Monthly Archives: July 2014

Tips for searching on

Eldridge search croppedWhen we were deciding how our database search would work, one of the key considerations was that we didn’t want to return search results that contained a lot of ‘noise.’ On other websites, the database architects allowed for a certain (sometimes significant) number of irrelevant search results. This was undoubtedly intended to be helpful, but it is actually quite frustrating. So we decided to do ‘exact’ searches with a couple of twists. The goal was to give results that were exactly what you searched for. We spent quite a lot of time tuning our search algorithm, trying different approaches and analyzing the results. We’re pretty happy with our final approach, but it’s definitely helpful to understand how it works. And what the twists are. Continue reading Tips for searching on

Oaths in early New England

oaths of allegianceI was recently asked the difference between the Freeman’s Oath, the Oath of Allegiance, and the Oath of Fidelity in Massachusetts Bay Colony. The history of oaths in the American Colonies actually requires the researcher to go back to the early 1600s under King James I (1603–1625). After all, those who were living in the colonies during the seventeenth century were all British subjects. Continue reading Oaths in early New England

Some recent discoveries

Young officer
My grandfather Frederick Jackson Bell (1903-1994), named for his mother’s family

I have written here about some of my research strategies, and I thought it might be interesting to inventory a few of my recent discoveries (and brick walls).

It is easy to get distracted, and for the last decade or so I have kept a lot of my research notes in a Word file called “Notes on 1790–1930 Censuses.” (Yes, it predates the publication of the 1940 Federal Census, although I have begun to add information from that source as well.) Built around appearances in various censuses, the Notes document keeps me organized, as it is really my ahnentafel (or ancestor table), listing ancestors along with their children and their children’s spouses. In the footnotes, I keep track of my ancestral aunts’ and uncles’ children and their descendants. Continue reading Some recent discoveries

“Beginning at a stake and stones…”

Stephen Lincoln house

According to John Emory Morris’ Stephen Lincoln of Oakham, Massachusetts, His Ancestors and Descendants (1895), Stephen Lincoln first built a home in Oakham, Worcester County, Massachusetts, in 1784. As late as 1895, this house stood on the road leading from Rutland to Barre Plains, near the home of his father-in-law, Lieutenant Ebenezer Foster. In theory, locating the Lincoln house – or, rather, where it once stood – should be fairly straight forward, right? Continue reading “Beginning at a stake and stones…”

Mothers-in-law and “new print” searches

Alicia Crane WilliamsComplementing my last post about researching other spouses of spouses, this week we add mothers-in-law.  No sooner had the new Early New England Families Study Project sketch on William Hilton been posted when a sharp observer (“Westtrack”) wrote in with a correction. The maiden name of Sarah (Greenleaf) Hilton’s mother should be Sara/Sarah “More,” rather than “Dole.” First, I am very grateful for all the “eyes” out there helping to constantly improve these sketches (a revised version has been submitted for posting). Next, we need to examine where I missed this red flag. Continue reading Mothers-in-law and “new print” searches

Revelations from my recliner: Part One

Turnbull family
From left to right: Orella (Turnbull) Turnbull, her daughter Sylvia (Turnbull) Rohrbach, and Sylvia’s daughter Helen (Rohrbach) Johnson holding her daughter Norma Johnson.

I recently spent a week at home, recovering from foot surgery. With time off from work, I turned to genealogical work of another kind: my own family history. I began crafting an ahnentafel for my father, George Rohrbach. When I got to number 7, I got stuck . . . again.

Number 7 is my great-grandmother, Orella Turnbull, born in Bellaire, Belmont County, Ohio — across the river from Wheeling, West Virginia — in 1856. She married George Turnbull, born in England in 1857. Their first child, Sylvia May Turnbull, was my grandmother. Continue reading Revelations from my recliner: Part One

A brief history of New Hampshire vital records

vitabrevis nh vitalsI was recently asked about the apparent disappearance of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century vital records of Walpole, New Hampshire. The originals survived into the early twentieth century, but they are no longer to be found in the town clerk’s office in Walpole.

I did some digging. In New Hampshire, vital records for each town are located at the town level. Therefore, the original vital records books for Walpole should be housed with the town clerk. However, when I called the town clerk, she stated that the records currently in the town’s collection start in the 1850s. According to the clerk, the early town records were burned in a fire. She did, however, suggest that I call the Division of Vital Records Administration, New Hampshire Department of State, in Concord to learn more about the practices of preserving vital records in early New Hampshire. Continue reading A brief history of New Hampshire vital records

Searching journals on

John Smith only highlights 800
Click on images to enlarge them

NEHGS members have the ability to search a large number of genealogical journals, including The New England Historical and Genealogical  Register, The American Genealogist, The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, Rhode Island Roots, The Essex Genealogist, The Mayflower Descendant, and many others. To view a list of journals available on, go to our database search page, select the Category ‘Journals and Periodicals,’ and then open the ‘Database’ drop-down list. Journals may be searched by first and last name, and also by article title keywords.  When searching a journal, be aware that the year range fields apply to the year of publication, not the year of an event, so these fields are best left blank. Continue reading Searching journals on

Excerpts from Martha Anne Kuhn’s diary, 1836

Martha Anne Kuhn 5
The “quarter card” for Mr. Alcott’s school, summer 1836

Martha Anne (Kuhn) Clarke kept a diary in 1836, while a student at the Temple School in Boston. The series of excerpts began here and continued here. In this installment she writes of her journey through western Massachusetts and into New York. Continue reading Excerpts from Martha Anne Kuhn’s diary, 1836