Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Low Tech & Modern Tech for Genealogy

Recently, Kassie Nelson and I got together for brunch, to discuss the future of The Rogue Genealogist and our current research projects.

She also offered me some books she no longer had use for and how could I refuse?

While so much is online these days, there remain many books - particularly those that remain under coypright and have not been transitioned into ebook format - that are useful to us. Can a genealogy tip or suggestion ever be outdated? I'm sure it's very possible.

However, I think it's more likely that there are things we might not consider or, a more likely possibility, things the next generation of genealogists might not think about.

One of the books given to me is a 1993 publication about how to find your Italian ancestors. I'm only 24 pages into the book and found tips I hadn't even considered. Most of the time, I think about vital records and census records as a starting point. Then I move on to compiled genealogies and newspapers, and then Google searches in hopes of hitting a blog or website or an older book that mention an ancestor.

Additionally, I look at probate and land records, and sometimes voter registrations. I still love Family History Library microfilms and splurging on a military pension file from the National Archives is exciting to me.

Are our younger genealogists digging deeply? Are Gen Xers, like me, and Baby Boomers digging deeply enough? Is the ease of digital genealogy and high tech keeping us from looking at things we might no longer see as valuable, because they aren't in front of our face as often, like "Who's Who" guides?

I think, for me, an intersection of modern-tech and low-tech is a good way to cover most of my bases. The amount of resources going digital is fantastic and the ways we access information is changing everyday. But it's also worthwhile to take a step back in time, process-wise, and look at other avenues. You might not find an ancestor in the records online, because they don't cover a particular year, surname or area yet, so it may behoove you instead to write a letter overseas or check out a print resource at the library. Manuscript collections, such as those at NEHGS, that are not scanned or transcribed are rich with information that you might just be missing if your focus is solely on digital research.

Not sure which bases to cover in your research? Family Tree Magazine offers several research forms for download, including an Online Database Search Tracker and Repository Checklist. Checklists and logs like these might direct you to types of records you'd never considered.

And when you see a genealogy research guide on sale or offered for free, it could very well be worth picking up. That 1993 book might provide insights that are still valuable today.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Favorite Genealogy Resources

Over the years, I have relied upon the same resources time and again. Most of my research is centered on New England and Nova Scotia, and these resources reflect that. They are the most useful in my research and I return to the websites week after week:

Family Search - this is my go-to for general genealogy. This free LDS-funded site is for searching family trees, censuses, various records (vital, land, court, and more), as well as sharing photos and stories. You can give back by volunteering on transcription projects.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society - the oldest genealogical organization in the U.S. with extensive holdings both in their library and online. For anyone with predominantly New England ancestry, like me, the $89.95 annual membership is well worth it. They also have records for the rest of the U.S., as well as Canada and many other countries.

Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth Project - this is a transcription of the book by William T. Davis. If you have any family in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the 1800s or prior, it is well worth searching the index for their surname(s) and reading the entries.

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics - a free searchable database of births, deaths, and marriages in Nova Scotia. Absolutely recommended for anyone with ancestors or family in the province. There are some gaps in the coverage, but you will not find a more comprehensive online resource for Nova Scotia vital records.

Library and Archives of Canada - known for the widest variety of microfilm and digital holdings for all of Canada, it can take time to learn your way around the site. The digitized microfilms are not indexed, so you're in for the long haul if searching through them, but you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What If...?

I'd like to share a little something from the heart this week, inspired by what I posted last week about the great-grandmother I never knew, and my belief that she was not a bad person, but instead subjected to hardships that shaped her as a person.

When we look at our ancestors, we can only guess so much based on their actions. In the episode of Finding Your Roots with Mia Farrow, she was appalled to learn that her grandfather, Joseph Farrow, committed her grandmother, Lucy Savage, to an asylum after the birth of their only child. For a while, she was angry about it, but when she learned of Joseph's heroism in World War I, she wondered if he was really such a bad guy.

