Posts Tagged ‘vermont’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Franklin Lyman Olds was born on 16 February 1810, the first child of Gideon and Elizabeth “Betsey” (Lyman) Olds of Jericho, Chittendon County, Vermont. His parents were both children of families who had moved up New England to colonial western Vermont. There is no known previous usage of the given name Franklin in his family and it is possible he was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin by his parents, whose fathers had both fought in the American Revolution. It was a given name that would carry on down the generations.

Franklin’s family had moved to Norwich, Windsor County, Vermont, on the eastern edge of the state, by 1830, when his mother Betsey died there and was buried in Norwich’s cemetery. Life for the family went on without Betsey. Franklin may have initially been involved in a Norwich-area company called Burton Olds & Co. On 3 October 1833 Franklin was amongst many citizens of Norwich to petition the Vermont legislature to create a law to prevent cattle from running at large, or as they put it:

We the undersigned would humbly represent to your Honorable body, that great difficulties and damages are incurred by the Farming interest in this State in consequence of the prevailing custom of turning cattle except Yearlings to run at large in the Highways during the Summer and Autumn. And as the laws of the State are considered insufficient to restrain such cattle from so running at large, We do therefore pray your Honorable body that an act may be passed effectually to produce such restraint . . .

In 1834 he was again one of many petitioners; this time they asked for the legislature to allow an educational facility that would become Norwich University.

Norwich was a small town, so Franklin could have met Lucy Blood at almost any activity or location around the mostly rural town. On 26 November 1835, Lucy and Franklin were married in Norwich by Samuel Goddard. Lucy’s mother had also died prior to their wedding, but both their fathers were still alive. To date I have been unable to locate them on the 1840 federal census, and since it only enumerates each head-of-household, the young couple may have been living with a relative.

Franklin opened a general store in Norwich with his brother Erastus William Olds. They were known as F L & E W Olds.

F L & E W Olds listed in the Merchants and Traders section of Waltons Vermont Register and Farmers Almanac for 1849

F L & E W Olds are listed in the “Merchants and Traders” section of the 1849 Walton’s Vermont Register and Farmers’ Almanac. I purchased this copy on eBay a few years ago.

Franklin was elected a Representative to Vermont’s General Assembly for 1856-57.

Franklin Olds elected for Windsor County

An article on election results (excerpted here) lists Franklin Olds as one of the Representatives from Windsor County. From the 14 September 1855 issue of the Vermont Watchman and State Journal of Montpelier, page 2. (Image courtesy of Chronicling America.)

Through a digitized Journal of the House of the State of Vermont, I know he filed a report as part of the Committee on State Prisons. He was also a Representative while the Vermont legislature was considering moving the capital of Vermont from Montpelier to Rutland, as shown in the newspaper excerpt below.

Franklin Olds mentioned in an article over the debate to move the Vermont state legislature from Montpelier to Rutland

Franklin Olds is mentioned in an article (an excerpt is shown here) over the debate to move the Vermont state legislature from Montpelier to Rutland. From the 27 February 1857 issue of the Vermont Watchman and State Journal of Montpelier, page 2. (Image courtesy of Chronicling America.)

As the general store in a small, mostly rural community, their fortunes boomed. On the 1850 census, Franklin was listed with real estate worth $570 and Erastus with real estate worth $1,000. By the 1860 federal census, Franklin was listed as having real estate worth $1,250 and “personal estate” worth $5,000. Younger brother Erastus’s real estate was a bit less expensive – still listed at $1,000, he was probably living in the same place as a decade prior – but Erastus was listed with the exact same personal estate as Franklin, $5,000. With personal estates together totaling $10,000, Franklin and Erastus made up the majority of the wealth on their census page, the entire total of personal estates only being $13,300.

As was common then amongst merchants and others who owned businesses that many people frequented, Franklin shortly became the postmaster of Norwich.

Franklin L. Olds in the postmasters register

The top entries in a page of the postmaster appointments register, the first entry being for Franklin L. Olds, who was appointed postmaster of Norwich on 20 June 1861 and served until around 1885 (the last number of the year Lewis Partridge was appointed is difficult to read due to the binding tape). The register also lists (not pictured here) that Erastus Olds became postmaster in 1889, after two others briefly served as postmasters. Seema Kenney retrieved this record for me from NARA, but the record set has since been added to Ancestry.com.

A storm was brewing in the divided nation, and the Civil War shortly broke out. As the war did not end in a few months as many in the Union thought, and then turned ever more bloody and expensive, the Union turned to new ways to fund the war and get soldiers to fight it. An increasing array of taxes were introduced and a draft was instituted. Too old to be drafted, Franklin and Erastus chose not to voluntarily enlist. But as merchants who were relatively wealthy for a small community, they were subject to a variety of taxes. They were taxed as “Retail Dealers” and individually taxed for the incomes from their business.

