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On Monday (August 25th), I attended a talk on the Middle Passage given by a National Park Service Boston African-American National Historic Site Ranger in the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall. In this historic location so tied to the American Revolution and which many presidents and other significant historical figures have visited, she discussed the Middle Passage from Africa to the Colonies of the Western Hemisphere as well as slavery in the Colonies in general and in New England and Boston in particular.

In 1637, the Desire was the first ship to leave the Northern Colonies with slaves (she said it was “somewhat unique” in that it carried slaves both directions). It carried Pequot prisoners of war to be sold in the Caribbean and picked up slaves for New England, returning to Boston in 1638 to sell them. The Desire‘s most likely landing spot was Boston’s town dock, which no longer exists. Long Wharf, completed by 1715, subsequently became the most common place to sell slaves. The handout included a number of quotes, one of which was an ad that ran in Boston newspapers in 1751 saying that parties interested in their cargo of “Five strong hearty stout negro Men, most of them Tradesmen…” could inspect it on the ship docked at Long Wharf in advance of the sale. The public sale was being held at the Bunch of Grapes, a tavern on King Street, and she emphasized that this showed how integrated slavery was in Massachusetts culture.

Another quoted newspaper ad (Boston Gazette, 10 June 1728) lists cargo being sold at Henry Caswall’s warehouse on Long Wharf, including “…Sooseys, Persians, Taffities, Ginghams, Long Cloths, Irish Linens of all sorts, Men & Women’s Worsted and Silk Hose, Powder, Cordage, Duck, Nails, Sweeds and Spanish Iron, with sundry other European and East India Goods, lately Imported, also Negro Boys & Girls, and Barbados Rum.” The rum, like the slaves, was an integral part of the Slave Trade Triangle that existed between the North American Colonies, Africa, and the sprawling sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America. All told, she said there were about 1,000 ads regarding enslaved people in Boston in the 18th century.

The speaker stressed that statistics she was giving from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database were only slaves being sent directly from Africa, and that a good number were shipped from the Caribbean to North American Colonies, including New England. Overall, by far the highest number were sent to Brazil, with many more also going to the Caribbean and northern South America than to North America. However, the death rate was so much higher in the Caribbean and Brazilian plantations that many more slaves that were sent here survived, and slaves that were later shipped from the Caribbean to North America were often glad that at least this increased their chances of survival (she read some excerpts from slave narratives expressing these sentiments).

While there are classically thought of slave trade vessels, many types of ships were involved in the slave trade, from those ships built expressly for it to small schooners transporting small numbers of slaves. Her handout included a well-known diagram of a 1790-91 ship, also available several places online, such as at Wikimedia Commons. While the importation of slaves directly from Africa to the United States was outlawed in 1808, she stressed that there were workarounds, from importing slaves from the Caribbean (which she said was legal) to making illegal slave trade runs directly from Africa, as well as trading slaves born in the U. S. I did not realize that illegal runs were still being made from Africa until I started researching in 1800’s American newspapers, wherein I found incensed Northern newspaper reports of captured slave trade ships that had been trying to make it from Africa directly into Southern ports as close to the outbreak of the Civil War as the 1850’s, and I would imagine there were likely other slave trade ships that made it through undetected.

She said that in the 18th century, it is estimated that between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4 households in New England had one or more slaves. Most were clustered in/near coastal areas. (I want to note, in case you don’t already know, that a large percentage of the white colonists were also clustered in/near coastal areas, like the Native American tribes before them, so it would make sense that the slaves were too.) She said that it is also estimated that during the first half of the 18th century, the slave population of Massachusetts went from 1,000 to 13,000. In Boston the slave population was concentrated in the Copps Hill area, and “oppressive laws” included: a 9pm curfew; a law against carrying anything that could be mistaken for a weapon, including canes and sticks; a requirement for slaves to perform public works without pay.

She also discussed Cotton Mather and the smallpox inoculation method he learned from his former slave (I’m sorry, I didn’t write down his name and am not finding it in several minutes of searching, though I do note that many sites say the person was still Mather’s slave, which is not what the speaker said) and introduced to Boston in 1721. She did not note that it caused much controversy at the time (I’ve done a fair amount of my own reading on this subject). The speaker said that at that point smallpox was estimated to have a 15% fatality rate in Boston, while the inoculation method had a 3% fatality rate. There are a lot of places, online and offline, to read more about this subject. One starting point is Harvard University’s Contagion page on the 1721 epidemic.

She discussed Prince Hall and the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of Boston, which he founded and which sent a lot of petitions to the legislature, and David Walker, an abolitionist born in North Carolina who moved to Boston and wrote the famous pamphlet Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America, which a brief survey on my part suggests a lot of webpages term “incendiary.” She noted that in the pamphlet he frequently used the terms “colored citizens” and “American citizens,” the latter meaning “white citizens,” illustrating how disenfranchised he felt from society. After he died in 1830, his friend Maria Stewart “took up his mantle,” and the speaker read quotes from one of Maria’s speeches to the African Masonic Hall in Boston.

She also discussed Paul Cuffe, an African-American whaling captain who was in favor of the colonization movement, where free African-Americans would return to Africa. A few Boston families went with him and stayed in Africa on one of his trips there. Coincidentally, two days before the talk I had seen the Magna Carta exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the only African-American I saw highlighted there was Paul Cuffe; a portrait of him on loan from the New England Historic Genealogical Society hung in the room with the 1215 document, and the label discussed Cuffe’s own petitioning efforts (amongst other things). Many whites who supported colonization did so for implicitly or often explicitly racist reasons, and many African-Americans were against it. One of them was Frederick Douglass, who had given an anti-colonization speech at Faneuil Hall in 1833 and whose bust was now above us in the Great Hall watching over the proceedings.

She also discussed a number of things on which I did not take any notes and do not remember in detail to be able to recount properly here. I do not believe she mentioned that Faneuil Hall was partially financed with money from the slave trade, as its builder Peter Faneuil was a slave trader as part of his merchant business. There is a blog post about it here and the same site has a more general post on Massachusetts slavery here that covers some of the same things that were discussed in the talk as well as some different things. Slavery in the North has a Massachusetts slavery page here and a Massachusetts emancipation page here.

I thought her talk was very well-done and it was pretty well attended for a talk held during the daytime on a weekday without much publicity surrounding it. It included the largest percentage of African-Americans I believe I’ve ever seen at any of the many talks/events/conferences I’ve attended on history, genealogy, and related subjects, and every question and comment after the talk was from an African-American audience member. I think this shows that the local audience is there if you present a subject that is of interest to African-Americans and let them know about it. (I’ll continue to hold out hope that local genealogical event organizers will do this someday…)

The talk was the first event in what the NPS and the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project [note: at time of posting, their site seems to be down] hope to be a year of area events leading up to the unveiling of a Middle Passage Marker in Boston next August 23rd, UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition; Boston will be the 11th American port to get a marker. (August 23rd is the annual International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition because it was the start of the Haitian Revolution; see here for more info.) They also plan to eventually erect a permanent monument to the Middle Passage and the area’s slaves near the original beginning of (now much shorter) Long Wharf.  Many locals and most tourists do not realize that slavery used to exist here and that the slave trade used to happen here, and in addition to honoring the enslaved people who went on the Middle Passage, the NPS and the Project hope to help raise awareness of this. The Middle Passage Project aims to eventually have a marker at every port that was a part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. If you are interested in helping them with a project already underway or starting one in your port, please contact them. They hold ceremonies of remembrance in locations involved in the slave trade as well as adding markers at ports.

I blogged earlier this year about Roco and Sue, two slaves that bought their freedom from my ancestor’s brother, John Pynchon, in inland Massachusetts. I find that it is common for genealogical researchers of colonial New England to either not realize there were slaves here or to assume that only the wealthiest families had slaves. I think that the estimate mentioned earlier in this post that 1 in 10 to 1 in 4 families – 10% to 25% – are thought to have owned a slave in 18th century Massachusetts shows that this is not necessarily accurate. While most people did not own several slaves like John Pynchon did, many families owned one or two slaves. If you are researching a free family/individual and not accounting for this possibility in your research, you may be missing the opportunity to learn more about your ancestors’/relatives’ lives and to help document a slave’s life for posterity and for that slave’s possible living descendants.

An excerpt from the 1700 Plymouth County, Massachusetts, will of Susanna Byram of Bridgewater

An excerpt from the Plymouth County, Massachusetts, will of my ancestor Susanna Byram of East Bridgewater (proved in 1700), wherein she grants freedom to her two slaves in between discussions of legacies for her granddaughters: “I give To miriam Negro maid hir freedom at my decease & on[e] homemade hood I give To Tom negro man Ten Shillings mony & his freedom At my Decease if hee be Thirty Years of age & if not hee Shall Secure[?] with my Son Nicolas biram Till he is Thirty yeares of age & then be free” (Plymouth County probate case file #3511; image courtesy of FamilySearch.)

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NOTE

There is a project underway through Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies that is indexing, transcribing, and digitizing slavery-related petitions to the Massachusetts colonial/state legislature. See the 2013 article about it in the Harvard Gazette, “Digitizing a movement: Harvard project covers thousands of 18th- and 19th-century anti-slavery petitions.”

