Genealogy vs. Family History and Exciting News!


I just received word that I have officially been accepted to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) National Society for my 7th g-grandfather, Lt Brian Hall effective July 5th. I have attended several local meetings in anticipation of being accepted, but it’s nice to finally be official and quite an honor! and how appropriate that I was accepted just after our day of Independence!

The DAR organization promotes historic preservation, patriotism and education through the work of 32 related committees. There are more than 168,000 members in over 3,000 chapters nationwide!

I had to provide proof for each date and place, for each generation, starting with myself and going back lineally to Brian. In the first three generations, these proofs had to consist of photocopies of birth, marriage, and death documents. For other generations back to the Brian, I had to provide proof such as cemetery records, obituaries, probate records, wills, census records and published vital records. Relationships between generations HAD to be proven.

After gathering all the data, it had to be input on to the application and printed on special paper. Special thanks go to Jane Lasselle, the Anna Stickney chapter regent. Without her, I would still be working on my application! Of course I pulled everything together and realized at the 11th hour that I didn’t have my husband’s birth certificate! Ironic that one of the easiest parts of my research, held the submission up another 10 days.

The process of my DAR acceptance was purely that of “Genealogy”; finding members of a specific family and discovering how these family members are related to others. While it’s interesting to know the names of your ancestor’s and where they came from, I think most of us want more. What most of us are really yearning is an understanding our “Family History” which is something much broader. What was daily life like in the time and place where our ancestor’s lived, what did they do for jobs, what did they look like, who were their friends, what did they do in their leisure time, why did they move so many times, how did they come to choose the town where they settled and why the heck would they have 11 children?!

There are ways that you can begin to develop your Family History. I’ll list a few random thoughts, but do your own google search on the topic, read genealogy journals and books to look for unique ideas and sources to help you pull the pieces of your family history together. Perhaps start small by focusing on just one ancestor or family.

1. Start by creating a timeline for the selected ancestor. Go through his life and record where he was every year, note the gaps and look for sources that fill them. If he moved a lot it may be helpful to draw his path on a map and connect the dots. There are always sources you haven’t searched yet. Write a generic e-mail to a local historical society or archives and ask a general question: I think my ancestor “John Smith” might have lived in your town/county from 1823-45, can you think of any unusual sources that might help me in my search?

So let’s say he is found in the Providence, RI census in 1910 and then appears in the Malden, MA census in 1920. You have a gap of 10 years. When did he move? Did he live elsewhere before moving to Malden? Look at the children in the census. Where were his children born and in what years? Check city directories, if they were available in that time period. People did not move alone – review the censuses to see which neighbors moved with them. Depending on the year and place there may be other documents listing addresses (birth, marriage and death records to name a few).

2. Look at the census to see if your ancestor owned land. It he did, look for land records – deeds (which would be found locally), homestead records, purchases of government lands and bounty lands for government service (all federal records). A searchable database of land grants issued in public land states (30 western states + Florida) between 1820 and 1908 can be found at this site: http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/

3. Did they leave a will? Who was named in the will?  Take note of the witnesses.  Who were they? How do they fit in with the family – friends, neighbors, collateral relatives?

Here is a short excerpt of my ancestor Lt Brian Hall’s will to give you an idea of what you might find:

In the name of God honor I Brian Hall of Norton in the county of Bristol in the Massachusetts being in New England being at this time not very well of a yet of a sound and his posing mind and memory taking under consideration the uncertainty of life think it my duty to make my last will and testament first of all and my body and the peace my worldly estate of as follows:

I give and bequeath to my son Issac Hall his heirs and assigns forever 4 acres of land lying on the west side of old pond in Raynham and two acres of fencing in Joiners Swamp. I give him my Camblet Coat and my Beaver Hat.

To my daughter Prudence I give to her, her heirs and assign two feather beds and furniture a dozen of chairs and a looking glass and a round table.

My pew in the meeting house I leave to be used by any or all of my family as long as they live in said Norton.

