Does your family lore suggest that your ancestors came over on the Mayflower or were part of the group of people that settled and founded the original colonies? Digging into your earliest American roots through genealogy can provide a fascinating view into your relationship to the people that helped build this nation. But navigating your way through Colonial genealogical records can be a challenge. If you’re interested in investigating your colonial roots, here’s a closer look at some of our favorite archives, organizations, and search strategies.
The General Context of New England Genealogy
It’s been famously said that if you’re going to have American ancestors from anywhere, New England is a great place to do it. New England has also been described as the birthplace of American genealogy. While that’s up for debate (Utah certainly has played an important role in advancing the discipline!), it’s true that New England’s collections of genealogical materials are extensive. Families from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut are well-represented in genealogical resources and literature.
Tips and Resources Every Colonial Genealogist Should Know About
Study the history: The Colonial period was a fascinating time in American history, with multiple nations working to stake a claim on the region. Many Native American tribes were active during this period as well. Border disputes, conflicts, and changing loyalties were major trends of the period. The better you understand the forces that were governing life during this period, the better prepared you’ll be to interpret the information you find.
Read established genealogies with a grain of salt: A significant amount of research has been done and published on families in New England. However, it’s safe to assume that not all published information is 100% correct. It’s important to take an evaluative stance on what you read. How well documented is the information provided? Do you have concerns about the author’s research design, or are you finding intuitive leaps that are based on less data than makes you feel comfortable? Always consult multiple sources and when in doubt do your own primary and secondary research to confirm what you find.
Contact the right organizations: There are a number of organizations that specialize in the genealogy of these six New England States. Beginning your research there can help you identify resources and collections with information that’s germane to your research. These groups include:
- Massachusetts-Genealogy.com: A list of links to city specific resources within Massachusetts.
Connecting with your most distant American ancestors can sound like an insurmountable challenge. But if your family’s story in America began in New England, you’re well positioned to find excellent resources and documentations to help you in your work.
If you’re interested in learning more about your roots in New England or need help navigating any of the other colonial genealogical records, contact us today. Price & Associates’ team includes colonial specialists who can help you get started or complete entire projects on your behalf.
For many families, there’s a disaster preparedness plan in place in the terrible event that a fire or natural event strikes. Important everyday documents and valuables such as passports, stock documents, and jewelry may be safely ensconced in a fireproof safe. Your most valuable possessions are likely covered by your homeowner’s insurance or specialized policies. But your genealogical information could be damaged or lost in the event of a tragedy. Not only does that information represent important links to the past, but it also is the culmination of untold hours and even years of research, travel, and careful curation of information. Here are three tips to help you create a preservation and disaster protection plan for your genealogical information and family heirlooms.
So much genealogical evidence is captured through complex paper trails. One of the most important aspects of this can be pictures, including older pictures and rare images that may represent the only photograph of a specific ancestor. Other important documents might include copies of out of print books, documentation such as birth and death records, and handwritten interview notes. Your best defense against losing any materials is a proactive approach: digitize everything.
By creating digital copies of documents and photographs, you’ll be protected if any kind of emergency occurs. They’re also easier to share with interested relatives, organize, and publish your findings if that’s among your goals. Once you digitize, look for a reliable storage option that provides a back-up of your files. For example, consider using a remote cloud backup service or an external hard-drive to make a copy of your digital content.
Use smart storage techniques
When choosing the location to store your photographs and other precious family belongings, start by choosing acid free preservation boxes. Consider adding a desiccant package to any boxes storing delicate documents, which helps remove condensation or moisture that can accumulate. Another important consideration is where in your home to store these items. The best choice is somewhere that’s climate controlled and less subject to extremes of temperature, flooding, or other issues. This essentially removes areas such as your basement or attic. Instead, we recommend an interior closet without windows, ideally stored on a shelf that’s above floor level to prevent flood damage and curious children or pets. A water and fire protected box or safe will give you peace of mind.
Your genealogical records are the culmination of significant effort and potential investment. Developing a plan to make sure that your hard work is preserved and protected from natural disasters is a critical component of an ongoing genealogical project. Invest the time now to consider storage, back-ups, and protecting rare family items – you won’t regret it!
Whether it’s a meticulously prepared Daughters of the American Revolution application or an enlistment record that transports you across the decades with descriptive details, military records are an important source of information in genealogical research. Military records help us understand when and where our ancestors fought and served, what wars they were part of, and whether they dedicated time to national security during times of peace. There are numerous types of military records that researchers encounter: draft accounts, muster rolls, detailed service records, pension documents, bounties, cemetery records and veteran’s profiles. Here’s a closer look at how to interpret military records and how they can inform your genealogical search.
