Sunday, November 8, 2015

Genealogy & Same Sex Marriage

With a definitive victory for basic human rights, my question is a simple one: how will same sex marriage affect genealogy?

Unfortunately, battles over issuing marriage licenses continue, even though they should not. I do hope soon, however, this will be a thing of the past and civil records for births, marriages, and deaths will move forward without the parties to the record being an issue.

It's only logical to wonder how this will affect birth certificates, however. I think there needs to be a way to accommodate the changing family dynamic. Vital records are an important part of genealogical research as we put together a picture of our family tree and heritage. Does this mean that a same-sex couple should be denied when they want to both be listed as a child's parents?

No, and I think there should be a way to do this without compromising the accuracy genealogists hold dear. I hope towns, cities, and states will consider adding fields to their forms that allow the inclusion of both the biological parents and adoptive parents or spouses/partners who may not be a child's natural mother or father.

That would allow the inclusion of not just the biological parents (if all names are known), but also of those who will actually be a child's family and rearing that child. There is no reason to exclude a same-sex partner for fear of sacrificing accuracy and biological facts.

How often if a name on a birth certificate left blank, because the name of the father is not known or the mother is not 100% certain, or simply does not want the father to have rights to the child? How often is a name wrong because there was, perhaps, an adulterous situation or the husband is listed simply because that's for the best (as may be the case with some of my great-grandmother's children)?

There are plenty of instances of single parents where a biological parent is listed on the birth certificate, yet has no familial bond to a child. While it is nice to have that information for a child so someday they can learn more about a mother or father who has not been present in their life, a same-sex spouse should also be included because they are part of the family.

The same goes for genealogical software. It should offer the capability to connect two people of the same sex in marriage. In my family, there are a few same sex marriages, and I should be able to add a cousin's spouse to my database without having to resort to simply typing a note in my cousin's entry that her wife is so-and-so. I want to be able to include complete information on these marriages and treat them as any other marriage, without the software limiting me to only connecting men and women.

Is it time for town clerks to change more than their approach to marriage licenses? Is it time for genealogy software to open up the possibilities for marriages involving two people of the same sex? I say yes, definitely.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Western Massachusetts Brick Walls

Ah, the joy of brick walls! Of course, the fun part is smashing them down. Here is one that has plagued me for a long time now:

Esther, the wife of Edward Curtis.

Esther was born about 1748.

She was married about 1780 to Edward Curtis

Edward was born 4 May 1736 in Dudley, MA to Francis Curtis and Bethia Robinson. He was married 2 times prior - first to Lucy Chamberlin in 1770 in Dudley. Their son, Edward, was born in Dudley in 1771. Lucy's date and place of death are not known.

He was then married to a woman named Thankful, approximately 1775. Their children were born in Monson, MA - a son, Francis in 1777, and a daughter, Thankful in 1779. The wife Thankful might have died around 1779 or so.

THEN there is Esther, my ancestor. They possibly married around 1780, and my best guess is Monson, MA, as their children were born there as follows:

1. Lucy, b. 1782, married Smith Arnold in 1801 in Dudley, died 1856 in Belchertown

2. Penuel, b. 1784, married Esther Pierce in 1809 in Hopkinton, died after 1820 census (he had 3 children at least - a son Davis, born 1810 in Dudley, and another male and female child based on the 1820 census)

3. Esther May, born 1786 in Monson, married John Stone in 1810 in Dudley, had many children (my ancestor is a daughter, Sarah Emerson Stone), and died in 1860 in Thompson, CT (?).

Now, Lucy's death record does not give a place of birth for her mother; I can't find Penuel after 1820, though I have tried; and I have requested Esther May (Curtis) Stone's death certificate from the Town of Thompson (I hope they have it; a search of their records on microfilm didn't reveal her or her husband's deaths).

I've looked at different factors, like the names Penuel and Davis both being unusual first names, and perhaps working as last names; also, the granddaughter Sarah Emerson Stone - Emerson tends to be a last name. Since there are no Emersons on the father's side, I wonder if there is on the mother's side.

