Category Archives: Technology

Making plans

Plan of Boston surveyed by Osgood Carleton, dated 1795. Courtesy of digitalcommonwealth.org

Whenever I find myself doing Massachusetts research that predates 1800, I return to a collection of early town plans, 1794-1795, that are as much a documentary source as they are an aesthetic pleasure. Housed at the Massachusetts State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State, the original collection consists of sixteen volumes which were digitized in June 2017.[1]

In the post-Revolution years, it fell to the individual states to produce accurate maps to facilitate governmental administration, develop transportation networks, and encourage settlement. Continue reading Making plans

Return to Cloonduane

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Click on image to expand it.

My discovery of a letter, almost five decades ago, marked the starting point for exploring the Irish roots of my father’s maternal grandmother, Annie Flynn Cassidy (1856–1919). Annie and her sister Ellen Flynn emigrated to Fall River, Massachusetts, around 1881.[1] On 16 December 1885, their father John Flynn wrote this letter from Cloonduane acknowledging money the sisters sent home and the news of Annie’s recent marriage to Patrick Cassidy. Presumably Cloonduane was near Castlebar, County Mayo, the town cited as Annie and Ellen’s birthplace in their obituaries from Fall River newspapers. Continue reading Return to Cloonduane

Belmont High School, 1942

I recently discovered an online app. that allows me to scan my photographs. As I like to be able to refer to a record of my collection (still somewhat maddening if I forget the subject’s name), this has been a revelation. One of the vernacular photos I bought some time ago shows a cheerful group of four young men standing in front of a large building, perhaps a school. On the reverse, the four have signed their names. So who are they?

The clearest signature belongs to Henry Angiola, and a check of Ancestry.com’s databases yields Henry Angiola, a student at Belmont High School in Los Angeles. The cryptic S ’42 next to Sinn Lew’s signature is seen on Henry’s yearbook page, and all four may be found in the Campanile, Belmont High’s class of 1942 yearbook. Continue reading Belmont High School, 1942

Pop quiz

Research Problem 1

Courtesy Groton.org

After tracing your family line as far back as possible, you have run into the inevitable brick wall. You should: (a) persevere in your research and hope for an eventual breakthrough; (b) claim that you are a direct lineal descendant of Alexander the Great or King Arthur, acknowledging that your evidence is open to differing interpretations; or (c) give up and accept your failure as a genealogist.

ANSWER: (a), unless you’re like 27 percent of the amateur genealogists posting family trees on the internet, in which case the correct answer is (b). Continue reading Pop quiz

‘From whence emigrated’

A page from the Davis article.

Census records are obviously an essential resource for genealogical research. Until recently, my understanding was that the first U.S. census to provide a place of origin was the 1850 census. Beginning in 1850, the census began to include the names of all family members, ages, and place of birth, among other information. This contrasted with earlier census records that only provided the name of head of household and a broad age range for each family member.  However, while doing some recent case work on a Snow line in Hancock County, Maine around 1800, I came across an article by Walter Goodwin Davis published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1951. In this article, entitled “Part of Hancock County, Maine in 1800,” Davis called attention to the 1800 census for Hancock and Kennebec Counties (at that time part of Massachusetts) which actually had a column labeled, “from whence emigrated.”[1] Continue reading ‘From whence emigrated’

The better part of valor

Courtesy of forgottenoperasingers.blogspot.com.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s family, but at something of a distance. Looking back on it, I trace my parents’ incuriosity about these relatives – generally described as “Oh, he’s a cousin … somehow” – to my grandfather’s self-protective stance when he married into the sprawling Ayer family: he focused on his own friends (and a handful of his relatives) while maintaining a cool remove from his in-laws. (The one exception was his wife’s uncle, General George S. Patton Jr., a near neighbor and a man it was hard to ignore.)

So it was something of a surprise one summer’s day, out sailing with my father and a friend, for my father to point out a house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as belonging to “our kooky cousin the Countess.” Even as a child, a keen reader of histories and romances, the word Countess – applied to a resident of Essex County, Massachusetts – piqued my interest; and I was still of an age where adult foibles (particularly those noticed by other grown-ups) were fascinating glimpses into adult life. Continue reading The better part of valor

Lucky Essex County

I have always suspected that people with ancestors in Essex County, Massachusetts, do not know how lucky they are. I used to enviously wander among the stacks of published Essex County records at the NEHGS library – probates, court, town, church, deeds. Wow, Essex County has it all.

At the core of this treasure trove was the Essex Institute in Salem, which between 1859 and 1993 published 130 volumes of the Essex Institute Historical Collections [EIHC] – but the material in each volume varies widely from issue to issue resulting in information from the same record sets being spread among many years of issues. Continue reading Lucky Essex County

Translating from home

After working directly with physical collections in the library for more than twenty years, when we began telecommuting due to COVID-19 I could not even imagine how to do it from home or what work would be best to do. My position is with the Library Collection Services team, and some of my at-home work is indeed related to library collections, but my knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian has allowed me to be helpful to other areas of NEHGS as well. Occasionally over the years I have translated some records for genealogists, but now I do translation daily and work on several documents at once, such as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society documents for the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC), guides and brochures for the Education team and JHC, and descriptions of the art objects on display in our building – and more documents are on the way.   Continue reading Translating from home

Using the library from home

Do you want to use the resources of the American Ancestors and NEHGS Library from home? The Library’s Collection Services team is working hard to bring our collections to you. How are we doing this? We are adding links daily in our library catalog to digital copies of materials, we are enhancing records with more information and subject headings to make searching for your family more effective, and we are preparing digital versions of unique library holdings to add to our Digital Library. There are now close to 15,000 links to digital versions of items that you can access. These links exist thanks to the efforts of the staff and our dedicated volunteers who assist us with this task and help you use the library from home. Continue reading Using the library from home

Lemuel Shattuck, visionary

Figure 1

Lemuel Shattuck founded the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845 with four of his Boston friends: Charles Ewer, Samuel Gardner Drake, John Wingate Thornton, and William Henry Montague.[1] The new society was incorporated for the “purpose of collecting and preserving the Genealogy and History of early New England families.”[2] In addition, the society solicited donations of books, family registers, Bible records, and newspapers and manuscripts related to the goals of the organization to be preserved at its headquarters in Boston. The Society received approval for incorporation on 18 March 1845 from the General Court of Massachusetts.[3] Continue reading Lemuel Shattuck, visionary