Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Weird Finds

I'm sure everyone has stumbled upon unusual items as they've been researching their family history, but this one was a first for me. Looking for obituaries is fun, and I have a fabulous resource available at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, now known as the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Resource Center. They have an excellent collection of RI newspapers on microfilm, including the local weekly papers, and small town papers. I came across this and just about fell out of my chair.

The Providence Sunday Journal, 19 October, 1924, Pg 3, Col. 5, Microfilm copy from the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, Providence, RI.
Someone had cut out a death notice from the paper, and that was the copy that they made the microfilm from, so all of the copies of the microfilm are missing that death notice. I could probably go back and figure out which death notice was missing if it appeared on more than one date. But I am always amazed at the weird things we can come across doing research in Rhode Island. Or anywhere else!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Death and Taxes

In my research into the Greene's of Coventry, one of the most wonderful caches of materials that I found was an almost continuous collection of tax books beginning in about 1756. The town has tax records for every year until the 1810s (when I stopped looking!). Some of them have been transcribed by Catherine Hey in the Rhode Island Roots special edition of "Gleanings from Rhode Island Town Records: Early Coventry Record" (RI Roots, April 2010), but her coverage is from 1756 to 1769. There were more, and the ones that I was particularly fascinated by were the ones that covered the years from 1770 to 1800. For every year, you will find two different books, a town rate book, and a state rate book, since the town was responsible for sending money collected from landowners to pay its share of state expenses, and the town also needed a separate income source for its own expenses. For some years, you may also find an estate rate book. Some of the books contain poll counts (nice for a head count of adult males that may still be living at home) and how much each person owed in taxes. It's difficult to track how much a person's estate might have grown based on the taxes paid, since the rates changed, as did the currency value, but the thing I like best about tax books is that you can see men coming of age, dying off, moving into town and buying property.

Here's the first page of the State rate book for 1785
Coventry State Tax Rate book for 1785, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
I love the coffee mug stain on this one.

Here is the Coventry Town Rate book for 1779.
Coventry Town Rate Book for 1779, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
The earliest ones are grouped alphabetically by the first letter of the first name, and the later are grouped by the first letter of the last name, after that it's just a seemingly random list. By looking at a series of years, though, it looks as if they used previous years tax books to write the new ones, so the lists appear very similar from year to year, with the main changes being related to people who may have died during the year, and naming their widows in the place of the men who died. It also appears that the folks may have been grouped geographically by surname, but that's just a hunch on my part.

There's one other interesting type of Coventry tax books that shows "Value of Estates." I presume that this is really more of a list of landowners and an approximate value of the property that they own, but it also lists the heirs of particular estates, so you can see who inherited the property. This is an example from 1780.
Value of Estate Book for 1780, Coventry Town Clerk's Office, Coventry, RI.
I'm off to look for a similar series of tax books for some other Rhode Island towns including Tiverton and Portsmouth for another project, hoping to solve some more brick wall problems with tax list data. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Too many Greens

I've been working on a project for the surname Green/Greene in Coventry between 1750 and 1800. This is a time period in Rhode Island research that can be ridiculously challenging since there were few vital records kept, and the best way to establish relationships or identity is by using land and court records. So I toddled off the the Coventry Town Hall to look through the land records which date back to about 1748.

Does anyone know how many male Greens there are in Coventry between 1750 and 1780? Do you have any idea how many land transactions there were? I counted 34 index entries per page and about 50 pages of Greenes for grantor entries up to the year 1845 which is more than 1700 deed entries (and that's just the Grantor index). There have to be over 40 unique individuals with the surname Greene in the area during that time period. When you look at the transactions of just the males named Benjamin Greene in the Grantee Deed Index there are over 30 entries. How does one sort out who's who, how they're related, and which ones to focus on when there are so many?

I've been using 2 techniques (mind maps and spreadsheets) with moderate success for distinguishing all Greene and how they are related. Often, the men or the people taking the information identify their fathers to distinguish among the 3 James, 3 Joseph and 2 Ebenezer Green's all living concurrently in the town.  I had to start somewhere, so I used mind mapping software to help me visualize various families and how they may all be connected. Taking information from a number of different sources I consolidated it into one picture using sources for a specific time period (of course, don't ask me which information came from which source, this is just a visual to sort out who's who on a general scale, I'd have to go back to document everything.) Below is one of the mind maps I created for Greene's in Coventry in the decade between 1740 and 1750.
Mind Map of Greenes in Coventry

I then did it for a later time period when there were even more individuals. In 1778, there were more than 30 taxable inhabitants in Coventry, all with the surname of Greene. Some were women (which helps), and based on how much they were taxed, I could determine if they owned real estate or not which I color coded. This could be helpful when searching for deeds (see below).
X Map of Greenes in 1778

While I have only touched the surface of mapping, I can imagine creating a mind map for each source with all the information contained in it. I can imagine shifting the families around to then overlay them onto a map of town to determine if they group geographically. Fortunately, Coventry covers the largest amount of area of any town in Rhode Island so reconstructing land parcels using physical maps might prove useful as well. But which specific deeds should I look at?

