Saturday, July 30, 2011

Northern New York Historical Newspapers digitized

Lake Bonaparte
Photo to the left by J. Stephen Conn. Photo above from
A great digitized resource that serves as a useful companion to Old Fulton NY  Postcards, is Northern New York Historical Newspapers, a site that provides for free searches of historical newspapers by county. Counties with digitized newspapers include: Oswego, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, and Lewis.  The kind of information you can get there is just exceptional, including advertisements, legal matters, and social notes. One of the most useful is the social brief which tells of an individual who visits a cousin. That can be very useful for sorting out relationships in a family tree.

Reading about the way things once were is also a treat. For example, the February 6, 1872 Watertown Re-Union has an article on Joseph Bonaparte's (yes, brother of Napoleon) purchase of land at Natural Bridge, Lewis County, where he built an estate in the early 1800's. And why not? The area is indeed beautiful. Especially pleasant are the easy searches of the newspapers.
See and enjoy. Image below from New York State Department of Enviromental Conservation at


Mistakes can be gold--don't disregard them!

Skimming and scanning, searching and clicking-- diligence pays off. Even misinformation can be helpful. Why is it there? Two possiblities--it is an egregious, pointless error, or much better, it is a mixed up clue! Before dismissing what seems to be garbage, consider why it might be there. Sometimes it does take a few minutes to discover that, yes, someone is on the wrong track. But once in awhile gold is hidden in those mistakes. For example, I could find no clues whatsoever as to the maiden name of one of my ancestors. I knew her husband, Jacob Van Allen, had been married twice. All the children were from the elusive ( and unnamed at the point of my researching) female ancestor, Mariette Kimball.

I found a detailed family tree with another woman, Jane Pawling, listed as married to Jacob in 1802. I checked and double-checked with the census. It just couldn't be.  In the census record, Jane Pawling was listed as a second wife, mother of no children, married to Jacob in 1802 (yes the census provided all of that information).

According to the mistaken family tree record, Mariette Kimball married Jacob in 1846. That was certainly not possible. Mariette had died by then. I knew Jane was the second wife. The researcher knew the names. They were absolutely correct, at least as far as being wives of Jacob. Painstaking work on my part after the find proved that Mariette was my ancestor, the first wife, not the second as listed by the mistaken researcher. Mariette was mother of all of the children. Jane was not mother to any of them.

The mistake was a great clue. It was probably of no particular interest to the researcher which wife was which. But it was everything to me--one more name that I could confirm as an ancestor. And I couldn't have found it otherwise.

This is my favorite example, but this type of error does happen quite a bit. So take care to absorb a bit of misinformation before dismissing it. It might be the clue you want, the clue that will take you to information for your family tree.

The record of the Van Allen family, with mainly excellent and correct information can be found at:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Native American Ancestors, sort of?

Image from:
Many American families have some sort of version of a story of Indian ancestry, and sometimes it really doesn't seem possible or logical. The family history doesn't add up, or DNA just doesn't show that direction.

But consider this--many of our families or their friends may have had an Indian "adoption," often a kidnapping of a colonial  American child who might be returned or rescued years later. In the meantime, the child learned Native American language and customs, which could be integrated into the family history later. So the great great grandma or great great uncle may have been temporarily Indian, learning language and customs that the family would learn later. Even if it wasn't a direct ancestor who had this experience, it may have or been a neighbor or friend, and still have had an impact on the family.

One example of an adoption occured in the Schell family of Herkimer County, New York. Young twins Henry and Marks Christian Schell were kidnapped by Native Americans during American and British hostilities in 1782 at age 11.They learned the native language of their captors, and learned their customs. They later came under the care of a British captain, and years later they were returned to  their family in Herkimer.  The twins remained friendly with Native Americans for the rest of their lives, and surely shared with  their own families stories of their years with the adoptive Native American families.

