Monthly Archives: December 2015

Poor relief records

Sheldon Poor House 1860
Sheldon Poor House Association, 1860. Click on images to expand them.

Vita Brevis readers are likely all too familiar with the problem of brick walls in genealogical research. Many are aware of the uses of probate and estate records, but what if your ancestors are not to be found in the probate records of the area where they died? There can be any number of reasons, for economic conditions in the colonial and early Federal period were often unstable, and a family could find itself experiencing periods of both comfort and destitution at one point or another. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques to track less wealthy ancestors, both in the interest of making family connections and learning something of the reality of their lives. Continue reading Poor relief records

Centenarians in the family

Mary Maxine Challender
Sometime in the 1920s. From left to right: my grandfather Willard Challender, my great-grandfather Alton, my great-aunt Maxine, and my great-grandmother Elizabeth.

Today marks the one-hundredth birthday of my great-aunt Maxine Smith of Newton, Kansas. My mother flew out yesterday to celebrate this occasion with her siblings. Maxine was one of the older relatives of mine who was very encouraging to my genealogical pursuits in my youth.

As some readers may know, I began doing genealogy in my preteens with some encouragement from my father and his sister. I was soon encouraged to contact older relatives (i.e. relatives of my grandparents’ generation). Continue reading Centenarians in the family

Quality control

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a series on digitizing our special collections. The previous posts can be read here and here.

Abbey Schultz 2Good news! The next phase of our digitization project is under way. We’ve just received the first batch of images from our scanning partner, which means we can begin work on the next step: quality control.

In the last post, I talked about the organizational aspects of digitization – sorting and physically preparing the items, creating a finding aid, and adding instructions when needed to make sure all the documents are scanned correctly. One of the first things we did upon getting the Howard family papers back from our scanning partner was to make sure that the organization was honored and that all of the pages were scanned. Continue reading Quality control

Saturday’s Fireside Chat

Alicia Crane WilliamsOn Saturday I had the honor and fun of joining with Bob Anderson and Chris Child in a Fireside Chat in the Treat Rotunda at NEHGS. We were each touting publications for sale – Bob’s Great Migration Directory (so popular it has sold out and there were none to physically sell that day!); Chris Child’s first issue of Mayflower Descendant under the new banner of NEHGS, which will be available in January; and Volume 1 of my Early New England Families series. The “Chats,” which took place in three sessions throughout the day, included interesting questions from our moderators, Jim Power and Penny Stratton, and from the audience about our projects, how we all got started in genealogy, and how we work. There were at least 150 people who came for the special day of discount prices in the bookstore, access to the library, and to hear stories from two old genealogists (Bob and I), many of which predated Chris’ birth. I think everyone enjoyed the event. Continue reading Saturday’s Fireside Chat

A grave concern

Capen stoneOver the past thirty years I have examined thousands of old slate gravestones in the cemeteries of New England. This fascination led me to write A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries, which allowed me to determine the oldest cemeteries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

When I started at NEHGS in 1993, I came across a curious artifact wrapped in butcher block paper in the Society’s archives. For some time NEHGS had been caretaker of the remaining fragments of the seventeenth-century Bernard/Barnard Capen gravestone. It is uncommon to locate fragments from broken gravestones in local historical societies. Continue reading A grave concern

Keeping it in the family

Susannah Brown will1
Susannah (Dexter) Brown’s will

Recently, I had a client who wanted to know more about a silver teapot designed by the Hurd silversmiths of Boston that had been passed down through his family. The teapot had the name “Sally Brown” engraved on it, but to his knowledge, he did not have any Brown relatives, which made the teapot a bit of a mystery.

With some research, we found a connection to the Brown family through ancestor Amey Martin (1784–1852), the wife of Samuel Nightingale Richmond; her parents were Silvanus Martin (1748–1819) and Amey Brown (1749–1833) of Providence, Rhode Island. Though I located a connection to a Brown family, my client’s direct ancestry did not contain anyone named Sarah or Sally Brown. Continue reading Keeping it in the family

Blending a family

Lowell image 1Mine is a typical American family, and I am a typical genealogist. My family is an assortment of divorced households and second marriages and I, the ever diligent genealogist, have labored to research all of the family lines, even if they are not my own, because even when I don’t share their DNA, they are my family.

Like members of my immediate family, my blended family can be uninterested in the details of their own genealogy. Don’t get me wrong: they like the highlights (your great-grandparents were from County Cork or your ancestors were Loyalists who moved to Quebec), but not the mundane. Continue reading Blending a family

Devil at the crossroads

Robert Johnson full
One of only two confirmed images of Robert Johnson in existence.

Rock and roll icon Eric Clapton once described Robert Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”[1] Despite the fact that Johnson influenced musicians decades after his death, his life is shrouded in mystery. Johnson is believed to have been born on 8 May 1911 in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, to Julia (Major) Dodds and Noah Johnson.[2] Julia was married to a prosperous landowner named Charles Dodds at the time of her son’s birth. Charles Dodds had been forced to leave Hazelhurst following a dispute with white land owners.[3]

By 1913, two-year-old Robert Johnson was sent to Memphis to live with Charles Dodds, where he is known to have attended school in 1916 before rejoining his mother in the Mississippi Delta area around 1919. Continue reading Devil at the crossroads

On with the dance

“What a joy it is to dance and sing”

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as remote to our descendants as 1750 does to us, and it behooves us to focus some attention on twentieth century research before that century, like the ones before it, vanishes from shared (and contemporary) memory. Continue reading On with the dance

Deeds: Part Two

Alicia Crane WilliamsContinuing with the parts of a deed from my last post:

Warranty: “…to warrant & forever confirm the same unto him the said Josiah Lichfield his heirs & assigns from & against all the lawful claims and demands of all persons whatsoever.” (Types of deeds will be discussed in Part 3.)

Date deed was executed (signed by the grantor): “…hereunto Set my Hand & Seal this sixteenth day of April anno domini One thousand Seven hundred & fifty nine and in the thirty second year of the reign of our sovereign Lord George the Second by the Grace of God King and so forth.” The date could also be written in numerals, but not usually in numerals only. This is the same as when you write a check and spell out the amount on one line and write the numbers on another one. The intent here being that there should be no misunderstanding about the date. Continue reading Deeds: Part Two