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Posts Tagged ‘american genealogical research’

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot, or as one of the blog posts I’ve read today more delicately phrases it, “the 250th anniversary of the Liberty Tree protests in Boston.” Here in what were then colonies, this is considered one of the major events in the lead-up to the American Revolution. At HistoryCamp 2014, I attended a talk on the Boston bankruptcies of 1765 by J. L. Bell of the blog Boston 1775, wherein he said that in his opinion, the bankruptcy crisis occurring in Boston at the time the Stamp Act was passed probably contributed towards local hostility towards the Stamp Act, since it included court fees and so many people here in Boston were interacting with local courts at the time. I found this helpful in understanding why events occurred as they did, and as those of us with the benefit of hindsight know, it was part of a string of events that would lead to rebellion.

While some members of my own family had been early colonists in the Boston area, they had moved away by the time of the Stamp Act Riots and my folks still in New England at the time formed a crescent-moon shape around eastern Massachusetts, with families in western Connecticut and central and western Massachusetts, shortly to be joined by folks who moved up to western Vermont in the time between the Stamp Act Riots and the beginning of fighting in the Revolution. There weren’t too many newspapers yet, and some of these New Englanders likely read Boston papers, on a time delay that is probably unimaginable to many today. Perhaps they bought the papers themselves; perhaps their neighbors passed it on at one of their homes or in the local tavern. It is hard to imagine that the reactions flamed by many newspapers, such as this reprint of the New-York Gazette in the Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, went unremarked in these locations. With New England’s literacy rate so much higher at the time than in most of the American colonies, a large percentage of people could read and many of those could also write. But only with specific records can a researcher know for sure whether any particular person was literate, much less whether they read a newspaper article or what they thought of the contents or of the events that were occurring around them.

This, I think, has been one of the key differences historically between practicing historians and practicing genealogists – historians, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on larger trends and on people for whom a decent number of records are known to be extant and available to view, while genealogists, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on individual people, families, social networks, and communities, regardless of how many records there are for these smaller units. This has understandably led to historians sometimes expressing the opinion that genealogists are missing the forest for the trees and genealogists sometimes expressing the opinion that by focusing on the forest, an historian who wrote an overview work may have missed important information to be found by studying the individual trees. In my own opinion, anyone who wants to practice solid genealogical research will reach the point where they realize they need to look at more than the individual or the family – hence my including social networks and communities in the above list – and will look at the location in general and at scholarly works about that location and about topics that influenced the location and the lives of the people in it. However, the perception still persists amongst many outside of the genealogical community that American genealogists are all retirees from the ‘upper crust’ who are ‘just’ dabbling in their family’s history, and are probably doing so in the hopes of finding a famous relative or noble ancestor.

Earlier this year I attended the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s 2015 Annual Seminar, which was on “The Who, What, and Why of Early New England.” In one of the lectures, Robert Charles Anderson, director of the Great Migration Study Project, mentioned that he had come to decide on his master’s thesis topic over 30 years ago because he had noticed in his research that people in western Vermont tended to side with the revolutionaries while people in eastern Vermont tended to side with the Crown, and he wondered why. Having personally researched in western Vermont of that era but not eastern Vermont, I had not realized there was a strong geographical predictor of one’s likely overt sympathies until he mentioned it. I had used historical records to construct much of the lives and Revolution activities of my folks who were living in western Vermont at the time, and knew that according to surviving records, they were ardent supporters of the Revolution, including many of the men fighting in it. How much their geographic location influenced their actions, or whether it influenced them at all, is not clear from these records. As John Colletta said in his 2015 National Genealogical Society Conference lecture on researching the reasons why people did things, historians’ works are a great place to learn the reasons why a person, family, or small group may have done something, but any researcher of specific individuals, whether the research’s main focus is genealogical or historical, needs to utilize specific records to try to determine the reason(s) why people actually did something. This is how writing about any kind of research into the past moves from qualifiers like “may have” or “possibly” to qualifiers like “almost certainly” or “according to X’s diary, they…”

One of my posts on this blog, over four years ago now, was on using records to investigate a Revolution-era local history story on my own ancestor Gideon Ormsby of Manchester, Vermont. A few years before Boston’s Stamp Act Riots, Gideon and his family had moved from the disputed part of the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border to Amenia, Dutchess County, New York, as had Gideon’s relative Jonathan Ormsby and Jonathan’s family. I find it almost impossible to imagine that they did not hear about, and probably discuss, the Stamp Act Riots in Boston and in Newport, Rhode Island. But I do not know whether the Stamp Act Riots influenced their behavior, beliefs, or decisions.