I've considered Esther as an Esther Penuel (Pennel, Pennell, Penel, etc.), an Esther Davis, and an Esther Emerson. However, Monson Vital Records are on microfilm and a pain to read through. I think I will need to order the microfilm again to see what I find.

Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than cranking through microfilm and finding answers in the semi-dark LDS. :-) If anyone can answer the question of Esther's surname, I would be most grateful.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Revisiting Creepy Cousins

If one New Englander will always be remembered infamously, it would have to be my 7th cousin, 4 times removed, Lizzie Borden. Back home in Massachusetts, we were all familiar with her. Her photo is still enough to induce nightmares:

Spooky eyes! The eyes of a killer, I say! Does not the look on her face say, "Don't cross me or I'll hatchet you"?

Perhaps you are familiar with this little rhyme (when we weren't standing in front of the mirror doing "Bloody Mary", we were saying this, just to creep ourselves out in the night):

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie was born July 19, 1860, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her mother, Sarah Anthony Morse, died only a few years later, on March 26, 1863 in Fall River of "uterine congestion". Her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, remarried 2 years later to Abby Durfee Gray.

The August 4, 1892 death records of Lizzie's stepmother and father say as the cause of death "Shock from assault with an axe (?) or large hatchet (?)". (The parenthetical question marks are part of the record.)

One may very well wonder what possessed a young woman of good family (her father was a "trader" at the time of his marriage to Sarah, and then listed as a "gentleman" in his death record; Lizzie was a high society debutante) to commit such a crime. Despite the evidence and potential motives, we still do not know why Lizzie did it if, indeed, she did... Lizzie was acquitted of the crime.

For the transcripts, evidence, Lizzie's own inquest testimony, and more, check out The Trial of Lizzie Borden.

And, if there are any strained relationships in your home, you might want to sleep with one eye open...

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Preparing My Genealogical To Do List

It's time to see which ancestors I need to visit with in 2016. When I do this, I like to open up the binders with my printed pedigree charts, so I get a wider view of my family. It's easier to make my list this way, rather than clicking through one couple at a time in my software.

Hawksley - Mr. Hawksley remains a mystery. We know his wife was Mary Goodwin, and her parents were a Goodwin and a Workman. Her father was a loyalist from New Jersey, who went to New Brunswick where he and his wife had several children. Mary married a Hawksley from England, probably around 1808 in New Brunswick, and they had 4 children.

Thomas Wood - the father of my great-great grandfather, John Wood. Thomas and his wife, Sarah Gray, came from Manchester, England to Willimantic, Connecticut in 1878, but what about Thomas's life in England? And who were his parents?

Michele Galfre - my great-great-great grandfather, who was born somewhere in Italy and whose parents or grandparents may have been from France. His son Bartolomeo is my great-great grandfather, and came to Massachusetts. His son Giovanni remained in Italy, and we are in contact with Giovanni's descendants - our cousins - who have given us some information. But the Galfres are still a bit of an enigma.

Ernesta Bergamasco - wife of Bartolomeo Galfre; the same goes for my great-great grandmother. What of her parents and siblings back in Italy?

Edward Marshall Haley - another question I've had for years. My 4th great-grandfather was born in Ireland in 1810, but where? Supposedly he went to school in Dublin, then simply immigrated to Duxbury, Massachusetts where he married Clarissa Barrett and had a very large family.

Emma Anna Murphy - there is nothing to say about my great-great grandmother that I haven't already explored extensively on this blog. Her origins remain the most tantalizing puzzle of all.

Who are you focused on learning more about in 2016?

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sideways Searching - Exploring Collateral Relationships in Genealogy

I thought I would revisit a post from March of 2014 on "sideways searching" and share that today.

Most of the time I concentrate on one specific ancestor at a time, and then their parents, and their parents, and so on. If I included every single sibling and their families, I would have a huge family file full of distant cousins. I would also find myself getting confused and clicking around my family file too much. As it is, with all the intermarriages in my ancestry, things are tricky enough.

So my personal policy is only to bother including siblings from 1850 to present (and full families for 1900 to present), or a distant cousin's lines if that person and we are working together.

Of course, some researchers always include siblings, no matter what. It all depends on personal preference. I prefer to keep my file limited to direct ancestors for the most part.