Franklin and Erastus Olds on IRS tax list for Vermont Division 7 of District 2 in 1863

Franklin and Erastus Olds were taxed as both a business and individuals in 1863. The business is listed as owning a horse and carriage, probably for the general store to be able to transport goods to those that could not take them home on their own. Franklin and Erastus were both also taxed for their individual incomes. They are shown in the middle of this excerpt from the 1863 Internal Revenue Service tax list for Vermont’s Division 7 of District 2. (Image courtesy of Ancestry.com; the record set is part of NARA’s holdings.)

After the war ended, the taxes initially continued as the Union side tried to recoup some of the financial devastation war had wrought on the federal government. An increasing number of items were taxed, and that’s how I know that Franklin’s household owned a piano. As head-of-household, Franklin was the one who was taxed for it, but since it was a musical instrument, I have no way of knowing which member(s) of the household actually played it. I’ve always found this interesting, as I always enjoy learning more about the day-to-day lives of the people I research, but have found it especially so since I recently began learning to play the piano myself. It is nice to imagine a household filled with music.

Franklin and Erastus Olds on IRS tax list for Vermont Division 7 of District 2 in May 1866

Franklin and Erastus Olds are again taxed as both a business and individuals. Franklin was taxed for a “Piano Forte” and Erastus for a “Gold Watch.” The carriage, formerly listed as joint property of F L & E W Olds, is now listed as Franklin’s property. They are shown in the middle of this excerpt from the May 1866 Internal Revenue Service tax list for Vermont’s Division 7 of District 2. (Image courtesy of Ancestry.com; the original record set is part of NARA’s holdings.)

On 8 November 1867, the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School was incorporated by the Vermont State Legislature, and it opened the following year. Franklin was on the Board of Trustees starting in 1868, listed with the honorific of “Esq.” (short for “Esquire”).  The school created a rather melodramatic advertisement about its wonderful staff, perfect building, idyllic location, and specialization in classical instruction. However, the school did not last very long, closing in 1877; this was apparently at least partially due to regular staff turnover.

In the 1870’s, the general store caught fire. Erastus and his wife, who lived above the store, were wakened by a daughter who had spotted the fire and escaped. The store was rebuilt, but according to a local history of the area, Erastus ran it on his own from that point forward. By this time Franklin was at least in his 60’s, but continued on as postmaster for several more years. Under a federal act of 3 March 1883, c. 142, (22 St. pp. 600, 602,), first to third class postmasters were allowed to put in claims for readjusted pay if they had been postmasters certain years. (See a partial quote of the act in this transcript of a Supreme Court case regarding it.) Judging by the Serial Sets, a large number of postmasters did; Franklin was one of them. It took a long time for the federal government to go through all the claims, and while many of them appear to have been rejected, Franklin’s was one of the ones eventually accepted (see 1886’s Serial Set Vol. 2401 [House Executive Document 225], p. 73). He received an additional $92.80 in pay for having served as Norwich’s postmaster in 1873 and 1874.

Just a handful of years after retiring as postmaster, Franklin died in his beloved Norwich, on 4 January 1890. His widow Lucy died nearly exactly four years later, on 27 January 1894, in Norwich.



Original copies of the petitions mentioned early in this blog post are held by the Vermont State Archives.

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, has a collection of school-related materials. An online list of schools represented in their collection is over here.

The NARA-Waltham branch (in Massachusetts) contains the original volumes of the 1860’s IRS tax lists for Vermont.

Ancestry.com has an extensive collection of scanned printed school materials that (at least for me) generally do not show up in my regular searches. Only by going to the category for school materials do I generally get any hits. Materials pertaining to the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School are amongst its holdings.

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Last month I had the pleasure of attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference 2013 (IAJGS 2013) for the first time, held in Boston, Massachusetts, this year, very close to where I live. My most recent post discusses my Day 1 as well as some of the ways in which it was different from American genealogy events I’ve attended to date. On Day 2, Monday, August 5th, the first session began at 8:15, the way the schedule would start for the rest of the six-day conference. Overall Monday was what I think of in retrospect as “My New England Track Day.”

But I started my day with a second lecture by Megan Lewis, a staff member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had seen a talk by her the previous afternoon, as I mentioned in my most recent blog post. This one was titled “U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s New Collections Catalog and Holocaust Research.” Some of the material was repeated from the previous day’s lecture, but there was also a good amount of different material. Most important to note is that their main catalog does not cover everything. Major things she Lewis noted as not being in the catalog include ITS (which is on its own separate system and software), most of the Photo Archives (for permissions reasons), some historical film clips (again, for permissions reasons), and archives/manuscripts/books/etc. that are still being processed.