She'll never know, just like I will never know about my great-grandmother Mildred, which is why I cannot and will not judge her.

I know very well there are two sides or more to every story, because I am a story. When I was only 3-years-old, my parents divorced. Once it was finalized, I did not see or hear from my mother again until I was 19.

We gathered for a Bartlett family reunion in Massachusetts in 2008 and that was when, at long last, I would see her again... 30 years after the last time I saw her.

Did I judge her? Did I wonder why she left? Of course, so I asked questions and I received three different answers from three different people.

Whose answer is most accurate? My mother's, because she was the one involved in the situation? What about the opinions of the outside observers who perhaps saw something she did not see? Or were their observations merely inaccurate perceptions of the overall situation?

Mary Ellen St. Onge Kawaky, with her daughter Mary and son Joseph

I think that's the key word when dealing with family stories: perception.

Where one person perceived my great-grandmother's behavior and choices as wrong, another might perceive it as the only thing she could possibly do in her circumstances. We were not in her shoes, so we were not the ones sick after childbirth or giving birth to frail children whose lives hung in the balance. We were not the ones with five mouths to feed and a husband who left. We were not the ones reported to reported to the state for neglect, our children removed from our care to go into foster care.

It was with help from her second husband (my great-grandfather) that my great-grandmother was able to get on her feet, but it is not an overnight process, as anyone who has gone through hard times understands.

Things often look one way from a certain angle, but it's when you take the time to see the other side that you realize it's not the shape you expected.

It was such a different world only 50 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, and though we look at genealogy analytically and judge family stories harshly at times, we need to remember that we were not there. And those connected to the stories can only tell their side.

I think we also need to remember not to hold on to judgements or regrets that things did not turn out differently. That holds us back in the past, and not in a good way.

Genealogy and family history is going to have good and bad, amazing triumphs and awful tragedies. I believe the key is to understand that we aren't just dealing with names and numbers. We're talking about human beings with hopes and dreams, and the capacity to suffer and hurt.

As the ones still living, I think we should embrace the opportunity to learn from the past, rather than dwell on it, and heal the present.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Family Secrets

Last night I finally watched "Finding Your Roots." Like "Who Do You Think You Are," I think it is a good way to stir up the general public's interest in genealogy. Interesting personal stories of others often make us wonder about our own family.

For the most part, my family seems pretty normal. If there are any awful family stories or secrets, they are mostly relegated to the 1800s and earlier, and none of us are aware of them.

But there is one family member about whom we have heard awful things and I wish I could know so much more about her. I've written about my great-grandmother, Mildred Marian Burrell, before in 2011. Much like my great-great grandma Emma, who I revisit often, Mildred remains a mystery - one we know is full of secrets.

Mildred Marian Burrell & Roger St. Onge
Mildred Marian Burrell & one of her St. Onge grandsons

Mildred was born 12 June 1897 in Randolph, Norfolk County, Massachusetts to George and Susan (Jones) Burrell. She died 9 October 1972 in Abington, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, so I never got to meet her, let alone know her.

She first married Joseph William St. Onge on 17 April 1920 in Dover, Strafford County, New Hampshire. They had:

1. Joseph Edward St. Onge, 1919-1978 (paternity questioned; Mildred was pregnant before marrying Joseph)
2. Mary Ellen St. Onge, 1920-1985
3. Gertrude Mildred St. Onge, 1921-2000 (tried to find all her siblings after they were scattered)
4. William St. Onge, about 1924 to...? (paternity questioned; raised/adopted by William Perry of West Bridgewater)
5. Frank St. Onge, 1925-1996 (left in the hospital and spent his first 5 years in an orphanage)

What we know from the children and grandchildren of some of these five children is that Joseph William St. Onge was a cruel man and possibly involved in illegal activities. I'm not sure if it was Mildred's upbringing, her marriage with Joseph, or the pressures of the depression, but she was also known as a not-so-kind woman. I have a feeling she endured abuse at Joseph's hands, but I'll never know for certain.

