Category Archives: Research Methods

Finding your ancestor’s occupation

Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

Why should you pay attention to your ancestor’s occupation? Are you merely filling in the details of a life or looking for an essential clue to break down a brick wall? Each of our ancestors is unique – however, figuring out what makes them unique can be challenging. Finding your ancestor’s occupation may help distinguish your Ebenezer Smith from other Ebenezer Smiths, particularly if your ancestor’s occupation was something other than farmer or laborer. Continue reading Finding your ancestor’s occupation

Prince Edward Island reflections

St. Michael’s Church baptism record for Joseph Dougherty.

One of my favorite research topics while investigating my family tree is learning more about my Prince Edward Island (PEI) ancestors. This Canadian province captured the hearts of my ancestors, particularly my grandfather Michael Doherty. My dad would often tell us stories of heading in the car with his parents and siblings from Long Island in New York up the coast to PEI to visit cousins. Continue reading Prince Edward Island reflections

Curiouser and curiouser

The interior side of the Hancock Mansion’s front door, preserved in the Massachusetts Old Statehouse. This is the side that Cato Hancock would have known well.

I truly went down a rabbit hole recently, and all the credit goes to NEHGS’s Chief Genealogist, David Allen Lambert. He recently reported in Vita Brevis that his second academic sabbatical was spent transcribing the 1800 “Taking Books” (tax records) for Suffolk County, Massachusetts. I commented then that I looked forward to checking out this new database, and recently I got around to doing so.

I’d already discovered my ancestor, George Athearn, in Boston city directories for 1798, 1800, 1803, 1805, 1806, and 1807, but it was still fun to check out his entry in the Taking Books. I noted wryly that his surname and that of his business partner, Stephen Fales, were both misspelled; additional notes were “Merch[an]t: ½ Store on Spears W[harf], partners w[ith] Fails, Large Ho[use]” with real estate valued at $3,000. Continue reading Curiouser and curiouser

Genealogical gold

Click on images to expand them.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, James Luke, emigrated from Birmingham, England in 1816 at the age of 20. I’ve been lucky enough to find a couple of documents that identify his parents as William and Margaret Luke, but I’ve been trying to discover his mother’s maiden name for years.

James was a prominent citizen in both Cambridge and Wilbraham, Massachusetts, so I have been able to find information about him in a number of publications, and learned that he was one of the founding members of the Harvard Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge. Further research revealed that the records of that church are now kept at the library of the Boston University School of Theology. Continue reading Genealogical gold

Preventative measures

Nancy de Freitas, aged 8.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a woman curious to know why her grandmother was in my online family tree. This is hardly a unique occurrence, since I enjoy tracking down fairly distant family connections. In this case, however, our connection was very close (at least by my standards): her mother was the great-aunt of my first cousin’s husband. I even personally saw my correspondent’s first cousin at my cousin’s wedding!

My husband, father, and I were able to represent the Mainland contingent of our family at her wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a fascinating experience, complete with island customs such as leis,[1] a whole pig roasted in an imu,[2] poi,[3] and miniature kahilis[4] as party favors. Continue reading Preventative measures

Cento emigration site launches

Back in August 2018, I wrote a post about the strong connection between the Italians of the town of Cento, Italy and the Plymouth Cordage Company in From Cento to America. At that time, I mentioned a web site created by the Archivio di Storico di Cento (the historical archives of Cento) that would be launching in the near future to share stories of those who left Cento for other countries around the world. That day has arrived. Continue reading Cento emigration site launches

Collective memory

“As the flood itself has receded in Boston’s collective memory, so, too, have the players in this tragedy” – Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide

The Boston Globe, 15 January 1919

As genealogists, we build relationships with the dead. We see them in our minds as we peel back the layers of their lives. We absorb details about the environments where they lived and worked, and whether or not they had any time to play. Sometimes researching is like looking for a needle in a haystack; other times it’s like picking wildflowers in a field. When we have enough evidence, we write the stories of people we never knew. Continue reading Collective memory

A family thicket

When people ask me which DNA test I recommend, I turn around and ask them some questions. If what they are after is taking is an “autosomal DNA test,” I may tell them different reasons to take a test with Ancestry or 23andme (and then usually recommend they also upload their Raw DNA onto GEDMatch, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage to connect with more matches). While I have had many examples of successful connections with the first four sites, I had not any significant breakthroughs with MyHeritage until very recently. Continue reading A family thicket

It’s all in the details

My namesake Alessandro Ferzoco.

In May of 2017 I had the privilege of visiting Italy with my siblings and parents. It was the first time we had all visited Italy together, and we had a full itinerary. Yet as delightful as Rome and Amalfi are, particularly for anyone who loves history, I was most thrilled (unsurprisingly) by our road trips to the countryside, where we visited our ancestral towns.

I could write ad nauseam about the experience – about the unparalleled hospitality of distant cousins and family friends; the bottomless jugs of homemade wine and never-ending courses of local dishes; the ancient, gnarled olive trees and cobblestone streets that glow and delight the eye in the evening sunset. And for the genealogist, there is a distinct benefit to walking in the footsteps of your ancestors – nearly every road will lead to the town hall, where decades, sometime centuries, of vital records sit at your fingertips. Exploring the details of these original records, rather than extracts, certified copies, or indexes, is the subject of this post. Continue reading It’s all in the details

ICYMI: Grants for New England historians

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 October 2014. NERFC continues to add members and to increase the number of fellowships granted, so I urge doctoral candidates and freelance scholars to consider applying for one in the 2019–2020 cycle. Completed applications are due at midnight on Friday, 1 February 2019.]

Courtesy of R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS.

I will be out of the office today, attending a planning meeting for the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) at the John Hay Library in Providence. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is a member of the consortium, a group made up of New England state and local historical societies, university and college libraries (Harvard, Smith, Trinity, and Brown), and museums (Historic Deerfield and Mystic Seaport). What links the membership together, for the purpose of providing $5,000 research fellowships, is a shared interest in making their large collections available for use by historical researchers. Continue reading ICYMI: Grants for New England historians