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On Friday (February 28th) I visited Boston City Archives for the first time. I had wanted to visit since I attended a talk on the Archives by archivist Marta Crilly last year at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference, which was held in Boston. I typed my notes from that lecture up in my post on IAJGS 2013 Day 2. At the talk, Marta had stressed booking an appointment in advance and, if at all possible, coming by car rather than by public transit. I called a few days in advance and booked an appointment for Friday. Marta was the one who answered the phone, and asked what I would be researching. She told me she would pull the first thing in advance of my arrival. I mentioned that I would be coming with a friend to make sure that this would be OK, and she said to stress to my friend that they are a nearly exclusively pull facility so my friend should bring along specifics if she wanted to research something in their records.

Boston City Archives is located in West Roxbury, a neighborhood of Roxbury, which was formerly an independent town and is now part of the City of Boston. The Archives is located near the border with Brookline. The parking lot is wide in front of the building, and there were signs posted around most of the lot saying the parking was for city employees, so we parked near the other end from the entrance. Someone walking in the parking lot confirmed that the entrance where we could access the Archives was where we were guessing it was. There is a ramp leading up to the entrance in addition to a small set of stairs; there are also three handicapped parking spaces, the closest parking spaces to the entrance, and these spaces were all empty while we were there. When you enter the building, the door to the Archives Reading Room will be on your right. There is a desk at the front of the Reading Room where there is usually a staff member seated.

The exterior of Boston City Archives

The exterior of Boston City Archives, as seen from the parking lot when we were leaving in the late afternoon. The entrance is in the grey boxy bit on the left. There are also a couple of other city offices through the same entrance, including the City Archaeology Lab. (All photos in this post were taken by the author.)

When we arrived, there was one researcher sitting at one of the two tables nearest the desk looking through records, and Marta said the other table nearest the desk was for us. The rest of the tables in the fairly large Reading Room were covered with items from the Boston Marathon bombing victims’ memorial, and there were a number of people moving around the Reading Room working on cataloging these items. There are lockers behind the desk and we were asked to stow most of what we had brought with us in them; we were allowed to keep pencils, papers, and cameras/cellphones. There are extra pencils in case someone didn’t bring one along or brought one that broke on-site. Marta had said on the phone that she would pull a register book for me before I arrived, and it was waiting for us. There were also two pieces of foam that she requested I use to prop up the books to help protect them. She sat with us for a bit listening to the other things we wanted to research and taking notes, and then left to pull more records.

The pull cart at Boston City Archives

The pull cart at Boston City Archives. Since we usually asked for several things at a time to be pulled, it was left by our table while we researched and temporarily removed when new things were pulled.

I started my research doing work for a client, and had brought along a typed page of information on folks I am personally researching in Boston. Most of the information regarding my personal research did not lead to records, but I was able to do some personal research in tax records. Based on the street address I had brought with me, Marta pulled several tax books (pictured on the top shelf of the pull cart above), starting with the first year I was sure the person had lived at the address. The first year, the street address was not listed in the tax book, but a nearby address with two digits exchanged (1879 rather than 1897) was listed, and there was a dental practice at that address, so I thought that I may have mistyped the address and that my dentist research subject, early in his career at that point, may have been an apprentice at that practice at the time. However, Marta urged me to check a minimum of one more book before sending the records back. I’m glad I did, as the address 1897 was in the next year’s tax book and my dentist was listed at it. See photos of the record below. He was also in the next year’s tax book at the same address, while the following year – the year he had graduated from Harvard University’s Dental School – there were two other dentists listed at his apparently now-former address. I checked a couple more books, but after that the address was rented by a carpenter. I know he was still living in Boston at the time, so I will have to verify more addresses before I go back to research more. (See the captions for how to use street addresses with the tax books.)

Sample of tax records at Boston City Archives, page 1 of 2

Here is a sample of the old tax records at Boston City Archives, page 1 of 2 from the 1871 tax books. Willis Battles, shown here, is a relative of mine; the “1” to the right of his name indicates that he paid the year’s poll tax. Most of the locations on this page were businesses, but in a city directory of this time period Willis was listed as living at the same address where he worked as a dentist. Men were subject to the poll tax and women weren’t, so Marta said that it is rare to find an occupant woman listed in the tax books. However, if a woman operated a shop at a separate address from where she lived, you should be able to look up the street address of the shop if you know it, even though the woman wouldn’t have been subject to the poll tax. The books are organized by street address. You look in the front of the book to see if the street of interest is in it, then search the listed street numbers for the page that contains the exact address. (Some streets are in more than one book.)

 Sample of tax records at Boston City Archives, page 2 of 2

Here is a sample of the old tax records at Boston City Archives, page 2 of 2 from the 1871 tax books. The people shown on this page are the property owners. The books are organized by street address, so if you know the address someone owned, you can look them up in the tax records regardless of whether they lived there. There were a number of woman property owners listed in the books I searched from the 1870’s and the books my friend searched from the 1910’s, so I think you are much more likely to find a woman property owner than a woman occupant in these records. To search the books, you look in the front of the book to see if the street of interest is in it, then search the listed street numbers for the page that contains the exact address. (Some streets are in more than one book.)

One of the ledgers I used was the most fire-damaged record I’ve ever personally used, and also had some water damage. I had to keep washing soot off my hands. See the photo below.

Ledger damaged by fire and water at Boston City Archives

This ledger damaged by fire and water is at Boston City Archives. Using it required much washing to remove soot from my hands, and it also left bits of soot all over the table.

Before we went to the Archives, my friend had found something with no known personal connection to her research that she thought sounded interesting in the Archives catalog, and after she finished researching she looked through it, a box of folders of loose papers of warnings-out from Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the 1700’s. Charlestown was once an independent town and is also now part of the City of Boston. For those of you that don’t know what warnings-out were, to oversimplify, here in New England they were a way to make sure that a town did not have to pay for someone who became indigent who was not a legal resident of the town by legally “warning them out” of the town. The system was similar to England’s Settlement Laws, though in New England being warned out simply meant the town was no longer financially liable for upkeep, not that the person(s) necessarily left the town. For those of you that want to read more, Josiah H. Benton wrote an entire book about it titled Warning Out in New England, published in 1911 and now scanned and freely available on multiple sites (I’ve linked to one).

A sample warning out from 1700s Charlestown at Boston City Archives

A sample warning out from 1700’s Charlestown, Massachusetts, at Boston City Archives. This record begins “In His Majesty’s name” and the date at the end includes “In the Twenty Second year of His Majesty’s Name,” the last word of which was probably supposed to be “Reign” rather than “Name.”

I’m glad I asked around till I found someone with a car who was both willing and able to go with me, as after going there I agree that it would be difficult to reach the Archives on public transit. I also want to stress that if you are going by car, it’s a good idea to bring GPS and/or a detailed map of the neighborhood. We only had written directions with us and discovered that there were many intersections without street signs which made it difficult to follow the written directions. After we realized we had started going in circles, we called the Archives and asked for directions from where we had pulled over.

Additional Tips:

  • Bring something to take digital photos! The Archives has a photocopier, but it is easier (and sometimes the only feasible way) to photograph items. You are allowed to photograph any record you view.
  • As Marta stressed at her lecture, call in advance and book an appointment. Have an idea of at least one thing you are going to be researching at the Archives before you call so that you will be able to provide details over the phone when you schedule your appointment.
  • If you know street addresses and/or wards, bring them along. Bring along as many street addresses and wards as you have, and include known dates for each one in your notes. If someone moved and/or their street address/ward changed without them moving, bring that information along as well, as it will make a significant difference. It is difficult to research in their old tax records without an exact street address, and probably impossible to research in their old voter records without a ward. While the Archives has some Ward maps as per my posted notes from Marta’s lecture, the maps do not cover as many years as the voting records do. The 1870 US federal census enumeration doesn’t typically include Wards in Boston, but the State Library of Massachusetts’s Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project has an 1874 atlas of Suffolk County (including Boston), which is earlier than the Archives Ward maps. If I had known there were no 1870’s Ward maps at the Archives and checked the 1874 atlas for wards in advance, I could have tried to look Willis up in the voting records while I was there.
  • If you plan to search the women’s early voting records (women were allowed to vote [only] in school elections in Massachusetts before federal women’s suffrage), plan to schedule a minimum of an entire day to only doing that. I asked about looking in them for my female personal research subjects and Marta said that because they are completely unindexed, they would probably take me a couple of weeks to thoroughly search. (Because I had other things to research that day, she didn’t pull them at all for me and I have yet to view any samples from that record set.)

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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Like Friday (Day 2), Saturday (Day 3) consisted of 5 lecture slots, starting at 8:30.

I chose to begin my day with “Getting Ink on Paper: Publishing Your Genealogical Material in a Digital Age,” the other lecture Craig Scott gave at NERGC this year. [See my NERGC Day 2 post for some information on his French and Indian War lecture.] For those that don’t know, in addition to being a military records expert, Craig Scott runs Heritage Books, one of the major American reprint publishers. I was a writer and editor before I became a genealogist, and have attended several things on this subject, the most noteworthy being the 2011 session of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s course, “Writing Family History Narratives and Other Genealogical Works,” taught by Dr. John Colletta and Dr. Thomas Jones, and a one-day seminar on writing and publishing held by New England Historic Genealogical Society in 2010. However, unlike Craig Scott’s French and Indian War lecture, I did not circle this as one of my few must-attends as soon as I registered; the most compelling reason I decided to attend it was because he had been such a good speaker at his other lecture. My friend who went with me to this lecture has (as far as I am aware) never attended anything formal to do with writing, editing, or publishing genealogical works and for them, Craig Scott being such a good speaker seemed to be the only reason they decided to go with me.

