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  • Question of the Day Archive
    August 2009

  • August 3, 2009

    I have heard of the term “Forty-niners” referred to as the individuals who went west to California during the gold strike of 1849. Can you explain to me what an “eighty-niner” was? In a letter that my great-grandmother wrote in 1922 she described her sibling as an “eighty niner who died soon after arriving there”. C.H.

    In the year 1889 land in Oklahoma was available for settlement. Those settlers who were part of this Oklahoma Land Rush were settle were often referred to as “eighty-niners”. This “Land Rush” has been written about in numerous places. An early article about the “Land Rush” on 1889 was published in Harper's Weekly , May 18, 1889. This particular article is online from Cornell University at:

    August 4, 2009

    My grandmother’s brother was an enlisted soldier in World War I. He was not from Boston, but served from Illinois. Can you tell me where those records would be on a federal or state level?

    Thank you for your note. The following information can be used for applying for World War I records from the Adjutant General’s Office in Springfield, Illinois.

    You must include in your request the following:
    Full name (of your relative)
    Date and Place of Birth
    Time Period in Which They Served (years or war)
    Unit in Which They Served
    Social Security Number (for more recent records)

    If you already have this information, you may contact the Illinois Army National Guard, Historian Section by letter.

    The Historian section has a small staff and it may take until their first drill weekend (usually the first weekend of the month) to research and respond to your request. Inquiries are taken in the order they are received, so please be patient, as it may be over a month before the historians see your request. Some of the Illinois Adjutant General’s Reports contain unit rosters for various wars. These unit rosters contain the soldier’s name, rank, date of enlistment, place of enlistment, and sometimes brief remarks (discharged for disability, wounded Pea Ridge, etc). The Illinois Army National Guard Historian Section maintains the Adjutant General’s Reports for the following periods:

    For Military Records Dating Back to the Year 1900.

    “To release records, the individual must submit a written request. The request must include full name, SSN, approximate dates of service with the ILNG, the records being sought and the request must be SIGNED by the requesting individual. The request may either be faxed, mailed, or both.”

    They can be reached at:
    Department of Military Affairs
    ATTN: Administrative Services, Historical Military Records
    1301 N. MacArthur Boulevard
    Springfield, IL 62702-2399
    Fax: (217) 761-3419

    August 5, 2009

    Can you explain to me what the comical titled “Court of Errors” was in New York and when it operated?  I believe I would like to search these records for so relatives. L.P.

    Thank you for your note.  According to Barbara Jean Evans’ book A to Zax the Court of Errors was the highest court in the New York State.  It was in operation between the years 1784 to 1846 when it was finally abolished.  The New York State Archives in Albany, New York have the records for this court on file.  You can reach the New York State Archives through the website:

    August 10, 2009

    Can you help me locate vital records for Westwood, Massachusetts for the 1880's on your website?

    The town of Westwood was incorporated on April 2, 1897. Before that time the town vital records would be part of Dedham, Massachusetts. These records would be searchable under Dedham prior to 1897 on our Massachusetts Vital Records database 1841-1910.

    August 11, 2009

    I recall hearing at one of your lectures on the Civil War there was a volunteer opportunity to record the graves of Civil War soldiers? Can you remind me of the website you mentioned.

    The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War maintain the website for volunteers to enter gravestones. You can search the current database for free. Thank you for wishing to volunteer for such a good cause, I hope other readers take up the call for assistance. The database can be searched online at: You can contact the SUVCW about becoming a volunteer online at:

    NEHGS also has a number of volunteer opportunities to assist on projects and new databases. You can find more information about volunteering at NEHGS on our website.

    August 12, 2009

    On the death certificate of my third great-grandmother, Risphia Belding from Belchertown, MA in 1903, her place of burial is listed as "Dark Corner". I know there was a district of Belchertown "near the Granby line" called Dark Corner. Can you help me locate the cemetery she may be buried in?

    The cemetery in question is the Dark Corner Cemetery on Rural Road in Belchertown, Massachusetts. It is listed in my book A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (Boston, NEHGS, 2009) on page 18. The cemetery dates back to 1769 so the 1903 burial is possible in this cemetery. You may be able to get more information from the Belchertown Cemetery Department on the existence of a gravestone or burial plot information. They can be reached via telephone at 413-323-0415.

    August 17, 2009

    I was wondering if you could tell me about the 1840 Pensioners Census. My ancestor was a veteran of the War of 1812 would he be on it?

    The 1840 Census was a not specifically geared to recording veterans and their widows. This was a line item that occured on the second sheet of the census. Most War of 1812 veterans were not pensioned until after 1871, however there were some exceptions. The majority of this enumeration of pensioners was recording Revolutionary War pensioners. An interesting note to researchers is the fact this is the first census to record the exact age of an individual. Where the main portion of the household is only enumerated as being between certain age ranges, the pensioner was listed with his or her age. The process to record the precise ages of the entire household does not occur until the next federal census in 1850.

    August 18, 2009

    What can you tell me about the records for the township of Southampton, Nova Scotia?

    Please note that you can borrow the Family History Library microfilm for this location and use it at NEHGS. The records you seek are available in a microfilm titled "Register of marriages, births, deaths and marks of cattle in the district of Maccan, Nappan and Southampton, Cumberland County, ca. 1764 - ca. 1851". This is the third item on microfilm 862075.