Speculators had become proprietors of the area of land in Vermont that later became Manchester, but colonists had not yet moved there. The two Ormsby families’ move to Amenia would prove fortuitous for the family, as a group of travelers from Amenia were exploring this area of Vermont in 1761, saw the land, and expressed interest in it, leading them to become the new proprietors. Gideon and Jonathan were two of these new proprietors, and Jonathan was chosen proprietor’s clerk at their first meeting in Amenia in February 1764. At the same meeting, Samuel Rose was chosen moderator. The proprietors started laying out the lots shortly thereafter, and Gideon was one of the people appointed to lay out the highway. While local histories state that it is not clear whether families spent the first winter in Vermont, the births of Gideon and his wife Mercy’s children indicate that at least some of the families stayed in Amenia or returned to it over the first couple of winters.

The ripples sent out by events like the Stamp Act Riots would reverberate down the years and eventually tear apart cohesive groups like the proprietors of Manchester. That local history story I investigated in records was about the Rose family. The Roses had been the first white family to settle permanently in Manchester, but – bucking the geographic trend – Samuel Rose was believed to side with the Crown in the Revolution, and as part of Gideon Orsmby’s responsibilities as one of the higher-up Revolution-era militiamen in the area, Gideon was tasked with capturing Samuel and coordinating the guarding of him. Samuel was arrested and taken to Northampton’s gaol (jail), and his lands were confiscated by the Vermont government. Whatever Gideon and the other early colonists of the area may have thought, they showed no visible sentiment in this capture and confiscation, and some of them went on to buy Samuel’s lands at auction. When I first discovered this, it seemed like a conflict of interest; I have since discovered that this was rather common in many areas where land was confiscated, though it still seems like a rather dubious chain of events to me. When I wrote my previous post, I had not yet realized that Samuel Rose had been instrumental in the founding of Manchester, and to me it adds depth to the story. It is possible to write a local history without the details of this Revolution-era conflict – and indeed, many have already been written – and genealogical research that doesn’t include this level of detail could certainly be considered adequate. But to me, both historical and genealogical works really come to life when they go in depth about both the area and the people in it.

Over the time I have been doing research, I have come to believe that there is likely no such thing as an ‘average person’ or ‘ordinary person’ in any time period or place, and that conclusions to that effect are probably due more to a lack of extant records that flesh them out as people than because of any one person themselves. However, one’s loved ones, one’s social network, and one’s community at large greatly shaped one’s choices and the personas that one presented to others, and news events of a nearby town or a distant one often influenced people then as well as today, although of course news typically took much longer then to spread very far. Wherever your research subjects were living – whether they be your own families or your biographical subjects as an historian or biographer – it is interesting to contemplate what effect news of the Stamp Act Riots may have had on them, and perhaps to read newspaper coverage of how it was presented in the colony or country you are researching, if it was covered at all.

For those that live in this area today, there are several events this weekend commemorating the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot. If you are interested in history, please consider attending one or more of them, regardless of whether you had any family in Boston (or in the colonies at all) at the time, to help keep alive the collective memory of these events that were (literally and figuratively) so formative to this country.

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Luella Laughton Goold was born on 1 September 1879 in Lebanon, Grafton County, New Hampshire, the second known child born to Pierce William Goold and Alice E. (Hill) Goold. In a family of eight known children, seven of them were daughters. Luella’s father’s family had emigrated from Ireland by way of Liverpool in 1861, very shortly after the American Civil War broke out; I have trouble believing that anyone would willingly emigrate to a country being ravaged by war unless they were desperate to escape their current situation, but perhaps they – like many Americans in the Northern U. S. at the time – believed the war would be over quickly.