Just a few examples of colonists who were kidnapped and then returned (or chose not to return) to their families:
Mary Jemison (see an online story at
Eunice Williams (see the wiki bio at
The Shell/Schell twins (see the short bio written by a descendant of one twin at

This post was commented on by IndianCountry  And was posted at SNI Talks ( a blog devoted to the Seneca Nation):
Additional information on the captivity experience (addendum Aug 25, 2011): In his own words and quaint spelling, Moses Van Campen, who was taken captive by Native Americans during the Revolutionary war, said that “I was nurtured in the school of the rifle and the tomahawk.” Van Campen lived from 1757 to 1849. He was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but grew up  in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  As he grew up he spent a good deal of time with Native Americans, as was natural in that place and time. However, his family was attacked by Native Americans in 1780. He was taken prisoner, but escaped within a week that first time. He is taken prisoner a second time by Seneca Indians in 1782 at Bald Eagle Creek in Pennsylvania.  After running the gauntlet, he was treated very well, and when he returned to his own community, he did not forget the Native American ways that he had learned as a child and as a captive. He remained friends with the Native Americans, and integrated their ways into his own life knowledge and experience.

Several sources for this information include: a story from the Andover News of 1928 as reproduced online:

And the website: Moses

Image source:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Historical Newspapers in California: Digitized and free to view

Worth checking out--
The California Digital Newpaper Collection is quite amazing. It is one of those free, searchable sites which can yield fascinating information about history as it was recorded way back when. And who knows, if you have an ancestor in Alta California, he or she might show up in a search. A project of the University of California, holdings include newspaper articles from 1846 to 1922. Search terms are highlighted in the article.
The searchable website can be located at:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Searching in Cornwall: Updated May 2012

Update April 2012: See link directly below for amazing index of bastardy bonds, lease information, wills, and more. There are lots of names and details for many of the entries, and it is searchable by name.

Cornwall Council: Cornwall Record Office Online Archive

If your ancestors were in Cornwall, that may be pretty far away to do your searching. As usual, the internet is your friend. And in Penwith, Cornwall, it is especially friendly, because there are amazing online resources, and I am finding that more and more resources keep appearing.

A great place to start your search is with a board (no fee involved) devoted to Penwith, Cornwall ancestry searching. You can post your surnames and questions, and you can search for anything that has been posted previously. The admins are very helpful, and everyone who posts seems to help each other out. There are also very good lists of related resources. Knowledge of the families in Penwith is expanding greatly as new information is added.
I have found it very useful, and will continue to peruse the boards.
Check it out at:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

All caps SURNAMES? on your family tree--I think NOT

As I scan the internet looking for what others suggest for genealogy searches and trees, I find many suggestions to use all caps for the surnames. Some people use all caps just for their particular line, so that it stands out on a huge tree. Others use it for all last names.

No, I am thinking, it is not the best way to go,  but maybe I should have an open mind. I don't like the all caps approach, but maybe there is something to it. It did not take me long to find some validation for my point of view. Tamura Jones, in the online article:  Five Freaky Features your Genealogy Software should not have, emphatically states that names should always be properly cased, as they are names, and should be spelled correctly as names. I agree. All caps last names is almost like all caps posts, which we justifiably call "shouting." However, it is helpful to have a visual marker for the direct line of the person who begins the tree (from the youngest generation-i.e. now).

While I am against all caps in general, I think having temporary markers for a line can be useful.

The article by Tamura Jones can be found at:

Ontario, Canada Marriages

If your ancestors were in or near the Ontario area, you may want to look at the excellent records at the Marriage Records section of the Ontario Vital Records Statistics Project. It is worth looking at if your ancestors were from Northern New York as there was frequent travel from NY to Canada and vice versa. The records are seachable by year or by name, and often have the home town of the bride and groom, their parents' names, and the names of witnesses.  This information can be a huge boost to confirming relationships and dates.
This portion of the excellent database can be found at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crystal Ball thinking about social networking: G+

There is certainly a lot of buzz in the air about "G+" by google. Still in its trial phase, not all of us have tried it. Checking out the recent business news about genealogy research, I noticed that a founder and statistician of appears to be interested in what direction this social networking feature will go. Paul Allen of FamilyLink and performed an unofficial analysis to see how the gender breakdown looks for using G+ so far. His results showed a higher percentage of females than did another study. It is very interesting to see how interest in and use of social networking is paralleling and combining with the family history arena.

