Tag Archives: Research tips

Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)

2011 photograph of St. Jean Baptiste Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.

In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.

Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.

As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley (1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood. Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)

Lodgers or Relatives? (Part I)

Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere Beach, MA; from a c. 1910 postcard.

We frequently encounter “lodgers” or “boarders” living with our ancestral relations in 20-century U.S. census records. If you’re like me, you probably don’t pay much attention to them. However, as I recently discovered twice while researching the lives and descendants of Irish immigrant Bostonians Edward J. Costello (1866-1926 [?]) and Mary Josephine Maloney (c. 1872-1943), these oft-disregarded “lodgers” or “boarders” can turn out to be your relatives after all. Both cases led to interesting discoveries, but recounting them together would far exceed the average length for posts on this site—so I offer them in two parts.

Our first case of a misidentified relative, 11-year old “lodger” George Stepper, was encountered in the January 1920 census enumeration of the household of Joshua and Mary Harron at 149 Bellingham Ave, in the coastal Beachmont neighborhood of Revere, Massachusetts.

Scan of 1920 census record showing George Stepper

Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part I)

“He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny…”

Image from A Christmas Story. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1983.

There are no right answers here, but my choice for the greatest Christmas movie of all-time is A Christmas Story. You can’t convince me otherwise. I love it so much that I bought a leg lamp for our front window. Every year, even before we’ve purchased a tree, the leg lamp makes its appearance—and we have copious amounts of glue, should anything happen.

Beyond nostalgia and tradition, the subtle one-liners are the movie’s greatest strength. Some of my favorites, in no particular order:1

  • “In our world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims.”
  • “Adults loved to say things like that, but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.”
  • “In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity, that as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”
  • “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics; my father was an Oldsmobile man.”
  • “Randy lay there like a slug. It was his only defense.”
  • “He looks like a deranged Easter bunny.”

I can’t remember the first time I saw A Christmas Story, but after the fourth or fifth time watching it, the word “deranged” became part of my vocabulary. I didn’t look up the definition, but from context clues I knew it meant “wacky,” “silly,” “insane,” or something to that effect. So, when I started work on a project for the Society of the Cincinnati—the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army who served together in the American Revolution—I was surprised to see the word “deranged” used as a description of one’s military service. Continue reading “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny…”

Locating Family Bible Records

Page from an original family bible, with vital records for the family of John Dunlap (1775-1848) and his wife, Betsey Lester (1778-1850).

Discovering the existence of a family bible can be one of the most thrilling revelations in family history research. Original Bibles possess what archivists refer to as artifactual value: intrinsic worth as objects apart from their content. We often revel in family heirlooms because their very survival is a matter of chance. At least one representative from each succeeding generation must cherish the item, or serendipitously leave it forgotten in a secure location for it to be recovered decades later.

For genealogists, family Bibles can also convey unique information. Heirloom Bibles often contain records of birth, marriage, and death dates—usually scrawled on the Bible’s inside flyleaf—and can serve as proof of parentage in the absence of a vital or church record. Continue reading Locating Family Bible Records

Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

A broken column forms a monument to Adeline Wilhelmina Howell, indicating her early death at the age of 18.

Gravestones have long served as the cornerstone of genealogical research. While the words they bear can be crucial sources of information about our ancestors, don’t forget to look at the symbols, too. Gravestone symbolism can point to information about your ancestors’ religious beliefs, group affiliations, life experiences, and more. Below are just a few noteworthy examples of common gravestone symbols and what they can reveal. Continue reading Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

Think Outside the Search Box

Houston County Courthouse, Georgia

Online genealogical websites like AmericanAncestors.org, Ancestry.com, and FamiliySearch.org can be extremely helpful when researching your family tree. But what do you do when your search comes up empty, and you don’t have unlimited resources to travel in-person to your ancestor town? Sending emails, calling, and filling out inquiry forms for town libraries, historical societies, and local clerks’ offices may be the needed extra step in finding your ancestors.

This past month, we released research on Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ancestry, about 50% of which was conducted with “on the ground” help in Georgia. After fully exhausting records online, we had to turn our attention to collections that may only be available at the town and county levels. Continue reading Think Outside the Search Box

ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series

[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]

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 ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series

Things that scream DNA!

An occasional series in The American Genealogist (TAG) is called “Enigmas,” which often concern clues or possible kinships that are not entirely proven, with varying levels of uncertainty. A recent comment on my post about Christopher Christophers recalled me to one such enigma – Hannah, wife of Daniel2 Geer (ca. 1673-1749) of Preston, Connecticut. Continue reading Things that scream DNA!

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

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