Clandestine marriages

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Recently I was researching marriage records in Vermont and was reminded of the existence of Gretna Green towns in Colonial New England in the mid-eighteenthcentury. It turned out some English customs were just too convenient to leave behind, and British colonial towns like Chester, Vermont continued to mirror the infamous Gretna Green found just over the southern border of Scotland. We have likely encountered more references to the notorious town and hasty marriages in historical romance novels than we have in our own genealogical research. Still, it made me wonder about the origins of the scandalous towns and the non-traditional marriage custom the new inhabitants continued to practice after arriving in the New England colonies. Continue reading Clandestine marriages

Ghosted

It sat there like the apparition of a chad from some long-ago election. I stared at the blank lines somehow expecting immediate changes to the record of his life, changes I’d reckoned should be there. There were none. What the heck? Couldn’t they see that all the information they had about Frank was wrong?[1]

I had reached out to them the moment I first saw mention of Cousin Frank: Hey, Frank didn’t die in ‘29. He’d lived, disappearing into a simple and solitary life. Further, he’d somehow put into motion posthumous wishes to be buried under the name of Tom nearly fifty years later. Yep, old Frank; he’d simply ghosted them all. Then at this, at my notion to reach out and tell the family about Frank, his descendants simply did the same thing. They ghosted me.[2] Continue reading Ghosted

Presidents in the 1950 census

Okay, so despite my earlier claims, I did end up looking at the 1950 census on day one. Of my twelve living ancestors, I found seven immediately upon searching, and another two after browsing their specific town of residence; I was unsuccessful in locating the remaining three (one couple, one widow) after browsing their towns, both of which had several addresses listed “not at home.” All in all, I spent about twenty minutes looking for ancestors. Overall, I am impressed with the advances of OCR technology giving genealogists a much better start this time around than ten years earlier. Continue reading Presidents in the 1950 census

OCRing the 1950 census

The greatest achievement of the release of the 1950 Census is not the records themselves, but the technology used to index the records. On April 1, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration released the census on a dedicated website using a unique optical character recognition (OCR) software designed to translate the handwritten names into text that can be searched online. This made 6.4 million digitized pages of the 1950 Census immediately available. Think about that – immediately available…?! It seemed too good to be true. Continue reading OCRing the 1950 census

Grafted in

Folger Johnson, Jr. and Sr. Courtesy of Brian W. Johnson

I suspect that many cities have a Facebook page called “You know you grew up in _____, when …” I am one of nearly thirty thousand who belong to the one for Portland, Oregon, and not long ago, someone posted an article there about how recent remodeling has made the back of Benson High School visible for the first time in almost seventy-five years. That was an interesting factoid just because it’s a beautiful old building, but especially so since my brother and stepfather graduated from the school. Near the end of the article, it mentioned the officially-designated architect for the school, but then also noted that contemporary newspapers credited a young architect named Folger Johnson as a chief designer for the project. Continue reading Grafted in

Old Style

Forty years ago, my grandfather’s first cousin “Burgess” Morse took pride in pointing out the gravestones of our ancestors, Simeon Morse and his wife Sylvia Fish, and the nearby grave of Levi Fish (1754–1837). Findagrave.com photo #118544184, at left, is much clearer than the one of Levi’s stone I took at that time (and shown below). When I asked Burgess if he thought Levi Fish was Sylvia’s father, he quipped, “Who else would he be?”

Old Style, the designation applied to dates before the calendar change in 1752, may also represent the way we conducted research before the advent of the internet, digitization of records, and DNA evidence. In the absence of definitive evidence, building circumstantial cases for identifying an ancestor evolved slowly. Take, for example, this story of a once-assumed but-now-proven great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Levi Fish. Continue reading Old Style

The 1950 census: just the beginning

My colleague Chris Child wrote a controversial post last month about the merits of the 1950 Census. The title of the post was triggering, but I must admit that I agree with his overall argument. According to Chris, “…the census has spoiled us. Because it is often so quick to search, we might overlook other valuable resources because of how long looking through those records might take us. This is not meant to diminish the importance of the census, only to partially explain why it is used more than other records.” Continue reading The 1950 census: just the beginning

Genealogical tangents

A genealogist’s mind can wander infinitely. The inspiration for this post was recent news stories regarding text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; an odd place to start for sure. Where did I go from there?

Twenty-four years ago, NEHGS published Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts, 1742-1998 by Franklin A. Dorman. I have written about families treated here before, including the family of civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter. Continue reading Genealogical tangents

Land records in Bohemia

Two years ago, I wrote about my success using Bohemian church books to further my research into my grandfather’s Czech ancestry. Church records are key for Czech/Bohemian research, as is true for genealogical research in many European countries. However, they are not the only source of genealogical material available to us. Recently, FamilySearch.org has been adding collections of land records for many locations in the Czech Republic. As of this writing, many of these collections are still marked as “preliminary,” to “allow immediate online access.” Recent uploads appear to be from the State Regional Archive in Litoměřice. Continue reading Land records in Bohemia

Searching the 1950 census

The Truman family fills out the 1950 census.

The 1950 Census was released right on time, exactly 72 years after 142,000 enumerators set out to record the booming post-war population of the United States. Today, in 2022, we will be able to search for the names of our family members among more than 150 million other Americans.

At midnight on April 1, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) made available the 6.4 million digitized pages of the 1950 Census. Continue reading Searching the 1950 census