News sources: Article by Tom Cheredar on Venture Beat July 16, 2011:
and article by David Gomez on TG Daily:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Google News Archive--a good resource for really old news

Google News Archive, a historic newspaper project,  was a great resource for records in the form of news articles. One of the topics dealt with at Genealogy in Time is the “Death of the Google News Archive.” That was sad news to hear, that the archives project had not been continued, but the good news is that many of the original articles that were archived are still accessible. The articles that were already digitized can still be accessed at: I immediately entered a name for an ancestor I knew had appeared in old news articles: Edward Salisbury of Rhode Island and New York. I knew the story of his powder horn, how it had been carved, and saved, and how it had taken the force of a bullet in the 1758 so that he had miraculously not been killed, had been in the newspapers. The powder horn, really one of the earliest to ever be carved, still exists. I found two wonderful articles on Edward Salisbury, the battles he fought in,  and the powder horn immediately.

So, thanks to Genealogy in Time, I know that the digitization project was dropped, but I also know that some valuable articles are still there for the reading.
If you want to check out their blog, see

Why I love The Office and snowy, scrappy Scranton

One of the reasons I enjoy watching The Office, aside from the hilarity, is that it is set in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I’m not from Scranton, but some of my ancestors lived there, and I feel that I can get a closer glimpse into their lives by getting a sense of where they lived. A sense of place, what we crave in our searching for our roots.

Every place has  its idiosyncracies--the jargon, the attitudes, the special foods, the in-jokes, and often, a certain insularity. Just as it is fun and interesting to travel and absorb a bit of culture, it is fun and interesting to try to travel to another place and time.

 I know the actors and all the events are filmed in LA, but the opening scenes are authentic Scranton, and the working mind set seems to be pretty much what I would expect to find there. Every once in awhile there is a reference to the Irish population, whether it be an actor’s name or a meeting in a bar, and the struggle to keep a dying business alive in a tough economy is certainly something one would find there.

I can’t spend lots of time trying to get a sense of place for all my ancestors, as they lived in many places and I do have other things to pursue, but when I do make a small effort to understand the geography and the culture of the time, I find it rewarding. It gives me a pleasant sense of tucking into a time and place.

Mini-versions of finding out what it was like to live in a place and time include checking into court records, reading town and county histories, finding images of locations, and reading a few local biographies. The State GenWeb is often helpful for a short imaginary tour of an area. Understanding the history of the naming of a town or county is an easy way to get into the history.

When I want a really quick sense of place I find a map image of a town (I either find the "map" designation on the toolbar, or I search for the town  + map) and then I look to see what other towns are nearby. I might be familiar with some of them. I look for water routes, as those would have been important to my ancestors. Did they migrate along them, fish along them? Then I expand the map image so that I have a good geographical context for the town. I might be able to see what attracted settlers to the area.

Given a little more time, I will look up historical maps. Sometimes I am even fortunate enough to find plat maps with names of landowners of a specific time period. The historical maps show the towns and/or properties that existed at the time of the map-making, and the writing style and artistry and accuracy or lack thereof add to the charm of sensing that I am sliding into the past for just a moment.

Shared on Storylane Oct 2012

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Genealogy and work and buzz

How will business interests affect the resource and networking possibilities for those of us building family trees?

That’s an interesting question. Here are some thoughts on one little change—the loss of “expert connect” at

The changes in the family history research industry are fairly obvious. It is growing and changing. We see commercials from every day. The databases there have grown very nicely, and the search mechanisms have also steadily improved. I love how the Family Tree Maker program now interfaces with I can’t rely on the hints, since that is what they are—hints, not facts, but they are helpful enough that I click on them more often than not.

