Category Archives: Research Methods

A serendipitous conversation

William Shangraw’s four-sided monument at Evergreen Cemetery in Pittsford, Vermont.

A few weeks ago, after presenting a talk (“Adventures in DNA”) at the Shrewsbury (Vermont) Community Meeting House for the Ann Story Chapter of the Vermont DAR, I stopped in the kitchen and asked longtime acquaintance and former regent Julanne Sharrow for a drink of water.

She asked, “Do you think DNA results can really knock down brick walls?”

I said yes and added, “Who are you looking for?”

“William Shangraw of Pittsford.”

The brick wall tumbled instantly because I knew this family through my research on French-Canadian immigration to Pittsford.[1]. Continue reading A serendipitous conversation

A letter to Paul

Paul Charles Doerr, 1931-1985

Dear Paul,

As far as letters go this won’t be much of one. After all, it’s a bit unusual to write letters to the dead; still, there seems much to say. I just wanted them to know who you were, Paul. I hope you can forgive me this along the way…   

Jeff

*

In the summer of 1968, my parents were well on their way to what would otherwise be an amicable divorce. Continue reading A letter to Paul

Things that scream DNA!

An occasional series in The American Genealogist (TAG) is called “Enigmas,” which often concern clues or possible kinships that are not entirely proven, with varying levels of uncertainty. A recent comment on my post about Christopher Christophers recalled me to one such enigma – Hannah, wife of Daniel2 Geer (ca. 1673-1749) of Preston, Connecticut. Continue reading Things that scream DNA!

Do over

It is coming up on ten years since I began writing the Early New England Families Study Project sketches. A lot of things are changing. As an example, I wrote the sketch for Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester in 2018, and at the time it was as complete as I could make it given the limitations on access to digital images of original records. Recently, reader Ben Moseley sent in some corrections and additions to the sketch he had found when comparing to his own work on the family. As I began cross-checking, I realized there was an important record collection I had not included in my research – the Suffolk County Probate copy books – because in 2018 I did not have access to the digital images online, or maybe I had just not learned how to access them yet. Today, I know how to see all Massachusetts probate images, including original documents and copybooks, through Ancestry.com, using their database “Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991.” Continue reading Do over

Irish places

As Irish researchers, we are obsessed with place. What counties were my ancestors from? Where were they baptized? What townlands did they live in? In our drive to identify these places, we often overlook the place itself. Today, there are two wonderful sources that can help us learn more about the places where our ancestors lived – The Placenames Database of Ireland (Logainm.ie) and Townlands.ie. Continue reading Irish places

Finding Charles Taylor

“The Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers Leaving Jersey City R.R. Depot, To Defend The Capitol, at Washington, D.C., April 18th, 1861,” published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1861.

When researching the American Civil War, battles and generals are often discussed in depth and the individual everyday stories and struggles of the common soldiers can be neglected in the larger story of the war. A story of particular interest to me is the story of Charles Taylor, a 25-year-old private from Massachusetts, who is often cited as the first soldier killed in the Civil War.

At approximately 4:30 in the morning of 12 April 1861, Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina. Although neither side sustained casualties during the battle, this event is widely regarded as the start of the American Civil War. Continue reading Finding Charles Taylor

The Jones boys

There were three contemporary Isaac Joneses – all with wives named Mary, all living in Dorchester and Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century – whose records have been squashed together in earlier writings. The problem starts with the death record in Dorchester for Isaac Jones “late of Boston, mariner, his wid. [sic] Mary, deceased,” on “February the 18th 170[0/]1”[1]  – the wording is noticeably weird since a widow cannot pre-decease her husband. This record has been attributed to Isaac Jones who married Mary (Howard) Bass in Dorchester in 1659. That Mary died in October 1691. Continue reading The Jones boys

Morning reports

Fire at National Personnel Records Center, 1973. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Fold3.com, in partnership with the National Archives, recently launched a new collection, U.S. Morning Reports 1912-1946. This collection is a huge opportunity for genealogists studying their military ancestors during World War I and World War II. It is currently only about halfway digitized. The records appear to be complete through 1939. Continue reading Morning reports

A Greenleaf conundrum

Click on images to expand them.

Applying to a lineage society can be a complicated process, especially if you are applying under a new ancestor or an ancestor with known problems in their lineage. Receiving a rejection letter after submitting such a lineage can make the process feel frustrating if you know the line is right. Sometimes the society will see problems that the applicant does not, or they know that with just the right piece of evidence the line would be acceptable without a problem. A rejection, however, is not always an insurmountable loss. Sometimes, if you look at the sources in question and do some diligent research, you can convince the lineage society that they are mistaken and have your application accepted. Continue reading A Greenleaf conundrum

‘National Treasure’ time

One of the greatest, worst movies of all time is National Treasure. The plot is insane, the historical accuracy is mezza mezza, and it stars Nicolas Cage, so it’s not winning any Oscars. That said, it is one of my guilty pleasures – just the thought that some of the “treasure” at the end of the movie contained scrolls from the Library at Alexandria is the stuff of dreams. Continue reading ‘National Treasure’ time