02 May 2015

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

Minute Man Statue
With a little imagination, you can use maps and photographs to 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 the early morning of April 19, 1775, this 2.5 acre park 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, 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.

Across the green, the white hip-roofed house, part of which was built in 1690, has a large sign that reminds us of the 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.”

Take a Tour

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); Buckman Tavern at 1 Bedford Street (built 1690/1710); and Munroe Tavern at 1332 Massachusetts Avenue (built 1735). All three were the stage for events of the American Revolution. 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.

Hancock-Clarke house
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 floorplans. You’ll also find information on the Hancock-Clark House archeological dig, which was the boyhood home of John Hancock (1737-1793), signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Picture Books

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, 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 other books to see if another town or city you’re interested in has books published.)

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.

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. Another fun site is Waymarking.com, which tags locations around the world with data specific to that spot. Categories include buildings, history, monuments, signs, events, and businesses—with photos and descriptions.

And More

If you are in Lexington on the third Monday in April, a state holiday known as Patriots Day, you can experience the battle of Lexington.

The Redcoats didn’t stop at Lexington but continued their march toward Concord, with rebels on the attack. Much of that march is within the Minute Man National Historical Park, which includes 10 “witness homes.

If you get the chance to visit, you’ll see reenactors recreating the past when you visit the fields of battle.






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.


29 January 2015

Henry Stiles’ rule #3: Genealogy scams

Clippings from the Townley estate scams
In A Hand-Book of Practical Suggestions for the Use of Students in Genealogy (1899), Henry R. Stiles reminds us that good research may displace firmly held family beliefs. His top three mythbusters: the emigration of the three brothers; the connection to royal bloodlines; and “that somewhere in Great Britain, and in the British Lion’s keeping, there was an immense fortune awaiting its American heirs” (page 15). 

Undoubtedly, get-rich-quick schemes have been around for centuries. In the 19th century in particular, some gullible Americans believed that by proving their lineage, they would receive an English estate worth gazillions. Ignoring the statute of limitations and the burden of back taxes, clearly there was much legal wrangling to do before they could claim their prize, and that’s where the flimflam man came in.

In the case of the Townley estate, it all started with a letter to the editor to multiple newspapers in the Northeast. Rumors of an inheritance had flourished for 20 years but in the summer of 1845, 200 people who claimed to be members of the family congregated at the court house in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. They read old family records and collected money to send a person to England to investigate the claim. While in England, the investigator kept asking for more information and more money. At some point, the N.J. committee ran out of funds.

However, new claimants continued to fill the pockets of these estate agents. At least two of them were caught. In 1894, James Frazier Jacques and Howell Thomas were convicted in England for obtaining $80,000 under false pretenses and forging documents in another case of Americans in pursuit of the mythical Townley millions.

If your family was caught up in a genealogy scam, be on the lookout for newspaper reports and possible court cases. You may find ledger books, committee meeting notes, correspondence, genealogies, and other materials backing up their claim in archives or in personal collections. Check out local libraries, historical and genealogical societies, WorldCat, and eBay. Also, collect the names of all the other cousins making the same claim. It may turn out that they are related too.



“To the Editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser [from Annapolis, Md.],” Newark Daily Advertiser, 29 Aug. 1845, GenealogyBank.com.

“We shall claim to come in for a share in the Baronial estate of the Townley family,” Newark Daily Advertiser, 10 Oct. 1845, page 2, GenealogyBank.com.

 “Both Convicted. Col. Jacques and Howell Thomas Sentenced for Townley Estate Frauds,” Wheeling Register [Wheeling, WV], 1 Dec. 1894, page 4, GenealogyBank.com.


Thanks to the Genealogy Roadshow on PBS (season 2, episode 3, 2015) for inspiration for this post.