    August 20, 2009

    Does NEHGS have any New Brunswick, Canada newspapers on file on microfilm?

    NEHGS does not have collections of New Brunswick newspaper microfilm on site. We do have the Daniel F. Johnson newspaper transcription collection. Before Mr. Johnson died he transcribed newspapers for New Brunswick between 1784-1896. This collection is now available as full text searchable online. It also has articles on events occuring in parts of New England and other provinces in Atlantic Canada. You can search the database from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website at:

    August 21, 2009

    I am searching for a divorce that occurred in Massachusetts during the 1830's. Where can I find these types of divorce records online?

    The divorce records for the era pre-1922 are available from the Supreme Judicial Court Archives. The following explanation for records from 1796 to 1887 is from a handout from the SJC Archives. "For 1796 to 1887 search the Supreme Judicial Court records in the county in which the couple were residing. Supreme Judicial Court Record Books from this period are organized by county and most are indexed. They provide a summary of the grounds for divorce (and other pertinent information), as well as place and date of marriage, where the parties have lived until divorce filed and occasionally names and ages of children. There are generally case papers as well. File papers are generally filed the year and term that the divorce was finalized (six months after it was granted) and by docket (case) number".

    To contact the Court regarding these records write to: Elizabeth Bouvier, c/o Judicial Archives, Supreme Judicial Court Archives and Records Preservation, 3 Pemberton Square, 16th floor, Boston, MA 02108.

    August 24, 2009

    Are you aware of an association for the descendants of Roger Williams from Rhode Island? When I visited Providence recently I think I found proof he is my ancestor but wanted to confirm it with them. The librarian in Providence I spoke with stated that there was an organization for that family.

    There is in fact a current association for descendants of Roger Williams. My colleague and fellow NEHGS staff member Christopher C. Child is a member. You can contact this organization through their website: According to their website they are not setup to take genealogical queries at this time. You may wish to contact their membership secretary if you want to place an application for membership. I would imagine they will contact you if the line you have established does not work out.

    Membership Application Inquiries
    Mrs. Barbara (Wright) McCurdy, Registrar
    PO Box 717
    Portsmouth, RI 02871

    August 26, 2009

    I have noticed some markings in the shape of an X on some of the marriage records in the database Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910 and was wondering if they have any reason for being there. One of my marriage records has this mark and I'm really curious.

    I have noticed that some marriages were recorded in both the location of the ceremony, and also where the marriage license was filed. The confirmation of the marriage ceremony was often returned to the city/town clerk where the marriage license was filed for their records. This duplicate was often copied into their files stating the other community as the place of marriage. This copy of the marriage return was considered a duplicate when sent to the Mass. Secretary of State Office and was often crossed off the records. The place where marriage was performed was considered important, not the one returned from where the license was issued. I hope this explains the “x” you saw.

    August 27, 2009

    I have spent hours going over the Civil War service of my ancestor with the 11th Maine Infantry. Can you advise me where I can locate a published account of this regiment?

    NEHGS has two sets of microfiche of regimental histories for the 11th Maine Infantry. These microfiche are located on the Fourth Floor Microtext Library under call number E/492/C58/1991. These are arranged by state and then numerically by regimental number. The titles we have regarding the 11th Maine Infantry include:

    Robert Brady,
    The Story of One Regiment, the Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion. This was compiled by a Committee of the Regimental Association (J.J. Little & Co., New York, 1896) 456pp.

    Albert Maxfield,
    Roster and Statistical Record of Company D., of the Eleventh Maine Infantry Volunteers, with a sketch of its services in the War of the Rebellion. (Press of Thomas Humphrey, New York, 1890) 83pp.

    August 28, 2009

    My paternal great-grandfather, Charles EWEN, was a granite cutter and I have attached two photos of the medals he received from the Cleveland Ohio Granite Cutters Union organized in 1877 (Ribbon reads: Cleveland Branch Granite Cutters National Union Organized March 10, 1877). Are there any records of this Granite Cutters Union that might list where Charles lived at that time and the reason for issuing the medal? Can you also tell me the significance of the other two pins shown in the second photo?
    Granite Cutters
    These medals/pins came to Nova Scotia with his daughter Evelyn Maude (Ewen) Allen in 1920 and all contact with the Ewen family was eventually lost. She eventually moved to Massachusetts as that is where she met my grandfather, John Clifford Allen, and was married Dec 20, 1916 in Hyde Park. They came to Nova Scotia after my father's birth May 14, 1920 in Boston and that is where the U.S. connection ends as Evelyn 'sadly' lost contact with her Ewen family.

    I believe the organization is the Granite Cutters National Union. The records for this organization from 1877 to 1925 are at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. You can find out more about this collection by contact the Special Collections department at:

    The following article online speaks of the creation of The Granite Cutters’ National Union and the organization as of 1892. Source:

    August 31, 2009

    My ancestor was a tinsmith and I have his inventory which mentions “5 lbs. of pinchbek.” Do you know what they are referring to for this account?

    Pinchbeck was the term for metal in which low grade jewelry was produced. It would appear your tinsmith was working with some ornamental metal work, or just had it for trade, etc.

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