I do think it is a shame that the expert connect service was discontinued. It was a wonderful system of offers and bids, and great communication in the process. Clients could choose the service provider they wished, and the researchers could bid on any project. I think the variety of possibilities was a very positive situation. You might find a researcher who specializes in one type of records  bidding on creating a family tree for an area in which they did not specialize at all, simply because he or she could see that they understood the resources needed for that client’s tree.  Or you might have ten providers bidding for one client's project. The client decided which offer is most attractive.  There was even sub-contracting, which worked efficiently. One person would research, and the other  would retrieve records that the researcher  couldn’t  access geographically. 

I found it a very lively marketplace, and I was sorry to see it go.  I enjoyed bidding, researching, and participating in a dynamic environment where clients clearly appreciated the results they got (see the reviews for the providers--very positive)

One of the main benefits of expert connect was the buzz. Everyone involved was excited about genealogy, and everyone was connected to in some way, whether as a researcher, a client, or as both. People were talking about their family trees, and there was certainly incentive to use the website often.

I know that the decision was made for business reasons, and I hope that the company does well. I have been subscribing long enough and enjoying results long enough to know that it is a valuable site for me to use.  But I also hope we can find more great marketplaces to support interaction between researchers and those who wish to have the research done for them.  And I hope that there will be many more places for genealogy buzz!

Friday, July 15, 2011

You need to add this resource: New York Census of 1905

If you knew where your New York ancestors were in 1900 and in 1910, you may want to see where they were in 1905. This record is now available at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The wintery summer of 1816: The year with no summer or "Eighteenhundred and Froze to Death"

Without television or the internet, the clouding of the sky and the extreme cold in 1816 must have been unpleasantly baffling to residents of the Eastern States. The climactic conditions resulted from an eruption of the Volcano Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia. This was no ordinary eruption. It was huge, causing local devastation and deaths, and spreading ash in the atmosphere around the world. Newspapers published in Vermont and New York (as accessed digitally on America's Historical Newpapers. Archive of Americana at Newsbank), provide good records of the eruptions and the immediate casualties in the area, but I don't know if there was any understanding of the cause and effect relationship to the overcast skies and unusual climate conditions in the Northeastern States in 1816. There was snow in June, and chilly weather that affected farming.  President Thomas Jefferson noted the extreme cold in his weather diary. Another diarist, Adino Brackett of New Hampshire wrote:
"This past summer and fall have been so cold and miserable that I have from despair kept no account of the weather. It could have been nothing but a repeatation [sic] of frost and drought."
[Citation from].

Many settlers chose to move westward at that time. One famous sojourner was Joseph Smith, of Mormon fame, who moved from Vermont to New York. How did your ancestors fare in 1816? It wasn't a census year in the United States, but we can look to migration records to see if that might have been a trigger for travel. And if not, we can know they weathered a difficult time.
Image of volcano is from

Illinois marriages--search them in about a minute!

If you are looking for an ancestor who may have married in Illinois, there is an excellent resource which is very accessible. The Illinois State Achives has an easily searchable marriage index. If you want to see all the marriages possible for a last name, in case the first name is mispelled or somehow different from what you expect, you can just search by that last name. There are good directions for using the website, and when you are ready, you can just click on "Search the Statewide Marriage index now."  The website is the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, and is located at You can search statewide or by county. If I am looking for the bride of Chicago photographer C.D. Mosher, for example, I just plug in the last name Mosher for the groom, and the results show me that there are two men named Charles D Mosher who married in Illinois. By looking at the names of the brides, the counties they married in, and checking census records, I can take the next step in identifying his wife and their ancestors.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rhode Island cemteries: amazing documentation

Rhode Island searches can be difficult, with missing records here and there, and many names repeated over generations. It is so close to Massachusetts that the residents could be in one or the other in any given year. One of the resources I appreciate very much is the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries transcription project. It is completely free and completely searchable. The search mechanism is a little unusual, but by trial and error it can be understood. The information that is in the database is of  tremendous help in confirming marriages, locations of residence, and dates of death,  Not only is there information about the people buried in the cemeteries, but there are also excellent descriptions of the cemeteries. which can be that last little clue in finding information for the family tree. The cemetery index is a part of the Rhode Island GenWeb, and is located at: From Aldrich to Whipple and more, many Rhode Island ancestors are listed here.

