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The Daily Genealogist: Notable Characters

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

Our latest blog profile features "Notable Characters: A Collection of Stories that My Mother Would Love" by Deborah Martin-Plugh. Here Deborah introduces her blog:

I grew up with my mother's stories about our heritage--told in a caddywampus fashion usually while we were surrounded by boxes of photos and memorabilia--which always ended with the affirming statement that we came from "good pioneer stock." A few years ago I hauled out the old family Bible that had belonged to my great-grandparents, along with old clippings, tintypes, and cabinet cards that had been tucked away, and began the business of building the family history.

I trace back my family to Mayflower passengers Edward Fuller and John Billington, and a number of other Great Migration immigrants to New England. I also descend from Huguenot and Dutch families who settled New Amsterdam, and Quakers of Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and beyond.  

After corresponding with many family members and fellow researchers, I promised to establish a blog. In the fall of 2010, I published my first post. Since I knew more about my mother's family, I began to share the stories of my genealogical journey with her family and then went on to include my father's ancestry. My posts reflect my field trips and networking experiences, but also my awareness that genealogy is about the lives of human beings and the times in which they lived.

Because my blog opened me up to a larger network of family members, researchers, associations, museum archivists, and historians, I was prompted to start my FaceBook page, "The Genealogist's Inkwell."

I see my blog as a wonderful two-way street that allows me to share and learn with a broader readership. 2014 plans include a trip to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to pursue more information about the whaling community and my seafaring ancestors and a trip to Somerset


The Daily Genealogist: Valley Forge National Historical Park

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

Last week Massachusetts public schools were closed for February vacation. While many of my children's friends escaped to warm destinations like Florida and Puerto Rico, my two ten-year-olds and I headed to a historic site in Pennsylvania closely identified with harsh winter conditions: Valley Forge. Some friends questioned why we'd choose to visit the park in February, particularly since the Northeast has endured so much cold and snow this year, but I maintained that we'd have a much more authentic experience than if we visited in, say, July. (Our Presidents' Day visit was great--although we were disappointed that we had to forgo a visit to Washington's headquarters, the Isaac Potts house, which was closed due to icy conditions.)

Valley Forge National Historical Park, located twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, is famous for serving as the encampment site of the Continental Army from December 1777 through June 1778. The approximately 12,000 troops under the command of General George Washington built a city of 2,000+ log huts. In addition to foraging and seeing to their own needs, the men patrolled and drilled. The National Park Service brochure speculates that "Perhaps the most important outcome of the encampment was the army's maturation into a more professional force." Former Prussian officer Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived in February 1778 and led a training program "that gave the troops a new sense of purpose and helped sustain them through many trials as they stuck to the task of securing independence." The eighteen-minute orientation film, "Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment," shown at the park's theater, can be viewed online; shorter YouTube videos on specific topics related to Valley Forge can be seen here.

Do you think your ancestor was at Valley Forge? The Valley Forge Muster Roll, a project of the nonprofit Friends of Valley Forge Park, can help you find out. By using kiosks at the park visitor center or a searchable database online, you can determine what regiments were present during the Valley Forge encampment. (Regiments were present from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.) You can also search for particular soldiers by last name or partial last name. The information in the Valley Forge Muster Roll has been compiled from original muster rolls, payroll records, pensions, letters, orders, and other contemporary primary documents.       


The Daily Genealogist: Not Even Past & 15 Minute History

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

I recently discovered two engaging online history resources--a website and a podcast series--produced by the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin).

Not Even Past
is a website representing a wide variety of historical issues, produced by the History Department at UT-Austin. The site offers book and movie reviews, audio interviews and sound clips, and commentary on historic images and texts, as well as some Texas-themed content.

