Friday, October 9, 2015

Upcoming Events

Since I haven't had time to redesign my website yet, I thought that I'd post some of the places that I'll be speaking in the next 2 weeks, and maybe I'll see some of you there!

Saturday October 10th I'll be presenting "Conserving our Personal Collections" for the Falmouth Genealogical Society!

Saturday October 24th I'll be at the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of NJ for their Nashi Predky Our Ancestors Family History Conference presenting "It's like Velcro: Autosomal DNA for Genealogy."

Finishing off the weekend Sunday October 25th in NY City at The Genealogy Event, GenGen DNA day with "An Introduction to Genetic Genealogy Testing" and "DNA for the Genealogical Proof Standard." Genetics over Generations

It's a schedule designed to keep me out of the pubs!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Random notes and musings

This is going to be like a Mark Patinkin (see Mark Patinkin at ProJo) column with various, miscellaneous points that aren't really connected. I think Bill Reynolds calls it "For what it's worth," but here goes:
  • Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't yet know this, but I was thrilled to discover a ProScanner 1100 at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, now a Smithsonian Institution affiliate and renamed the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center. Don't forget a jump drive! Although they thoughtfully provide them for sale. Excellent for the vital records and newspaper collections.
  • The Providence City Archives is getting the positive publicity it deserves due to the fabulous work of Paul Cambell and his staff. (Treasure Trove of History 9/9/2015)
  • I've been to several town halls recently and the key thing to ask is for the vault inventory. Most have a list of stuff that is not accessible in the land evidence books, but they will let you check out the list and request things that may be of interest to your project. I've also been taking pictures of the vault inventories and converting them to PDFs so when I go back to that town hall, I can check the list before I go and plan my research more efficiently.
  • Trying to put all the sources I've ever searched in RI into a spreadsheet is NOT an easy task. My goal has been to develop my own source lists from all my old research projects, but there isn't an easy way to export my genealogical database Master Source file. I'll figure it out eventually, but the idea is to be able to quickly identify and sort sources for research projects in certain towns and be able to sort by town, type of record, time period of records in addition to the actual source citation information. Sort of an annotated bibliography for the state of RI. If I ever finish, I'll let you know. I'm sure there's an easier way to do this, but that would require me to learn even MORE new stuff, new programs. I thought computers were supposed to make life easier.
  • Did I mention that I want to sort it by repository? Shoot. Me. Now.
  • There is so much information available for genealogy on the internet that my head is going to explode, especially the blogosphere. Is that a word?
  • Renovations at the repository that you REALLY need to get into, that's been closed for 6 months or more, ALWAYS take longer than projected. Always.
  • The only thing worse than the continued closure is the lack of updates on when they might reopen.
  • I have no idea how anyone is able to maintain all of their online presences or whatever they're called when there are so many. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, websites, APG profile, BCG profile.  I can barely update my website, and the new website design is something I've been putting off for six months! How am I supposed to get any actual work done?
  • I have 3 speaking engagements next month and am very excited to be developing 2 new talks! I'll be at the Falmouth Genealogical Society speaking on "Conserving our Personal Collections." 
  • I'll be heading to NJ for the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of NJ for their Nashi Pedky Family History Group Conference presenting "It's Like Velcro: Autosomal DNA for Genealogy." 
  • I'll be at #GenGen in NY City with2 newish ones: "An overview of DNA Tests for Genealogy" and "DNA as part of the Genealogical Proof Standard," as part of Genetics over Generations, the renamed Genealogy Event.
Now that my random list is finished, I have to go make sure that I cross post this to 14 other platforms. Maybe that's why I have a recurring activity on schedule: "update online materials."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Treasure trove that makes more work, but it's fun

A couple of weeks ago, I received a wonderful cache of family photos from my mum-in-law, and have been starting to sort out who's who, and learn more about identifying people. Not being an expert with years of experience like Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, a fellow Rhode Islander, I have to start from scratch. But I've learned a few things along the way that I thought I would share.

1. Know the source of the photos.
The pictures that I received were people that my mom-in-law didn't know. Why? Because they were from her husbands' family. My father-in-law died in the spring, and when she was going through all of her photos looking for pictures for the collages her grandchildren assembled, she found a box of photos she had forgotten about. And then, of course, my father-in-law wasn't there to identify them, so I know that they must be related to his family, not hers.

2. Ask surviving relatives to identify the people before it's too late.
My father-in-law has one surviving sister, so she is on my list of people I need to sit down with to identify the pictures. She will recognize most of them and if fact may have already told me who they are when we identified other photos, which brings me to the next point...

3. Compare them with photos of people you already know.
Many years ago, I took pictures of my aunt's mass card collection, the same aunt who is my father-in-law's surviving sister, and should know who's in the pictures. The mass cards had been collected by her mother over the course of her lifetime. Many of the mass cards have photos on them and I can pick out at least one of the men from my unknown photos and match it to my identified photos. From there, I can make  some pretty good guesses about the surrounding folks, based on if it's a family group photo, a wedding photo or whatever.

4. Cruise the internet
Using, I was able to connect to a cousin who has a copy of the same image I have, and guess what? Hers is identified! So use the web to find pictures and make sure that you share the ones you have. It's the best kind of back-up when photos are widely distributed among disparate family members, even if they are only tangentially related. Additionally, many of the photos I received had the photographer and the location on them. Use that information correlated with what you know about a family to help you with identification. If you know the photo has a Maine photographer, track down the families you know lived in Maine at some point, and go from there.

And now, a selection of some fabulous, soon to be identified photos:

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.