Who's your daddy's daddy? FTDNA y-dna projects-- excellent resource

I love to peruse the y-dna projects at FTDNA every once in awhile. The y-dna projects surname trace paternal lines in father of the father of the father of the father ad infinitum fashion. Generally a last name will continue throughout the entire line, but this is not a hard and fast rule. There are those non-paternal events, including adoptions.
he surname project page can be found at:

You can look at the projects without having any involvement in them whatsoever. Just choose a name, open up to the project, and you may be directed to the project page off-site, or there may be a page on-site. You can read about the project and its goals, and then click on  one of the "results" tabs. You will see that the individuals who tested will be grouped by haplotype. You don't need to understand all the jargon to get that the groups that are together have the most in common in their y-dna. You can check all the last names you can think of in your line, and see not only what the genetic background is, but also you'll see some of the geographical locations listed for the participants' ancestors. It is fascinating to see the history of each name line, and I think it is especially great for some of the American Colonial lines.

My suggestion is to take a look, just browse around and start learning about what is going on with the projects. Then another time, see if you can draw some conclusions about the y-dna lines you are interested in. You can see all sorts of last names from MacBean to Sanchez, and lots more.

Another place to find many of these DNA surname projects is at,

In addtion to the surname projects at FTDNA, you will see that the company also has geographical projects and mtdna (along the maternal line). Even if you don't think DNA testing is for you, there is a lot to learn by looking at the project results. You might see that one or anther of your surname lines  line is originally from England, or from South America. And there can be a number of origins, since we all have so many ancestors!

One of the more practical results for genealogy has been that lines can be sorted out from one another.

We often hear the story that three or four brothers came to America. Sometimes that is true and sometimes it isn't. Projects can help to demonstrate whether Sam who emigrated to Georgia, and Solomon, who emigrated to Pennsylvania, and John, who emigrated to Canada, are in the same line with the same surname, or in different lines with the same surname.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

James A. Van Allen: famous descendant of NY Van Allen family

You can find famous people in the census, of course. Their names were recorded along with everyone else's. Samuel Clemens is there--look him up!

The Van Allen family hails back to the Netherlands. They were early settlers in New York, and were known for fur hunting and trading.
Biographies for James A. Van Allen are available online, as they often are for those who have achievements, so I learned through reading them that he was born in 1914 to parents  Alma Olney and James Alfred Van Allen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Discovering the identity of Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion

LeRay Mansion
While looking through old family photos, I decided to look everywhere I could for clues as to who they were. I looked at the back of each photo to see if there might be a comment or the name of the photographer. On this particular photo I found the words, "Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion." Well, that seemed less than helpful.

I didn't know who Mr. Phelps was in the first place. But I did know something about the LeRay Mansion, built for French land speculator Jacques Donatien LeRay de Chaumont who lived for a time at the  mansion he had built for his family in Jefferson County, New York. That was back in the heyday of the parties and business affairs of French nobility who had fled their  homeland (and the Revolution there) and  happened upon this beautiful corner of the world.

 I used a search engine to look up some information on the mansion, and as I clicked back and forth between the description there, the Jefferson County GenWeb cemetery listings, and the census, I found my answers.

The site I looked at explained the ownership over time of the mansion, and I was able to put the names together to make some sense.

William Phelps, born about 1789 in Connecticut,  married Eliza Brown, who I could determine was a relative in my family tree. She is listed in Bartlett Files  for the township of LeRay, in the Jefferson County, New York GenWeb (a cemetery transcription), as William's second wife.

