15 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: National resources Part 4

After you've checked deeds, probate records, censuses, tax records, and/or city directories, you may want to learn more about your ancestors’ neighborhood and what their dwellings may have looked like. If your family wasn’t from Lexington or Massachusetts (like the study in the previous three posts), you’ll find the strategies are similar but the resources may be different.

Historic Places to Visit

Collins Log Cabin (1818), Columbia, Missouri; photo: HornColumbia
If you’ll be in the neighborhood, check out USA.gov’s links to state travel and tourism web sites. From there, you can drill down by region, county, or town, or do a Google search for a local tourist bureau. You’ll find historic places to visit and a calendar of events. In all likelihood, you won't find your ancestral home, but you may find similar building styles and household furnishings pertaining to the time frame youre interested in.

The American Alliance of Museums’ directory lists museums from A to Z (aquariums to zoos), including history museums, historic sites, and museum associations that make up its membership. You can search by name, city, state, or museum type.

PreservationDirectory.com offers several databases for the U.S. and Canada, including historical societies by state/province, region, or keyword; historic house museums, living history museums, and specialty museums by category; and historic tours by category.  

Learning about Architecture

If you didn’t take art history and architecture in school, you may want to brush up on some building styles and time periods to put your ancestors era in the correct context. For the Lexington, Massachusetts, study, I referred to Historic New England’s architectural style guide, but different regions tend to create buildings more in line with their landscapes.

Jeffery Howe, a professor at Boston College, put together a Digital Archive of American Architecture for his students. He includes a chronology, description, and examples of architectural styles. The web site hasn’t been updated in a while, but its still useful. Or pick up a book on architectural history.

The Anatomy of a Historic House

Maybe you’re lucky and your ancestral house has a National Register (NR) designation for being connected with a famous person or event, or for being culturally or architecturally significant. If not, you can learn about NR buildings in your ancestors’ community and surrounding towns. Some of them are private property, but their NR paperwork is available. 

In the 1960s, there was a big push for the U.S. government to recognize and preserve historic buildings. That’s why National Register of Historic Places seeks to “identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.” Some states have their NR documentation posted online, with photos, floor plans, descriptions, and house histories. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, contact the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO).

Location, Location, Location

Realtors know the importance of location. You may want to compare historic maps with Google Maps and Google Earth to get a bird’s-eye view to see why your ancestors may have chosen a specific location and how its changed over the years. Check out these collections:
Every Picture Tells a Story

Carlyle House in 1909, Alexandria, Virginia
William & Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine,
Vol.18, No.1., pp.1-17.
It almost goes without saying, but check your photographs and ask relatives if they have pictures of the old homestead. If not, you may be able to find pictures of your ancestral houses or neighborhoods. 

Public and secondary education libraries sometimes have archival collections online, such as the Archive of Photographic Documentation of Early Massachusetts Architecture at Boston Public Library, which includes late 19th century photographs and engravings of 17th and 18th century buildings in Eastern Massachusetts. Connect with state libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, and federal libraries for collections.

Old and new town histories usually have photographs of buildings, so do a search on Google Books, Internet Archive, HathiTrust digital library, or other digital providers. You also could go to your local library and check their collections or interlibrary loan.

Several web sites invite people to add their images, both old and new, to online maps. Check out HistoryPin.com and WhatWasThere.com. Waymarking.com tags historic buildings and much more—with photos and descriptions.

Arcadia Publishing specializes in local books filled with old photographs, often compiled by town historians or using historical society collections.

You’d be surprised what turns up on postcards. I have a postcard of Mirror Lake taken from the exact location where my parents built their house 30 years later, before any buildings existed on the property. I bought the postcard from eBay. I’ve also purchased historic house cards from CardCow.

Building a Foundation

Researching how people lived will give you a better understanding of your family in their neighborhood setting. Envisioning their homes, the everyday tools they used and chores they did, their status in the community, the luxuries they had, and the hardships they faced will help you appreciate your forebears and the choices they made.