In my Day 1 post, I didn’t explain what ITS was, so I should do so here. “ITS” stands for “International Tracing Service.” Here is the (English-language) homepage of the ITS at Bad Arolsen, Germany. Here is the main U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page on their ITS Archive, including a link to an online form where survivors and their families can request information from the ITS Archive.  (Requests of survivors and their immediate families are given priority.) As you can see at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page, they received tons of archival materials from the formerly closed records of the ITS starting in 2007 and opened the materials to researchers. The Tracing Services of the Allies was started in 1943. It went to a variety of other organizations from there, till it became the organization it still is today in 1955. I imagine that the name is at least somewhat self-explanatory, so I will simply quote from the Museum’s ITS FAQ:

The archive was established by the Allied powers after World War II to help reunite families separated during the war and to trace missing family members. The Allies placed in the ITS millions of pages of documentation that they captured during the war. Since then, the archive has continued to grow as new records, both originals and copies, have been deposited there. [. . .]

The archive contains more than 150 million digital images of documentation on approximately 17.5 million victims of Nazism—people arrested, deported, killed, put to forced labor and slave labor, or displaced from their homes and unable to return at the end of the war. Sixteen linear miles of shelving are required to hold all the files.

[From “International Tracing Service Archive | FAQs”]

As an aside, when I was studying abroad in Greece I saw artifacts showing a thriving Jewish community during Antiquity. My professors said that the Nazis had killed 99% of Greece’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, and that the Greek Resistance had worked from the mountains of Arkadia during the Nazi occupation of Greece. I thought of those moments in writing this post because I saw on the sites I linked that Greece is one of the participating countries making the ITS’s archives available to the public.

Lewis closed her lecture with a number of points and tips for those visiting in-person. They have brand new ScanPro 2000 microfilm readers; she said, “They have made some of our unreadable microfilms readable.” You can use a flash/USB drive to save microfilm. You can take non-flash photos. They also have scanning photocopiers, so you can scan book pages to a USB drive instead of making a hard copy. When visiting, you need to keep large bags (such as backpacks), food, water, and other drinks outside of the research area, but you can bring your own notebook into the research area, unlike at NARA. Lewis strongly advised the audience that the best time to visit was mid-September to February. The Museum is closed on federal holidays and Yom Kippur. And as at her lecture the previous day, Lewis stressed it is important to contact the Museum at least a week before you visit in person.

Lewis’s lecture was over quite early, with the explicit reason of allowing a lot of time for questions. After listening to a few questions, I decided to leave the lecture hall. I’d been considering going to the end of a nearby lecture, but instead, I ran into a friend who introduced me to someone else who lives locally and we ended up chatting in the hall. By the time we stopped chatting, it was close enough to the end of the time slot that I decided to look around the vendor hall again while it was less crowded.

There were only 15 minute breaks between most lectures. Next up, I attended “Looking at Boston Resources for Genealogists, 1850 to 1950,” by David Allen Lambert, whom I’ve heard lecture several times before. This lecture was sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), which is in Boston near the conference venue and is where Lambert works. The syllabus was very bare, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect at this one. It turned out to be more of a broad, basic overview than what I’d hoped.

The biggest nugget I got from the lecture was that if you are researching on NEHGS’s website, inputting a woman’s maiden name into their database search form in the given name field is a way to search for married women whose maiden name is included in their death record. [A bracketed further explanation for anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about: For anyone who doesn’t already know, NEHGS’s website has scans of the Massachusetts state copies of death records from 1850 to 1915. (1916 to 1920 are on FamilySearch.) In Massachusetts, starting in 1850, towns sent copies of their vital records to the state; you can also request the town’s copy from the town, and a number of towns’ records are online at FamilySearch and/or Ancestry and/or Fold3.] Lambert also mentioned that early death records in Boston typically listed the cemetery where the person was buried, while the state copy typically did not list it until the 1930’s. Lambert also praised the Boston Public Library’s Microtext Department’s newspaper microfilm and microfiche collection, “the largest collection of Boston and Massachusetts newspapers in the world,” many of which have not been digitized.

Next, I decided to go to the lecture I’d been told about at the SHARE Fair the previous day, “Burlington [Vermont]’s Jewish Community: ‘Little Jerusalem’ 1880-1940,” a collaborative lecture given jointly by Jeff Potash, Ph.D., and Aaron Goldberg, J.D., who are Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Archivists in Burlington, Vermont. Most of the Jewish settlers in Burlington came from a single town, Lekiskes (Tsaykeshik in Yiddish) in Latvia. That was the only note I made at this presentation, but the presentation was an excellent one. Potash and Goldberg had used records, maps, and oral history interviews to reconstruct the Burlington Jewish community, and they showed us many maps of the area and read a number of quotes from their oral history interviews on a variety of subjects. Over time a number of the Jewish families had come to own businesses in the non-Jewish section of Burlington, with a large percentage of their clientele being non-Jews. Eventually the community fell apart and most of the families moved on by around 1940.