Looking at every detail on a photo can be helpful, from the location of the photographer to the city to a scrawled note such as "Mrs. Phelps of LeRay Mansion."

Picture credit: Fort Drum website.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

How to find your first new ancestor, quickly--for beginners only

If you haven't done much internet searching for your ancestors, there are two recommendations that I have for you. One is to go to rootsweb, and enter your ancestor's name in the family tree search. Try to pick an ancestor whose name is not terribly common. If you know the date of birth, or the spouse,choose advanced search and plug in the info. Give the dates you enter parameters of say five years, or even more. You will get more results that way, as not all researchers will know just what the correct dates are. Now, the results you see in someone's tree may be interesting.You can click on names to see the ancestors, and you can easily see all the descendants of the ancestor by clicking on "descendency." The results are not necessarily correct. Take them as interesting clues, and see if you can verify any of it with other sources. The second great place to begin is with google. Sometimes a famly tree will be nicely set on a web page. Or you may turn up a biography. When I get no hits at all with google, I go to google books. Often there are hits there. Once you have begun your search you will begin to find your way. Again, what you read is just possible information that may be helpful and may lead to answers. Even if you see that something is incorrect, that may be of help in some way. I cannot say enough about rootsweb. I think that for ease of clicking through names, it is really the best. Fast and easy to use.

Henry Townsend wasn't where he was supposed to be...

I was tracking a family of interest to me through the census records, and I noticed that Alice Bosworth, who had been married to Henry Townsend in the 1870 census of Pamelia in Jefferson County, New York, had remarried to C. Talcott Stewart by the time of the 1880 census in Watertown of the same county. Alice can be identified as the mother of   F. Belle Townsend, born in 1874, and of Mary Stewart, born about 1876. The older daughter is listed as stepdaughter of Talcott Stewart. One might think Henry Townsend had died. That would be a reasonable assumption. I checked the newspaper articles by searching the names in the family, and learned that Henry had gone missing one day, and while it was originally thought that he must have had an accident of some kind and died, one of the local townspeople claimed to have seen him in Chicago, Illinois when she was visiting there. She had no doubt it was him.  Whether true or not, it was published in the paper.  Old Fulton Postcards ( is an excellent and free site for searching for ancestors from upstate New York. Because there are so many articles scanned, it works best for searches on unusual, or less usual names. But it is always a great place for searching, and there are fascinating reads.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Was your American ancestor literate?

We might wonder if some of the ancestors way back in the 1600's and 1700's were literate or not. You might notice that family history researchers sometimes draw the conclusion that the ancestor was not literate, and will add the note "made his mark" or "made her mark." This is in reference to signing a legal document, such as a will or a  a deed with a stamp or the facsimile of a stamp. It was commonly done, and only sometimes for the reason that the signer was illiterate. The signer often was literate, and we may be fortunate enough to find that other documents have been signed with a personal signature, or that a letter or document has been written in longhand. There are a number of reasons that the person might use a stamp rather than a signature, including blindness or near-blindness, which may be a condition acquired in old age, or, along the same lines, feebleness due to illness, or it could be simply that a stamp was used just a matter of practicality and efficiency.
In the 1800's the same caveats apply--don't assume that someone was illiterate based on a stamp on a document. In many of the census records there is a note for each adult as to whether they could read or write. These notations are worth  looking for. Sometimes the designation is for reading, sometimes for writing, and sometimes for both, depending both on the census year and place. Again, finding letters, signatures or Bible entries of family births helps to indicate literacy. Someone had to make those entries.
In my own research of the Moraga family of California, who descend from Joaquin Moraga who was second in command in the De Anza expedition, I found a great deal of evidence in the census designations, letters, and in occupations (including teacher) to disprove the common notion that the family was for the most part illiterate.
This is not to say that many of our ancestors may have been illiterate. Certainly many of them were. But it is best to look at as much evidence as possible for each individual before just assuming that they could not read and write.

