29 October 2012

October is family history month

Numerous U.S. states recognize October as Family History Month. Plan ahead before Thanksgiving and the winter holidays give you ample opportunities to interview family members, share stories, and identify photographs together. Here are some guidelines to help you make the most of your time.

1. If you're new to genealogical research, learn the basics before you visit Great Aunt Bertha. Bring along a pedigree chart and family group records to put your research in perspective and to provide an overview of vital record facts.

2. Create a family photo book to give visual prompts to potential storytellers. You may even want to purchase a handheld scanner to collect images from relatives. Once you've collected a bunch of digital images, organize the photos in such a way that you know the subjects, the time period, and who you scanned the images from.

3. Do you have any questions based on details from birth, marriage, and death records you've found, like why were those specific witnesses chosen to sign the marriage certificate? Or what's the relationship between the deceased and the death certificate's informant? Write down your list of questions and bring along copies of the vital records for backup.

4.  Do you have newspaper clippings with fascinating tidbits of sports records, school achievements, injuries and accidents, social outings, court proceedings, wedding announcements, retirement parties, obituaries, church meetings, reunions, and the like? Bring copies to share so you can get the full story.

5. Have you found your family on the 1940 census? Although copying the census pages may be unwieldy, consider bringing along your laptop with the census images already saved. People like to see themselves in historical records. You could learn about the home they lived in, who lived with them, what jobs they had, who the neighbors were, and more. 

6. Did your relatives live through big, historical events like President Kennedy's assassination or the Blizzard of 1978? Ask them what they remember of the event to put their lives in historical perspective. 

7. Have you found a troubling pattern of illnesses and causes of death? Consider putting together a family health pedigree and asking your family for input. 

Make the most of your family time. Be prepared. Know what you want to learn. Bring images and records to serve as prompts. See where the path leads. You may be surprised. 

21 October 2012

Newspapers: Beyond birth notices, wedding announcements, and obituaries

Newspapers may provide stories of your ancestors—and clues to their descendants—even long after they have died.

The first newspaper in the 13 Colonies was published in 1690 and was quickly suppressed by the government after one edition. In 1704, the Boston News-Letter started a successful 74-year run reporting the news.

Although we don’t have a day-by-day newspaper account of the 1692 Salem witch trials, we do have eyewitness reports and court records that have been published. But since the trials have captured the American psyche for centuries, it’s not surprising that we find newspaper stories either reminding us of the past or offering new information about the event. 

Let’s use one of the more famous victims of the Salem witch trials as an example. Rebecca Nurse was one of the very few accused witches who was found not guilty at her jury trial on 30 June 1692. But when the court read the verdict, the afflicted girls renewed their fits and outcries against the 71-year-old Nurse, causing the jury to reverse their opinion. Even petitions signed by prominent society members and a reprieve from Governor Phips could not stop the escalating proceedings of the Court of Oyer & Terminer. On 19 July 1692, Nurse was hanged.
Rebecca Nurse homestead (2014)

On 19 July 1883, the Boston Daily Advertiser reported on the first reunion of the descendants of Rebecca Nurse at her old homestead located on Pine street in current-day Danvers, Massachusetts, previously Salem Village. Nearly 200 people attended, most who were lineal descendants of Francis and Rebecca Nurse, who had eight children. 

The descendants included “representatives of the Miles family of Worcester; the Tapleys and Putnams of Danvers; the Hayes family of Farmington, NH; the Putnams of Lynn; the Prince family of Danvers; the Newhalls of Peabody; the Browns of Lynn; a branch of the Chase family of Philadelphia; the Wiggins family of Providence; the Needhams of Peabody; the Maynards of Shrewsbury; the Evans family of Springfield; the Forbes family of Westboro; and branches of the Nourse family of Arlington, Berlin, Bolton, Lexington, Leonminster, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Salem.” This is a genealogy goldmine!

Other reunions were reported in various papers, including the 1885 placement of the Rebecca Nurse monument in the Nurse-Putnam burial grounds at her old homestead.

40 Supporters

On 31 July 1892, the New York Times reported that the Nurse Monument Association had commemorated the “brave defense of 40 neighbors and friends of Rebecca Nurse, who risked their lives to put on record their testimony in her favor” by erecting a granite tablet in their honor. It was placed near the 1885 memorial to Rebecca Nurse in the burial grounds at her old homestead in Danvers. The article recalls how Joseph Putnam—and no doubt the others who came to Nurse’s defense—truly put their lives on the line by signing the petition.

The 40 neighbors and friends listed on the granite tablet were Nathaniel Putnam, Israel Porter, Elizabeth Porter, Edward Bishop, Hannah Bishop, Joshua Rea, Sarah Rea, Sarah Leach, Samuel Abbey, Hepzibah Rea, Daniel Andrew, Sarah Andrew, Daniel Rea, Sarah Putnam, Jonathan Putname, Lydia Putnam, John Putnam, Rebecca Putnam, Joseph Hutchinson, Lydia Hutchinson, William Osburn, Hannah Osburn, Joseph Holton, Sarah Holton, Benjamin Putnam, Sarah Putnam, Job Swinnerton, Esther Swinnerton, Walter Phillips, Nathaniel Felton, Margaret Phillips, Tabitha Phillips, Joseph Houlton, Samuel Endicott, Elizabeth Buxton, Samuel Osborn, Isaac Cook, Elizabeth Cook, Joseph Herrick, and Joseph Putnam.