An old mural has been rediscovered at the former shul and is now part of a project called The Lost Shul Mural, where they are hoping to restore the mural, and they briefly mentioned the mural and the project at the end. The documentary about it was run on Vermont Public Television last year as a fundraiser for the project, and the woman who talked with me at the SHARE Fair said it was the most successful fundraiser Vermont Public Television had ever run; I said that I thought part of it was that Vermonters generally seem interested in the all-encompassing history of Vermont, regardless of whether it was their own family’s history, and she agreed that this seemed true.

There were several questions and comments from the audience at the end of the presentation, including whether the Jewish families that owned businesses in the non-Jewish section had faced antisemitism (yes and no: whatever people felt privately, these families owned businesses providing unique services in the area and most non-Jews in the town appear to have shopped there regardless of personal opinions), that an audience member’s ancestor had been recruited from New York state to move to Burlington to be a part of the Jewish community there, and whether there were connections between the Burlington community and the Jewish community in the Montreal area (yes, so much so that many of the families moved to Quebec when they left Burlington).

There were pay-to-attend lunches each day, but some days there was also a “brown bag lunch,” a session scheduled over lunchtime where you didn’t have to pay to attend it but had to supply your own food. Monday’s was the only one I attended, “Ask the Boston Experts,” and it was next up on my agenda. The experts were Marta Crilly, on staff at the City of Boston Archives; Meredith Hoffman, a professional genealogist specializing in Jewish genealogy, a fellow Bay Stater (Massachusetts resident), and a fellow alumna of Boston University Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research; David Lambert, whom as I mentioned, is on staff at NEHGS; and an expert from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston whose name I didn’t write down and unfortunately don’t recall. The panel sat at a table and we audience members sat below, many of us with lunches in our laps, and the moderator called on audience members to ask questions of the panel. The questions were a nice mix, from fairly basic to very specialized or very specific, and many of the questions were answered by at least two people on the panel. I didn’t take any notes on this session, but I enjoyed it.

Afterwards I went up to Marta Crilly to ask a question in private. I’m researching a collateral line who lived in Boston in the late 1800’s through early 1900’s, and was wondering whether a tax record set she had discussed at the panel would be applicable to my research subject. It turned out that the tax in question was only for men, regardless of a woman’s income, though she said the woman might be in the Archives’ (separate) personal tax records. We talked for a bit and she told me about Married Women’s Business Certificates, which sounded fascinating but which don’t apply to my research subject as she wasn’t married. Crilly also asked if this woman’s work as a nurse was for the city of Boston (it wasn’t). Crilly mentioned that she would be giving a talk on the resources at the City of Boston Archives later that afternoon, and that she would be discussing more about the tax records, the Married Women’s Business Certificates, and other records they hold there. I’m glad she did as for some reason I thought it had already happened, and I ran into a number of other New Englanders between talking to Crilly and the time of Crilly’s talk and mentioned it to them as well.

With a brown bag lunch (or a pay-to-attend lunch, for that matter), you didn’t get much of a break before the first afternoon session, which started 15 minutes after the panel officially ended and less than that after I finished talking to Crilly. I was headed to one of the large rooms so I wasn’t particularly worried about finding a seat for this session despite the conference facility’s odd lack of middle-sized rooms. Next up on my agenda was “DNA Identification of Missing-Identity Children from the Holocaust” by Colleen Fitzpatrick, whom I’d heard speak on using background information to identify and date photos at New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2013 (NERGC 2013) [see my posts about NERGC if you are interested] and who had taught several people I know in the 2012 Forensic Genealogy course at Boston University Center for Professional Education and would be teaching two more people I know later that week, as the course and the conference were running concurrently this year.

I thought this lecture was really interesting, but I didn’t take many notes on it. It focused on two case studies of using DNA testing with people whose birth identity had been lost when they were young children via dislocation from family due to the Holocaust. Colleen Fitzpatrick recommended a book, Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom, about the (sigh) only 1,400 children that the United States allowed to enter during the time period 1934-1945. The children had to be unaccompanied; had to be under 16 years (the youngest was 4 months); and had to come directly from Europe. A bill in Congress in 1938 would have allowed tens of thousands of children to enter the United States, but it did not pass. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a program called “Remember Me?” for former children who knew their birth identity and are trying to locate people who knew them as children, and there is a website called Missing Identity for former children who are Holocaust survivors, don’t know their birth identity, and are trying to find out what it is.