Continuing from the previous day, we reserved our seats early to ensure we would have spots in the lecture. We knew from the previous day that Craig Scott opens the room to questions on any subject 15 minutes before his lectures officially begin, so though we left to walk around a bit, I suggested we return when I noticed it was less than 15 minutes before 8:30. Indeed, when we returned he was taking questions from the small number of people who were already seated, scattered around the largest room. He spent the longest time on a question about a birth certificate that the questioner reported has a father listed but not a mother. Upon Craig Scott’s questioning of the question-asker, this was ascertained: A child was dropped off at a state home at about 6 weeks old, and the birth certificate for the child lists the person who dropped the child off at the home as the father, but no mother is listed. Craig Scott asserted that the home, which the question-asker said was run by the state of Vermont, had filed a belated birth certificate to have all the paperwork in order. He also noted that while the birth certificate lists the man who dropped the baby off as the father, just because the man dropped the baby off, that’s not proof that he actually was the father, regardless of the birth certificate’s claim.

After the pre-lecture Q&A, Craig Scott began the scheduled lecture. In a lot of ways, this lecture complemented the genealogical writing course I took at BU, which I think is rather impressive given that that was an intensive one-week all-day course and this was one hour. Craig Scott recommended the same books as had been required in the writing course – Evidence Explained (and Evidence! if possible), Producing a Quality Family History, and Numbering Your Genealogy. He also recommended the unfortunately out-of-print Indexing Family Histories: Simple Steps for a Quality Product, which he said consequently sells for ridiculous sums online.

Craig Scott made a lot of succinct comments that I thought were noteworthy. For example, he said, “Quality research is, in my mind, defined as ‘when people read it, they agree with you,'” and if they don’t, you have to define who it is that agrees with you – are other researchers producing quality work the ones that agree with you? Another thing he said really stuck with me: “If you’re not willing to accept scrutiny, you’re not ready yet.” I know a lot of genealogists whom I’m as sure as I can be would produce quality work if they did produce work, but aren’t doing so yet. But maybe my favorite was, “Do you know how I spell a genealogy that has no citations? C-R-A-P.” – a quip which got a lot of laughs and knowing nods from the audience. He summed up the genealogical writer’s dilemma: Too few citations and it’s fiction; too many citations and it’s boring to most readers.

Do your best to strike the balance between history and your family – to put people in a place. More Craig Scott quotes: “Tell the story of your ancestors, not just their vital records.” “A book of family group sheets does not tell a story.” The more scandal and/or secrets about dead people, the more compelling the read. Craig Scott told a story about when he was a young genealogist starting out and found out via his research a secret about his grandmother’s family, and when he asked her about it, she said (approximately), “I’ve been waiting for someone to ask,” and gave him the details in exchange for the promise that he would wait to share them until after she died. Include as many pertinent maps, photos, and other illustrations as you can afford – and Craig Scott did stress the pertinent part. In his opinion, if there’s an illustration, it had better somehow relate to the story of the family, and you had better establish a clear relationship between any artwork and the person(s) to whom it relates. If an illustration does not help to tell the story, it’s irrelevant and should simply be left out.

Craig Scott went on to talk about the nitty-gritty of publishing: Marketing, book construction, publishers and printers, the market, and things like pricing. I will hit a few of the highlights here. Craig Scott stated that part of the market is people who have helped you put the book together (always collect names and addresses from them). A couple more comments: “Do you know when a book is most in demand? Immediately after it’s gone out of print.” “If their name is in the book, they might buy two copies – one for them and one for their local library.” (I can attest to having done this last one with books that mention an area and/or families I am researching.) He suggested putting out a newsletter for such reasons as helping get buzz out for the book, collecting more information and illustrations for it, and generating new content. He said to keep in mind that roughly a third of people who say they will buy a book actually do.

He suggested that every author give a pre-publication offer, announced about two months before the book is ready to be sent to the printer, which also is a month after the three-month time window that he suggests setting aside a book between writing it and sending it off. As he phrased it, “What I do when I prepare a book is prepare it and let it sit for three months.” (So you are setting the book aside, already finished but not yet published, and then one month after you set it aside, you begin offering a pre-order deal.) He suggests providing a discount of about 20% for pre-payment, and to be sure to provide a date when the pre-publication deal ends, which he suggests be about 30-60 days after the publication date. Don’t do any postage-paid orders; keep shipping separate. Also keep in mind that in some states in the U. S., shipping is taxable.

Craig Scott stressed that in this digital age, you have to print a copy of the book at least once to have copyright in the U. S.

Next up, I attended “Family History Resources in the Vermont State Archives” by Vermont State Archives Senior Archivist Scott Reilly. A number of NERGC’s lectures were sponsored by societies that co-sponsored NERGC, and this was the lecture sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Vermont. I had already had the pleasure of emailing with Scott Reilly several times, and he happened to be standing outside the room waiting for the previous lecture’s attendees to trickle out when I arrived, so I introduced myself and said that I didn’t know if he would remember me from our emails, and he sounded a bit surprised as he said that actually, he did remember me. I also noted that the volunteers with whom I’d chatted at the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s booth were in attendance at the lecture. I had pretty high expectations for this lecture, and it exceeded them all.

The holdings of the Vermont State Archives consist almost exclusively of public records, from circa 1760 to the present. There are very few personal papers or similar items. As in most locales, some public records in Vermont are ‘exempt’ from public inspection; in Vermont all exempt records are closed forever except adoption records, which are closed for 99 years. Scott Reilly mentioned at the end of his talk that one of the future plans of the Archives staff is to propose a ‘sunset law’ to the legislature, allowing more exempt public records to become open to the public after a certain amount of time.

Scott Reilly spent a while on an overview of vital records in Vermont. Vermont town clerks have been required by law to record births, marriages, and deaths (henceforth “BMDs”) since 1778. In 1857 town clerks were required to start sending a list of vital events to the office of the Secretary of State annually. These are bound into large volumes and available on-site at the Vermont State Archives. In 1908 town clerks were required to start sending monthly returns to the Secretary of State to create a card index. (These card indexes are probably familiar to researchers who have been keeping up with digitized Vermont records.)

In 1919 town clerks were required to transcribe all BMD records in the possession of the town and the churches, as well as inscriptions on gravestones in the town cemetery(ies), for all individuals who died prior to 1870; in Scott Reilly’s experience, some town clerks were more diligent about doing this than others. Scott Reilly explained that any card that has a cemetery listed lists a vital record that was transcribed from a gravestone, which I’d not realized before; this means that one of my ancestors had a standing gravestone a century ago, though a FindAGrave volunteer was unable to find an extant stone for me last year. My suspicion now – though he was not explicit on this part – is that for the other events where there are two cards, there were two sources in the town and the clerk copied them both; if so, this would explain why I have found the two cards to sometimes conflict or one of the two cards to have more information listed than the other.

The original cards are at the Vermont State Archives. There is an original card index covering c1760-2006. The bound annual returns submitted to the state cover 1857 to 1908. The Vermont BMDs are believed to be “substantially complete” post-1908; if you can’t find the event, it probably didn’t happen in Vermont and you should probably start looking in other states for it. But before 1908, you may simply have to start looking elsewhere in the state for the record. As regular researchers of Vermont may already be aware, Ancestry has Vermont BMDs from 1909 to 2008, and FamilySearch has the BMD card index from 1760 to 2003. So far, no post-1954 BMD cards have been indexed on FamilySearch, though you can browse them by image.

Scott Reilly then moved on to discussing local government records. The Vermont State Archives has copies of microfilmed versions of municipal and county records, which frequently date back to the organization of the town. Depending on the town, they can include:

  • Proprietors’ records
  • Town meeting records
  • Vital records
  • Church and cemetery records

Scott Reilly said, “If it [a vital record] wasn’t recorded in the town, it most likely wasn’t recorded.” FamilySearch has digitized some of the town record films, but has not indexed them yet; so again, you can browse the record set by image online.

Lotting plans divided land amongst the original proprietors (grantees) of a town. They sometimes include the names of grantees on the maps. A list of lotting plans at the Vermont State Archives is at http://vermont-archives.org/lottingplans.asp

Scott Reilly encouraged people to make use of civil and criminal court records. While he readily stated that Vermont court records can be tricky to locate and difficult to access, he asserted that they can nevertheless be a great resource. The first step is to try to identify the court where the case occurred. In Vermont records, all these heard different types of cases at different time periods:

  • Justices of the peace
  • County courts
  • Superior courts
  • District courts
  • Municipal courts
  • Vermont Supreme Court

Scott Reilly recommended calling a court to get advice on locating a specific case.

In Vermont, these types of cases were heard in probate courts:

  • Probate of wills
  • Settlement of estates
  • Adoptions
  • Guardianships
  • Name changes
  • Corrections of vital records

Prior to 2011, there were as many as 19 probate districts in Vermont, with several counties being covered by two districts. Now, each district covers one county. The Vermont State Archives holds microfilm copies of probate record books for every district up to 1850. They also hold up to at least 1945 for: Fair Haven (Rutland County), Windsor (half of Windsor County), Marlboro & Westminster (each covering half of Windham County), and Franklin (Franklin County). The Vermont State Archives also holds naturalization records.

