Tag Archives: Critical Analysis

Between the rails

The decennial United States Federal Census often forms the backbone of historical research into an unfamiliar family member. By its nature, the census will never be fully comprehensive or exact, but it can serve as a bit of a guard rail, keeping us from going off on an unlikely tangent in our research.  Sometimes, though, those 10-year gaps between enumerations can conceal a whole lifetime of information – or in the case of my father’s family, many lifetimes. Continue reading Between the rails

A Middlesex muddle

In the last post I talked about Massachusetts court records in general. Now let’s look closer at some examples from Middlesex County.

For the earliest records, the easiest entry point is the abstracts made by Thomas Wyman in the mid-nineteenth-century that are available as a database on AmericanAncestors, under the Category “Court, Land and Probate Records,” and database “Middlesex County, MA: Abstracts of Court Records, 1643-1674.” Wyman abstracted all the names that appear in the records and basic information about the cases, but otherwise no details. An example (members may need to log in) can be found here. Continue reading A Middlesex muddle

ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 April 2017.]

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth-century New Englanders. Continue reading ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

ICYMI: Sex in Middlesex

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 March 2017.]

As one would imagine from the title, Roger Thompson’s most popular work (see my last post) is Sex in Middlesex, Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699.[1] First, a few words on the differences between academic historians and genealogists. Academic historians are concerned with the “why” of history. They gather large samples of statistical information but usually skim over individual people. Genealogists work from the individual, but usually we leave the bigger picture to the historians while we move on to another ancestor. Continue reading ICYMI: Sex in Middlesex

A rehabilitated marriage

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly.

Westerly town directories revealed Eva Clancy lived at 155 Granite Street, and after her death in 1980, Eva’s daughter Mary Clancy remained at the same address. Happy to meet a new, previously unknown relative, Mary and her cousin Alma Rhodes provided me with a wealth of information. Continue reading A rehabilitated marriage

Remembering Denise Nickerson

Some of the WILLY WONKA cast; Denise Nickerson is on Gene Wilder’s right. Courtesy of David Allen Lambert

As a child, I read every book by Roald Dahl; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite movies. I can still say most of the dialogue by heart and occasionally listen to the film’s soundtrack. I was saddened to hear last week of the death of child actress Denise Nickerson, who portrayed Violet Beauregarde. As I often do when someone in the news passes away, I decided to see if I could find anything of interest on her family history, recognizing her surname often has connections to colonial Cape Cod. Continue reading Remembering Denise Nickerson

Proof summaries

Click on image to expand it.

As part of the NEHGS Research Services team, I spend a lot of my time documenting lineage society applications. We often receive requests to document lines that require some additional attention. For instance, there can be some generations that simply cannot be connected through birth, marriage, and death records. Perhaps there are no vital records for the time period and location, or you may have vital records that do not include critical information such as parents’ names. When these genealogical obstacles occur, a proof summary may be needed to demonstrate the connections between the generations.

A proof summary, also called a proof argument, is simply an essay which summarizes all sources you have gathered to link the generations. It is compiled in a way to be persuasive enough to connect generations, despite the lack of vital records or direct evidence for the generational connection. These proof summaries are a surprisingly common addition to lineage society applications. Continue reading Proof summaries

Time travelers

The Place de la Concorde leading into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

With good weather and summer’s long-awaited arrival, many of us will be traveling near and far to new and exciting places. Traveling today is still frustrating, even with fast transportation and constant access to technology, so I was very curious to find out what obstacles our ancestors faced centuries ago.

Many diaries have been digitized and added to the NEHGS Digital Collections on the American Ancestors website. In this new grouping I found two travel diaries that sparked my interest on what the similarities and differences of the diarists’ travels in the nineteenth century and my own in the twenty-first century might be. Continue reading Time travelers

The occasional cognac

S. & W. Howard account book 3, showing the Asa Williams account. Courtesy of Linda Novak, Director/Curator, Old Fort Western

There are those theorists who say that time is a river with many bends, and that if we could look back around one of those bends, we’d see the past. I think of that whenever I cross the Kennebec River here in Augusta on my way to Old Fort Western. If I could see around the river’s bend, would I see my ancestor, the Pilgrim John Howland, arriving to establish the Cushnoc Trading Post for the Plymouth Colony in 1628? I might find my house-builder cousin, Asa Williams, on his way to the Fort in 1777, or his brother Seth trading at the S. & W. Howard store in 1790. Maybe my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read would be galloping by to call the midwife Martha Ballard to help deliver his first child,[1] or perhaps I’d see that same midwife on her way to view an autopsy in Eunice (Fisher) Williams’s kitchen.[2] Continue reading The occasional cognac

Happy error

In genealogy, mistakes are rarely fortuitous. They often send us down time-consuming rabbit holes and frustrate us to no end. But, sometimes, they work in our favor.

Recently, I had been working to extend my Garvin line in Mallow parish in County Cork. I had been able to confirm my great-great-great-grandparents, Francis Garvin and Ellen Coleman, but I had been unable to locate a marriage record for the couple. Though there were several Garvin family groups in Mallow parish and the surrounding area, I could not place Francis Garvin with a family. Continue reading Happy error