The above paragraph comprises most of my notes from this talk, but the bulk of the talk itself was after these initial remarks, focusing on the case studies. Fitzpatrick used mapping techniques to map the known locations of the ancestors of the people whose DNA test results matched those with unknown identities, trying to see where the matches were geographically located; she used different symbols for each match’s ancestor. She is working on developing software that will let her narrow it down to specific time periods so that she isn’t defaulted to seeing all matches’ known ancestors and locations throughout all eras, and which will allow her to filter results to only a certain level of match (say, 3rd cousins), and when Jennifer Shoer (@ScrappyGen) and I stopped at her table in the author’s corner later that day, Jennifer asked her if she’d be willing to let us (researchers) buy the mapping software if she’s able to successfully develop it and Fitzpatrick said sure.

I had run into Jennifer at the end of Fitzpatrick’s lecture, and from that lecture Jennifer and I headed to “Jewish Refugee Travel Across the North Atlantic on the Eve of the Shoah,” by Dr. Nicholas Evans of the University of Hull in England, sponsored by Latvia SIG. I confess that this lecture was not exactly what I was expecting from the title, but it was fascinating regardless. I’m recounting this in a different order than the order Evans used in his talk, grouping points thematically and relatively chronologically.

During the period 1921-24, the United States government decided that Eastern Europeans were “undesirable,” and thousands en route were left stranded at Easterly (near Southampton, England), in an encampment called Atlantic Park. The United States government’s decision had a big effect, causing the relative “demise” (to quote Evans) of passenger shipping lines. After this, UK ports shifted to the south, especially to Southampton. Lines also picked up some people in Le Havre in northern France. Polish lines generally sailed out of Gdansk. Movement of emigrants eastward was generally done overland, not by sea, and it was especially common to go to Shanghai.

“Paper walls” is a term used for using laws to limit immigration, particularly of certain groups. By 1930, “paper walls” had been introduced, in order of passing, in: Britain, the United States, Canada, and South Africa, all with a focus on limiting immigration of Jews and other Eastern Europeans. In response, shipping operations reduced the number of routes, further limiting the ability of people to move long distances. In the 1930’s in the United Kingdom, there was a period of increased right-wing politics; as a result, documentation for immigrants became more and more detailed. Unfortunately much of this detailed documentation has since been destroyed. Meanwhile, the 1930’s was “The Golden Age of Cruising” for those that could afford long-distance travel for leisure.

Starting from 1885 and especially so from 1894, Germans had overwhelming control over the Jewish ocean-travel market, particularly through the line known first as Hapag and later as Hapag-Lloyd. Hapag-Lloyd was based out of Hamburg, Germany. But within six months of Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi government combined Hapag-Lloyd with the NDL and nationalized it. Hapag-Lloyd’s chairman was replaced by a pro-Hitler figure, and not surprisingly, immediately there was a vacuum in the market.

In 1936 the Queen Mary was launched by the Cunard-Star Line, with a full kosher kitchen (though many observant travelers were suspicious of just how kosher it was and chose to eat vegetarian to be safe) and other amenities to woo Jewish travelers. Many other lines quickly followed suit. Many British, French, and Polish registered lines equipped both their aging and new vessels with kosher facilities by the end of 1936. The Jewish Chronicle assisted travelers by weekly telling them which lines had “the green flag,” meaning they were safe for Jewish emigrants to travel on.

Evans made the point that the lines could see there would be a demand – to wit, a big wave of Jewish emigrants and other emigrants/refugees fleeing Europe – and took this as an opportunity to make money by catering to the clientele. There were a number of ships, such as the St. Louis, that only allowed first-class passengers, and on those liners, only the richest could afford to flee Europe. The policies of British ships in the 1930’s showed who those lines expected to be in each class: First class had exclusively Anglican services; second class focused on Roman Catholic services; and third class focused on Jewish services.

During World War II, emigrants left atypical ports, NOT what we tend to think of as “typical” ports. Most refugees were listed as “stateless” on World-War-II-era passenger lists.

The University of Liverpool holds archives of the Cunard-White Star Line; the University of Glasgow holds archives of the Allan Line and the Anchor Line; and the National Maritime Museum [UK] holds archives of the Union Castle Line. Evans stressed that if you contact them for research, ask them a very specific question, not a generic one. On the National Archives [UK] site, you can search the shipping lists (what we usually call passenger lists here in the States) by name, ship, or date of departure. The University of Bremen has a lot of 1930’s information related to emigration from Germany. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping has been digitized.

Evans said: “Finding the individual stories is more difficult than illustrating the general experience.”

As a final note, many of the former Hapag-Lloyd liners, once the major way that European Jews traveled by ocean, became part of the Nazi “Work for Joy” program after the Nazis nationalized the line. This part of the “Work for Joy” program was where strong Nazi supporters were given “pleasure cruises” as a way to reward them for their support.

Next up – if you’re not keeping track, this was my seventh session of the day – I attended “Jewish History and Genealogy at the City of Boston Archives” by the aforementioned Marta Crilly.  There was a large regional contingent in the audience at this lecture, including a number of people I know. The lecture was unfortunately held in one of the tiny rooms and was packed, so many people who tried to come in late simply left again instead of standing. The person who introduced Crilly said that he goes to a lot of conferences and that this was by far the most crowded he had ever seen a 5:00 pm lecture, and he gave kudos to us all for attending one.