It's also possible Mildred was seeking love and intimacy elsewhere, as family members have hypothesized that William St. Onge was the son of another man. Mildred left Frank at the hospital after his birth, and fostered her other children out at some point before 1930, because they are all living with different families in the census.

I have yet to find Mildred or Joseph in the 1920 census. It's possible they were moving or Joseph was "on the run" during that time, since Mary Ellen was born in Biddeford, Maine, but her younger siblings were all born in Massachusetts.

At some point, Mildred must have divorced Joseph or given up on him being a part of her life after he left the family, because she moved on with my great-great grandfather, Herbert Benjamin Haley.

Herbert Benjamin Haley

After 20 years of searching, I still have not located a marriage for Mildred and Herbert, but her death certificate shows her as Mildred Haley. Together they had:

1. Herbert Benjamin Haley, Jr., 1926-2014 (my grandfather, paternity questioned)
2. Lorraine Janice Haley

Herbert was reared by his Haley grandparents, Hiram and Rosanna (Cassidy), and Haley aunts and uncles all living in Middleborough, but Mildred chose to raise Lorraine. Why did she make that choice? Was she just not equipped (emotionally, I wonder, not financially) to handle a baby at that moment in her life? Was Joseph St. Onge still a presence in her life or long gone out of the picture? Did she fear for her child, born when she was not yet married to his father, but still married to another man? (The surname "St. Onge" appears on my grandfather's birth certificate.)

We do have one possible way of determining whether or not grandpa Herbert was a Haley or a St. Onge, and that is thanks to my Uncle Dave Haley, who had a DNA test. So far, we don't have any Haleys or St. Onges to compare him to, but maybe someday we will.

Maybe someday, we'll resolve one mystery - was Herbert Jr. the son of Herbert Sr. or Joseph St. Onge? But I think even if that happens, it will still leave many secrets, like why Mildred made the choices she made.

Those of us here today waver between sympathy, disdain and confusion about the person Mildred was and why things turned out as they did for our father/grandfather/great-grandfather Herbert Jr. - why she would not or could not be a mother to him.

When family tried to reach out to Gertrude (St. Onge) Templeton, she refused to speak to them about the family. I wish she had talked, because it might help family understand and - one hopes - not perpetuate any sort of negative cycle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Organizing Shaw Family Photographs

Upon receiving two boxes full of photographs and other items from my uncle, I went right to work organizing everything in chronological order and scanning them.

Here are some fun photos of my grandmother, Barbara Shaw, a few of her siblings, and her parents, Harrison Shaw and Nina Blake, in Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts:

Shaw family siblings in Middleborough, MA

Shaw family siblings in Middleborough, MA

Barbara Shaw and June Shaw, Middleborough, MA
Unfortunately, my grandmother's twin brother, Lawrence "Buddy" Shaw, died when they were only four. It's one of the saddest things about my family, I think.

But as the only girl in a family full of brothers, Grandma told me she was a "spoiled brat" - she got a horse and pretty much anything else she wanted, including her way all the time. And it's pretty funny that she acknowledged that 70 years later. :)

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Gage & Priest of Weston, Watertown & Waltham, MA

Philip Gage and Anna Priest were married on 7 March 1743/44 in Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Philip was born 11 Aug 1723 in Watertown, MA, the son of Robert Gage and Mary Bacon. While nothing is known of Robert Gage's origins, a great deal of research has been done on the Bacon family from which both my ex-husband and I descend.

The Gages and Priests are ancestors of my ex-husband and another mystery, besides Robert Gage, is his daughter-in-law.