Some interesting features include:
•    Braided History  
•    A Medieval Nun, Writing
•    Black Loyalists and "The Book of Negroes"
•    Sounds of the Past: Cylinder Recordings of Popular American Songs

15 Minute History is billed as a podcast for educators, students, and history buffs. The podcasts are conducted by faculty and graduate students at UT−Austin. The series is devoted to short, accessible discussions of important world and U.S. history topics. While the podcasts are meant to be a resource for teachers and students, they can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in history. Each podcast is accompanied by illustrations and, sometimes, documents and readings related to the topic.

Forty-two episodes have been produced to date. The diverse topics span the globe and cross the centuries. Here is a sampling:
•    Episode 5: Mapping Perspectives of the Mexican-American War
•    Episode 28: "Demonic Possession" in Early Modern Europe  
•    Episode 39: The Royal Proclamation of 1763 

The Daily Genealogist: The Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

In 1932, the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the American Geographical Society of New York published the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States by Charles O. Paullin. The preface describes the atlas as a composite work, the result of the efforts of many scholars who contributed to the project since it was conceived in 1903. The introduction claims it "is the first major historical atlas of the United States and probably the most comprehensive work of its kind that has yet been published for any country. Its aim is to illustrate cartographically, in manageable compass, and yet with considerable detail, essential facts of geography and of history that condition and explain the development of the United States."

The atlas, which can be found on the fifth floor of the NEHGS library, is indeed impressive. It contains 162 pages of explanatory text and nearly 700 maps that examine a variety of topics--explorers' routes, settlement, political maps, and plans of cities, to name a few. Anyone with an interest in history will be quickly drawn into the vast amount of information and thought-provoking detail. Genealogists will find some of the maps of particular interest, for instance: Colonial Grants, 1603−1732; a 1770 plan of Meredith, New Hampshire; Claims and Cessions of Western Lands, 1776−1802, by seven of the original states; Sources of Emigration to the United States; and multiple maps showing the concentrations of religious denominations and foreign-born populations.

Now an enhanced online version of the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States has been released by the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab. A recent New York Times article, "Trove of Information From the 1930s, Animated by the Internet," by Jennifer Schuessler, examines how the Atlas has been translated to an online platform. "The new site's digital enhancements bring that sense of movement to further life, allowing users to pull up the fine-grained data behind many maps (most of which have been georectified, or warped to align accurately with a modern digital map), or just sit back and watch as animation shows, say, the march of women's suffrage or other social reforms."

Whether you view the Atlas in book form or online, a treasure trove of information awaits you. Happy explorations!


The Daily Genealogist: Genealogical New Year's Resolutions

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

As I was thinking about genealogical New Year's resolutions, I looked back to see what editors of other newsletters wrote about this topic a few decades ago. What I turned up highlighted some changes in genealogical practices, but generally emphasized how much underlying principles have stayed the same. Below are three of those resolutions:

"Here's a New Year's resolution many should make and keep. Locate any old letters, scrapbooks, Bible records, etc. still existing in your family. Make a copy of the data in them and of your own genealogical research records and place it in a different location. Dozens of our readers are painstakingly reconstructing lost or destroyed family facts; this duplication of 'lost' data often takes years. We can't fool ourselves into thinking we're immune from disaster."--Rosemary E. Bachelor, The Batchelor Family News-Journal, Machias, Maine, January 1974

"Maybe a lot of us are remiss in not jotting down items which should be remembered and which our children would enjoy reading about. Maybe a good New Year's resolution would be to start writing our family history as well as looking up our ancestors." --Heart O' Wisconsin Genealogical Society Newsletter, 1978

"If I could put across one message to you it would be to make a New Year's resolution to contact that relative whom you think has some records or information you need to complete your Family History. We are inclined to put it off and then it becomes too late. Even if you have tried before, without much success, try again. Maybe try a little different technique, maybe a telephone call, and then a letter requesting one or two items. My experience is that you will get a generous response to your letters if you do not ask for too much at one time." --Wilfred R. Burrell, Genealogical Forum of Portland, Oregon, January 1981

In all of the resolutions I read, one phrase, from the Genealogical Forum of Portland excerpt above, stood out for me: Even if you have tried before, without much success, try again. That general directive could be applied to many areas of genealogical research: organizing files, collections, or photographs; breaking through a particular brick wall; writing a narrative; submitting an article; interviewing a relative; or tackling whatever you've been putting off or unable to accomplish. In 2014, it might be time to try again.

