Tag Archives: Research tips

2018: the year in review

As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.

Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review

The family archivist

The Cann family archives, before organizing.

I am not sure why my family decided to elect me – maybe because I majored in History? – but I am the “family archivist.” What does that entail exactly? I have the responsibility to decide what is kept and what is thrown away in the box of family photographs, letters, and journals. I organize this material in a way that makes the most sense to me, so future generations of the Cann family can look at them and understand their history. Continue reading The family archivist

Loops and curves

Here on the web team, Rachel Adams (Database Services Volunteer Coordinator at NEHGS) is always working to recruit new volunteers for our major projects.  As she tries to think creatively about where to find new volunteers, she often hears apocalyptic pronouncements about how young people don’t know how to read cursive any more. Recently, we had the opportunity to teach students about our Catholic records project, giving them the opportunity to dive into deciphering the loops and curves of old-fashioned handwriting for themselves. Continue reading Loops and curves

A well-kept secret

This week I received my Fall issue of The Genealogist [TG], published by the American Society of Genealogists (ASG). It struck me that this might be one of genealogy’s best kept secrets.

TG has been published twice a year over 32 years. It was founded in 1980 by Neil D. Thompson, FASG,[1] and Neil edited the first ten volumes through 1989. In 1997, the magazine was revived by ASG under the editorship of Charles M. Hansen, FASG, and Gale Ion Harris, FASG, who have produced volumes 11 (1997) through 32 (2018).  A full list of articles published in volumes 1–31, and sample articles, are posted on the society’s website: Continue reading A well-kept secret

Abel, Jabel, or Isabel?

Click on images to expand them.

A recent example of using transcribed records reminded me that many genealogists who wrote turn of the century family histories were using the same original records that were later transcribed – and thus the records that are often used today. Sometimes the genealogist read the records better than the transcriber.

Rehoboth Vital Records, as transcribed by James Newell Arnold in his 1897 publication, list the following children of Amos and Sarah Carpenter, taken from Original volume 3, page 192, shown above left. Continue reading Abel, Jabel, or Isabel?

Playing games

Icon courtesy of the BYU Family History Technology Lab.

I had never been to New England before my summer internship; truth be told, I had barely touched foot in the eastern half of the country. So when I packed my bags and flew to Boston, I was ecstatic about the chance to live in a place with such rich history. As I walked the Freedom Trail, entered scores of museums, traveled to various cities on the East Coast, and got a feel for the history that is here, I felt at home.

When friends and family asked how I was doing, I told them how beautiful this place is and that I never wanted to leave. New England is the perfect place for a genealogist and historian to live. It has been beyond exciting to explore the personal and collective history that exists there. Continue reading Playing games

Germans in the Queen City

Founded in December 1788, Cincinnati has long been a city with a rich cultural heritage, forged largely from the influences of its significant immigrant populations. Situated at the junction of the Ohio and Licking Rivers, Cincinnati was viewed as a natural destination for immigrants who sought work in the city’s booming industries.

Initially, Cincinnati was settled largely by English and Scottish settlers who came westward from the east coast and north from Kentucky.[1] Continue reading Germans in the Queen City

Snail mail

As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the focus of my research has been on my maternal ancestry from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. While researching my Italian heritage, I have come across various places listed as my ancestors’ places of birth, from tiny frazioni (the equivalent of a parish) to various larger comuni (towns). To make researching my Italian ancestry harder is the fact that I am from the northern part of Italy, about 40 miles outside of Milan. Continue reading Snail mail

Service records for Civil War combatants

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When researching ancestors who fought in the Civil War, don’t forget to examine their Combined Military Service Records for important genealogical data. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Combined Military Service Records were created by the War Department to expedite the administration of the claims and pensions of veterans. Information was collected from muster lists, enlistment records, payrolls, and other miscellaneous sources, and then organized into envelopes by soldier. These records are housed at the National Archives, and many are also available on Fold3 for both Confederate and Union troops.

These Combined Military Service Records note the date of enlistment, presence or absence at muster, injuries sustained, promotions, and discharge. Most importantly, they may also give the specific birthplace of the soldier. For those of us whose Civil War ancestors were immigrants, or whose ancestors were born in locales with poor vital records, these records are especially important. Beyond their military service, these records can also provide unique information, including a physical description of the soldier. Continue reading Service records for Civil War combatants

Lost to history

Willard Asylum

I recently read a book by Ellen Marie Wiseman entitled What She Left Behind. Among other themes in the book, it depicted the treatment of a woman who was committed to an asylum in early 1920 by her father. The main character was committed because she reacted strongly to a marriage arranged by her parents; she displayed outbursts of emotion. The author of What She Left Behind describes the conditions in an asylum based on the Willard Asylum in Ovid, New York, during the early twentieth century. Often, when I’m reading fiction, I think about my family tree and those living during the years in which the novel takes place. Were there individuals in my own family tree who “went mad” or were sent to live in an asylum? Were these episodes recognized as depression or mental illness; or was a person abandoned, without family to care for them and, thus, committed? Continue reading Lost to history