And, now that youve gone beyond birth and death dates by filling in the space between, you should consider writing down what youve discovered and sharing it with your family. 

Read previous posts, Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts

07 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 3

How can you picture how your ancestors lived and what their home may have looked like, if the original structure and photos do not exist? 

For this study, we’re using the year 1775 in Lexington, Massachusetts, as an example. Part 1 set the scene, with events and historic sites. In part 2, we covered books, maps, and photos. Now let’s add historical property data into the mix. 

The National Register of Historic Places (NR) seeks to “identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.” However, Massachusetts is one of those states that hasn’t had its paperwork digitized yet. Fortunately, there’s the State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO), and in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), which provides information on Lexington. (Again, not all towns are digitized.)

First, let’s search the MACRIS database by location and time period. Select Lexington, and on the next screen, type <1775 under Construction Year (as in less than 1775). Thirty properties show up in the results, including the Lexington Old Burying Ground (c. 1690) and 1775 Traces of the Battle Road (c. 1636), since we did not select Resource Type (area, building, burial ground, object, structure). Objects include historic markers and monuments while Structures include walls, bridges, streets, wells, cow pens—much more than we want. By selecting Buildings, <1775, the results are 27 properties.

For each property, the onscreen spreadsheet shows the inventory number (Inv. No.), property name, street address, town, approximate year built (circa or range of dates), whether the house is listed on the State Register of Historic Places (SR), whether the National Register nomination has been digitized (NR), and (INV) for the scanned inventory file. For record detail, click on Inv. No.; for the scanned nomination paperwork, click on INV to download the PDF. 

Architectural Styles

MACRIS lets you select from many different kinds of architectural styles, including “altered beyond recognition.” However, the web site does not provide descriptions for these styles online. So let’s go to Historic New England, which divides architectural building styles before the 20th century into the following categories: 
  • First Period (Post-medieval English): 1600-1700
  • Georgian: 1700-1780
  • Federal (Adam): 1780-1820
  • Greek Revival: 1825-1860
  • Gothic Revival: 1840-1880
  • Italianate: 1840-1885
  • Second Empire: 1855-1885
  • Stick: 1860-1890
  • Queen Anne: 1880-1910
  • Shingle: 1880-1900
  • Colonial Revival: 1880-1955
Georgian Style

Let’s say an ancestor built a home in Lexington circa 1750 that no longer exists and we want to look at a home of a similar age and style. Houses dating from 1700 to 1780 were often Georgian in style, with the center entry flanked with an equal number of double-hung sash windows balancing each side. One or two stories high, these clapboard or shingled wood-framed homes had center chimneys (if built before 1750) or double chimneys on each end of the gable roof. The box floor plan was two rooms deep with a central hallway.

Henry Harrington - Dr. Joseph Fiske house (LEX.710)
In MACRIS, we search Lexington, Georgian and find 21 matches, including the Henry Harrington - Dr. Joseph Fiske house (LEX.710) at 70 East Street. Besides its architectural significance, it has an interesting history, being commonly known as the Lexington Pest House, and a long association with the Fiske family. The Lexington Historical Commission nominated the single-family dwelling as historically important in March 1998. The paperwork, downloadable as a PDF, includes a photo, a map showing location and footprint, an architectural description, a historical narrative, and—what every genealogist likes to see—a bibliography and/or references. 

Considered “one of the best-preserved of the 21 Georgian houses still standing in Lexington, the original house was rectangular with an integral lean-to, 2-1/2 stories, five-by-one bays, and side-gabled with a large center chimney and an exterior chimney at the west end of lean-to.... The original house has a center entrance with a surround composed of a projecting molded cornice and fluted pilasters; the 6/9 windows in this house have molded window heads on the first floor and are framed into the cornice on the second.” Major alterations include a “shed attached to house, rear addition, attached garage (1979).” 