The City of Boston Archives has gotten a National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) grant from the grant wing of the National Archives and Records Administration [US] (current grants being offered are listed here). The grant is to give a summary and a guide to all of their holdings. Fantastic!

After noting their grant, Crilly opened her main talk with a basic summary of Boston’s historical Jewish communities. In 1649, Solomon Franco arrived in Boston, its first known Jew. In 1796, only one (recorded) Jewish family was living in Boston. In 1840, there were 40 (recorded) Jewish individuals in Boston, with a community forming in Roxbury (one of the towns that was originally independent but has been gobbled up by the City of Boston; more on that shortly). In 1843, they organized as a congregation in Roxbury. In 1844, they requested a Jewish burial ground, which was denied. Later in 1844, they bought land and got approval to use the land they had bought as a burial ground. In 1852, Congregation Ohabei Shalom moved into their first building in Boston’s South End. By 1895, the North End was home to 7,700 Italians and 6,200 European Jews, many from Russia and Lithuania. In the West End there were 6,300 Jews by 1895 and around 40,000 by 1910. The Jewish communities began to shift to Dorchester and back to Roxbury by around 1910. Most Jewish emigres were under thirty and single when they arrived, but most seem to have married quickly after arriving in Boston.

After this introduction, Crilly spent the rest of her talk detailing a variety of records held by the City of Boston Archives that are likely to be of interest to genealogists and local historians. The Archives holds a lot of Tax Records, including Real Estate Valuations, Street Books, Assessor’s Records, Personal and Property Tax Records (which go to 1962), and a Poll Tax on males over 18 (regardless of citizenship status) that was collected from 1822 to 1918. Tax Records are usually organized by Ward, so it is helpful to know the Ward at the time before you begin searching, as well as the street address if possible. They also have Tax Records for most of the City of Boston’s annexed towns prior to annexation. Roxbury and Dorchester, mentioned in the previous paragraph, are two of the several towns that were annexed by the City of Boston. Crilly mentioned during her talk that most of the annexed towns also deposited their other records with Boston upon annexation.

The Archives holds Naturalized Voter Indexes, for people who became citizens and needed to provide details of their achieving citizenship to be allowed to vote in the City of Boston. They also hold Voter Registers, which contain names of men only; some register books just list the country of birth, but others are more detailed. The register books also list the person’s age, height, and weight. They also hold separate Women’s Voter Registers that start in 1884, as women were allowed to vote in school elections (only). While the Voter Registers (of men) are indexed, the Women’s Voter Registers are not.

The Archives holds Business Certificates from 1907 to the present; earlier business records are in the tax records. They also have “DBAs,” which are “Doing Business As” Certificates, which include the owner’s name and address as well as the business name and address. They also hold Married Women’s Business Certificates from 1862 to 1974; they include the woman’s name, her husband’s name, the nature of her business, and the location of her business, and these are indexed. Crilly noted that a large proportion of the Married Women’s Business Certificates are for Jewish women.

The Archives holds a number of institutions’ records, including (?’s are where I didn’t take notes fast enough):

  • Almshouse 1853-1914
  • House of Correction 1848-1979
  • House of Industry 1858-1904
  • Marcella Street Home 1877-1898
  • Children’s Institutions Department 1898-?
  • Lunatic Hospital ?-?
  • Temporary Home for Women and Children ?-?

They also hold a collection of atlases, including Bromley Atlases of Boston from the late 1800’s into the 1900’s; the exact dates they hold vary by neighborhood.

The Archives also holds an extensive photograph collection, including (but not limited to):

  • Traffic and Parking Photos – 1948-49
  • ISD Takedown Photos – 1908-84 – the records of individual buildings that were taken down
  • Urban Renewal Photographs – starting in the 1950’s – photos of neighborhoods that were destroyed for urban renewal, including the West End and the “New York Streets Area” of the South End.
  • Landmark Commission Photos – begin late 1800’s and run through the 1900’s – already-digitized holdings include the North End and South Boston; their Roxbury collection will be going online starting this autumn.

The Archives has digitized over 3,000 images and placed them on the photo website Flickr.

The Archives holds a variety of School Records, including a wide variety of Student Records as well as a number of Teacher Records and Administrative & Building Records. Their School Records are only for public schools and only for Boston. The majority of the records are from the late 1800’s to the present, as well as a small collection from the early 1800’s. To access School Records, you have to fill out a form certifying you area descendant of the person whose records you are requesting, unless they are in the oldest portion of the record set, in which case the archivists may choose to allow you to view them regardless of whether you are a descendant. The Administration & Building Records include Manuals from 1869-1973 (with gaps), Building Photos, circa 1920-1960, and Publications.