The Vermont State Archives holds a number of records for public institutions, although not all records of them. These include records for many prisons, hospitals, and schools (except most of the town schools). Unfortunately for researchers, most information pertaining to residents of public institutions is ‘exempt’ from public inspection under Vermont law. However, registers of residents may be extant and available, so you may be able to get at least some summary information on your research subject. He also stressed that institutional records may lead to court cases. While he did not explicitly state so, I took from his not explicitly stating so that the court cases regarding institutions are public in Vermont. (I know from frustrating experiences in other states that this is not necessarily the case. In some states, the court case is closed to everyone, forever, regardless of whether the person is [even long] deceased, one’s relationship to the person in the case, or how long ago the case occurred.)

Institutions represented at the Vermont State Archives include:

  • Vermont State Prison: Registers and “description books,” from 1809 to 1975, are available to the public for research. They typically contain biographical information and information about the nature of the crime and the sentence.
  • Vermont State Hospital: The Vermont State Hospital suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Irene, and recently transferred their archives to the Vermont State Archives. Again, the registers are open to the public; they provide basic information on patients admitted to this Waterbury hospital between 1891 and 1969. Register information generally includes name, age, residence, date(s) of admission, and whether the individual was admitted by the state or was a “private patient.” State law permits disclosure of some patient information to “family members.” What this means is not well-defined by the law, so the Archives staff interprets it to mean relatives.

The Vermont State Archives also holds the Eugenics Survey of Vermont (1925-36). Because this was a privately funded organization, organized and directed by Henry F. Perkins, a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont, these records are not ‘exempt’ records like most medical-focused records. Included in these records are extensive pedigrees of many of the families that were targeted by the Survey. There are indexes to lists of informants at the Archives.

The Vermont State Archives also has military records, the Manuscript Vermont State Papers, and annual returns of divorces. Surviving military records are most complete from the Civil War onwards. Mary Greene Nye, the Editor of State Papers from 1927 to 1950, created a name and subject index to the papers, much to my endless delight. The Nye Index from 1760 to 1800 is available as a database on the Vermont State Archives website. Nye’s index goes to c1860, but the 19th century index is only available on-site at the Vermont State Archives to date. The Nye Index is a tremendous help; I really can’t even stress how much. For example, it’s greatly helped me in locating the Treasury Records for my Vermont American Revolution research that I mentioned in my NERGC Day 2 post.

The Vermont State Archives recently got a two-year grant from the grant wing of NARA (known as NHPRC) to do a County Court Records Project, digitizing three counties – Caledonia, Lamoille, and Orleans – from c1780 to 1945. They are about two-thirds done with the digitizing project at present, though there has not been any indexing yet. Scott Reilly and his fellow staff members hope this will serve as a model to digitize the other counties’ court records.

There is more available on their website – both databases and information – than what I have covered here. I strongly suggest anyone with Vermont roots check it out.

I thought this talk was so fantastic that not only did I give it high marks on the surveys we filled out at the end of every talk, but I mentioned it specifically in my general post-NERGC survey in response to the question about whether attendees felt that talks at NERGC 2013 had given them ideas for resources about which they had not previously known at New England repositories as an excellent example of a talk that did this. If you ever get the chance to hear it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

“Unopposed Exhibitor Time” was slated for the next time slot, followed by a lunch break. A few of us were already hungry and decided to eat lunch first, ahead of the rush, and then check out the exhibition hall. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) has recently started posting blog post prompts for its upcoming conference’s registered attendees, and the first prompt was to blog on why to attend a genealogical conference at all. My Twitter friend Connie Forbis Yen (@SoulSister48) of the blog GeneaHistory posted her top four reasons in a post titled “Why Genealogy Conferences?”

I generally agree with Connie’s four main reasons – education, people, books, and research opportunities – and especially the first three, as the fourth depends so much on exactly where each conference is held. I have already spent much of my blog posts on NERGC discussing many of the educational opportunities I had at NERGC. As for research opportunities, the one that was stressed several times at NERGC was the French-Canadian library down the road from the conference site; so far I have no French-Canadian research, and if they had resources beyond that scope, no one specified so. But the other two reasons in Connie’s post – people and books – are ones that I have spent little time discussing here (primarily because I figure they are generally more interesting to experience than to later read about) but found very valuable at the conference. I had purchased some books from the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s booth on Thursday evening, and during my time in the hall on Saturday I purchased some more from another vendor. Here is one of the books I got Saturday:

photo of book

A book I purchased at NERGC: The Homestead Builder: Practical Hints for Handy-men by C. P. Dwyer. This is a reprint of Dwyer’s 1872 book, with a modern introduction.

The book shown above, The Homestead Builder: Practical Hints for Handy-men by C. P. Dwyer, was a how-to book for someone looking to build a homestead and its accoutrements, such as fencing. As the longest-time readers of my blog know, some of my family homesteaded in North America. The line with whom I started in genealogy came from Scotland to the Upper Plains of the U. S. in 1880 to homestead. The modern introduction of this reprinted 1872 book mentions that the book was available for sale in Europe as well as in the U. S. and Canada. While I cannot say for sure whether my Scottish emigres read the book before they left their old homeland for their new one, I find it interesting to know that it is a possibility.

As for people, it’s so difficult to describe what it’s like to be at a genealogy conference unless you’re actually there and also experiencing it. I already knew a good number of people at NERGC in person from the classes and events I have attended, the local group I run, the repositories I visit, and a variety of other means. I am used to strangers striking up conversations at genealogy and history events, but I discovered two things at the conference: First, a number of people I had not yet met in person recognized me from my online profile photos [hi, Twitter friends who were at NERGC!]; and second, since my name – Liz Loveland – is fairly unusual, a number of people I had not met in person recognized my name on my name tag from things like mailing lists. After the first day, I got used to people peering at my name tag before talking to me, and to people coming up to me expectantly when I did not yet know who they were. By the third day, I had gotten used to intending to do something – say, look through the vendor hall or take a walk to stretch my legs – and instead end up spending almost all of my time talking with people; even if a hallway, room, etc., was fairly empty, there was a good chance there would be people I knew nearby. It is pretty amazing, in retrospect, how many people I talked with at the conference – including strangers who struck up conversations.

After the lunch break, three lecture slots were scheduled for this last afternoon of NERGC. One of the people with whom I’d had lunch had attended a previous version of one of the first afternoon lectures, “Weaving Together New York’s Metro Area” by Linda McMenihan, PhD, and Jill Martin, JD, and recommended it when I said at lunch that I was considering attending it, so I decided to go to it. It was held in the same small room where the Vermont State Archives lecture had been; awkwardly placed up a small flight of stairs topped by a large landing near the hotel’s front desk, I don’t know how I would have found it if we hadn’t had the BU reception there on Friday evening and, after the conference’s hospitality desk hadn’t been able to answer my question as to where the named room holding the reception was, several of us had peered at the map until one of us had finally located it. I had to point the room out to a couple other attendees on Saturday, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if some people had intended to go to lectures held in that room but been unable to find it and simply given up.

As people came in, McMenihan and Martin passed out a double-sided handout literally full of URLs, explaining that they had compiled their syllabus submission several months ago and had waited to print the website handout that week to verify that the URLs were up-to-date. To me this was a good sign, as it showed that they were cognizant of a possible issue with a syllabus and thus probably experienced at speaking. So often I have returned home from an event excited to check out a particular webpage, only to discover upon typing it in that the URL had become invalid between the time the resource was compiled and the time it made it into my hands.

Each lecture at NERGC was introduced by a volunteer, whose styles varied from literally reading aloud from the sheet of recommended introduction points to simply saying something like, “I’m sure you’ve heard this all before, so let me just turn it over to the speaker.” For this one, we had the most comical one I heard at NERGC, who started out with asking who had been at the lecture where in his introduction he’d said that anyone who left their cellphone on during the lecture should be pointed at and called a fool. Several people raised their hands and chuckled, and I would soon discover why, as our introduction volunteer explained that the cellphone of that speaker, Steve Morse, had gone off twice during that talk, and consequently he didn’t want to phrase the cellphone comment the same way again. He went on to ask a number of obscure trivia questions about New York City, and at least one person in the audience knew every one well enough to quickly answer. “What are you all doing here then?” he finally (approximately) asked jovially, and then turned the floor over to McMenihan and Martin.

McMenihan and Martin started out by noting that New York City has been called the “fifty-first state” for research by some American researchers. They split their talk in half, each doing part of it.

1899 is the “watershed” year for New York City, when it became the five-part city we still know today. In 1899, there was a major centralization of records; most records created in the boroughs prior to consolidation were collected and taken to Manhattan to be held as New York City records. However, there are some “Brooklyn remnants,” as they put it: Brooklyn still has a separate library system and the Brooklyn Historical Society, originally named the Long Island Historical Society, is separate and contains a treasure trove for researchers of the area. New since my aforementioned lunch companion had attended this talk at a previous conference, McMenihan and Martin had added three of the surrounding counties – Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau. Westchester County was home to some of the early Dutch colonists, and originally used the Dutch manor system in its land records. Suffolk County was an original county and primarily consisted of New England founders. Nassau County was formed in 1898 from Queens. They stressed that they had added information on these counties to their talk because there was a lot of migration between them and the five boroughs.

Many of the urban towns and cities began records as early as the 1850’s and 1860’s. (Clarification for New England researchers: Yes, for New York state, that is early.) As researchers of New York City are likely already aware, the older New York City records are held by the Municipal Archives. Recent/current marriages are at the City Clerk’s office. The New York City Municipal Archives does not allow photographing on-site. They recommended searching the New York City vital record indexes on both ItalianGen and GermanGen simultaneously through Stephen Morse’s One-Stop Genealogy Site.