House Genealogy

Although this file does not include a floor plan, it has genealogical and architectural value. Cary Library in Lexington includes notes from Fiske descendant, Mary Abbie Fiske, suggesting the house was built in 1745 by Henry Harrington (1712-1791) and three of his sons were born there. However, the house nomination paperwork questions the date since sons John was born in 1739 and Jonathan in 1744. By 1790, Dr. Joseph Fiske (1752-1837) acquired the house from Henry Harrington’s son John. Probably during an epidemic in 1792, Dr. Fiske was treating 32 smallpox patients at 70 East Street—hence the name pest house. In 1809, Dr. Fiske moved to the old Fiske house (LEX.735) at 63 Hancock Street after his father’s death, though several generations of the doctor’s family continued to live at the Harrington-Fiske house until the 1940s.

By studying the Georgian homes in the Lexington area, you can gain insight into how your ancestors lived at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

05 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 2

If you do not live near your ancestors' neighborhood, you still can use books, photos, and maps to explore what their lives were like. Using our example of Lexington, Massachusetts, in the year 1775, again, lets check out a few online resources.

Picture Books

Books on Lexington and the Revolutionary War are abundant, but let's look for something more local. 

In 1868, Charles Hudson published his History of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts. The Lexington Historical Society revised and expanded the original one-volume book through the year 1912. The now two-volume work includes images of old buildings and maps—helping you visualize not only what your ancestor’s home may have looked like in comparison, but also where these buildings were relative to each other. You can read both volumes online:
You may even find mention of your family. 

Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in local history books filled with old photographs, published two books with Lexington Historical Society archivist Richard Kollen, Images of America: Lexington and Lexington: From Liberty’s Birthplace to Progressive Suburb. (Check out the company’s catalog to see if books were published for other towns or cities you’re interested in.)

Maps and Photos

Google Maps not only gives you directions, it takes you there. Type in the address or site and grab the little yellow figure to browse street-view images. Start at the Minute Man Statue and scan the buildings nearby. Or type in your old homestead address. You can view still images that people submitted. You also can switch to Google Earth to get a bird’s-eye view

Also try the U.S. Geological Survey maps.

Several web sites invite people to add their images, both old and new, to online maps. Check out HistoryPin.com and WhatWasThere.com, though both, at this time, are a little light on Lexington, they could prove useful for other ancestral areas. 

X Marks the Spot

The Historical Marker Database includes photos, links, and information about permanent outdoor markers, plaques, and monuments that provide historical or scientific facts. See the list of Lexington markers.

In a similar vein, Waymarking.com tags locations around the world with data specific to that spot. Categories include buildings, history, monuments, signs, events, and businesses—with photos and descriptions.

Part 1: history, historical sites
Part 3: historical property data
Part 4: national resources

02 May 2015

Envisioning ancestors’ neighborhoods: A study of Lexington, Massachusetts, part 1

Minute Man Statue
With a little imagination, you can visualize your ancestors’ community. Let’s take, for example, a pivotal time and place in the history of our nation: 1775 in Lexington, Massachusetts. Considered the birthplace of American Liberty, according to the town’s web site, Lexington gets busloads of tourists year-round, but especially from April to late fall.

In 1775, Lexington was a farming community with a population of 750. As one of the main thoroughfares to Boston and New Hampshire, the town supported two taverns but had little in the way of a commercial center. 

In the early morning of April 19, 1775, the 2.5-acre Lexington Green was the setting for “the shot heard ‘round the world.” If you face the Minute Man Statue at the point of Battle Green, which is shaped like a triangle, Buckman Tavern is on your right. The green was purchased specifically for military musters, and after drills, Minute Men often gathered at Buckman Tavern. On April 18, William Dawes and Paul Revere rode from Boston with news of the advancing British troops, both stopping separately at the Hancock-Clarke house, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were spending the night. Given the warning, some of the Lexington Minute Men spent the night in the tavern until the Redcoats were sighted at sunrise. Then they formed their battle line on the green.

About 80 militia men were at the green that morning, standing in formation but not blocking the way to Concord where the military supplies and gunpowder were hidden. They were way outnumbered by the British regulars and no doubt expected their presence to be no more than a show of arms. No one knows who pulled the trigger first or if there were several shots fired almost simultaneously, but after the smoke had cleared, eight Colonists were dead and 10 wounded. There was only one Redcoat casualty.