The Archives also holds records of City Employees, 1905-1966 (plus one list from 1888).

Crilly then took numerous questions from the audience. Here are some of her answers: Yes, Poll Taxes included residents at hotels. Their website has a number of Finding Aids already on it, including for many of their institution records. They also have a separate website of “Web Exhibits.” On Tumblr the Archives posts a new document or image every single day. The Archives keeps all of their digitized photos on Flickr, and you can keyword-search their photos. They have two Ward maps from the 1840’s and 1850’s; the later Bromley Atlases also show Wards. Scott Andrew Bartley also did a list of the wards and how they changed, which Crilly said has been digitized. She didn’t know the URL offhand and to date I have not located it, though perhaps I have used the wrong web searches or perhaps it is digitized somewhere where search engines do not easily find it.

The City of Boston Archives section of the City of Boston website is here. The City of Boston Archives is also very active on social media, including a Tumblr account, a Twitter account (@ArchivesBoston), and a Facebook fan page, in addition to their aforementioned collection of digitized images on Flickr. For visiting in person to research, Crilly stressed to call in advance and make an appointment, as though they technically have hours of operation, the archivists sometimes go off-site to do things like take custody of records or advise other locations on record management. She also said that it is by far easiest to reach them by car, but that the 36 bus goes past their Roxbury building if that is one’s only option.

After the 5:00 pm lecture slot, some of us in attendance at the conference who had completed BU’s genealogical research program gathered in the hallway to chat and take a group photo. Some couldn’t make it to dinner, but others of us went out to eat together. Those of us that ate together then headed back to hear the evening klezmer music program, “Taking Extreme Measures: The Ongoing Rescue of Jewish Music,” with a few of us who were commuting in every day planning to leave the long evening program early. The auditorium was already packed when we got there, though the program had yet to begin.

The program was much more lecture-leaning than I expected from a music program which had been called a “concert” by some other attendees in advance, though the background information was interesting. The main speaker, Hankus Netsky, talked about some possible strategies for reintroducing rescued klezmer songs, one of which was possibly introducing them in schools. I thought of how, long ago, I had spent a semester of college living on a Reservation and I had been told about how someone had done all the work on compiling their native language 20 years before I was there, but no one taught it; it was just sitting in a cupboard in the Reservation school, and everyone on the Reservation spoke English. There are two steps to rescuing anything cultural – one is the vital task of ensuring that it is preserved, since there can be no further steps without that step having been done, but then there is also the important step of passing on what has been preserved so that it will continue to be a part of the culture or be reintroduced as a nearly lost part of the culture. Each culture has to choose for itself what the best way(s) is(are) to do that. My phrasing may make it sound like culture is passive – something that happens to people – but of course a culture is comprised of individuals, and in the end the individuals making up the culture are the ones who need to determine how to preserve and pass on their heritage.

When I noted that one of us had gotten so tired they had stopped being alert enough to clap, I suggested that those of us that were planning an early exit do so. I arrived home around 9:30 pm, needing to be back in time for the next day’s 8:15 lecture. Commuting to a multi-day conference is not for the faint of heart or, I suspect, for those that don’t drink copious amounts of morning coffee. Or maybe that last part is just me.

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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 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.


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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My great-great-grandparents, David and Clara, started out with lives about as ordinary as possible for Vermont as it neared the middle of the 19th century. David’s parents were farmers; Clara’s parents and her uncle and aunt together ran the general store in the small town that the farms surrounded. Clara’s father was the town postmaster, as was typical for merchants in small towns then. It’s very likely that Clara and David knew each other from childhood, though I have no direct evidence to support that theory. However they met, they married at the end of 1860. I often wonder about what their lives were like then. Did they know that war was coming?

A year later they gave birth to their first child, whose birth was registered without a name by the town clerk. The Civil War was raging by then, and Vermont would go on to have what many believe was  the highest per capita casualty rate in the country. But David and Clara were busy raising a family and running a farm. If they had opinions about the war – and I find it a bit hard to believe that any Vermonter, living in the first place to outlaw slavery in what would become the US, didn’t – those were not included in the family papers that were passed down to me.

Two years later, in the middle of the war, they gave birth to their only other known child. If they had further children, these children didn’t even survive long enough for their short lives to be registered at the town hall. Such a small number of children was not typical of American families at this time. But the demographics of the country were changing. With only two children to raise, David and Clara gave their all to ensuring they had good educations. This was a wise move, as Vermont would shortly lose much of its population as young people sized up their chances in an overcrowded small state after the war ended. And so it came to be that the son of two small-town Vermonters – and my would-be great-grandfather – went to law school and moved to one of the largest cities in the United States, Cincinnati, in search of a brighter future than what was available where he had originated.