Even though the above examples are of a well-known historical person, it shows you why it’s important to check newspaper resources for your ancestors—even after they have died. You may find articles written about family reunions and commemorating special events. A list of descendants who attended certainly can help you fill in your family tree.


Boston Daily Advertiser, “Rebekah Nurse: Gathering of the Descendants of the 'Witch' of 1692 at Salem Village—Tribute to Her Memory,” 19 July 1883. Available on GenealogyBank (fee).

New York Times, "Worthy Witch Memorial," 31 July 1892.

12 October 2012

Haunted Happenings in Salem for genealogists

Salem Witch Museum
This week kicks off the annual, month-long Haunted Happenings events in Salem, Massachusetts, starting with the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade on Thursday, October 4. If you take away the Hollywood-and-horror storefronts and screamfest attractions, Salem is a great destination for genealogists in October. Here are a few suggestions:


Salem National Park VisitorCenter, 2 New Liberty Street. Watch the 35-minute Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence film.

Cinema Salem, Museum Place Mall. View The True 1692, a 35-minute 3-D movie.

Live Performances

House of Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street. Legacy of the Hanging Judge; Spirits of the Gables.

Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square. Cry Innocent: The People Versus Bridget Bishop.

PioneerVillage (recreated 1630s village). 

Gallows Hill (formerly Witches Cottage at Griffen Theater), 7 Lynde Street. Possessed: The Afflicted Girls of Salem.

Witch House (Judge Jonathan Corwin’s mansion), 310 Essex Street. Eerie Evenings: Tales at the Witch House.


The Candlelit Ghostly Tour and Graveyard Walking Tour.

Derby Square Tours. The candlelit Witch Trial Trail, the Terror Trail.

Salem Time Machine (formerly 13Ghosts), 131 Essex Street. Ghost Tours and Historical Tours.

Salem Historical Tours, 8 Central Street. Salem 101: Salem Survey; Cemetery 101: Grave Matters; 1692 Salem Witchcraft Walk; Haunted Footsteps Ghost tour.

Salem Night Tour, 127 Essex Street.

Salem Witch Walk, 125 Essex Street.

Gallows Hill (formerly Witches Cottage at Griffen Theater), 7 Lynde Street. Ghosts & Legends Trolley Tour.

Salem Trolley, 8 Central Street. Tales & Tombstones; Salem Village Tour at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead.

Mahi Mahi Haunted Harbor Cruise.


Salem Wax Museum of Witches & Seafarers, 288 Derby Street.

Salem Witch Museum, 19 1/2 Washington Square North.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial, 43 Charter Street.

Witch Dungeon Museum, 16 Lynde Street.

Witch History Museum, 197-201 Essex Street.

Please read the web site descriptions of these events and museums so you won't be disappointed. For instance, two years ago the Salem Witch Village on Derby Street turned into a haunted maze during Columbus day, with horror creatures prowling around in the dark rooms. Needless to say, it was not the 15-minute guided tour of witchcraft myths and reality we expected. Plus, be aware that some of these attractions need some serious refurbishing and updating their stories based on new historical research.

01 October 2012

1940 census and Social Security

In the summer of 1935, the Social Security Act was signed into law. It provided workers (and later, their families) with monetary benefits based on payroll tax contributions made throughout their working years. In November 1936, the United States Postal Service first distributed Social Security forms (SS-5 forms). Beginning in January 1937, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes were collected. By January 1940, monthly benefits were paid to retired workers or to surviving widows and under-aged children.

On the 1940 census, the U.S. government asked 15 supplementary questions to 5 percent of the general population. Anyone listed on lines 14 or 29 of a census page answered three questions about Social Security.

Question 42 asked people ages 14 and above if they had a Social Security number (SSN). At no point were people asked to give their Social Security number to the census taker. If they didn’t know their SSN or if they had lost the Social Security card, it didn’t matter; the yes/no answer was based on having registered for the Social Security program.

Question 43 asked if, in 1939, wage or salary deductions were made for “Federal Old-Age Insurance” or Railroad Retirement. Up to $3,000 could be deducted from wages or salaries for private, non-government employment “except agriculture, railroads, charitable, and nonprofit organizations, employment as sailors, and in domestic service in the home of the employer.” The Railroad Retirement contributions were different, in that deductions were made for the first $300 earned each month in the railroad industry.

If the answer to question 43 was “yes,” then question 44 asked what percentage of their wages or salaries went to these retirement programs, with answers being:

1.     deductions were taken from all of the person’s wages or salary (up to $3,000 for Federal Old-Age Insurance or $300 per month for Railroad Retirement)
2.     deductions were taken from one-half or more of the person’s wages or salary, but not all of the amount
3.     deductions were taken from some but less than half of the person’s wages or salary

The Social Security Administration (SSA) web site offers a brief history and timeline of the program.