Starting that DAR application process

The DAR application process has gotten much simpler in recent years due to the fact that the DAR has made excellent use of technological resources. But it is also good to know that the local chapter officers will help you with understanding the paperwork, and may be able to suggest steps to take in your research to document your Revolutionary War ancestor.

At, an excellent boon to your application research, and to your research of any other Revoutionary War soldiers and their families, is the Genealogy section of the website. Just click on "Genealogy" to get into that section and, then click on the left for online research, and then directly to the left for "GRS." It is a little complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it will be a snap.

Then you will enter that part of the site, and you will see tabs above. If you choose "ancestor" you can begin researching the database for your ancestor, and it will often include information about descendants who have already proven their connection to that ancestor. This opens up many possiblities for research and documention, and is an invaluable resource for famly history research.
Image source:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Free Birth Marriage Death Records from the UK

In case you haven't gotten too far into your UK research, you should take note of "Free BMD." Just use a search engine on those terms and you will get to the amazing site with excellent records in the UK since about 1836. It cannot tell you exactly who married whom, but that is half the fun. You will be able to find a marriage for the appropriate year for the ancestor you are looking for, and then you will be directed to the page for the marriage listing for that day in that place. Everyone who married with that name to someone else in that year and in that location will be listed together. By process of elimination  (going back and forth to the census, family trees, biographies, IGI records) you can probably figure out which one would be the spouse of the target person. Births are more straightforward, of course, and the death dates and places can be very helpful.

Mayflower ancestor in your family history? See Plymouth Colony Records

If you have ancestors who lived in Plymouth Colony, you may be interested in the many records, not only of that time, but of experiences of specific individuals who lived there in the earliest years. One of my favorite websites, which provides both general and specific information, and is very navigable, is The Plymouth Colony Archive Project at . The wills and court records are fascinating to read. You might like to read the 1704 will of Peregrine White, who was born on board the Mayflower, the biography of Francis Cooke,  or the annotated list of the Mayflower passengers, ( I think it these digital archives  are  a wonderful probably the best place to begin  Plymouth Colony research, and a place to refer back to often.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mistakes! And about your Ancestor

Most of the ancestors out there, if they go back hundreds of years, are not just our ancestors, but the ancestors of others as well. And they aren't known just to us; they are often known publicly in some way or another.
Unfortunately, researchers and descendants, or would-be descendants get mixed up. Then they publish their results, or make corrections to the public family tree of others. It happens, and it happens not infrequently. It is one reason that you look to a public tree only for possibilities and not for answers. In my case it happened with several ancestors so far.

One ancestor who has been so mistreated is Phineas Keith, of Henderson, Jefferson County, New York, and originally of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He served in the Revolution, as is well documented in the text Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War. and in Revolutionary Soldiers in Onondoga County, New York. The DAR also documents his service.

 Another resident of Jefferson County, Phineas Heath (similar name--different person!), also served from Massachusetts. If you see family trees online, you may see the post-its that try to explain that this person actually deserves the credit for the service of Phineas Keith. Not so.

What can you do to counter the damage when your ancestor is maligned or incorrectly categorized? Publish here there and everywhere who your ancestor is, what he or she has done, and what the sources for that information are. And of course, you contact the poster who has the misinformation. The writer is usually quite attached to the misinformation, so it is best to just lay out the facts and ask that they be taken into consideration.

Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.We can always hope that truth will win out, or at least that the best facts will be available to be understood! It is our responsibility as descendants to try to set facts straight, and if we happen to be the ones in error, to acknowledge that and move on.

Genealogy is about facts, truth, getting it right. Yet it is also about narrative, past and present, and that is always a matter of subjectivity. Science and art, with an emphasis on science.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

To order probate information or not?