There is a contract with Ancestry to put the New York State Index online. The counties surrounding New York City are part of the state vital records system, like the rest of the counties in New York state beyond the five boroughs that comprise New York City. The index should be going “live” later this year. It will be on Archives.com, one of the multitude of companies which Ancestry has bought.

Burials in Manhattan were banned after 1851. City residents used cemeteries in the outer boroughs and the suburbs, including northern New Jersey. Two major City cemeteries have records online:

  • Green-Wood, which has a database of names & plots
  • Evergreens, which has burials for 1849-1877 and 1942-present and is “actively filling in records in the gap.”

Prospect Cemetery in Queens was a colonial cemetery and there are transcriptions online. Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was another major cemetery but there is nothing online for it to date as far as the speakers were aware. New York City’s “Potter’s Field” (Hart Island) database quite recently went live; records from 1977 forward are searchable.

Probate record highlights: Kings County (Brooklyn) estate files from 1866 to 1923 are on FamilySearch. Brooklyn Genealogy Info GenWeb, a site they mentioned several times during their talk, transcribed early New York City wills. Westchester County’s website has some indexes/etc., and Suffolk County’s site has some for the early period.

They said that in New York City property records, you can often search by address, finding information on the home even if the family did not own it. During the periods of 1939-1941 and 1983-1988, New York City photographed every building for tax assessment purposes. My companion at this lecture and another person in the crowd knew that the latter ones had been put online, and mentioned so in the questions and comments period at the end of the talk. According to my companion, the indexing on these is a bit “funky” and you may have to try multiple search tactics, including possibly searching for another building on the block to find the one of interest. I do not know what the URL is for this photographic set. The website PropertyShark.com is a commercial site that covers all counties in New York state; you need to register to be able to use it, but using it is free once you do.

In answer to a couple of questions at the end, they provided these additional tidbits: Body transport records are extant and open for Manhattan from approximately the 1850’s to the late 1880’s, for both those bodies transported into and out of Manhattan. However, the body transport records are not even indexed, much less digitized. The New York Public Library has lots of old New York City area maps; some are online on their site, and some are only accessible on-site.

At this lecture, my aforementioned companion was someone who has a ton of New-York-City-area research and probably could have given the lecture, but said later that they had thought it was excellent, which I thought also spoke highly of McMenihan and Martin. In my summary of it, I have mostly provided information that I thought would be of general interest and have excluded a number of things I already knew quite well, partially because I did not take notes on the latter. Some of these resources that I didn’t mention are included in my blog’s “Resources (Free)” sidebar, with the ones they most emphasized in the talk being the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online and Old Fulton Post Cards, both of which are excellent newspaper sites.

Next up, I moved from one of the smallest rooms back to the largest room for “Researching a Community,” the second lecture I attended by David Allen Lambert, this one sponsored by NERGC co-sponsor New England Historic Genealogical Society. Quite the opposite of David Lambert’s lecture that I’d attended in a tiny room that Thursday (Day 1), the largest room was crowded with people to hear this lecture that had gotten rave reviews from folks who had attended it at RootsTech 2013. I spotted a good number of people I knew scattered around the large crowd, but I was happy with my seat close to the front and none of them chose to come sit with me. After three days of interacting nearly non-stop with other people, I readily admit I rather enjoyed sitting alone there, and chatted a bit with a few strangers sitting near me while waiting for the lecture to begin.

David Lambert discussed building an online community archive about a location where you live (or perhaps for one of your ancestral locations), using his own work building an online community archive for Stoughton, Massachusetts, for many of his examples. The basic idea is to utilize your genealogical research skills to create a site that will help researchers of a location where you live – wherever these researchers may be and regardless of whether you have any personal research where you live. It’s kind of like taking “doing more photos for FindAGrave than just requests” to a much broader level – and indeed, David Lambert mentioned that he had photographed all of Stoughton’s extant gravestones, put the photos on FindAGrave, and linked to them from the website he had built.

I did not take any notes at this session. Some of David Lambert’s suggestions: Check to see whether someone else has already started a project like this before you begin (don’t reinvent the wheel). Check to see what’s already been put online in disparate locations, and determine whether it’s done in a way you find useful, in which case you should consider simply linking to the item on the other site from yours, or whether there’s something about it that makes you feel it would be worth the effort for you to do it over for your site (e.g., poor quality scans or the information is organized in a way that doesn’t make much sense to you). Get to know your town clerk (in New England) or equivalent staff member elsewhere; if you find your town clerk to not be amenable to your project, try to figure out someone else “over their head” in the town government to whom you can pitch your project. Work with local historical societies, churches and other religions’ institutions, civic groups, schools, etc. See what projects got funded and/or got volunteers but never went anywhere and see if you can get permission to put them online; a couple of specific examples he gave were old cassettes sitting at the town high school from an oral interview project past students had gotten funding to do, and a church that has already scanned their records but not done anything with them beyond putting them on the church’s computer.

Repeatedly throughout the lecture David Lambert stressed the importance of being a sensitive content curator. If records are about people in the 1800’s or earlier, he advocated absolutely putting them online regardless of what secrets or scandals they might reveal. But if records are about people in the 1900’s and may contain information that the person does not know – say, a person in their 80’s may not realize they were adopted or ‘illegitimate,’ things which can plausibly be found in public records in Massachusetts (though in many states they probably would not be found in public records) – carefully weigh being kind against putting information that you found in the public domain online.

Another thing David Lambert stressed is getting to the original records whenever possible; the way he put it during one mention was that he always wants to get to the record that’s handwritten. He told an entertaining story about a prim person who had transcribed Stoughton’s very old church records and left blanks in what seemed to be the juiciest parts. While he guessed that, for example, many of the blanks were supposed to be the word “fornicate,” without the originals he did not know for sure. Some time after he started his project, someone bought the long-missing oldest church records at a yard sale (!!), and he was able to see the originals – and just like he expected, all the juicy parts had been clipped by the prim transcriber, and he had indeed guessed correctly that many of the missing words were variations of “fornicate.”

I found this lecture really inspiring and would recommend it to anyone who is considering a similar project. One of the towns in my area doesn’t have an active historical society and has no centralized online community archive presence (as far as I am aware) and hearing this lecture rekindled my long-time desire to do something about that. There are a few people with whom I want to check first to make sure that I’m not starting a project someone else is already trying to build, so far doing it out of sight.

My last choice for NERGC was difficult for me, with my top two choices being “The Symbolism on New England Gravestones: 17th Century to Present” and “Exploring Your Pioneer Valley Heritage.” I am very interested in gravestones and the history of their symbolism and of graveyards, and spend a lot of time in graveyards; and I have a good amount of research in the “Pioneer Valley,” which is the name by which a large swath of Western Massachusetts is known here in New England, though my biggest reason for considering the latter talk was that one of the allied families in the case study, according to the description and the syllabus, was the Sheldon family, which I am also researching.

In the end I chose to go to “The Symbolism on New England Gravestones” by Donna Walcovy, PhD, who used to be a professor and is now a professional gravestone restorer. She is also a friend of my Twitter friend and gravestone blogger Midge Frazel (@midgefrazel) of the blog Granite in My Blood, and Midge had introduced us that Thursday (Day 1). Many people have sympathized with my descriptions and/or photos of what I consider to be the deplorable state of the Old Burial Ground in Arlington (formerly Menotomy), Massachusetts, but when I met Donna and mentioned a bit about it, she was the first person to ever provide a concrete suggestion for something I could try. I don’t know whether it will work, as it will depend on whether Arlington is participating in something particular, but at least it’s a step I can take.

Donna was an extremely entertaining speaker, though as someone who has spent the last several years visiting cemeteries in my area of New England, with a concentration on the older ones, I turned out not learn much I did not already know. Donna said that she had included more of a variety of information in the syllabus than she was including in her talk because she didn’t have good enough photos for slides for some of the syllabus material and had prioritized including material in her talk for which she had good photos. I subsequently learned that two of the other people I know who have a lot of research in the Pioneer Valley did go to the other talk, and said they left it feeling confused about how the different families in the talk were connected to each other, so I’m glad I chose the talk that was entertaining.

I had considered asking my ride home that day if we could stop in the vendor hall before leaving, but when we left the last lecture, which was in one of the small rooms by the vendor hall, we discovered that the vendors had already taken down their booths and the hall was empty except for some scattered tables and dividers. So we simply headed home from NERGC, running into a few people we knew on the way to the car. It was strange to suddenly be done after three days of “rush, rush, rush” and “learn, learn, learn” and “people, people, people.” As a somber reminder of the area events of that week, as we got close to metro Boston on the highway, we saw a good number of police cars evenly spaced along the highway’s shoulder on the other side of the highway, all sitting silently with their lights flashing, their cars marking them as from a variety of different towns in the area. I would later learn that the MIT officer’s funeral was that day and that they had been there in solidarity. When we had been driving back the previous night, the highway signs on our side of the highway had warned motorists to check local media for the current situation in metro Boston. That evening, as we drove past the silent police cars towards the city, the highway signs thanked passing cars for the support shown to Boston.

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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Thursday’s schedule was a bit slow-paced, but Friday’s schedule (Day 2) was jam-packed with activities.

