Tag Archives: Research tips

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

Click on the image to expand it.

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

ICYMI: Researching family heirlooms

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 January 2017.]

Side chair, De Young Museum: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco, California) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Services team at NEHGS is occasionally approached with questions relating to the history of ownership (i.e. provenance) of a particular family heirloom. These questions are usually supplemented with stories about the heirloom’s first owner and how the object was acquired. Genealogists are uniquely qualified to carry out provenance research due to their familiarity with and frequent use of two sources commonly used in provenance research: wills and estate inventories. However, before consulting any of these sources, a serious study of an heirloom’s provenance should begin by studying the object itself.

To illustrate how the study of an object is crucial to provenance research, consider the following hypothetical scenario: An individual is interested in documenting the ownership of a piece of heirloom furniture (a side chair) that has been in the family for multiple generations. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that the chair is similar in form to the image at left, and that the chair is not a reproduction. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching family heirlooms

ICYMI: Piece work

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 December 2016.]

I have developed a soft spot for two of my great-great-grandparents, Domenico Caldarelli and Maria Tavano. They were born in Italy, Domenico in Naples and Maria in Villa Santa Maria, Chieti. They emigrated to New York with their four children around 1890.

I had my first glimpse of Domenico in New York in the 1900 Federal Census, when he was listed as a prisoner in Sing Sing. Was this my Domenico? The prisoner was older than I thought Domenico should be. Why was he in Sing Sing? What happened to his family? Continue reading ICYMI: Piece work

ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

[Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 November 2016; its contents have been updated by Molly Rogers.]

The genealogy column in the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper has been one of the more heavily used resources at the NEHGS Library for the past century or more. The paper was published, under a few different titles, from 1830 to 1941. From 1906 through 1941, it featured a genealogy column in which readers would submit and respond to queries. During most of its run, the column appeared twice a week. According to an editors’ note which appeared in many issues, the newspaper was almost overwhelmed with submissions and had a backlog waiting to be published. The editors also claimed that they had “correspondents in every corner of the country.” By the time it ceased publication, the column had covered an estimated two million names. Continue reading ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

Irish name variations

Recently Mary Ellen Grogan at NEHGS shared a great resource with me. It is called the Special report on surnames in Ireland [together with] varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names in Ireland by Robert E. Matheson. It is available in the NEHGS library. Copies of the “special report on surnames” and the separate “varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names” are also available digitally on HathiTrust. Continue reading Irish name variations

ICYMI: Shorthand systems

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 October 2016.]

From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading ICYMI: Shorthand systems

A treasure indeed

On the list of books of which you have probably never heard is Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England…, originally published in 1702.[1] Roughly translated as The Glorious Works of Christ in America, it might not sound all that interesting and certainly doesn’t sound like a genealogical resource, but it really is a rich treasure of biographical information for early New England ministers.

The Rev. John Ward (1606–1693) of Haverhill, Massachusetts,[2] who was in New England by 1639, was the son of Great Migration immigant Rev. Nathaniel Ward, who arrived with some of his family in New England in 1634.[3] Continue reading A treasure indeed

Assessment

Do we really need to assess all the published resources we use in our genealogical research? It obviously takes time and effort to consider even the ten categories we are using for this experiment in “scoring” genealogies, not to mention that assigning numbers to subjective criteria is tricky. In the end, however, the exercise does give us a way to compare the enormously disparate genealogical sources we use. Our two test subjects – The Phelps Family of America and The Bulkeley Genealogy – are similar, yet they scored very differently. From a maximum score of 100, The Phelps Family eked out a 40, while The Bulkeley Genealogy nearly topped the chart with 90. Continue reading Assessment