My great-grandfather as a young man

My great-grandfather in an albumen photo taken shortly after he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.

With most people I research, all I can do for their day-to-day lives is speculate based on available outside records & reading social history. But my great-grandfather is a different story. His family saved many of his papers. He had the active social life typical of a young man then or now upon his move to the big city. One of  several saved invitations follows.

Handwritten invitation to play cards

Invitation for my great-grandfather to play cards. The writer wrote so exuberantly that she wrote off the right edge of the paper. While this is dated only ‘Saturday,’ based on the bundle of papers with it, it was very likely from late 1880’s Cincinnati.

My great-grandfather’s life would change dramatically in the span of one year, as he was appointed Clerk of a US Appellate Court and married my great-grandmother. In his journal, also passed down to me, he calls it the most important year of his life.

My great-grandfather in his office at the courthouse

My great-grandfather in his office at the courthouse, dated very shortly after he was appointed Clerk of a US Appellate Court.

Through the comparably large number of my great-grandfather’s items that the family saved, I have a much better sense than I typically would that I probably would have gotten along very well with him. Telephones were rather new to Cincinnati while he was clerking, and he used the courthouse stationery to express his displeasure at the cutting of trees, perhaps hoping that it would add extra weight to his complaint. It’s the kind of letter that I would write today. His copy of his letter has a notation indicating he received a response, but that is not among the saved items.

My great-grandfather's letter regarding the telephone company cutting trees

My great-grandfather’s 1903 letter regarding the telephone company cutting trees, written on courthouse stationery.

My great-grandfather also kept a scrapbook of items he found interesting in newspapers and other sources. Through this I discovered hints to his opinion on women’s suffrage:

A clipping on the American womens suffrage movement

Looking to have been clipped from a newspaper, this commentary on the American women’s suffrage movement seems to me to be wry. From my great-grandfather’s scrapbook.

My great-grandfather would not live to see American women win the federal right to vote, though from the above clipping I suspect this man who had devoted his adult life to studying, understanding, and writing on American law would have been pleased.

My great-grandfather committed suicide in 1915. I found out through my genealogical research, though after I discovered it I found out that this was one family secret that the family already knew – they just hadn’t told me. The family story I heard in response to my discovery is that he had had cancer for many years and the pain had gotten to be too much for him to bear. I subsequently discovered that another family story is that he had killed himself to spare his family the debt of what he believed to be an incurable disease. His death was carried in numerous newspapers around the country, openly reported as a suicide. Most of the articles said that he had had a long-term illness for many years and had only very recently become despondent over it. I don’t see any reason all three of these stories couldn’t be true.

My great-grandfather’s cemetery card is one of the few at the cemetery where “Disease” has been left blank:

A clip of my great-grandfather's internment record.

My great-grandmother was owner of the lot where he was interred, and likely provided the information on the card.

His death certificate was not so obtuse:

A clip from my great-grandfather's death certificate, showing cause of death

A clip from my great-grandfather’s Ohio death certificate, listing cause of death as:
“hemorrhage resulting from
incised wounds of wrist & throat

I mentioned this to one of his in-laws, who said that the family story had been that he had shot himself and that it had never made any sense as the family had not been known to have any guns in the house since moving to the city. As some of you already know, I am a tremendous proponent of telling relatives the truth; this is probably the only time I ever haven’t done so, as I think they find some comfort in thinking it was a fast, easy death, not the messy one it really was. (His few living blood relatives don’t read this blog.)

My great-grandfather’s entire story deserves to be told, from his birth to his painful and pain-causing death. I’m finishing and posting this draft today because it is World Mental Health Day and this year’s focus is depression. I think it’s easy for people to say “No one is ever given more than they can handle” but that has always annoyed me as if this were true, there would be no such thing as suicide. There should be no shame in telling people that one is depressed or has some other mental health problem, nor in asking for help if one is suicidal, but too often these are feelings and thoughts that people keep to themselves. To me, the best way to raise awareness is to discuss these issues openly, though of course the choice is up to each individual for themselves and each family historian for their family’s history. I doubt I ever would have discovered my great-grandfather had committed suicide if I hadn’t started researching my family’s history, and if that doesn’t speak to the stigma still held by so many regarding suicide, I don’t know what does.

I have no way to know if my great-grandfather told anyone he was despondent beforehand, nor how long he contemplated suicide before he carried out his thoughts. I can’t say whether it was the right choice for him, only that it is still affecting his family nearly a century later, for better and for worse.

“Don’t tell me how they found her
Because I don’t wanna know
Wildflowers all around her
Down in the dirt where they grow
She was all alone in the middle of spring
Don’t tell me there’s a reason for everything
‘Cause every face hides a mind
That gets tired of trying
And every mind hides a heart
That shelters thoughts of dying.”

Lisa Mednick

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