You find out that your ancestor made a will. What next? Is it worth ordering?  Where do you order it?
My suggestion is to look at the options for each ancestor for whom you might be able to order a will. Google the ancestor's name and look a family trees online to see if information for the will has been gleaned or not. Decide how much you need to know about the ancestor. If you already have vital records information for the ancestor and the descendants, there may not be much more to learn. If you have questions, a will might be a good bet. But bear in mind that the will just might be brief, and might not reveal much at all.
Sometimes wills do offer a great deal of information. One place to order wills is through Sampubco at You can take a look at the index for free to see if the wills you are looking for are there or not. You can order and receive the will information online. Another option is to order the will through a county clerk. I decided to go this route for my ancestor Henry Keith of Washington County, New York, who died in 1838. I checked the Washington County GenWeb site first, and noted that there might be additional information that the county might be able to provide for me. I wrote to the county clerk, and requested the will as well as additional research for which I included the required small fee. I was very fortunate with the results, as I was sent the very detailed will of Henry Keith, who names all of his children and many of their spouses. The inventory is also quite fascinating, down to the fire tongs and the few farm animals he owned. I was also sent county censuses and court records, revealing more about the life of Henry and his children. The cost for the whole package was very low, and the best option for what I was interested in. But I seldom take the step of ordering a will. I think it is most practical when the information doesn't seem to be anywhere else.  And bear in mind that American Ancestors has many will abstracts scanned online for New York State between certain years, and that the PA GenWeb Archives at also have many will abstracts. One further option is to find books of will abstracts.Some of  these books are available at a Family History Center (LDS), and some may be viewed on google books. Every once in awhile someone transcribes a will and puts the transcription online. Since the word "will" is a common one, one way to do an internet search is to search for the name of the ancestor and the word "probate."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Your Ellis Island Ancestors: Easy and Free to Search for

You may have heard that your ancestor passed through Ellis Island, and you may know that  there are records of immigration. What you may not know is how very easy it is to access information about the immigration and to even see the ship records where the ancestor is listed as a passanger. Not only can you find the name of the ship and the departure location, but you may find additional information as well. This can include the ultimate destination of the ancestor, the occupation, a name of a contact in the home country, and might even show other family members who travelled at the same time. The Ellis Island Foundation has an excellent online repository of records. It is just a gold mine of good, detailed, readable, and accurate information. You can sign up for free access, and then you can search for your ancestors for free.
Once you have tried it, let me know what you found!
Here is the link to the home page:
Happy Hunting!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Revolutionary Soldiers

The fourth of July is a good time to think about the soldiers of the Revolution. If you have one in your ancestry, you may be able to find out more about that soldier in one of two easy ways: The first is to look at what is available at the website hosted by the Daughters of the Revolution, an organization which recently made genealogy information about soldiers of the Revolution available to everyone at: You may find information about the ancestor, and if you are fortunate, there will be some genealogies to accompany the information. It is all very well documented, and an excellent resource. The second excellent option is to find a pension application by the ancestor or the ancestor's relatives. The application would only be granted if Revolutionary service was long enough, could be proved, and if the family could demonstrate need.  The applications themselves reveal a great deal of information, often including place of birth, person to whom the soldier was married, and details of the military service itself. The pensions were often not granted, due to what the courts considered lack of proof. Many of these applications are now available at and make riveting reading. The applicant was often impoverished. Sometimes the pension was granted to the widow, the soldier having died during the lengthy application process.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Massachusetts Moments

The story of Bathsheba Ruggles Spooner, an adultress,  as the first woman  to be exececuted in the U.S. is today's  (July 2, 2011) "Massachusetts Moment" story. If you have a Ruggles or a Spooner ancestor you may be interested in her story.  Massachusetts Moments are wonderful historical tidbits--stories and histories of events from the past in Massachusetts. The stories are fascinating and just long enough to give some depth to the topic. They range from stories about the persecution of women who were thought to be witches to the testing of jet engines in Lynn. I subscribe to the free email of these stories and recommend Massachusetts Moments, a project of "Mass Humanities" to anyone interested in the history of Massachusetts.
The address for the email subscription is