Monday, October 31, 2011

Great State Censuses

One of the interesting things about RI researchers that I've run into is that they are often looking for those old 17th and 18th century families. If that's what you're searching for, skip to the end, because this post is about a fabulous resource that's free online for those of us with 19th and 20th century RI ancestors.

My RI families are late 19th century and 20th century immigrants, and many of the published materials deal with the older, Roger Williams era families. For those of us with immigrant ancestors from Ireland, French-Canada, Italy, and the Azores, the Family History Library has digitized and indexed the 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925 and 1935 RI state censuses. The 1895 census doesn't exist. The other censuses, however, can be searched online at

The index will bring you directly to the images of the census that you're interested in.  There are funky things to know about each census year, for example, the 1885 census list men and women in separate records, so it doesn't put people into family units. But by using the 1880 US Federal census to fill out family groups, you can then search the 1885 for each family member. The census will give District, family number and number in family as well as relationship to head of family, so you can cross reference the people you know, and perhaps find some that you don't. It also gives occupation and number of months attending school. Check it out for one of my guys Frank E. Noyes

The 1905 State Census entry of Frank E. Noyes is on index cards and covers 2 pages (don't forget the 2nd page!).
 This census gives  additional information such as years living in RI, religious affiliation, whether the individual is a registered voter, etc. For women, it identifies the number of children, as well as the number of children living as of June 1, 1905. All good information for our family history. See
for Frank's wife, Dora's, 2nd page, for more info about her parent's birthplaces.

For immigrants, it can be great to know how long they've been in the US, and other information about their employment, naturalization status and how long they've been in RI, if different from how long they've been in the US.

In the next post, we'll check out the 1925 and 1935 RI censuses, see you then!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Providence Journal Bulletin

The local RI newspaper, The Providence Journal, has been doing a ton of advertising lately, radio, TV, in their own pages (I wonder if they have to buy space?). They have changed their website, and now offer an electronic version you can get for your Ipad or phone or whatever. While that's all fabulous for the 21st century, for RI genealogists, the most significant thing about the ProJo (as we locals call it), is that it has been publishing in some form for over 200 years.

One of the lesser known RI resources that I love is the daily index to the Providence Journal that is at the Providence Public Library ( It runs from 1900 to 2004 and can help you find articles published contemporaneously with events in RI history. The microfilm collection maintained by the library is a complete run from 1829 to the present. And while you're at the library, you can access articles on their computers from 1983 to the present. Through newspaper research, we can find marriage notices, deaths and obituaries, and local stories about war heroes, political villains (we tend to have a lot of those locally), and just your average Rhode Islander, waiting out a blizzard or hurricane. We can access history as it's being made, and find things that may have been left out of the textboooks (and when it comes to RI research, that tends to happen a lot).

While getting the bare bones of names and dates for the vital information about our ancestors is the beginning of our genealogical research, putting the meat on the bones by understanding the historical context of our ancestors lives, how they may have been influenced by major events occurring in their communities, is what helps us to see them as real people, living real lives. They were affected by storms and economic downturns, and some may have even influenced the news themselves, and it's worthwhile to take a peak at what was happening in RI during their lifetimes. It may help us understand their motives and moves, marriages and misdemeanors.

As I work on a project about my great-grandmother, I started with the family oral history about her being active in politics, being a leader in her community and influencing striking workers at the local mill. I plan to use the index to find the written accounts of the tumultuous time during the Natick Mill Strike, to put together a better picture of the woman, her strengths and weaknesses, and her trials and triumphs. I'm sure that even if she is not mentioned specifically, by reading newspaper accounts, I'll know what the local authorities were saying to the media, and what was the general mood on the street. And that, is what makes genealogy into "family history" and make our ancestors come alive.