Luella was born in the aftermath of the American Civil War, a period in American history when families and individuals were very easily uprooted. In 1880 the family was still living in Lebanon, New Hampshire, but by 1892 the family had made a drastic move, to Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington, where she was enumerated on the state census as Lulie, perhaps a childhood nickname. The Goolds shortly returned to New Hampshire, where Luella’s parents buried two of her sisters.

By 1900 the Goolds had moved again, to Hartford, Windsor County, Connecticut, and 20-year-old Luella had started working as a nurse. By 1910 Luella had moved out on her own, lodging in Manhattan and still working as a nurse. By 1920 Luella had moved to Arlington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where she was working as a nurse – with the intriguing specification of “experimental work” – and her widowed Irish-born father Pierce William Goold was living with her, occupation listed as “Retired,” with extra income coming from boarding a Swedish emigre who was working as a carpenter. The family was living at 70 Paul Revere Road, a road likely named after the historic ride through their town, a town which had been known as Menotomy in 1775. Luella had apparently done well for herself financially as a single nurse, as she owned the home in which she, her father, and her boarder were living.

Luella’s life was shortly to take a dramatic turn. On 18 February 1924, while she was still living at 70 Paul Revere Road in Arlington, Massachusetts, Luella was issued an American passport. Her application reported that in the intervening time, her father had moved back to Tacoma, Washington. Quite contrary to her census enumerations, her passport application reported her occupation as “housewife.” She said she was intending to leave on the Pittsburgh from the port of New York on April 1st and visit France, Great Britain, and Switzerland for “Study & Travel.” The application includes a photo; while the copy I have viewed is from microfilm and thus not the greatest rendering, it is the only photo I have seen of Luella.

Luella Laughton Goold passport photo

Luella Laughton Goold in her 1924 passport photo, U.S. passport application #372144. (Scan courtesy of Ancestry, whose source was a National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] microfilm.)

At the time, passport applicants typically had a witness provide testimony supporting that they were who they said they were. Luella’s witness was James T. Greeley, a physician living in Nashua, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, who said he had known Luella for 15 years. While Nashua is not as far away as Tacoma, it is not adjacent to Arlington.

This witness James T. Greeley was James Thornton Greeley, born during the American Civil War in Nashua, New Hampshire, on 18 July 1862 to James Bonaparte Greeley and Arabella (Wood) Greeley. James Thornton Greeley’s grandparents apparently had high aspirations for their children: Bonaparte was likely an allusion to Napoleon, and Arabella (also spelled Arbella) was the name of the flagship in the Winthrop Fleet that had settled New Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the ship having been named after their noble passenger Lady Arabella Johnson (also spelled Lady Arbella). The elder James was also a physician, and on 3 November 1861 he had enlisted in the Calvary branch of the Union Army, starting out with the rank of Assistant Surgeon. Intriguingly, though he enlisted in Nashua, he served for the state of Rhode Island. When he enlisted, he left behind his wife and their toddler, and Arabella was pregnant with the younger James. The elder James was promoted to Full Surgeon on 4 June 1862, but it appears tragedy shortly befell him, as he was mustered out soon thereafter on 31 August 1862 and awarded an invalid pension while the Civil War continued to rage. (I have not yet viewed his compiled military service file nor his and Arabella’s pension records.)

By the 1870 census, the Greeley family was living in Merrimack, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, and there were now three sons in the family. By 1880 they had moved back to nearby Nashua, where they were living on Main Street, with another Greeley family enumerated next door. As the sons of a physician, all three Greeley sons were still in school, even the eldest at age 20.

According to the Directory of Deceased Physicians, the younger James attended Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then attended Baltimore Medical College in Baltimore, Maryland, graduating from the latter in 1891. In 1893 James and his brother Guy Greeley both became Fellows of the New Hampshire Medical Society.