Across the green, the white hip-roofed house, part of which was built in 1690, has a sign that reminds us of the painful losses during this fateful battle: “House of Jonathan Harrington/who wounded on the Common/April 19, 1775/dragged himself to the door/and died at his wife’s feet.” (LEX.54)

Reliving the Past

If you are in Lexington on the third Monday in April, a state holiday known as Patriots Day, you can relive the battle performed by military reenactors on the green. Since the Redcoats didn’t stop at Lexington but continued their march toward Concord, you can follow much of the path the British troops took through the Minute Man National Historical Park. The park also includes 10 “witness homes.

Take a Tour

Hancock-Clarke house
Since you can’t just knock on someone’s door and ask for a house tour, you can visit the Lexington Historical Society’s three buildings, which are open to the public for a fee: the Hancock-Clarke house at 36 Hancock Street (built 1737; LEX.119); Buckman Tavern at 1 Bedford Street (built 1690/1710; LEX.51); and Munroe Tavern at 1332 Massachusetts Avenue (built 1695/1735; LEX.128). All three were the stage for events of the American Revolution. (Munroe Tavern was occupied by the British after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.) 

Like most historic building museums that portray a certain time period, later architectural features and modern conveniences were stripped away. So, if you want to know what a tavern looked like on the eve of the American Revolution, not only will you be greeted by someone in Colonial garb, you’ll see the furnishings and cooking implements of the day.

If you don’t live near Lexington, you can find detailed historic structure reports of the historical society’s buildings, with timelines of ownership, photographs of architectural features and furnishings, and floor plans. You’ll also find information on the Hancock-Clark House archaeological dig, which was the boyhood home of John Hancock (1737-1793), signer of the Declaration of Independence.


09 April 2015

Finding a new home

Sears Catalog home, 1908-1914
Five years ago, I started writing the Boston Genealogy Examiner column at Examiner.com. I didn’t have specific deadlines to meet or assigned topics to cover. I could be my own boss and write about what I love. The premise seemed easy: The more you wrote, the more followers you collected, the better your payday. I knew I could never be as prolific as Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist, or Heather Rojo at Nutfield Genealogy, but I knew I had something to contribute.  

I had so many story ideas that at first it was hard to concentrate. I had my niche—Boston, though I broadly defined that as all of New England since no one was encroaching on my territory—and genealogy was one of the most popular topics on the Internet. How hard could it be? I wrote articles and I learned how to tweet and stumbleupon and post story links to Facebook. The pennies slowly started rolling in.

While the Examiner site grew into a “dynamic entertainment, news, and lifestyle network,” my little column was lost in the channel shuffling. You needed to follow me on social media to find my posts or have telepathic powers to Google my latest topic. And then a funny thing happened. A couple of months ago, I stopped writing my Examiner column but continued to post news and events on its associated Facebook page—and in a short time, my number of “likes” multiplied. I had that aha! moment where I realized I had built a genealogy community outside of its original home and found the real people I wanted to reach.

Over the last couple of months, I have posted 120+ of my Examiner articles to my Genealogy Ink blog. In the process, I widened my scope , updated storylines, and checked links for what I’d call my “evergreen” articles, plus written new ones. I hope you join me on my new adventure.

Keeping Up with Genealogy Ink

On social media, I post news stories, links, events, and other snippets that may not make it to my blog. Follow me on Twitter @genbird8
Google+, and BosGenEx@Facebook.

20 March 2015

Online genealogy educational opportunities

There's an intensive study group based on this book
In addition to conferences and other in-person educational opportunities, there’s a wide variety of online and home study courses for amateur and professional genealogists alike. Online programs may be live and interactive—or not. Some free and fee-based classes and webinars include:

BYU-Idaho online certificate program (15 credit hours) and online Associates degree (60 credit hours) in family history research.

Family Tree University online courses and webinars from Family Tree magazine.

FamilySearch Learning Center audio, video, and interactive slides.

