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from the books and journals that are part of the RIGS Library, which has published materials, not these unique, unpublished materials.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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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Naturalization Records at the RI Supreme Court Judicial Records Center

The Rhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center has naturalization records from all Rhode Island county courts, including District and Superior courts in all five Rhode Island counties, Kent, Newport, Providence, Bristol and Washington. Some of the earliest naturalization records are from Newport and Providence Counties.

There is a gap in Providence County Court records. The District and Superior court records from about 1894-1917 are found at the NARA Northeast Regional Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. All the other counties have continuous records with no apparent gaps. The last records date to about 1982 when the Reagan administration changed the rules regarding naturalization record keeping.

There are typically three kinds of naturalization documents found at the Rhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center; declarations of intentions, petitions for naturalizations and certificates of immigration. There are no certificate of naturalization stubs archived here.

The earliest document that I saw was from Providence County, a naturalization petition for John William Larrant of France from 1793, but I can't find the copy I made. The main components of the  petition were as follows: the name of the petitioner, his address and occupation of “gentleman”, the court petitioned, his country of origin and date of application, as well as a description of his residency in the United States. There is little information beyond that he has been “demeaning himself as a good and peaceable inhabitant of the said United States.” 

More detailed record keeping of naturalizations developed over time, and as I was researching my fascist grandmother's first papers, I checked out a bunch of the Declarations of Intentions (often referred to as "first papers") for the Superior Court of Kent County in the 1920's.
Box from RI SCJRC, Declarations of Intention, Pawtucket, RI
These bound volumes contain a single document for each person who declared they wanted to be naturalized. The information they contain includes the person's name, a physical description, date and place of birth, from where and when they emigrated, their spouses name and birthplace and a signature or mark.

While I didn't find my fascist grandmother's Declaration, I did find her mother's. My great-great-grandmother, Dorotea Marinelli, filed a declaration of intention at age 85 in 1942. There was a lot of pressure following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor for Italian immigrants to avoid discrimination by applying for citizenship.

Declaration of Intention for Dorotea Marinelli
I love these documents, because even if the individuals didn't follow through to become a naturalized citizen, there is a lot of really great genealogical information to be found on the first papers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More RI Court Records

I mentioned last week that many of the courts in RI had changed names over time. Here's an example of a record from the "Court of Judicature Assize and General Gaol Delivery" from King's County in 1769. This court was one of the precursors to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
  Court of Judicature Assize and General Gaol Delivery, King's County [Washington County], RI, Vol. B, 1763-1782, April 1769, pg 202, RI Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, RI.
 This case summary names William Sachem, James Niles and a variety of other Narragansett Indians in a land dispute relating to 30 acres in Charlestown. Unfortunately, many of the case files associated with these record books are inaccessible, so this is the only information related to this case. This case refers to another court record, from the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1768, which has more information about the dispute.

In another case from the Court of Common Pleas, James Niles, Junior, an Indian man and Cooper, sues Michael Toby for trespass, but that it was later withdrawn.
Washington County, Court of Common Pleas, Record Book H, pg 134, 1770, Niles vs. Toby. RISCJRC, Pawtucket.

By the careful use of court records, you can often find interesting information relating to an ancestor's occupation, residence, neighbors and community. In colonial Rhode Island research in particular, I have found that court records and land records are some of the best resources when establishing relationships since so few vital records are available.

Next week, some cool examples of naturalization records found at the RI Supreme Court Judicial Records Center.

Monday, March 9, 2015

RI Court Records

One of the standard entries on my to-do list for any genealogy research project is court records at the Rhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center in Pawtucket (Supreme Court Judicial Records Center). They have civil, criminal and divorce court records from 1671 to 1900 and naturalization records until 1982. While many of the court case file papers are unavailable due to water and mold damage, the indexes and record books are available for all five counties. The nice part is that for court records up to 1900, they are all housed in one place, which makes searching a breeze, and you don't have to truck around the state hitting all the different courts. The strange thing about RI, or rather one of the many strange things, is that counties as a geopolitical unit are rarely important. Most records that genealogists use frequently are held at the town level, and the main exception is for court records. The five RI counties, Bristol, Newport, Providence, Kent and Washington all have plaintiff and defendent indexes as well as record books for each type of court.

There are two levels of civil court records that I usually search, the Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court record books, but the names of these courts have changed over time. It's always amazing to me how many folks are sued, and counter-sued, usually over unpaid debts and land disputes in colonial RI. More recent materials can also be found, as well. One of the more unusual books that I viewed as I was tracking down a family story about a mill riot and an arrest (covered in my seminar entitled "Broken Threads") was the 4th District Court at East Greenwich criminal court dockets that summarize the every day criminal court's dispensing of justice. Some of the fascinating information found in this book includes the person making the complaint, the "respondent" or defendent, the arresting officer, the court date, the judgement, court fees and disposition.

In 1922, for example, there was enforcement of drunk driving when John J. Iera was found guilty of "operating automobile while intoxicated" and he was fined $100 and charged $6.80 in court costs. There are records of assaults with dangerous weapons, domestic abuse, as well as info about who posted the bail bonds for the defendents. I did not find any court record for my arrested, mill riot-causing grandfather, but the charges may have been dropped and he may not have had to go to court.
RI 4th District Court Criminal Dockets at the RI Supreme Court Judicial Records Center in Pawtucket, RI.

Page from Criminal Court Docket, RI SCJRC, Pawtucket, RI
So, as you're researching your Roots in Rhode Island and thing you may have one of those mlill rioters in your family, don't forget to check the court records, and remember that they are organized by county, not town! I'll show some more treats that found in the RI court records in upcoming posts.