Wills can usually be found in the probate court records of the county where the ancestor was last living. In some cases, early records have been moved to other depositories such as state archives.  Probate files may include other documents such as a list of inventory and the probate of the will.  This link gives a great summary on finding probate records: http://dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/probateRecords.html

4.  For ancestors living between 1850-1880, search the U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules (in Ancestry.com).   These include agriculture, manufacturing and industry.  There are two pages, be sure to look at both images.

By using this schedule, I learned that my ancestor George Perry of Rome, NY owned 20 acres of farmland and that the cash value of his farm was $2,000, which was about average in comparison to his neighbors. He owned 1 horse, 3 milk cows, 1 other cattle and 5 swine. He was growing indian corn, oats and irish potatoes and was a producer of butter.

If your ancestor had an occupation as a painter, plasterer , shoe maker or mason you may find them listed in the manufacturing or industry schedules. 

For those of you with ancestry subscriptions here is the direct link to the database: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1276&enc=1

5.  Randy Seaver’s blog post  http://www.geneamusings.com/2010/07/saturday-night-genealogy-fun-your.html gives a fun idea for learning more about your ancestors.

Find their address in the census, city directory, birth, death or marriage record (sometimes the street names are difficult to read in the census, but usually you can at least identify a few letters; look at the preceeding and following census pages to see if there are other nearby street names that you can read, then go to google maps and punch in that street name, then look at the surrounding street names to see if there is something that resembles your ancestors  scribbled street name).

Then type this address into http://maps.google.com/  Next select “satellite view” and then “street view” (not always available). 

I always wondered why my Lithuanian g-grandparents would move just two blocks away.  When I typed in their address on Wahconah Street,  in Pittsfield, MA, I found in that location a baseball stadium built in 1919. This was just a few years after my ancestor’s moved a few streets over to Tierney Place.  Another piece of the puzzle solved!!

I like to also search for the address in http://www.zillow.com/.  This will give you the year that the home was built (so you can determine if this was actually the house where your ancestors lived or if it was torn down and rebuilt), a description, lot size, photos, date of prior sales, etc.  Check to see when the neighboring homes were built.  Were they built years after your ancestor’s homes or did they exist in that same time period.  This will give you a better idea of what the neighborhood may have looked like.

5. A few weeks ago, I attended the Massachusetts Genealogical Council’s http://www.massgencouncil.com/annual seminar.  Joshua Taylor was one of the presenters (you may remember him from NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?; he played a part in the Sarah Jessica Parker episode). 

His presentation was entitled “Goldmines at the Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts”.   It was amazing to hear about the college record collections donated by families who may have attended or were affiliated with the school – scrapbooks, account books, manuscripts, newspaper clippings to name a few.

Who knew that Northeastern University is the keeper of the records of the Greater Boston YMCA (1833-2003) and the Boys and Girl’s Club of Boston (1893-2004); Boston College holds the Charitable Irish Society Records (1737-1937) which includes member photos; Harvard holds a Business Manuscripts Collection – http://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/collections/mss/ – the definition of “business” back then was different.  If your ancestor owned a small business, his account book outlining his sales may still exist.  Also keep in mind that when ancestor bought from a local business his name would have been listed in that account book.

6.  Related to this are the holdings by some historical societies.   A few examples:

Check out the Pelham, MA site: http://pelhamnhhistory.org/, click on the library link and then on “Aunt Molly’s Scrapbook”.  Aunt Molly was the town librarian who collected newspaper clippings – births, marriages, deaths, special events, photos….

A few weeks ago a donation was made to our local Jackson Historical Society.  It was an old scrapbook commemorating a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.  There are over 100 pages each with a photo and personal note from a friend, neighbor or associate of the couple. 

As a school project, I spent an afternoon at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in the manuscripts room.  My assignment was to pull a manuscript and report on it.  I selected the Betts Family scrapbook .

