Tag Archives: Research tips

Understanding Leaf Hints

Franklin Pierce (1804–1869).

A leaf hint on Ancestry can often lead one to additional records of the person you are researching. Other times, it might lead to interesting “near” matches, while occasionally it may lead you down an entertaining, but wild goose chase of a false match. This is one such recent example. Continue reading Understanding Leaf Hints

Following the Paper Trail: Mid-Atlantic

Ann Cestor at the New York Historical Society.

Many researchers find the Mid-Atlantic region intimidating. However, with so many of our ancestors passing through at some point, it really is worth going through the effort to find resources. The Mid-Atlantic region has such fascinating history as peoples of different backgrounds, especially religious, made homes there. It can be highly enjoyable digging out their stories in the historical societies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Continuing our series, begun in southern and northern New England, we round out the Northeast. Below are some tips to make the Mid-Atlantic easier to navigate.

Continue reading Following the Paper Trail: Mid-Atlantic

Following the Paper Trail: Northern New England

Ann Cestor at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

We are heading into a beautiful season for visiting the three northern New England states. Should your research take you to New Hampshire, Vermont, or Maine, you may really enjoy stopping by their state historical societies. Continuing our series, begun with southern New England, we now explore the ins and outs of researching at three institutions further north. Continue reading Following the Paper Trail: Northern New England

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 light-bulb moment

A “family record” from the Sefrit collection.

This past week I began to explore the large collection of Bible records on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website, and I was expecting to find just ordinary records, not anything surprising. What I uncovered, however, is just how helpful these records and registers can be in understanding your family history. While the records typically convey very simple information to the reader, such as births, deaths, and marriages, they sometimes contain other information that can result in a “light-bulb” moment when you are piecing together your genealogy. NEHGS has digitized a series of Bible records and family registers, and continues to add new records regularly, creating a selection of nearly 300 so far in the Digital Collections. Continue reading A light-bulb moment

What’s in a name?

‘What’s in a name?’ asked Juliet of Romeo, concluding that the name of something does not define what it really is. A rose, after all, by any other name would smell as sweet, but for family genealogists, a rose by any other name can become an obstacle to progress and success. Naturally, we go in search of a name as we expect it to be, as we’ve always known it to be and, in doing so – in not considering all the possible variations or that any given spelling may not necessarily be the “correct” spelling – we may overlook vital clues and new pathways for our research. I suspect that most family genealogists who stay at their research beyond the “low hanging fruit” stage, who don’t give up too soon, eventually double back and realize their earlier oversights. Continue reading What’s in a name?

Coming home

Standing in front of the town flag at town hall. With, from left to right, Cristina Colella (town assessor), Massimo Colangelo (mayor), and Giovanni Presutti (vice mayor).

As I mentioned in my last Vita Brevis post, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Europe this past March. Like any good vacation, my travels were filled with historical and genealogical research. After a wonderful stay in Rome and having thoroughly (re)explored its ancient history, I made my way to the Tiburtina Terminal in the northeastern part of the Eternal City to board a bus and pursue what historians and genealogists alone would consider recent history: nineteenth-century records.

As any Italian genealogist knows, many records that have been digitized are available on FamilySearch.org and the Italian Antentati (i.e. “ancestors”) site. The digitization process is far from complete, however. Continue reading Coming home

Legwork

Something happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t wanted to say anything to you about it, as, well, it’s tough to admit one’s own genealogical shortcomings. And, yes, I haven’t wanted to appear more naff[1] than usual, but the truth is that I recently had to “do” genealogy the old-fashioned way, and I was a bit (no, really, quite) unsure whether or not I was still capable of doing just that. You see, for the last couple of years or so I’ve been whisking around my genealogical exercises a lot like George Jetson,[2] and the thought of getting back to basics – and maybe even using some of those old SASEs – was a bit daunting. Continue reading Legwork