On Friday and Saturday, the first lecture of the day started at 8:30. On Friday I first chose “Loyalist Migrations: Leaving & Returning to the States,” given by Chief Paul Bunnell, UE. For those that don’t know, Paul Bunnell has published several books on Loyalists as well as a number of other books. So far, my earliest immigrants to what eventually became the Canadian province of Ontario were Loyalists who left the rebelling Colonies behind. My family eventually came back to the States, but they left many of their relatives behind in Ontario, and most of the folks I’ve met through my research who are researching one or more of these same lines still live in Canada. Loyalists are still a hot topic here in New England after over two centuries, with some researchers whose family all stayed in New England and who believe all of them supported the revolutionaries becoming bitter any time any Loyalist who fought in New England is mentioned, so I had been pleasantly surprised to see on NERGC’s schedule that there was a talk on Loyalists.

I really enjoyed Paul Bunnell’s lecture. He started out with two statutes that were supposed to apply to Loyalists in the new States, one included in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and another passed in 1784. Loyalists were, for example, supposed to get their seized land and other seized property back. I knew from my research that this did not happen, and indeed, he pointed out that not a single state honored these statutes. Turning federal theory into local practice was apparently simply not possible for the young United States.

The thing that struck me the most was that though there were only approximately 3,000 Loyalist claims put in to the Crown, not all of which were approved, he mentioned that since he had started doing Loyalist research many years ago, the total number of Loyalists who left the American Colonies has been significantly revised upwards several times, to the point where it is now estimated to be around 150,000. With a staggering difference of 147,000, he advised that the some of the best ways to try to determine whether your research subject that moved to Canada was a Loyalist if there was no claim are to try to determine when they left the now-United-States, where they settled, and who settled in the same immediate area. He also suggested checking shares in ships as a possible record source for locating a Loyalist and finding associated people, as many times families and associates would all buy shares in one ship.

Paul Bunnell said that the fastest, easiest way to determine who settled in the same immediate area is through the maps of the initial land grants, but unfortunately, as he noted, these appear to primarily survive for New Brunswick. This is great for researchers of New Brunswick Loyalists, but many more people settled in Nova Scotia and the future provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Often people from the same original location in the Colonies and/or the same military regiment would settle in the same immediate area, and he has been able to use the New Brunswick maps to successfully track many people back to their origins in the now-States via their associates. As someone who tremendously loves maps anyway, I remain disappointed that there appear to be so few extant ones for the early European now-Ontario settlements.

Paul Bunnell stressed early and repeatedly that Crown land grants were not given out evenly nor fairly. The high-ranking military officials got by far the most land, and single white men and any black men (single or not, military or not) got the least, at only 50 acres per man, which was very difficult to successfully live off in most of the areas Loyalists settled. Due to this unfairness and other issues, there were a number of riots of white and black Loyalist settlers, especially in certain areas.

Paul Bunnell also noted that there were a number of Loyalists, especially elderly women, still alive in Canada in 1851, and should clearly be marked as “UE” (for United Empire Loyalist) on the 1851 census. After NERGC I tried this with the only one I personally knew was a possibility – the daughter of a UE who got a land grant for her family when the Crown started allowing children of Loyalists to apply – but her entry does not list her as UE. I don’t know if this is because technically it was her father who was UE, not her, or if it’s because the enumerator in this district seems to have been kind of phoning it in; for example, her birth place is only listed as “Cda” (standing for “Canada”).

Next up, I continued with the day’s “Military Track” by attending “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England,” by Craig Scott, CG; the conflict that we usually call the “French and Indian War” here in the States is known in Europe as the “Seven Years’ War.” For those that don’t know, Craig Scott is an expert on military records relating to American conflicts, including colonial-era ones. I am generally interested in the history of this war that so impacted the New Englanders and New Yorkers in my tree and have also accidentally found numerous casualties of the Native American raids on colonists’ settlements in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s in New England vital records of the time period [the latter, though more closely tied to the earlier war generally known as “King Philip’s War” than the French and Indian War, is the subject of another draft in my blog files, hopefully to be posted here someday soon]. Additionally, I have at least one ancestor that local histories state was a soldier in the French and Indian War, but I have done very little research on his possible service to date. Consequently, this was one of the lectures that I circled as a must-attend as soon as I registered for NERGC. It exceeded my expectations.

Craig Scott set the stage for his lecture by showing a French map of colonial North America followed by an British map of colonial North America. The differences in their views, including the way they colonized a place, were more starkly illustrated visually than they ever could have been in words, and just looking at the two maps, it was apparent that there was likely to be conflict over the places these views overlapped. Craig Scott expressed the opinion that in retrospect, there was no question at all which of the approaches to colonization would win, and which of the societies would consequently become the permanent new settlers of North America.

Craig Scott went on to discuss some of the colonial wars in North America, putting them into two categories – wars exclusively with Native Americans, primarily over land issues, and wars between colonial powers, most of them starting in Europe. He stated that the French and Indian War is an exception to the latter category; it started here and ended there. While it is commonly called the French and Indian War here in the States, he generally referred to it as the Fourth Anglo-French War, and stated that part of the issue was that the Third Anglo-French War had never fully ended here in North America; though the French had stopped fighting in North America, many of their Native American allies continued fighting between the two “official” wars. In North America, the Fourth Anglo-French War was fought from Acadia (now Nova Scotia) to Fort Niagara down the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers in Pennsylvania and the South.

In 1748 the British Crown approved a 200,000 acre grant near the forks in the river where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stands today. Craig Scott argued that the French built their fort at now-Pittsburgh in direct response to this. The fort became one of the issues that led to war. Despite the war so impacting North America, he pointed out that most of the colonial fighting took place in the British Crown’s top-priority colony of India and that the last battle of the war was fought in Manila Bay. He mentioned as an aside that this same prioritizing of India would stretch the British military thin, causing the Crown to not send enough troops to quickly quell the 1776 rebellion in North America.

Troops fighting on the British side in the French and Indian War/Fourth Anglo-French War included the British Army, the Colonial Forces, two types of militias known as the Colonial Militia and the County Militia, Sailors and Marines, and Native American allies. The Colonial Militia was generally tasked with protecting the home front and had “no great interest in wandering far away.” Many in the British Army treated the colonial soldiers poorly.

The general guideline Craig Scott suggested is to look for possible service of any North American man of British descent who was between the ages of 18 and 60 during the war. No New Englanders successfully obtained bounty land from service in this war, so that would be a fruitless search. Because so much of the war was fought by New Englanders in New York, Craig Scott recommended the New York Historical Society Museum & Library as a good resource for those of us researching New Englanders who served in the war, as well as mentioning multiple times that the National Archives [UK] has a good number of records since anyone serving at the time was technically serving in the British military. He also advised researchers “follow the money” by utilizing treasury records, including people being paid for military service and colonists being paid for logistical support. I can personally attest to this as an excellent strategy; I have utilized treasury records extensively in my research of the American Revolution in Vermont.

My Twitter friend Beverly Hallam (@Beverly_H_) is the volunteer research co-ordinator for the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) and did some follow-up when I mentioned Craig Scott’s comments on the impact the Crown’s heavy military investment in India had on their global interests at this time. On FIBIS’s Wiki, she found some internal and external links on the Seven Years’ War in and near India, which you can read here.

For those of you that have never attended an American genealogy conference before, there are typically conference-sponsored workshops, luncheons, and dinners that cost extra to attend beyond the conference price and generally have a limit, after which further people are placed onto a waiting list. The luncheons and dinners are typically sponsored by a genealogical society, genealogical company, or similar. The only one I attended at NERGC was next up on my schedule – the Friday luncheon sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) and featuring Laura Prescott giving a presentation titled “Jousting with the Gatekeepers” of records. MGC is an umbrella organization whose primariy mission is working to monitor records access on a state and national level and, if necessary, to mobilize genealogists and others that need to access American records to support or oppose specific legislation.

This luncheon was a bit different than ones I’ve attended at one-day events in the past; they waited until about everyone had finished eating before beginning the presentation. After a brief introduction on what MGC does, the first speaker introduced Laura Prescott. I didn’t really know what to expect from her presentation, but much of it consisted of specific stories regarding people having anywhere from an incredibly easy to extremely difficult time accessing records in specific locations. This wide mix reflected my own experiences, and I’d imagine that anyone who has tried to access records in a variety of different locations has probably had similarly varied experiences. The talk succinctly illustrated how important the “gatekeeper” is to our ability to access records. Laura Prescott ended with some steps we can all take to try to keep the best access to records possible, including being ever-vigilant towards proposed legislation.

Our table was a mix of people I already knew and ones that I had not known before sitting with them. The couple that sat down next to me turned out to live in a town in Vermont where one of my lines settled in the late 1700’s, which is also next to a town where another line of mine settled around the same time. They had moved there from elsewhere and were excited to meet someone who has an ancestor mentioned in the tome* on the history of the town, though I suspect I was even more excited than they were at meeting people who live somewhere of research interest to me! Since NERGC, we have been emailing. (*You probably think I’m exaggerating, but it’s one of the books I jokingly keep in mind at the library as a way to injure an attempted attacker if it’s ever necessary.)

As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vegetarian entree was actually good. As a vegetarian I often find that at catered genealogy events, non-vegetarians take most of the vegetarian choice(s), for whatever their reason(s) may be, and that the vegetarian choice(s) tend to be rather boring and sometimes not very tasty. Thankfully for this luncheon you pre-ordered your entree when you registered, and were served it by waitstaff rather than the much more common self-catering.

On Friday and Saturday, the afternoon contained three lecture time slots, as it had on Thursday. On Thursday I had heard reports from people I knew that they had been unable to attend the lecture they wanted to attend because the room was full by the time they arrived, so by Friday I tried to make it to a room quickly to reserve a seat even if I ended up temporarily leaving between my first arrival and the start of the lecture.

