All posts by Sheilagh Doerfler

About Sheilagh Doerfler

Sheilagh, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received her B.A. in History and Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her research interests include New England, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Westward Migration, and adoptions.

My family is Scandinavian . . . now what?!

1866 parish register of marriages, Lavik, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, viewed at
1866 parish register of marriages, Lavik, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, viewed at

In the years after the American Civil War, an influx of immigrants from Scandinavia settled in the United States. Pushed from their homelands by famine, overpopulation, and lack of economic opportunities, these Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Danes poured into the country. In particular, they were drawn to the American Midwest, where large tracts of fertile farmland were abundant. Here they established their own communities, where they spoke their mother language, established their own churches, and even published their own newspapers. Today many Americans can claim Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Danish ancestry. And if you are one of these Americans, you may be apprehensive about researching these ancestors because of the language barrier. Don’t be; with the right base of knowledge and a little practice, you’ll be well on your way to uncovering your Scandinavian roots. Continue reading My family is Scandinavian . . . now what?!

The most tedious records of them all . . .

1770 Exeter tax
1770 Exeter tax roll showing Elizabeth Gorden, from FamilySearch.

Reading town records can be daunting. They are often the very last set of records that we consult in our research. Town records are often out of order, difficult to read, and contain pages upon pages of mundane town votes. They can leave the most enthusiastic genealogist a little bleary-eyed. But sometimes patience and perseverance pay off, and you can discover that little, long-sought piece of information about your ancestor. Continue reading The most tedious records of them all . . .

Uses for Civil War regimental histories

Doerfler Battle of Winchester
The Battle of Winchester

Regimental histories can provide a lot of information regarding our Civil War ancestors, and are often overlooked in research. Compiled by many Civil War veterans in the years after the war, these histories can provide new insight into their service, far beyond what might be found in military records. Continue reading Uses for Civil War regimental histories

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

“My ancestor was born … where?!”

T 316 (Folio A)
Detail, view of Saint Helena. Images courtesy of

One must always expect surprises when researching family history, because you just never know what you might uncover.

When researching my paternal ancestors, I discovered that our family had ties to one of the most remote places on the planet: the island of Saint Helena. Made famous as the location of Napoleon Bonaparte’s second exile, Saint Helena is a rocky, volcanic island located in the South Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa. Continue reading “My ancestor was born … where?!”

“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…”