Genealogical Research Program at Boston University intensive 15-week online certificate program and Genealogical Essentials online seminars.

GenealogicalStudies.com: online certificate programs by country as well as individual courses on various topics.

GenProof Study Group based on the book Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones.

Hack Genealogy Bootcamp  one-hour to all-day webinars on a variety of topics. 

Legacy Family Tree Webinars from genealogy software developer.

Salt Lake Community College certificate for International and U.S. research tracks or individual courses for credit or non-credit.

Also check out GeneaWebinars for news and a calendar of online genealogy webinars, meetings, and hangouts.

31 January 2015

Genealogy conferences and other in-person educational opportunities

When I first started researching my family history, I read Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy from cover to cover—after I realized I needed to cite my sources. I still read how-to genealogy books, magazines, and scholarly journals because it’s important to have the skills to access, use, analyze, and document records. But I also try to supplement my learning with classes and conferences. Plus, it’s great to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who not only understand your passion for genealogy, but support and help you with your research.

National Conferences and Institutes

Salt Lake Institute for Genealogy (SLIG) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). One week in January. 

APG's Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by the Association of Professional Genealogists. January.

FGS National Conference held in various locations every year. Hosted by the Federation of Genealogical Societies. February.  

RootsTech in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by FamilySearch. February. 

Forensic Genealogy Institute (FGI) in Dallas, Texas. Hosted by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy. Three days in March.

The NGS Family History Conference held in different locations every year. Hosted by the National Genealogical Society. May.

Carl Sandburg Institute of Genealogy (CSIG) in Galesburg, Illinois. May.

Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Hosted by the Board for Certification of GenealogistsOne week in June. 

Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two programs, each is one week long, in June and July.

National Institute of Genealogical Research (NIGR) in Washington, D.C. For experienced genealogists only, hands-on federal records research. One week in July. 

Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI) in St. Louis, Missouri. July.

BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy in Provo, Utah. Hosted by FamilySearch and ICAPGen. July.

British Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History. October.

Although the conferences are reasonably priced, travel, hotel, and meal expenses can add up quickly. However, the conference locations are surrounded by libraries, archives, and other genealogically valuable repositories. 

Note: Dates and locations may change. See web sites for details.

Advanced Education

The University of Washington has a nine-month certificate program held in Seattle. 

Brigham Young University offers a Bachelor's degree in family history in Provo, Utah.

Local Conferences

Although not exactly on the same scale as the national conferences, there are plenty of educational opportunities in the Boston area.

Every two years, the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Inc. (NERGC) hosts a multi-day conference with an exhibit hall, society fair, special interest groups meetings, librarians’ and teachers’ day, technology day, and Ancestors Road Show. 

The Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) has an annual one-day seminar in July. MGC is an umbrella organization for genealogists, historical researchers, and people concerned with records preservation and access.

Sponsored by the Hingham Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the New England Family History Conference is a free annual event for learning new research and organizational techniques and networking.

Look for local, state, and regional events posted on Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter calendar and on NGS's events calendar

Lectures, Workshops, and Special Events

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has many educational opportunities, from one-hour orientation classes and workshops on a variety of topics to intensive Come Home to New England week-long events and research trips.

The Essex Society of Genealogists (ESOG) and the five regions of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG) hold monthly meetings, often with a lecture on a particular topic. Ethnic and religious genealogy societies, such as The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA) and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston (JGSGB), provide educational opportunities and networking meetings as well.

The National Archives, Northeast Region, located in Waltham, and the Massachusetts Archives at Morrissey Point offer free genealogy and history workshops.

Local public libraries, historical societies, genealogy interest groups, and adult education departments offer classes, workshops, and meetings. My local historical society hosts talks, walks, and tours of its historic house. 

So, if you spend a day, a week, or a semester pursuing your genealogical education, you’ll discover new resources, new technological advances and techniques, new research methods and strategies, and so much more. Maybe with your new-found knowledge, you'll break through a brick wall research problem. Or you'll meet your second cousin once removed who owns the family Bible.