My first choice on Friday afternoon was Steve Morse’s “Genealogy Beyond the Y Chromosome: Autosomes Exposed.” The largest room was crowded for this talk on DNA, showing the great interest in the subject that was also reported by people who attended DNA sessions at RootsTech 2013. Steve Morse made it very clear at the beginning that he was not a genetics expert, but rather a layperson interested in explaining the science behind DNA tests to others. Thanks to his clear, concise, visuals-heavy explanations tailored for fellow laypeople, I felt like I finally fully understood the science behind the autosomal DNA testing my family had done.

At the end of his talk, Steve Morse recapped the different kinds of testing currently widely available to genealogists. According to him, Y-DNA tests can potentially find both recent and “deep” cousins, mtDNA tests are primarily for finding “deep” cousins, autosomal DNA tests are primarily for finding recent cousins and/or testing amongst potential recent-common-ancestor relatives, and the tests that tell you your percent of each ethnicity are junk science that doesn’t really tell you anything.

In the last part of his presentation and again in answer to some questions, he stressed that you are at the mercy of the statisticians to match you and/or interpret your results; for tests where you are matching to recent cousins, it’s much more difficult for the statisticians to make an error that will significantly impact your matches, but once you get back to deep ancestry or if you are taking a test to determine your ethnicity percentages, it is much easier for a statistician to interpret your results in a way that skews your results and/or your matches. He also stressed repeatedly that because autosomal DNA changes with every generation, with potential significant differences even between full siblings, it’s not very accurate beyond about 4-5 generations at the way the technology stands today.

Next I stayed in the large room for Lori Thornton’s “Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer.” While I thought the lecture was interesting, it wasn’t what I expected from the title and description. Most of the highlighted records were ones that could apply to people in a variety of occupations rather than specifically applying only to farmers.

For me, my best takeaway from the lecture had nothing to do with farmers. One of the example record sets she gave was the Vermont Religious Certificates, which early Vermont required of Christians who were of other denominations besides Congregationalist, what the Puritan denomination had become over time. I had forgotten this record set existed, as almost all of my New Englanders were Puritans/Congregationalists. I have been trying for some time to figure out what church my great-great-great-grandmother attended at the end of her life; she mentioned it in a letter to her grandson using a church name that appears to have been colloquial, as I have not been able to use the name to successfully determine the church. I was briefly hopeful that perhaps this could be a source to utilize in my search, but unfortunately I later quickly determined that the certificates had stopped being required decades before she would have switched churches, and also that they often don’t mention the specific alternate church the person is attending anyway. However, it is good that I was reminded of the record set and it will now stick in my head as a possible future source.

I was somewhat surprised that when discussing land grants and homestead applications, Lori Thornton only mentioned the low-information one-page land patents that have been scanned onto the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (BLM-GLO) site, but did not include information on ordering homestead or other applications, what the applications could contain, nor the survey maps that the BLM-GLO scanned onto their site a few years ago. I wondered if perhaps this was because it seemed from her presentation that almost all of her research was in the Deep South of the U. S., and in the federal land states in the Deep South the process was mostly a cash-entry land patent system rather than systems such as the land grants offered to veterans of the War of 1812 (or next-of-kin if they were deceased) starting in the 1850’s primarily in the Midwest and the homesteads primarily in the Plains and West that began via the Homestead Act of 1862. Cash-entry applications, such as those that were common in the South, typically are only a few pages long and typically contain almost no information on the research subject, though I have heard stories from other researchers about surprise gems found in those slim applications as well, a good reminder to never write off any record as automatically being useless in a search.

On the way home that night I asked the person with whom I was carpooling that day, who had been sitting with me at the farmer lecture, if they had checked whether their New Englanders who moved to the American Plains had taken out a homestead. They said they had not, and in response I detailed some of the information that can be found in the applications and they said that they had never realized how much information can be found in them and that they were going to investigate further. I readily admit that I am biased; homestead applications are one of my favorite American and Canadian record sets.

As my last lecture choice of the day, I continued with the previous lecture’s “Occupations Track” and went to Jayne Jordan’s “Indentured Servants in the New England Colonies.” She didn’t have enough handouts so I never received the handout of resources, and she had no working projector so we had no visuals for what she said was supposed to be a visual presentation. I left that talk not really having a better idea of how to research indentured servants than when I arrived. The primary benefit for me personally from that lecture is that one of the examples she gave was of a family that I’m as sure as I can possibly be from the given date and location was headed by a brother or first cousin to my direct line, but is a collateral line that I haven’t thoroughly researched so far. From the lecture I now know that at least according to her research, some of their children were removed from their home and placed into indentured servitude, which provides me with a place to start, even though I will have to figure out on my own how to do the research. She did not state whether she found the information on that family in original records or some other source.

I have had Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 by Christopher Tomlins (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2010) in my to-read pile for some time. Not having read it, I cannot tell you how good it is, but I can tell you that based on the index, there are many references to indentured servitude, including a number of specific references regarding the various English colonies, with the largest amounts being for Pennsylvania and Virginia.

After the last lecture of the day, I attended a private reception for alumni and teachers of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research program. It was nice to see a number of familiar faces and meet some new folks. Around 50 people attended, though I am sure that there were more program alumni present at NERGC than at the reception. The NERGC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were pushed back from their original scheduled start of 7:00 to starting at 7:30, so unfortunately I never made it to so much as the beginning of any of them.

………

My own experiences that day will probably go down as one of the strangest days of my life. We are of course always living future history, but at least for me, only occasionally does it really strike me that I am, at that moment, living history that will be remembered by many around the world.

I woke at 5:00 and turned on the news to discover that there had been a shootout the previous evening between the police and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Shortly after I began watching the news, the authorities announced that much of metropolitan Boston was now in “lockdown” and the entire public transit system had been closed. I live a little beyond the lockdown area – about a 15-minute walk from the border of the nearest locked-down town – but my friend with whom I was carpooling that day called at 6:00 to say they were on their way and would call back if they encountered any roadblocks or other problems. We were able to make it up to Manchester, New Hampshire, with no issues, though we did see a good number of speeding, siren-blaring police cars zip past going the other direction while we were leaving the metro area. I would subsequently discover that the BU staff member who had coordinated BU’s NERGC reception was not present at the reception because she did live in one of the towns in the lockdown, so I was lucky to have made it there.

When I arrived at NERGC many people who knew me expressed happy surprise to see me there, saying, “I didn’t know if you were going to make it.” I often responded, “I made it here, though I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll be able to make it home tonight.” This was true; I knew it was possible I would have to spend the night outside the metro area, depending on how events unfolded that day. NERGC volunteers had printed out stickers that said “WE ARE BOSTON” for attendees to put on their badges and had put them at the registration desk. Before the first session started and during every break, a throng of people clustered around the hotel lobby’s television, perpetually on a news channel on mute, to see if there were updates, and in the hallways people often asked me if I’d heard anything new recently.

On the car ride home we turned on the radio and discovered that the remaining suspect had been located but not yet apprehended. Shortly after I got home authorities announced that he had successfully been apprehended. I was so busy all day that I did not get the chance to check Twitter until I was home, and many of my Twitter friends had expressed worry over the day. (Thank you all for your concern.)

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This past week, for the first time I had the pleasure of attending the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (known as “NERGC,” and pronounced sort of like “nerk”). NERGC is held every two years in various places in New England, mostly small cities. This year NERGC was held in Manchester, New Hampshire, about an hour’s drive from metropolitan Boston, and I was able to find people with whom to carpool each day.

NERGC opened with a first-timers’ session, which folks recommended I simply skip as they thought the information in it would be too basic for me. After the session I talked with another first-timer who did attend it and said that there wasn’t any useful-to-them information given in the session, so I was glad that I had decided to socialize instead. In the lobby of the hotel where the conference was being held, I met Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the well-known blog Nutfield Genealogy in person for the first time after meeting her online a number of years ago, and saw many other people.

Next on the schedule was what the program called the “opening session,” which was comparable to what many other conferences and events term a “keynote speech.” While I was waiting in the crowd to enter the big hall, another person waiting said that as of that morning, there were 863 people registered for NERGC. While as a first-timer to NERGC I don’t have a basis on which to compare this, reactions of others to that number and generally to the large crowds for the venue suggested that this was a lot for this conference.

For the main speech of the opening session, Sandra Clunies discussed the mill workers of Lawrence and Lowell, towns in Massachusetts that were built on the mill trade, spending a fair portion of her lecture on three specific example mill workers. As regular readers of my blog know, some of my family lived in Vermont starting in the 1700’s. One of my ancestors was born on a farm to a large family. My ancestor was the oldest child and stayed in Vermont, but his three oldest sisters sized up their options in the small, mostly rural Vermont community and decided to head to the booming mill towns around the time they opened in eastern Massachusetts. There is a very good chance that they were introduced to mill recruiting materials in their town and it is quite possible that one of the mill agents actually visited their town, as the agents knew that girls and young women from small farming communities were excellent candidates to recruit to mill work and traveled around talking with them and urging them to sign contracts with the mill they represented and leave immediately. [I have had a partially written post on his sisters and the mills in my blog draft file for months; hopefully one of these days I will finally finish and post it.]