My thought was that as I looked through the Grantee index, I could often distinguish individual land sales from the distribution of an estate by looking for "et al" or "administrator," suggesting that the land sale had something to do with a probate. While the probate records are pretty good, if someone didn't leave a will, it's often difficult to determine who the heirs were, despite the fact that the estate still had to be divided amongst the heirs. So I went through the index and chose all the grantor deeds that contained "et al" and put them into a spreadsheet that I could then sort in a number of ways.
Example of Greene Spreadsheet

Greene et al Grantor Grantee Vol pg Year
Ann  et al Benjamine Green 9 66 1777
Benjamin Nathaniel Green 5 5 1767
Benjamin Thomas Stafford 6 18 1768
Caleb Elisha Greene 5 130 1769
Caleb John Andrews 5 308 1771
Catherine John Matteson 7 57 1777
Cathrine Jacob Greene 10 13 1779
Christopher et al Griffen Greene 4 381 1770
Christopher et al Peter Levally 7 68 1778
Christopher et al Michael Letson 7 507 1777
Christopher et al Jacob Greene 10 13 1779
Deborah Charles Cook 5 209 1772
Elihu et al Griffen Greene 4 381 1770
Elihu et al Benjamine Vaughan 5 340 1777
Elihu et al John Greene 5 425 1782
Elihu et al John Matteson 7 52 1777
Elihu et al Michael Letson 7 507 1777

There were more than 70 entries. Then, by sorting them by volume and page, I could see which individuals mentioned in an "et al" deed sorted together, were found in the same volume and page, meaning that they appeared in the same deed together and were probably related. I can later determine whether they were all related using other documentary evidence. It worked pretty well. I could also sort based on year, or grantee, to organize my research plan and focus on the years when I knew someone died, or a significant first name, or whatever.

While my Green project isn't quite finished, I hope that other folks working in towns with dozens of individuals with the same surname can use these techniques to sort out family groups to focus your research to find what you're looking for!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RIGS Annual Meeting and Manuscript Collections

This Sunday, May 17th, is the Rhode Island Genealogical Society's Annual Meeting  when I will be presenting a talk called "Diamonds in the Rough: Finding and Using Manuscript Collections" (, so it seems appropriate that I write a bit about the RIGS Manuscript Collection that is held at the Greenville Public Library (Greenville Public Library) in Smithfield, RI. While it's been a while since my last visit, there are some very cool items that have been donated by members and other people who want to share and preserve family history materials.

There are 2 very interesting scrapbooks of photographs, one of portraits of members of the Darling family and one with photos of Spraguesville, Smithfield and other locations in the 1910's and 1920's.
Abby Darling, from RIGS Collection photo album at Greenville Public Library
From a scrapbook at the RIGS Collection at the Greenville Public Library
 There are typescript transcriptions of talks that have been presented to the RI Genealogical Society meetings, and a number of miscellaneous folders. These materials are in fact quite different from the books and journals that are part of the RIGS Library, which has published materials, not these unique, unpublished materials. There may be letters written to the society, requesting information, or collections of obituaries, diaries, insurance papers, just about anything that can be found in manuscript collections, so make sure that you check them out for glimpses into your family's history.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NERGC 2015 Retrospective

I still haven't quite recovered from NERGC 2015 in Providence 2 weeks ago. I have a backlog of posts, email and tasks to complete and the world keeps turning and won't let me get off yet!

But what a great conference! As one of the Program Tri-Chairs, along with Marian Pierre-Louis and Maureen Taylor, I was happy to hear so many positive things about the speakers and the talks. There were some flubs and miscues, but for the most part everything was great. It always amazes me how many dedicated volunteers and how many grueling hours the various committees put in to pull it off. As I sit here trying to recover, the planning for NERGC 2017 in Springfield has already begun. I'll probably not be as actively involved for the next one, but it was a great experience.

My talks were pretty well received, though I have to consider renaming the one entitled "GPS for Genealogy: Another Kind of Navigation" since when I began with the disclaimer that it was about the Genealogical Proof Standard, and not Global Positioning Systems, several of the people got up and walked out of the room. Oops. I got to speak to a very large group for my talk "Which Autosomal DNA test is right for YOU?" and had some of the best in the business in the audience, including The Genetic Genealogist ( himself, Blaine Bettinger, who I finally got to meet.

I met a bunch of cool people working at 2 of the booths in the exhibit hall, APG and BCG, which were conveniently across from one another. And my other favorite activity was the Ancestors Road Show where I met 6 fabulous genealogists with questions about RI research. I should have told them to check out my blog...

