18 June 2012

Boston's connection to the War of 1812

USS Constitution
Docked at the former Charlestown Navy Shipyard, the USS Constitution is Boston’s most iconic symbol of the War of 1812. Built at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston, the three-masted heavy frigate was launched in 1797 to provide U.S. Navy protection for American merchant ships. Although made with a wooden hull, the Constitution earned its nickname as Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. During the three-year war, the frigate defeated five British warships—HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant—and captured numerous merchant ships.

In 1881, the ship was retired from active service. In 1907, the Constitution was designated a museum ship and restored in 1931. Today, it is a fully commissioned ship, with 60 Navy officers and sailors offering tours and providing historic insight into the Navy’s role during wartime and peace.

USS Constitution Museum

Opened in 1976, the USS Constitution Museum literally allowed Old Ironsides to clear its decks of display cases so visitors could experience the ship as a sailing vessel. Housed in Building 22 (the old pump house for Dry Dock #1) and two adjacent buildings, the museum offers hands-on exhibits, stories of the 1812 crew, workshops, online exhibits, and a research library. 

Although the web site states its library and manuscript materials have “limited genealogical information,” if you have a connection to the USS Constitution, the War of 1812, and/or the U.S. Navy, you may find something of value. The museum contains almost 1,700 artifacts and more than 7,000 rare books, manuscripts, and archival materials. Of special interest are ship logs and personal journals, correspondence, broadsides and posters, impressments and pay certificates, photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, rare books (instructional manuals, Bibles, biographies), printed media, and even poetry. 

War of 1812 Genealogy Records

If you're looking for genealogical records for your ancestor who served in the War of 1812, start by reading articles on the National Archives site. Then check out the National Archives in Boston branch (located in Waltham), which holds the following collections: Index to War of 1812 pension files (M313); Index to Remarried Widows Pension Applications, 1815-1861 (M1784); Old War Pension Index (1784-1861) (T316); Index to compiled service records (M602); War of 1812 bounty land warrants (M848); Index to War of 1812 Prisoner of War (M747); and Records relating to War of 1812 Prisoners of War (M2019).  

Fold3 provides free and paid access to U.S. military records, often not available on other web sites. For the War of 1812, the collection includes War of 1812 Service Records; Pension Files; Prize Cases, Southern District Court, NY; and Letters Received by the Adjutant General 1805-1821.

FamilySearch offers free access to the index to the War of 1812 to Pension Application Files 1812-1910 and an index to the War of 1812 Service Records 1812-1815. Also check if records have been added or updated in the historical record collections since volunteers around the world are indexing records all the time.

You can help make more War of 1812 records free of charge. Preserve the Pensions is a $3.7 million project between the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives, and the genealogical community to digitize the War of 1812 pension files and make them available for free. A $25 donation will digitize 50 images.

15 June 2012

Historical perspective: Putting your ancestors' lives in context

Oftentimes, as genealogists we tend to focus on births, marriages, and deaths. But to see the bigger picture, we need to consider what was happening in the community and the world around them to put our ancestors’ lives in context.

One way to do this is to create a timeline of family events and match it with historic events. That way, you can determine what outside factors may have influenced your ancestors’ lives, from wars, pirates, strikes, politics, religious revivals, and murders to fires, weather, flu epidemics, famines, and other major catastrophes.

For instance, my ancestors, a husband and a wife in their late 30s, died in 1721. From reviewing historic events of the time period, I finally figured out that they may have died in the smallpox epidemic that was ravaging Boston. After all, a few months prior to their deaths, they sent their children to live with relatives in Essex county, Massachusetts.

Other relatives lived in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892 when Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother. Did they know the Bordens? Maybe not. But how closely did they follow that sensational news? At the time, one of my relatives was a five-year-old boy, and he grew up to be a policeman. I sometimes wonder if the murders influenced his chosen career and how much inside information he knew from working at the police station.

Below, I’ve included some Massachusetts events randomly collected from the MassMoments web site. Hopefully, a few of them will make you consider how an event may have affected your ancestors’ lives. What did they live through? How may that event have influenced their lives?

Learning about the times they lived in may give you a new perspective into your ancestors’ lives. It may even give your family history research new clues to follow.