  • The collection is in a large bound scrapbook from the mid-1800’s chronicling the life of Frederick Henry Betts and his wife Mary Louise Hollbrook, probably created by Louise.
  • There were a few hundred documents, letters, photos and newspaper clippings. It’s contents include items such as:
    • Letters to “grandma” (Sarah Scoville) from Frederick “Freddy” Betts and his brother Wyllys, one of which notes that Sarah died in 1852. My favorite was one that reads: “Kitty is growing fast, he is fat and ugly.”
    • Obituaries from nine different newspapers regarding the 1889 death of Judge Frederick M. Betts which chronicle his life.
    • A school paper by Charles Wyllys Betts, 1857 New Haven (Observations on the visible planets).
    • Yale acceptance to the freshman class in 1859 of Frederick H. Betts.
    • A draft record requesting that Frederick H. Betts of 143 Chapel Street, New Haven, report for duty 3 August 1863.
    • Material related to Yale’s 1863 commencement.
    • An 1864 license from the Internal Revenue service for Frederic to become a lawyer.
    • An 1886 records where Frederick of 64 Wall Street, is appointed as Notary Public in New York City.
    • An invitation to Frederick from Louise Hollbrook with a handwritten note “Louise’s first note to me”.
    • A letter from Mary E. Hollbrook explaining that while she likes Frederick there will be no engagement to Louise.
    • A marriage certificate from 1867 of Frederic Henry Betts and Mary Louise Hollbrook.
    • A number of pamphlet’s naming the Betts (a few with their children – Fred, Eliot and Rossiter, and maid) as saloon passengers on a variety of ships to Europe.
    • A number of documents regarding Frederick being a special lecturer on patent law at Yale, a booklet he created on patent law, membership into the University Club, involvement in Trinty Church committees.
    • Documents pertaining to Frederick’s membership in the New York Historical Society, a Judge for Columbia Univeristy’s essay contest, receipts for purchases of dishes and furniture.
    • Articles related Mrs. Betts singing in amateur contests, choral club and shows.
    • Photos of various homes owned, with the address noted including the summer home in the Hamptons.
    • Newspaper articles mentioning things like Mrs. Betts tennis win and the giant Basswood tree at the entrance to their property.
    • An invitation to meet President Hayes in 1880.
    • Letters from the children to Uncle Wyllys who was visiting Europe mentioning Regie, Fannette and cousin Fannie which mention how their horse Daisy was shot and killed after breaking an ankle.
    • An article where son LF Hollbrook Betts a 1991 graduate of Yale offers a $1,000 scholarship in memory of his uncle C Wyllys Betts.

The purpose was to document major or meaningful events during that small period in the family’s history.  I found it interesting that there was little information on the children.  The guide focused primarily on the life of husband and wife.  There were no birth announcements, baby photos or much on the lives of the children as one might find in this century.  

Many names, relationships, dates and locations were revealed throughout the scrapbook.  It chronicles the lives of this family and reveals many details which would not be discovered elsewhere.

In summary, there are lots of places to look for your ancestor’s, you have to be creative and find them.  I recently discovered that my great-aunt Natalie who has been researching our family since the 1970’s had a copy of a diary written by one of her great aunt Mary Haines diary.  

Mary recorded events of a three year period when she was employed by Mrs. Richard H. Dana of Boston. Mrs Dana was the former Edith Longfellow, daughter of Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Cambridge. Mary was nurse to Edith’s two sons Dicky and Harry. In the diary, Mary speaks of her 5 brothers and her letters from them, a journey to Europe and a terrible accident while she was riding in a horse carriage.  The journal is sometimes sad. Mary was lonely.  She believed she would soon lose all 5 of her brothers, all of whom were seaman. Entwined among her recordings of daily events is the revival of her romance that started seven years prior in Nova Scotia with John Roderick Stevens from Truro, Nova Scotia who wrote from Republic, Michigan where he worked as a miner. The correspondence and John’s romantic visits to Boston culminated in their marriage in October 1882 at which point the diary ends.

Aunt Natalie had been lucky enough to find a long-lost cousin who owned the original copy and was kind enough to share. 

If you are lucky enough to have old photos, bibles, diaries or scrapbooks,  please consider sharing them with your “cousins”.  Look for cousins in ancestry trees, on message boards and through google searches.  Your kindness could really make someone’s day!  and you never can tell what they might share in return!!!

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