Navigating military paperwork
One of the advantages of conducting genealogical research with military records is that most militias across time and countries have been well-organized. Military service can be one of the richest sources of written details about the life and times of a specific ancestor. This is true whether your ancestor served in a distant navy or army, or more recently in branches like the Air Force and National Guard. It’s important to remember that military paperwork typically relates to different points in the service lifecycle:
- Enlistment records: Records for new sailors and soldiers are often excellent, offering details such as the name, date of entry, location that the person joined, and biographical and descriptive details. These records can include draft cards during periods of compulsory service.
- Muster Rolls: Muster rolls provide lists of individuals who served in a particular unit, including details of such as names and ages. Muster rolls go back hundreds of years, and can be an important record of service prior to the Civil War.
- Ongoing service records: These records can relate to location and dates of service, the base your ancestor was stationed at or the ship your ancestor served aboard, or specific details related to honors he or she received.
- Draft and war records: Draft records typically refer to compulsory service for males between the ages of 18 and 35. In some cases, much older individuals also signed up under the draft. Different collections offer searchable draft records for Canada and the US (currently available via Ancestry.com).
- Bounty land records: Some soldiers received bounty land grants in exchange for service during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There were also a number of other land grants filed prior to 1855.
- Prison and hospital records: If something extraordinary happened during your ancestor’s service, there may be prison or hospital records to supplement their files. Prison and trial records can advise you if they were accused or convicted of a crime. Hospital records detail the nature of injuries and treatment.
- Discharge and pension records: These types of records relate to how and when your ancestor left the service. They may also offer important insights into life after the military. Possible post-service records include honorable and dishonorable discharges, pension records, veterans support, and military burial details.
Accessing Military Records
If you’re currently researching an ancestor that you know served in the military, accessing these records can greatly expedite your research. But if you don’t have personal experience with finding and reviewing military records, it can be a challenge to know where to get started. What follows is a list of several different options to launch your search.
The National Archives: The National Archives stores records in two repositories, one in Washington DC and the other in St. Louis, Missouri. Their website outlines the procedures for visiting the archives and obtaining copies of specific records.
Ancestry.com: Ancestry.com has digitized a significant portion of America’s military records prior to WWII. These include WWI draft cards and WWII draft cards. They also have collections of foreign national service records available.
Taking pride in your family’s military service and uncovering the details is one of the pleasures of genealogy. There’s a vast world of military records that can help fill in important gaps in your family narrative. If you need assistance locating and interpreting military records in your genealogical search, contact us today for a personalized consultation to find out how working with a professional genealogist can help.
With Patrick’s Day coming later this month and inspiring Irish pride around the world, many people become curious about their Irish roots. Whether you’ve found an O’Shaughnessy somewhere in your family tree or simply have family lore about Celtic royal ties or family that escaped the Great Famine, learning more about your Irish ancestors is a great way to celebrate this time of year. But researching ancestors in Ireland and abroad can present some special challenges. Here are five strategies and resources that can help streamline your search.
Remember the concept of chain migration: Chain migration refers to the phenomena that often, a family or group of individuals would immigrate to the United States together. As they got established with places to live and jobs, members of their extended family, friends, and people from their community would often follow. There were strong trends – at least initially – for new immigrants to live with people that they knew or settle nearby. If you’re struggling to find details on a specific ancestor but know that they traveled with a sibling, parent, or friend, researching the people they knew may give you valuable insights into how and where they lived, worked, and traveled.
Review documentation you may have on hand: One of the best places to start with your search for more detail about Irish ancestors is by looking through existing family papers. A family Bible may include names and dates of births and marriages. Letters, postcards, and other forms of correspondence with relatives back in Ireland may offer important clues on names and geographic information. Pinpointing the town or village, or even simply the parish that an ancestor emigrated from will help you focus your search and make it easier to find important records.
Work to find birth names: For many immigrants traveling to the United States with names that were considered difficult to pronounce, spellings were changed upon arrival. Therefore, what started as O’Conaill may have changed to O’Connell, Connell, O’Connall, Conill, Cannell, or Connull (note: these were just a few versions that turned up for this particular surname during a recent search). You may find references in documents where spellings vary slightly. Different variations of one name may be used for the same person. Depending on your ancestor’s literacy level, it may be difficult to find a definitive confirmation of spelling; they themselves may have used different spellings at different times. The best way to work around this is to explore different spellings as part of your records searches, and provide notations in your research on any alternate spellings used for your ancestor or other members of his or her family.