On 9 October 1895, James Thornton Greeley married Florence Haile Richardson in Nashua and they settled in Nashua. In 1897, New Hampshire granted a medical license to James. The date he was licensed had more to do with the increasing regulation of American doctors than with James’s personal career. As an endnote in “The Early Development of Medical Licensing Laws in the United States, 1875-1900” by Ronald Hamoway notes (p. 117) [link goes to PDF], “In 1897, a new statute was enacted [in New Hampshire] creating three boards of examiners, regular, homeopathic, and eclectic, with both a diploma and examination mandatory. In 1915, the three boards were abolished and one board substituted for them.” There appears to be more detail on the history of licensing in “The History of Medical Licensure” in a 1935 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but as a non-subscriber, I can only view the first page.

James and Florence went on to have at least four children, three of whom survived to adulthood: Margaret, James, and Cyrus. As a successful physician and his family members, James, Florence, and their children got to experience things not open to the “average” American of the time, including traveling abroad. Their first known child, Margaret, was born in 1900, and in 1901 James applied for a passport for himself, Florence, and infant Margaret. Why were they traveling abroad when she was so young? The passport application does not say, and so far I have not figured out where they travelled. In the summer of 1910 Florence applied for a passport for herself and her older children, Margaret (then 10) and James (then 8). At the time passports did not ask for specifics on where the person(s) intended to travel, just how long, and Florence said they intended to return within two years, as James had before them. I also have yet to figure out where the three of them travelled.

The United States entered World War I in 1917, and in 1918 James applied for another passport, this time to go into medical service with the American Red Cross. He was 56 years old when his application was approved. His passport specified that he was planning to go to “England Great Britain” and “France.” The American Red Cross did a tremendous amount of volunteer medical work in France and also some in the UK, the latter mostly with wounded American troops. The linked publication on the American Red Cross’s World War I activities (published in 1919) notes of their work in France, “As an indication of the ability to meet emergencies, a complete 1,000 bed hospital was made ready in forty[-]eight hours.” James sailed from Montréal on the Llanstephan Castle, arriving in Bristol, England, on 3 November 1918 as part of a large group of American Red Cross volunteers.

In December 1922 their daughter Margaret applied for a passport of her own, stating that she was a never-married art student who intended to go to Tunis, Italy, and France via “an early boat” leaving “on or about January 30, 1923.” Margaret’s supporting witness was her mother Florence. Margaret said on her application that she was planning to leave from New York or Boston; I have yet to find her on a ship list, though I don’t know where she was planning to visit first. Florence died on 8 February 1923. Florence’s death record says she died of “Lobar Pneumonia,” which she’d reportedly had for 8 days; had Margaret sailed on a ship just before her mother’s acute illness began as Margaret had planned to do?

Margaret Thornton Greeley passport application photo

Margaret Thornton Greeley in her passport application photo; while this photo’s scan from microfilm is worse than Luella’s, it is definitely not the worst I have seen. From U.S. passport application #238615. (Scan courtesy of Ancestry, whose source was a NARA microfilm.)

In 1924 James Thornton Greeley applied for yet another passport. He reported that he was planning to leave on the “Pittsburg” [sic] from the port of New York on April 1st and visit France, England, and Switzerland to “Visiting relatives and study.” Does the previous sentence sound familiar? That’s because it was almost identical to Luella’s plan, although she apparently didn’t have any relatives in Europe to visit, as she had said her purpose was “Study & Travel.” James submitted a previous passport in lieu of a witness, and his new passport was issued 11 days after Luella’s, on Leap Day, February 29th.

On April 8th, the Orca reached Southampton, England, with both Luella and James on board. While they sailed on a different ship than the planned Pittsburgh, it appears they sailed on approximately April 1st. Both of them listed London addresses for their contact information in England. On April 26th, Luella and James married at 15 Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, London. They had resided in London long enough to satisfy the Registrar who married them in front of the American Vice-Counsul of London, as they were both listed as “of London” on their marriage record. Had they headed to Europe with the plan to marry in London, or had they headed to Europe as friends and decided to marry en route? The Vice-Council reported their marriage to the U.S. State Department on May 14th, and in an accompanying letter from May 15th, the American Consul General reported that he had amended Luella’s passport to the surname Greeley.