1620: Pilgrims and strangers land in Plymouth
1630: Puritans arrive in Boston
1636: Harvard College founded
1658: Quakers outlawed in Plymouth
1659: Christmas celebrations outlawed
1675: King Philip’s War begins
1690: first newspaper published in the Colonies
1692: Salem witch trials
1717: pirate ship the Whydah sinks off Cape Cod
1721: smallpox epidemic in Boston
1733: Boston masons organize first Grand Lodge in America
1746: Abenaki raid on Deerfield
1760: Great Fire of 1760, Boston
1765: Stamp Act protests
1770: Boston Massacre
1775: American Revolution begins in Lexington
1797: USS Constitution launched
1806: first African-American meeting house opened
1812: War of 1812 begins
1820: Maine becomes own state, apart from Massachusetts
1821: Massachusetts General Hospital admits first patient
1837: Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary opens
1844: Millerites await end of the world on October 22
1848: Boston’s first municipal water system completed
1850: first national women’s rights convention held in Worcester
1860: Lynn shoeworkers strike
1861: Massachusetts volunteers join in the Civil War
1872: Great Fire of Boston
1888: blizzard of 1888
1892: Andrew and Abby Borden murdered in Fall River
1897: Boston opens the nation’s first subway system
1903: Marconi relays first transcontinental radio message from Wellfleet
1912: Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence
1919: Great Molasses Flood in Boston
1926: construction of Quabbin Reservoir begins; towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott disappear
1927: execution of Sacco & Vanzetti
1938: hurricane ravages New England
1962: Boston Strangler killings
1978: Blizzard of 1978
2004: Red Sox win World Series

13 June 2012

Lineage societies

Lexington (MA) Minute Man statue
As genealogists, we’re all about finding connections to people and places. If you have ancestors fit certain criteria, it’s worth it to investigate these lineage societies, either to join them yourself or to look up your ancestor’s membership papers or lineage.

These groups may offer its members access to unique library collections, digital and manuscript archives, publications, events, educational opportunities, research help, and/or museums. Some hold membership applications for past and present members and/or research notes for their ancestors. The collections depend upon the goals of that individual society.

Below, you’ll find links to some lineage/hereditary societies:

General Society of Mayflower Descendants: Founded in 1897, GSMD’s mission is “committed to education and lineage research on the journey of the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and their lineal descent. The Society provides education and understanding of why the Pilgrims were important, how they shaped western civilization, and what their 1620 voyage means today.”

Winthrop Society, Descendants of the Great Migration: Membership is open to “all men and women of good character and proven descent from one or more passengers of the Winthrop fleet, or of others who settled in the Bay Colony and down east before 1636. We also welcome the efforts of any others who bring with them the fruits of any research that furthers the appreciation and understanding of seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay and New England.” The society covers the Massachusetts Bay Colony, not Plymouth Colony.

Order of the Founders and Patriots of America: Membership is open to “any man of the age of 18 years, of good moral character and reputation, and a citizen of the United States, who is lineally descended, in the male line of either parent, from an ancestor who settled in any of the colonies now included in the United States of America prior to May 13, 1657; and one or all of whose intermediate ancestors in the same line, who lived in the period of the American Revolution, from 1775 to 1783, adhered as patriots to the cause of the colonies, shall be eligible for membership in the Order.” Founded 1896.

National Society, Daughters of the Founders and Patriots of America: “Eligibility in the Society requires an unbroken paternal line of either the applicant's father or mother, going back to a founder who arrived in one of the Colonies between May 13, 1607 and May 13, 1687, and in this unbroken line, an intermediate patriot ancestor who, by personal service in a civil or military capacity or by other acts proving his unfailing loyalty, assisted in establishing American independence during the Revolutionary Period, 1775 to 1784.” Founded 1898.

National Society, Daughters of the American Colonists: Founded in 1920, DAC has a threefold mission: “Patriotic, Historical and Educational; to make research as to the history and deeds of the American colonist and to record and publish the same; to commemorate deeds of colonial interest; to inculcate and foster love of America and its institutions by all its residents; to obey its laws and venerate its flag—the emblem of its power and civic righteousness.”

National Society New England Women: Founded in 1895, membership is “open to women who can prove lineal descent from a man or woman born in New England prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, or in Nassau or Suffolk County, Long Island, prior to 1700.”

National Society Sons of Colonial New England: Founded in 1985, SCNE is open to any male “18 years of age or more, who can prove lineal descent from a person born prior to July 4, 1776, in any of the New England colonies.”

National Society, Sons of the American Revolution: Founded in 1889, SAR is a fraternal and civic society composed of lineal descendants of the men who wintered at Valley Forge, signed the Declaration of Independence, fought in the battles of the American Revolution, served in the Continental Congress, or otherwise supported the cause of American Independence. 

National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution: Founded in 1890, DAR is open to any woman who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.

General Society War of 1812: Started by veterans of the war, the national society was formed in 1894. Membership is open to “any male person above the age of twenty-one (21) years, who participated in, or who is a lineal descendant of one who served during the War of 1812, in the army, navy, revenue-marine, or privateer service of the United States.”

Descendants of Whaling Masters: Founded in 1974, membership is open to descendants and relatives of whaling masters and crew.

For other hereditary societies, visit the Hereditary Society of the United States