driscoll,[1] paid for her passage. Agnes, in turn, brought over the next sister. In 1919, after working ten years as a domestic servant, Agnes married Joseph Bento, son of Azorean immigrants. Agnes died in 1930, leaving her husband and four small children. For the rest of her life, Nana Dwyer nonetheless maintained contact with Agnes’s children. Long after my grandmother’s death, I renewed acquaintance with the Bento family, sharing genealogical information and photographs. Continue reading Cousin confusion

Coming home

Standing in front of the town flag at town hall. With, from left to right, Cristina Colella (town assessor), Massimo Colangelo (mayor), and Giovanni Presutti (vice mayor).

As I mentioned in my last Vita Brevis post, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Europe this past March. Like any good vacation, my travels were filled with historical and genealogical research. After a wonderful stay in Rome and having thoroughly (re)explored its ancient history, I made my way to the Tiburtina Terminal in the northeastern part of the Eternal City to board a bus and pursue what historians and genealogists alone would consider recent history: nineteenth-century records.

As any Italian genealogist knows, many records that have been digitized are available on FamilySearch.org and the Italian Antentati (i.e. “ancestors”) site. The digitization process is far from complete, however. Continue reading Coming home