Also on May 15th, James and Luella passed through Liverpool on the Carmania. Luella was recorded as Lucille Greeley. The ship list contact information column showed them both as “In transit from PARIS.” They were heading for Quebec, and on May 22nd the Carmania arrived there, “Lucille”‘s residence in the United States now listed as Nashua.

On August 29th, Margaret sailed into the port of New York on the Berengaria, having sailed from Cherbourg, France, on the 23rd. Lucy Kate Bowers, also from Nashua and also born in 1900, was with her. While Margaret and Lucy were travelling in Europe, had they gone to London to celebrate James and Luella’s wedding? So far, I don’t know.

On 29 August 1929, James died of a coronary embolism in Nashua. James and Luella had celebrated their five-year anniversary that April. The Greeley children were now technically orphans. James’s youngest child, Cyrus, was enumerated on the 1930 U.S. federal census with Luella. By this point Cyrus had begun slightly shaving his age, which would continue the rest of his life; he was enumerated on the 1910 census, yet as a young adult listed his age as slightly younger than someone who would have appeared on it. Cyrus attended the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, where he was a baritone in the University Men’s Glee Club and part of the cast for the university’s February 1932 staging of Euripedes’s Electra. In the 1930’s he was listed in Seattle city directories as well as at Luella’s address in Nashua city directories, so he apparently still lived with her when school was out of session. On 25 April 1938, Cyrus died in Seattle.

Luella outlived her husband James by nearly 44 years, dying in Lacey, Thurston County, Washington, on 6 May 1973, at age 93. One of Luella’s sisters died in Thurston County a few years later, so perhaps they lived together when they were elderly.

Luella’s other stepson, James, worked as a teacher and married a woman named Helen. James died in Florida in 1988. So far, Margaret’s return to New York with Lucy, both Nashua-bound, is the last record I have found for her. It seems most likely that she disappears from records because she married after she returned, but if so, I have yet to find a record of the wedding.

The way we later write things in genealogical and historical research is often different than the order in which we discover them. The first record I found connecting Luella and James was the record of their marriage. Unspooling their story was great fun. I hope you enjoyed reading it even half as much as I enjoyed researching it and sharing it here.

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In my previous post I discussed using information I found on the 1940 US federal census to successfully trace a living cousin. I was deliberately vague to avoid revealing information about living relatives in a public blog post. I was very lucky in this particular case because my cousin’s first name and married surname are, as far as I can find, a unique combination in the US. But it is possible to trace down to a living relative even when it isn’t comparably easy.

One of my primary tools, about which I learned when I took Boston University’s Genealogical Research Certificate program, is Veromi.net. There are a number of other tracking sites out there, but I started out with that one and I’ve continued to use it, partly because it has a section that it calls “Possible Associates,” “Associated Names,” etc. While those that do things like heir tracking for a living will often pay to use the subscriber sections of the site, for my purposes I simply cull information from the free portions.

I will start out searching the entire country and see how common the first and last name combination are. If they are common, I will narrow it to the last state that was listed for the person on the records I have, though I remain aware that it is possible they are no longer living in that state. If a hit looks like a possible match, I will take any associated names and plug them back into genealogical databases and see what I find. I have sometimes been able to confirm I have found the correct person solely using records I find via the associated names. Similarly, I have sometimes been able to rule out that it is the correct person solely using associated name records. I also search newspaper databases and search engines to see what comes up.

Once I have a best candidate, I will look them up in online directories. Even if I find a phone number, I typically write them a letter instead, because I feel that it’s a better way to allow them time to digest the information and decide how they want to respond. Many have been returned to me unopened. Some other folks have responded via snailmail that they are sorry but they are not the person I am seeking. Sometimes I never get an answer and have no idea whether it reached the final destination and the person wasn’t interested, or whether it never got there. All of this is absolutely worthwhile for the cases like the one I posted yesterday, where I am able to connect with a living descendant of the other line.

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