Focus on immigration records: Irish immigration peaked at the time of the Great Famine, with good reason. However, ship’s records and passenger lists may have been skimpy with details. This is doubly true if your ancestors traveled steerage (i.e. the cheapest way to make the Atlantic crossing). If you’re having trouble locating your ancestor on an Irish to America vessel, remember that many people crossed to Canada and then traveled south into the United States as it was often cheaper. It may also be helpful to cross-check immigration records via the US Census. Often, if a place of birth was listed as somewhere other than the United States, the census will note the year of immigration. This can help narrow down your records search.
Use Irish specialty collections: There are a number of collections that are available which focus exclusively on Irish genealogy that can supplement your search. Some of these are free, and others paid. While not a comprehensive list, these resources can help you get started or break through a particularly challenging research problem.
The National Archives of Ireland offers an extensive collection of historical and genealogical resources available for search.
Origins.net is a specialized service for tracing British and Irish ancestors. The subscription services offers a Wills Index and the best online version available of Griffiths Valuation.
Roots Ireland is an initiative of the Irish Family History Foundation, an Irish non-for-profit dedicated to genealogy, offering a searchable records index and digitized versions of original source materials.
Finding your Irish ancestors can be a rewarding project to undertake in connection with St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re struggling to make progress or want assistance from an Irish genealogical specialist, contact Price & Associates today to set up a personalized consultation.
One of the genealogist’s unique challenges comes in the form of tracking down female ancestors. In earlier times when record keeping was spotty at best, many records of major events were incomplete. Women didn’t often vote, hold jobs, own property, or perform other activities that would routinely generate a paper trail before the early 20th century. This wasn’t always the case, and many times researchers will find that women’s information was more complete. But it’s a common enough challenge that comes up in genealogical work that we decided to explore it more. What’s a family history researcher to do when they’re working on tracking down a female ancestor and the data is limited?
Understand the context
Prior to the early to mid-1900s, women’s identities were often very intertwined with those of their husbands, fathers, and sons. By law, in many places, women were not allowed to vote, hold property, or work outside the home. Even when it was allowed, female independence was a somewhat isolated event. Further, men of the times were in charge of writing the histories and keeping track of the information that was recorded. These things combined to create the situation where records on some female ancestors either don’t exist or don’t contain basic information that researchers are seeking. It’s led some genealogists to call women our “invisible ancestors.” Today, this context is both sad to reflect on and frustrating from a research perspective. But it’s also the reality, and genealogists have developed several creative ways of learning more about female ancestors. Here’s a closer look at some of the tricks of the trade.
Look at the marriage records
Marriage records are an important source of your female ancestors’ maiden name. Typically, this information would be recorded on the marriage license. It would also be preserved on church or government records announcing the marriage, recording the marriage, and performing the marriage. Genealogists consult records as diverse as family bibles, wedding licenses, church registers, banns, and marriage applications that could be held at the town, county, or provincial level (depending on the country). Once a researcher has obtained a marriage record, there are several pieces of important information that can be gleaned. These include the bride’s maiden name, her parent’s names, place of birth, the date of the marriage, and the location that the wedding was performed. Each of these clues helps fill important gaps in the genealogical picture. Divorce records can also provide similar information where applicable.
Another valuable location for records about female ancestors are cemetery records. A gravestone is often one of the most concrete records that an individual has left behind of his or her life. Cemetery records often list some information, and a visit to the cemetery in question can provide additional perspective. The insights gleaned range from inscriptions to the quality of the stone to the proximity of the burial in relation to other individuals. You can also get secondary confirmation of names, birth and date death, spouse’s name, and even parental status (e.g. from inscriptions such as “beloved mother”). It’s important to remember that cemetery records have variable reliability, depending upon who has reported the information that’s been inscribed.
Government census records
A government census record is another avenue to pursue. Government census records may not list your ancestor’s maiden name, but may provide important context clues to her life. For example, it may list her spouse, children, age, the value of their estate, if she worked outside the home, her basic levels of education, and more. Tracing a female ancestor across the decades of her life through the census can give an idea of how her life unfolded. When you find an ancestor in the census, take a detailed copy of the information on that page and surrounding pages. Information about neighbors and other household members can be important clues to the bigger picture.
In some areas, women owned property independently or in common with a husband. She may have received a dowry from her father when she married, or a dower from her husband’s estate when he passed on. Women may be mentioned in wills, or have wills of their own. Baptism records for a woman or her children; probate details related to inheritance; church attendance rolls; military service and pension records; jail records; and obituaries and other newspaper clippings are additional sources of information that should be examined.
Tracking down details on a missing female ancestor can be a challenge. Following the usual paper trails may not be enough. But a persistent researcher is likely to find evidence of maiden names, birth and death dates, and other details if they’re willing to be creative about finding new sources of information. If you’re interested in professional assistance locating information about a female ancestor or anyone in your family history, contact Price & Associates today to arrange a personal consultation.