What we know about Anna Priest is this: she died 28 September 1805 in Woodstock, Windham County, Connecticut, according to Woodstock vital records. She and Philip Gage had at least 7 children after their marriage in 1743/44:

1. Esther Gage, who married Josiah Underwood
2. Lucy Gage, who married Thomas Child
3. Elisha Gage, who married Olive Underwood
4. Thaddeus Gage, living in Woodstock, CT in 1790
5. Moses Gage, who married Lucy Lincoln
6. Aaron Gage, who married Rhoda Leonard (my ex-husband's ancestors)
7. Mirian Gage, who married Thomas Tupper

Anna Priest's marriage to Philip Gage is documented in Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, Including Waltham and Weston (Little Brown & Company, Boston, 1855), Volume 1, page 229 by Henry Bond, M.D. and also in Town of Weston: Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1707-1850 on page 273.

Their intention of 5 Feb 1744 is also documented in Town of Weston: Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1707-1850 on page 54.

There are two church records discussing Anna Priest in 1740, possibly upon her admission to full communion at what I'd guess was roughly the age of 17-20:

"Anna Priest so call'd bro't up at Jas. Pr."

"Anna Priest, so call'ed, bro't up by James & ... Priest."

There is a James Priest of Watertown, Waltham and Weston, MA. His wife was Sarah, however the only documented children for James and Sarah are:

Josiah, b. 30 Mar 1706
Mindwell, b. 27 Jun 1708, m. ? Stone, d. bef. 1756
Abigail, b. 3 Jul 1719, m. 2 Apr 1739 to Isaac Corey in Waltham
Sarah, b. ? (based on church records), m. ? Pike?

In going over James Priest's Will (found in Waltham records, hoping to find a reference to Anna, there were only his four children (Josiah, Sarah, his dutiful daughter Abigail, and Mindwell, deceased) listed.

However, there was one item in his estate's inventory that connected him to Anna: money was paid to Philip Gage out of the estate according to the inventory, first "in part of a bond, 6-13-4", then 7-1-4, for a total of 13 pounds, 14 shillings and 8 pence.

Is this because James Priest was somehow related to or guardian of Philip's wife, Anna? Or was this for another matter of business entirely?

Was Anna a daughter of James Priest and another woman, perhaps? Was she a relative - a niece, maybe, who lost her parents? Was James Priest a relative or guardian? Is Anna's maiden name actually "Priest"?

Anna (Priest) Gage is another of those enduring mysteries in the families I have been researching for many years now.

NOTE: Nancy of the New England Family Genealogy group found a family tree that seems to corroborate my theory that Anna was adopted, and perhaps a niece of James Priest or his wife, Sarah Treadway. I'm focused on "sideways searching" right now in hopes of finding a connection. Thanks to Nancy for adding a second pair of eyes, thoughts and clues!

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Davage to Daviage: an African American Family

Over the past few weeks, I've brought my sister over to the dork side. That's right - she is now excited about genealogy!

Our family is pretty well researched and documented, and we enjoy sharing photos, stories and more. However, my brother-in-law's family is tricky.

My brother-in-law, Derek, finds it very difficult to dig up documentation on his paternal ancestry. His mother's side is mostly Caucasian and dates back to the Mayflower, as well as various other early settlers in Boston, Plymouth County, and other areas of Massachusetts. We share several ancestral connections.

His father's side is African American and there was a name change somewhere in there - adding an "i" into the name Davage to make it Daviage.

The paternal surnames we've been able to dig up so far are Davage, Pinder and Gross, all in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. However, there seems to be a lack of uninterrupted chronological documentation in censuses, the usual starting point. This is a case where my sister, who has now caught the Genealogy Bug (!), will need to go directly to vital records, as well as build the family with the sideways searching technique.

Usually the state and federal censuses allow people to build a framework, and then fill in the facts from there. This doesn't seem to be the case with this particular family. Whether it is because they are African American or because of name variations, I'm not sure yet. But this is going to be an interesting adventure for myself and my sister as we work to sort out my brother-in-law's paternal ancestry!

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan