Tag Archives: Research tips

Lessons in genealogical research: Part Two

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.”[1] Continue reading Lessons in genealogical research: Part Two

Lessons in genealogical research

My maternal grandmother

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

Parish boundary maps

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

Finding Irish relatives: Part Two

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

The Iconography of Manhattan

Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes by John Singer Sargent. Courtesy of Wikipedia

One of my favorite sources for Manhattan research is The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867-1944). This six volume set was published between 1915 and 1928 and chronicles the history of Manhattan from the fifteenth century to the early twentieth century. The publication not only records the vast history of Manhattan, it also provides beautiful illustrations and maps.

The volumes most relevant to my own family research are the first and second volumes, which highlight the Dutch period (1609-1664); both volumes have helped me to uncover new information about my family. Most importantly, from this source, I have learned where my Dutch ancestors held property or lived in lower Manhattan during the seventeenth century.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with historical landscapes. How has this property changed over the years? What did this street look like 200 years ago? Continue reading The Iconography of Manhattan

Finding Irish relatives: Part One

John Ryan arrives in New York. Click on images to expand them.

In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.

I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One

Burdens of proof

Click on images to expand them.

As a long-suffering amateur genealogist (cue violins!), I suspect there are others like me who find themselves burdened by the proof required in matters genealogical. For me, I admit that is not unique to genealogy – back in the day, I declined to complete work for a second degree, eschewing the rigor of thesis requirements!

Like all genealogists, I have my brick walls, some of them without even a hint of where to go from here. Others, however, have ample circumstances to suggest the likely leap, but are simply unyielding in hard facts to prove my speculation. Continue reading Burdens of proof

An introduction to nicknames

Rotundo, Barbara. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Concord, Mass.) gravestone: Nellie, February 1989. Barbara Rotundo Papers (PH 050). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

As a genealogist, I often get questions from patrons about differences in given names. For example, are Ellen Turner and Nellie Turner the same person? What was her “real” name? What about Ann Coe and Nancy Coe? (The answer, in both cases, is yes, they were the same person.)
Continue reading An introduction to nicknames

In praise of maiden aunts

Sally Leeds. Author’s collection

As most genealogists focus their in-depth research on direct ancestors, I have adopted the term “genealogical orphans” for persons with no living descendants to take an interest in researching them. While we usually document the births of all known children in a family, and sometimes their marriages and deaths, we less frequently go beyond the basics to learn about their lives. We have been encouraged to investigate family, associates, and neighbors (the “FAN club”), but often do so only in search of evidence to document a hard-to-prove family relationship. Yet I have found that these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors. Continue reading In praise of maiden aunts

Galician military records

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The point of this brief post is to inspire and frustrate. Mostly inspire.

I have been working on a few research cases lately where the clients’ ancestors were from the historical region of Galicia – part of the Austrian Empire until the end of World War I, but today divided between the modern states of Poland and Ukraine. Research in Galicia, like so many European genealogical research areas, relies heavily on surviving vital and church records to document families. Sources are often difficult to locate, as the region switched hands often in the last 250 years or so. Regional archives in Poland, Ukraine, or Austria might hold collections that include your specific town, city, or village of focus. Continue reading Galician military records