Monthly Archives: November 2014

Banks’ Planters of the Commonwealth

Planters-of-the-CommonwealthIn genealogical research, discovering the names of ships on which immigrant ancestors came to the New World is interesting  not only as a discrete fact, but because it can often be a clue for further research. As there was a tendency for members of communities to travel together, knowing the names of ships and the places of origin of the ships’ passengers is helpful in understanding the composition of communities and revealing where to search for related, elusive ancestors.

Unlike more modern listings of passengers for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, compiled by the shipping companies in official ship manifests for departures and arrivals, for the seventeenth century no such official ship passenger lists were created. Continue reading Banks’ Planters of the Commonwealth

The value of a school history

Fay School coverGenealogists can find useful information in a variety of unlikely places. Local histories, with their lists of nineteenth-century aldermen and the minutes of long-ago meetings, can be a valuable resource; so, too, can school and college histories. (NEHGS has a whole floor largely devoted to these two types of books.) My first book was a history of the nation’s oldest elementary boarding school, and as a genealogist – as well as an historian – I made sure to include genealogical information about the school’s founders and its headmasters, teachers, trustees, and students. Continue reading The value of a school history

Natural disasters and genealogy

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Galveston, Texas, following the hurricane of 8 September 1900. Texas State Library

While natural disasters are terrible, and frightening to contemplate, it is important when researching genealogy to be mindful of the sometimes terrifying events through which our ancestors lived. Sometimes it took a terrible event to make a community push their record-keeping to a higher level and record the people who lost their lives or property. The top 10 United States natural disasters are recorded, and they range from 8,000 people dead in the 8 September 1900 hurricane that swept through Galveston, Texas, to 695 dead in the 18 March 1925 tri-state tornado that ripped through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. The GenDisasters website breaks down disasters state by state, along with Canada. Continue reading Natural disasters and genealogy

Historic occupations

Cordwainer imageWhile writing my blog focusing on archaic medical terms a few months ago, I began thinking about other aspects of everyday life that appeared in records used by genealogists. One element of an individual’s life which appeared on everything from wills to land deeds to town records was occupation. While some of the occupations listed on records throughout the last four hundred years still exist today (farmers, blacksmiths, and wood workers, to name a few), many of these jobs either are known by a different name or are entirely obsolete in modern society. Continue reading Historic occupations

Election Day and your family tree

TR buttonI used to joke that I rarely thought about politics more than twenty-four hours a day. In fact, my pursuit of genealogical research developed alongside my work in opposition and campaign research. Exposed to a variety of Washington, D.C. area archives and repositories, I quickly gathered many records relating to my ancestors from primary sources kept in the same places I consulted in the course of my campaign efforts. Last week, as I researched the nineteenth-century ancestors of our Research Services clients amidst the news of electoral victories and disappointed prospects, I found myself thinking of an interesting source of records that genealogists rarely consult. Continue reading Election Day and your family tree

Thank you for your service

My father, while serving in Korea.

Every November 10th my sister and I call my father to say Happy Birthday. Sometimes my mother buys a small cake to mark the occasion. However, November 10th is not my father’s actual birthday. It is the “birthday” of the United States Marine Corps, which was formed on 10 November 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My father served as a U.S. Marine during the Korean War, and he always appreciates it when we acknowledge this date. Growing up, I didn’t know much about my father’s military service. When I first began researching my family history, I spent a lot of time looking for information on the more distant generations of my family. However, I began to realize that I needed to take the time to learn more about the lives of my parents. One area I wanted to focus on was my father’s service during the Korean War. Continue reading Thank you for your service

Putting your best foot forward

Ellis Island image
Image source:

It is difficult to imagine leaving everything you have ever known behind. Yet millions of our ancestors did just that in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Many were stricken by poverty, famine, and disease, and were forced to leave their homelands behind in search of better opportunities. Already in dire circumstances, they endured long journeys and were faced with many challenges upon their arrival.

To assist these immigrants, many benevolent and aid societies were created. They offered resources to the newly arrived, and helped many establish themselves in the United States. Continue reading Putting your best foot forward

Keeping memory alive

Mount Royal Apartments
Edward Hughes Glidden, Mount Royal Apartments, 101-103 East Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore (1900)

I have written here before about the family of my maternal grandmother, Pauline Glidden Bell (1903–1968), who died when I was a small boy – I only just remember her. With her, one could say, died a part of my family history, although in fact her daughter and her husband both died in 1994, when I was an adult. Grandmother’s brother and sister outlived her, and I’m sorry I never met Uncle Ted or Aunt Miriam in person. Still, a lot of Glidden family stories came down to me through my mother, and I wish I could have discussed (and checked!) them with my grandmother. Continue reading Keeping memory alive

A “Good Life,” indeed

Ben BradleeFor my 2013 book on the Saltonstall family, I wrote 23 biographical essays on family members, from GilbertB Saltonstall (grandfather of the American immigrant) to Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, the legendary Washington Post editor. The Saltonstalls have produced a number of prominent and important public figures, including Sir Richard1 Saltonstall, who brought the family to Massachusetts Bay; Gurdon4 Saltonstall, the New London minister who became Governor of Connecticut; Congressman Leverett7 Saltonstall; and long-time Governor and Senator Leverett10 Saltonstall of Massachusetts. Still, there is no question that Ben Bradlee was the most fun subject about whom to write: he managed to pack several lifetimes’ worth of adventure into just one, spanning 93 years. His death in October drew a line under an era. Continue reading A “Good Life,” indeed

Tips for using the Social Security Death Index

SSDI application Szucs
Courtesy of

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a widely used collection for modern genealogical research. It is composed of information provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for those individuals (with Social Security numbers) who died between 1962* and the present. The SSDI often provides the following information about a deceased individual: Continue reading Tips for using the Social Security Death Index