Best wishes for successful genealogical pursuits in the New Year!


The Daily Genealogist: Holiday Newsletters Revisited

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

The following essay has been revised since it was originally published in The Weekly Genealogist on December 21, 2011.
 
Although the holiday newsletters sent out to family and friends this time of year are frequently mocked, I've always enjoyed reading them. Now I also write one, and over time I've come to appreciate their more lasting value for family historians.
 
I never considered writing a holiday newsletter before I had kids. In my pre-parenthood days I had more time to write individual notes and I also had less information to share. My twin son and daughter were born in January of 2004, and, by the time December rolled around, I had lots of news to impart and very little time. So I wrote my first holiday newsletter and sent it out with a family photograph. I can't say how well my letter was received but I was glad I'd documented at least a few facts from that blurry first year.
 
After five years, I realized that I had never given any thought to keeping copies of my letters or holiday photographs. (And, yes, I've worked at the New England Historic Genealogical Society since 1995 and have been doing family history since I was about fourteen.) So I began the painful process of trying to reassemble what I'd sent out. The computer I composed the first letters on had died, and I had to ask various relatives if they had kept my letters. Fortunately, some had, and were willing to return them. Two of my early holiday photos still were "saved projects" in the Kodak Gallery and Shutterfly websites. I was pleased about this--except that I had to order ten copies of each photo so I could get the one copy of each I actually wanted. My final missing piece, the 2004 family photo, was found when I went to Minnesota and my mother let me look through my grandmother's papers. My grandmother, who died in 2007, had indeed saved that holiday photo.
 
The effort I put in was worth it. I purchased a nice album and inserted all the photos and letters, and for the last few years I've simply added a new photo and letter. After inserting this year's additions, I flipped through my ten years of documentation with some satisfaction. I am sorry to say that I didn't journal about my kids' early lives or fill baby books with great detail, as my mother did for me. But I am glad to have this record, which offers a yearly snapshot of our lives.

A couple of years ago, I asked my kids if they wanted me to read them the first letter, written when they were eleven months old, and they said yes. I thought they might be interested but I did not expect them to be as enthralled as they were. While I read, they laughed and blushed and asked lots of questions--and the questions continued long afterwards. Last year, my daughter prompted me to bring down the album and while I made Vermont cheddar soup, she grated cheese and read every one of the letters out loud to me. This year, she had more input into what was written--and she used a red pen to mark up my first draft so her changes could be incorporated. I expect the holiday letter will become more collaborative every year.
 
Historians often express concern that there will be fewer written sources to preserve from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries than in previous eras. It seems to me that the preservation of holiday newsletters, a unique source that originated and flourished during this time period, would make future genealogists very happy. I rather like the idea of a descendant getting to know me through my holiday newsletters.
 





The Daily Genealogist: The Merchant Mariners Muster & Other Online Maritime Resources

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, has just launched a new online database called the Merchant Mariners Muster, "with information about common crewmembers who worked aboard Maine vessels from about 1790 to the 1920s." The material in the database was extracted from sources in the Maine Maritime Museum library collection.Two archivists spent 18 months cataloging thousands of pages of documents in 45 separate manuscript collections. The database now contains varying levels of information on nearly 10,000 mariners, and additional data will be added as resources permit.

I asked our staff genealogists which maritime databases they've found useful. David Dearborn, Alice Kane, David Lambert, Judy Lucey, and Eileen Pironti offered suggestions:   

The New Bedford [Massachusetts] Free Public Library's Whaling Archives site contains a comprehensive index of men and ships on whaling voyages from the New Bedford Customs District from 1807 through 1925. A New Bedford Whaling Museum Whaling Crew List Database contains the names of men who left New Bedford on whaling voyages from 1807 through 1927.

Mystic Seaport's Seamen's Protection Certificate Register Database includes 31,047 certificates issued between 1796 and 1871.

The Maritime History Archive at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, has a Newfoundland and Labrador Crew Lists Database, 1864-1942, as well as other digital collections and exhibits, including links to other sites with maritime-related materials.


The Daily Genealogist: Thanksgiving-related Family History

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, we share two holiday-themed contributions from Weekly Genealogist readers.

Carol Ubosi of Silver Spring, Maryland, sent a copy of the 1897 Thanksgiving Day diary entry penned by her grandmother, Mary Miller Bell of Harrison, New York. Mary Bell (b. 1878) was the daughter of Samuel Bell, a member of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment who died in 1883. Mary Bell celebrated the holiday with her mother, Elmira Bell, her grandmother, and her two sisters: Thanksgiving Day. We observed this day in a quiet way. No one except our own family took dinner but we had a good dinner and we all were in good health so we enjoyed it. The dinner consisted of Roast chicken, pickled beets, sweet potatoes (boiled), turnips, white potatoes, pickled peaches, sweet cider and pumpkin pie. No callers.

Deborah Sweet of New City, New York, wrote about her family's unusual Thanksgiving centerpiece: We descend from seven Mayflower passengers via the Mullins, Fuller, and Alden families, so at least some mention is always made of the Pilgrim celebration and a special (some might say peculiar) object takes center stage on our table. While many have elaborate floral arrangements, the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving table is a humble brick.

I had attended an Alden Family reunion in Duxbury, Massachusetts, several years ago. One of the highlights was a walk through the woods behind the Alden House, to the recently discovered site of the original Duxbury home of John and Priscilla Alden. The site had been excavated, studied, and reburied. During the dig, some of the original house bricks had been removed from the site and retained by the Alden Kindred of America. Over the course of the reunion, a silent auction was held and I won one of the bricks!

And that is how a simple brick, quite probably made by the hands of my 10th great-grandfather John Alden nearly 400 years ago, graces our Thanksgiving table and reminds us of our heritage. I hope that this ordinary object with such an extraordinary past will continue to be cherished by future generations of our family.

 


The Daily Genealogist: Ancestors Who Spoke Languages Other Than English

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
 
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock
Editor

Last week our survey question asked whether you or your more recent ancestors spoke a first language other than English. Two of the emails we received in response to the survey are excerpted below:

Diane Brook of Wales, UK: My great-grandmother spoke Irish, although born in Scotland of Irish parents. I now live in Wales in the UK, so I am very aware of the non-English languages of the British Isles. I published an article called "Mother Tongues" (Family Tree [UK], November 2011) on the ten languages in Britain and Ireland that were current before 1066 and survived into the period 1500 and later. The article includes sources for researching an ancestor's native language. Also referenced are emigrant communities that preserved some of these languages. [Many thanks to Helen Tovey at Family Tree who kindly posted this article on their blog and provided a link to AmericanAncestors.org. -- Editor]

Debbie Semonich of Shelton, Connecticut: When I answered the survey, I first thought of my immigrant great-grandparents and then I wondered if my grandmother, who was born here, spoke Slovak or English as her first language. This question made me think about the fact that one doesn't have to be an immigrant to have a first language other than English. My mother-in-law was born in Connecticut and her first language was French, which I believe she spoke exclusively till she attended elementary school. More amazing to me is her father, who lived his whole life in Connecticut. Not only was his first language French, but his only language was French! Many of the French-Canadian families in his town had been there for at least three generations and spoke only French. I believe it wasn't until my in-laws' generation that English became more important. I think it is rather sad that my husband and his siblings were never taught French. They could never really converse with their grandparents and other family members who spoke only French--such a loss of part of their identity and culture.


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