When Mom’s father died, a trove of photographs was discovered in his basement. They had been put there, out of sight, many years before. They were mostly in the form of glass plate negatives – pictures taken by my grandfather when he was a young man, between 1905 and 1919. Many were of his first wife, her family, and areas where they lived. This, of course, was the reason to have put them away. Some of them were in the original boxes in which these dry glass plates were purchased. And there is some history even on those boxes. One is labeled “M.A. Seed Dry Plate Co.” and another is “Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y. successor to M.A. Seed Dry Plate Co.” Continue reading Lessons in genealogical research: Part Two
Interest in genealogy has increased dramatically since the introduction of DNA testing. With the United States long being considered a melting pot society, Americans have turned to DNA testing to discover what other ethnicities they can claim. DNA testing has also played an instrumental role in solving decades-old crimes, such as catching and prosecuting the Golden State Killer. However, what a lot of people probably don’t realize is that DNA can help solve genealogical mysteries, as well. Continue reading Narrowing the field
Until recently, unless you were lucky enough to know the names of your immigrant Irish ancestors’ parents and/or the place(s) where they were born or resided in the Emerald Isle, such information was often difficult if not impossible to find in American records. That imposing brick wall remained unassailable for many seeking to pursue their ancestral connections in Ireland … until now. During 2015-2016 digitized troves of the two most significant sources for Irish family history – Catholic church registers and civil vital records – were released online, freely accessible on any internet-enabled device. Like the notorious Berlin Wall, that longstanding, insurmountable impediment to discovering Irish ancestry crumbled almost overnight. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Three
When I began researching my paternal ancestors as a high school student, I had many questions about Barbara Shakshober, the oldest sister of my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Shakshober. Because the 1860 and 1870 censuses report her birthplace as New York, I concluded she must have been born in or near New York City, her parents’ port of arrival to the United States. Finding Barbara’s birthplace might lead to the discovery of her parents’ neighborhood, and perhaps other ancestors with their elusive, often corrupted surname. Continue reading Barbara’s story
Over the years I have fielded a number of questions about why researchers haven’t been able to locate their ancestors in the 1810 census for Salem, Massachusetts, when other records place these ancestors there for their entire lives.
Well, the simple answer was that in the census for 1810, as made available through the National Archives and Records Administration on microfilm (which is where all the digitized census records on sites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have come from), somehow the town of Salem was not included. Continue reading A census, rediscovered
While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.
The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading Lessons in genealogical research
Surnames of formerly enslaved people can add a lot of confusion when trying to piece together families. Many enslaved individuals were denied an official surname prior to emancipation, and the adoption of surnames following freedom did not follow any prescribed method. In some cases, the surname of the former slave owner was either adopted by choice or assigned to them in the first records in which they appear as free individuals. Continue reading Slave surnames
One of our newest tools, launched last year, is the Archdiocese of Boston: Parish Boundary Map. It was created by the Archive Department of the Archdiocese of Boston. This interactive map is a visual tool that can help you understand which Catholic churches existed in a particular neighborhood or town in the greater Boston area. It should be used in conjunction with our Historic Catholic Records Online project. Continue reading Parish boundary maps
Once rumored to have been Aunt Jennie, her image has gazed back at me for years. Certainly she was Jennie Sage – or so Nana had said before several strokes took hold of Nana’s memories and clutched them tight within her. Jennie gazed out from her oubliette of a broken pocket watch, watching us as if we were playing that age-old genealogical game of Can you guess who I am? Indeed, she’s ‘stayed’ Aunt Jennie for years now, though at the time how my grandmother knew this with any certainty was lost on me. Yes, lost, not unlike Nana’s evaporated memories, and with the question of how my grandmother had come to have the old pocket watch in the first place never resolved. Continue reading Timekeepers
Part 1 of this series discussed how civil registration records can be used to locate the townlands and families of Irish immigrant ancestors, and how to use both civil records and church registers to trace their families backward and forward. While relying on civil vital records may succeed, the method can be time-consuming, especially for individuals like Michael Spellman who were born before civil registration commenced in 1864. As I learned the hard way, using church records is more likely to produce results, perhaps immediately. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Two