The other new activity that I participated in this time was the Special Interest Group, Becoming a Professional Genealogist. Lots of budding professionals were there, talking about taxes and LLCs, and of course, becoming a Certified Genealogist, though there is often some confusion about the difference between being a CG and being a professional.

I can't even choose the highlights! Probably the most significant was meeting old genealogy peeps and making new ones, and getting to listen to some of the best speakers in the business (Judy Russell comes to mind!). That and being able to sleep with no cats, dogs and kid in the room (I treated myself to 2 nights in Providence!)But now, it's back to the old grind, scaring up cool stuff relating to RI genealogy for all to see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NERGC 2015 in Providence!

I'm totally swamped this week, getting ready for the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Conference this week in Providence! So much fun to be had and so many fabulous talks to see by fabulous speakers like Lisa Louise Cooke and Judy Russell, not to mention D. Josh Taylor, David Lambert and ME! 

So what is my plan? First, I'll be volunteering in the exhibit hall at both the Board for Certification of Genealogists booth and the Association for Professional Genealogists New England Chapter booth, so drop by and learn about these two fabulous groups. And make sure to drop by the Rhode Island Genealogical Society's booth too! My other favorite RI genealogical society always puts together a great booth in the exhibit hall, AFGS, and they have great books and French-Canadian research goodies for sale.

I'm really looking forward to the opening session, with John McNiff portraying William Blackstone, one of the first European settlers in RI, and the social hour and society fair in the evening. I figure I can even get to some of the Thursday talks in between!

I'll be at the "Becoming a Professional Genealogist" Special Interest Group on Thursday night in Room 553B, so drop by and talk about some of the skills you need to have the BEST job in the whole world!

The biggest items on my to-do list are two talks I'm presenting on Saturday, "GPS for Genealogy: Another Kind of Navigation", about using the Genealogical Proof Standard to solve complex evidence cases and the second "Which Autosomal DNA Test is Right for YOU?" about genetic genealogy and the autosomal DNA tests offered at the 3 major testing companies.

Don't miss out on RI talks by Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, FASG and Nathaniel Lane Taylor, FASG!

Even though I only live 20 minutes away, I'm going to stay downtown at one of the conference hotels so that I don't miss out on any of the fun, impromptu meetings that happen when almost 1000 genealogists get together for 3 days. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Newpapers! Obituaries! Read all about it!!

Newspapers are great for reverse genealogy or finding living relatives, and after my trip to the Forensic Genealogy Institute (where I learned more about the application of genetic genealogy results) last week, it seems appropriate to talk about the newspapers that are available here in Rhode Island.

Obituaries have great information that can be used to track down living relatives, but also for finding out more about ancestors, such as finding funeral home and cemeteries. Military service and employment may be mentioned, leading to more sources to fill out the lives of our ancestors and families.

In Rhode Island, the best place to find newspapers is at the RI Historical Society Library. ( They have almost continuous collections of every newspaper published in RI. The biggest and longest running is the Providence Journal and while most recent obituaries appear in this paper, there are smaller more regional papers that are worth a look, too. Each town usually has it's own local paper, and if you can't find a death reported in the ProJo, the next step is to look for the local paper. Most local papers can be found at RIHSL or at the local public library. In fact, when the historical society was closed for a year, I trucked around the state to find newspapers in the local libraries.
 Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, “Michele Lautieri, Natick, Dead at 59; Funeral on Tuesday” West Warwick, Rhode Island, Saturday Dec. 6, 1941, pg 6. Rhode Island Historical Society Library microfilm  “Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, July thru Dec. 1941”.

And it's not just about finding obituaries. There can also be interesting stories about more prominent (or naughty!) ancestors. Here's an article related to the one above:
Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, "Strikers Storm Natick Mill" West Warwick, RI, 1 Feb 1922, pg 1.
The man arrested who was indirectly responsible for starting the riot is the same man, Michele Lautieri, my great-grandfather, as the one in the obituary.

There are also retrospectives in some of the papers such as "25 years ago today" and "50 years ago today" and the smaller newspapers may mark significant anniversary celebrations of local people.

They may also have pictures that you can use to get a better idea of what the neighborhood was like, or what the effect of a significant world or local event had in an area. The Natick Mill fire in 1941 in West Warwick, RI, was a significant local event that had an enormous economic impact, forcing mill workers to find other jobs. Michele, who died later in 1941, had found work at the Anthony Mill after the fire as mentioned in the obituary. It was also significant to my family research, since oral family history tells of how Michele Lautieri was taken away in the night to be questioned by the police after the fire. (A rabble-rouser, sort of, he was under suspicion for arson, based on being an activist during the 1920's mill strikes, see photo above!) All this information and more can be found in newspapers!
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