One of my personal “Great Moments in Family History Research” occurred several years ago in the town hall of Pomfret, Connecticut. I was immersed in a volume of early Pomfret land records at a small table set aside for researchers, when I happened to ask a former town clerk in passing whether any of the town’s early tax lists had survived. Without a word, she disappeared into the town hall’s records vault and emerged carrying a large cardboard box filled with original copies of eighteenth-century local tax lists.
I hadn’t really worked with tax lists before, but I knew that they were supposed to be a useful source of information for family history research. From an early date, American towns large and small annually assessed the value of their residents’ property holdings for tax purposes. Continue reading In praise of tax lists→
In family history research, we often glean valuable information from genealogies published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the period when genealogical publishing was enjoying its first real heyday in the United States. For my family, a standard resource is the 1913 genealogy John Grow of Ipswich/John (Groo) Grow of Oxford by George W. Davis, a retired U.S. Army general whose mother was a Grow. Like many other pioneering genealogists of his day, Davis was a relentless researcher and a meticulous compiler of data – and for years I looked upon his work with a respect bordering on awe. Only recently did I discover that he deliberately sanitized the historical record to present Grow family members in the most favorable light possible. Continue reading Sins of the fathers→
It was the stuff that dreams are made of. Novice genealogists, my wife and I had traveled from our home in Ohio to rural Windham County, Connecticut, on our first foray into family history field research, in hopes of finding a trace or two of my eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Grow ancestors, four generations of whom had owned a large hilltop farm somewhere in the Pomfret-Hampton border area.
With the aid of a map from an old genealogy, we soon located what appeared to be the original family farm – now a large commercial dairying operation – at the peak of a high elevation along a quiet, two-lane state road. Continue reading Lessons in oral history→
Sometimes, our ancestors were not the most creative people. This is particularly true when it came to naming new settlements. Throughout the history of the United States, many towns have been named after one of the following: a founder or influential early settler, a figure from American history (i.e., Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, etc.), or a famous foreign leader (Guilford, Vermont, and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire). There are other methods for community-naming, including one which can be extremely helpful to genealogical researchers: reusing the name of a town in another state where many early settlers originated. Continue reading Naming patterns→
Sometimes we need to follow, quite literally, the paper trail when we want to learn more about a particular family group. Even in this digital age, not everything can be accessed from a computer. Perhaps the key to the story can be found in manuscripts kept safe in historical societies, archives, and libraries. This new series of blog posts—Following the Paper Trail—will provide guides for visiting each state historical society (or equivalent), region by region, across the eastern United States. Continue reading Following the Paper Trail: Southern New England→