Like one of Sandra Clunies’s three main example research subjects, my ancestor’s sisters made money and met husbands there. All three of his sisters married in Massachusetts and then literally went in different directions from there. I had hoped to gain new insight into the mill towns via the lecture, but as someone from one of the mill towns whom I met at a later lecture phrased it regarding themselves, “I already knew too much.” That’s certainly not Sandra Clunies’s fault.

For anyone who has an interest in the New England mill towns, I recommend reading Loom & Spindle: or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls by Harriet H. Robinson. I particularly recommend the revised edition that was published in 1976 by Press Pacifica. Future abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Hanson Robinson started working in the Lowell, Massachusetts, mills in 1835 at age 10, and Loom & Spindle is the memoir that she published decades later reflecting on her early life in the mills. Press Pacifica slightly revised the work based on notes in Robinson’s own copy of her book and added a succinct, informative introduction by Jane Wilkins Pultz that greatly helped me understand the mill girls’ politics and lives.

Next up was a break, for attendees to have lunch and for the venue to break the large hall where we had heard Clunies speak into smaller rooms for the afternoon lectures; at the end of the talk they requested everyone leave the hall so they could do just that.

After lunch I first attended Laura Prescott’s talk entitled “Spinsters and Widows: Gender Loyalty within Families.” The description led some of the other people I knew there to suspect the lecture would be too basic for them, and as far as I am aware, I am the only person I knew there who attended it. This was a shame, as I enjoyed it and did not find it overly basic. She started out talking about more and more American women waiting longer to marry starting around the mid-1800’s, and cited some specific examples of stories and songs from pop culture of the time period. This is something that I have noticed in my own research, but I had not heard the subject addressed in a genealogy lecture I attended before.

Laura Prescott then moved on to a variety of strategies researchers can use in researching the women in their families, including a variety of types of documents, websites, and repositories. I thought it was particularly interesting that she had found a document in a 19th-century American deed book wherein a woman who had waited some time to marry and thus accumulated some of her own belongings before marriage entered into a contract with her future husband, with a detailed list of a number of her belongings and a statement that these belongings were to be brought to a house secured by her future husband and his family in a specific town. Laura Prescott said she basically thought of it as an early prenup. I don’t think I would personally think of it in those exact terms, but I’m always fascinated to learn there is a record type of which I had previously been unaware.

The other thing I found most noteworthy about Laura Prescott’s talk was that she cited some examples of “spinster” being used in colonial documents to mean a woman legally acting for herself rather than the definition many of us most often encounter, a woman who has never married. When I heard it I didn’t remember ever hearing it before, though on the car ride home I was reminded that Melinde Lutz Byrne gave the same explanation in her National Genealogical Society Quarterly [U. S.] article on Zipporah and the headless baby. This is a good example that sometimes we just forget things! The article Laura Prescott suggested reading for more information is “Spinster: An Indicator of Legal Status” by Eugene A. Stratton, CG, FASG, in The American Genealogist 61:3 (Jan/Apr 1986).

I next attended David Allen Lambert’s talk titled “Massachusetts Native American Research.” Despite the schedule’s title, the description made it clear to me that this was not a general lecture geared towards learning how to research any southern New England Native American tribe, but rather a case study of the tribe known as the Punkapoag. I had already attended a talk of the former type at the Boston Public Library last year so I did not mind. I spent a semester of college living on a Reservation in British Columbia and traveling to other Native communities (or more precisely, “to other First Nations,” as it is phrased in Canada), and Native American tribes’ histories and cultures remain of interest to me. I found the lecture very interesting, though I don’t know how I would summarize it here. The audience for this lecture was one of the smallest of any of the lectures I attended at NERGC, which was too bad.

One thing that especially stuck with me is that David Lambert gave a few examples of people for whom he has only found one extant document for their entire life, and it made him wonder about all the people for whom he has not found any. This is something I think about a fair amount in my own research, especially when I am researching farther back in time and/or researching in frontier areas of North America.

The last lecture I attended on Thursday was Colleen Fitzpatrick’s “You Will Never Look at Your Old Photos the Same Way Again!” Forensic genealogy expert and retired rocket scientist Colleen Fitzpatrick gave several lectures at NERGC, and I chose to attend this one on using background details to help analyze old photos because I felt that it could be immediately useful in helping me to identify my old photos that have no date, no place, and/or no people listed. I was right.

Colleen Fitzpatrick successfully analyzed bits of background details that it never would have occurred to me to even attempt to do. My favorite example was her longest one, of trying to date a photograph of some men in a bar in New Orleans. She picked apart every background detail she could, including the cash register and the items on the wall, and when those didn’t successfully identify the date, she moved on to the items you could barely see outside the bar through the door, such as a car you could kind of see that she and the people she works with were able to identify as a particular type of Model-T, and the first manufacture date of the car gave a precise earliest date that the photo could have been taken. By the end of her work with the photograph, she was able to pinpoint the exact street address of the bar, the approximate date that the client’s ancestor took over the bar, the business across the street, and an approximately year-long time range when the photograph could have been taken.

In the process Colleen Fitzpatrick also found a number of background-information items that she considered interesting but which turned out not to help date the photograph. However, as she illustrated well, there is no way to know for sure whether something in the background of a photograph (or mentioned in a document, or…) will be useful in photo identification or other research until you do the background research and determine whether it is. This is very much the same way I work when I am researching so I found her process very easy to follow and understand. At the end Colleen Fitzpatrick took questions. Someone asked her what software she uses and she said that she does not use PhotoShop but rather freeware called IrfanView. I intend to try it out, but haven’t done so yet.

After the last lecture of the day, there was a structured hour-long break, followed at 5:15 by the “Society Fair & Social Hour” and at 6:00 by the opening of the “Exhibit Hall.” The Society Fair was comprised mostly of some of the smaller genealogical societies, most of them geographically- or surname-based. The vendors in the Exhibit Hall were primarily a mix of genealogical societies and libraries; genealogical services such as educational opportunities, websites, and professional genealogy companies; and private vendors selling such items as books and maps. Thanks to a tip from someone I know, I stopped by the Genealogical Society of Vermont‘s booth to check out the old books they turned out to be selling there in addition to their own publications. I ended up spending much of my hall time looking through their old books and chatting with the volunteers that were staffing their booth.

While we were chatting one of the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s volunteers told me a story regarding Vermont-born Chester Arthur, who was elected Vice President of the United States and then assumed the presidency when President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881. Arthur’s father had emigrated from northern Ireland to Canada, and their nuclear family had initially lived in Canada before moving to Vermont. Though Arthur was born after the family moved to Vermont, the question of whether or not he was an American citizen was a hot political topic during the campaign. The volunteer I was chatting with said that he had attended an event at Arthur’s historic house in Vermont where the staff said that having been unable to prove Arthur’s Vermont birth through vital records or other similar records, the staff had used state directories (small Vermont’s equivalent of city or county directories elsewhere) to prove that the family was residing in Vermont by the time Arthur was born.

I arrived home in metro Boston around 8:30-8:45 and was in bed by 9:30, before the shootout that night between the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and police in nearby Watertown, Massachusetts, had made the news, as I would discover very early the next morning.

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Some Tangential Further Thoughts

I know that often people who don’t normally visit a blog will visit certain posts specifically to read about conferences and other special events, so I’m putting most of my personal reflections and more tangential thoughts on each day at NERGC at the end of the post so these visitors don’t need to wade through them to read the rest of the post. Think of them as paragraph-sized bullet points rather than a narrative. You are of course welcome to simply skip this section.

For those of you that have never been to a genealogical conference before, it can kind of be a bit overwhelming, with a mix of information overload and sensory overload. I had hoped to blog during NERGC about the conference, but found that I was just too overwhelmed and tired to do so. I apologize that this first post is being posted a week after the conference. I am working on drafts for my other two days at NERGC as well as a draft of some general food for thought about what various genealogy conferences are doing well and some ideas they could maybe take from the way other conferences do some things. I hope to post all of these within the next few days or so.

My Thursday afternoon lecture choices were ones I consider pretty safe. I had heard both Laura Prescott and David Lambert speak on other subjects in the past, and a number of fellow alumni of Boston University’s Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research Program had taken the Forensic Genealogy course that Colleen Fitzpatrick co-taught at Boston University last summer and raved about her teaching skills. Some genealogists I know prefer to stick to the well-known names in lecturing and teaching because they feel that guarantees a good lecture. But those well-known names became that way because someone initially gave them a chance. Personally I prefer to go to lectures by people I have heard before, speakers and/or lectures that are recommended by people I know, or subjects about which I am interested in learning more. This last one means that I have heard some dud lectures in my lifetime, but it also means that I have heard some gems where I was one of only a handful of people in the room.

One of my good friends says that there are two kinds of genealogists, the type that are interested narrowly and very specifically in genealogy and are only interested in  any history that they believe is directly applicable to their research, and the type that are also interested in history for history’s sake. As readers that are my friends and/or follow me on Twitter are likely already aware, I fall squarely in the latter category. I enjoyed David Lambert’s Punkapoag lecture for its own sake, but I can understand why attendance was small and most attendees chose to instead go to lectures that they hoped would directly* impact their research. (*Almost everyone I saw at NERGC seemed to be white, though of course I can’t speak to other people’s heritage nor research interests.)

As someone without a car, I am limited in what events I can attend by what is accessible by public transit or knowing someone with a car who is attending and willing to take me along. I count myself as lucky that I was able to carpool to NERGC this year and greatly thank those that carpooled with me and the additional person that offered to carpool after I had arranged all my rides.

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