08 January 2015

Volunteer with Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

Started in 1999, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) is a web-based volunteer organization that provides a wealth of services, from photographing graves to retrieving vital records, finding obituaries, researching in libraries and much more. Volunteers never charge for their time, just for expenses (photocopying or record fees, postage, parking fees, etc.). Each volunteer has committed to making at least one RAOGK a month.

In October 2011, a catastrophic computer failure took down the RAOGK web site. The following month, founder Bridgett Schneider (1946-2011) died. As stated in her obituary, Bridgett had "thousands of genealogy friends around the world." Her dedication, and that of her husband Doc, inspire many of us to volunteer or perform random acts to our fellow genealogists, one at a time.


In March 2012, RAOGK was reborn as a wiki site. It included sections divided by state and country, detailing what volunteers are available to research and the rules of making requests. Volunteers are listed by state and then by county, starting with "all." People who cover more than one county have their entries added more than once.


In January 2015, Dick Eastman posted on EOGN that one of his newsletter readers told him RAOGK was back online, as a web site. I'm not sure what will happen to the wiki site, if the two will be merged or if they are separate.


You can help this award-winning site grow again, by volunteering. What's your niche? Do you research at the state archives regularly? Visit the local history and genealogy room at a major library or historical society every month? Check out deeds in the county courthouse? Visit the National Archives? Or maybe you need an excuse to go? Do you collect history books or have a specific area of expertise? Do you visit your local town hall, public library, historical society, and/or cemeteries in the area—or would if it helped someone else's research? Then sign up as a RAOGK volunteer!


(original post 23 April 2012)

25 November 2014

Expand your research skills with genealogy magazines and journals

When you receive a new issue of a genealogy magazine or journal, do you read it cover to cover? Or do you browse through the pages, looking for an article that fits in with your family research plan or contains related surnames? If you’re in the latter group, you may be missing opportunities to increase your research skills or overlooking more than a connection to a collateral line.

Be Prepared


Genealogy publications such as Family Tree Magazine are filled with useful articles ranging from finding Civil War ancestors and German roots, using social media or the latest DNA tests to find cousins, and reviewing the best web sites to how-to ideas for courthouse research or archival storage, and deciphering clues hidden in legal documents or photo mysteries.


Read all the articles, regardless whether you have a Czech ancestor or need new genealogy software. Why? Even if the article doesn’t pertain to you right this minute, you may find out three months later that your German great-great grandfather actually was born in Bohemia or that your beloved database program has been discontinued. Or a good friend—who has never been interested in your hobby, your obsession—has an event scheduled in her Swedish grandparents’ homeland, and she wants to know how to start her family tree.


Besides learning something specific, you may be able to apply what you’ve read to another part of your research. You could learn about using a record group available in the National Archives and turn that knowledge into using corresponding state-level resources. A piece on marriage records may explain why your great-great’s diary mentioned “jumping the broom” or a hand-fast, or it could explain how laws differed in bordering states or countries, making an unexpected wedding ceremony location make sense—or even give you a clue where to search for a marriage certificate or notice.


Apply What You Learn


Scholarly genealogical journals—such as The American Genealogist (TAG), New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly—often feature more in-depth articles, on a specific family or area. An article on an unrelated couple in Connecticut could give you clues about your own family’s migratory path from Essex county, Massachusetts. Or it may mention a name within a four-generation study that ties into your own line—and you may have missed it if you didn’t read page 83 or thoroughly scan the annual everyname index.


You may learn how to evaluate your data in a different way. If you have a tendency to use mostly vital records and census records in your research, reading about how someone used city directories or probate records to distinguish men of the same name could provide you with incentive to learn more about underused resources. It helps to see how people use mapping software or land ownership to solve parent/child relationships. You may even learn historic tidbits, such as military conscription or wedding fees, and how they influenced your ancestors’ lives.


Book reviews, articles, footnotes, and references could include publications, web sites, library collections, or unpublished manuscripts that could help you crack your brick wall.


You never know what you’ll find within the pages of an article that will help your genealogy research. So pick up a magazine or journal. Don’t just browse. Read!