But there is one other instance where I include collateral relationships, and that is when I hit a brick wall or need additional information on a family. This "sideways searching" can be important for many reasons - not just helping eliminate brick walls. Developing a fuller, more complete picture of a family might lead to evidence we wouldn't have located otherwise.

For example, my ex-husband's Hawksley line is one of the most fascinating families I am actively researching. Based upon a wide variety of sources, we know this family goes back to John Goodwin Hawksley of Mars Hill, Maine. John was probably born in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, on February 8, 1810.

But the question was always this: who were John's parents?

Over the years, I've compiled records that help give a more complete picture of this family. John and his wife, Lucy, had a son - Samuel - who died in the Civil War. They had other sons who served and survived, so it was Samuel I was most interested in.

Why? Because since Samuel was a young, unmarried man, his parents could claim a pension for his service in the war, which means they provided all the pertinent information necessary to obtain the pension - names, places, and dates of marriages and births.

Sure enough, Samuel's Civil War Pension file gave me a great deal of insight about John Goodwin Hawksley, his wife, and children, and his life in general. It told me all about John's health issues, and how much he and Lucy relied upon Samuel to take care of the family farm. It is a gold mine of information.

But it still didn't answer the question about his parents.

Fortunately, searching "sideways" through one of John's siblings and her family did answer the question about one of their parents. John had three sisters (two of whom still bear fleshing out), and one was Margaret Elizabeth Hawksley who married Isaac Adams on 3 October 1833 in Prince William, New Brunswick, Canada.

Margaret's daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Adams) Foster wrote a letter that gave me insight about their parents - an Englishman named Hawksley, and a woman from New Jersey with the surname of Goodwin, who later remarried a Madigan.

That was a "Whoa!" moment for me when I read through those papers in the NEHGS manuscript collection, because I had found an 1860 census entry with a Mary Madigan living with Margaret (Hawksley) Adams. Thanks to the letter, I realized Mary Madigan was Margaret and John's mother. (There was an Irish family also living with Margaret Adams at the time, and I am still trying to figure out if there is any relationship.)

So that's just a little story about the importance of seeking out siblings when you have a family mystery on your hands. Sometimes, they have the answers.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Colleges & Universities: Under-utilized Repositories

I never considered visiting a college or university library before, until a Google search led me to a book that led me to a university that led me to a manuscript collection.

Specifically, the relative I sought was William Winsor, my 3rd great-grandfather. He last appeared in the 1860 census in Duxbury, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, and that was that. I thought I had a brick wall until a Google search revealed a man of the same name was a lighthouse keeper at Tatoosh Island in Washington state.

More research revealed he had migrated west with other men from Duxbury - Rufus Holmes and Alexander Sampson. After the initial Google searches gave me more information and a few mentions in books, I went to the Rootsweb message boards for Clallam County in Washington State and posted a query.

The responses from another member yielded some interesting results, including diaries and personal letters, both available from the University of Washington Library and Special Collections.

So it's always worth investigating local colleges and universities to see if their libraries offer more than you expected, such as special collections or manuscripts. A good place to start is their website to see what they have. They may even offer a searchable index of materials and/or people and places mentioned in such materials. That is how the Rootsweb user who found links for me managed to find my great-great-great grandfather in the University of Washington's collections.

If you're looking for collections including personal documents, reach out to the university in the area where your ancestor lived and worked. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Headstone Photography: Dos and Don'ts

You're at the cemetery, having finally found the one you were looking for (possibly behind a cul-de-sac of houses, after traipsing through yards, trying to figure out why your GPS led you here). Now that you finally found the cemetery itself, you're on the hunt for the gravestone you want. It has to be here. But many of the gravestones are so weathered, it looks as if the engravings have worn down to point where all you have are stone slabs sticking up from the ground. Is that a 4 or a 9? Was that person 32 or 82 when they died?

There are many techniques for making the information on a headstone stand out. Unfortunately, some of them are outdated and detrimental to the stones themselves.

For a very long time, using chalk was a popular method for making a gravestone readable. However, chalk is abrasive, and can also stain the stones. Other methods, such as using flour or shaving cream to make the engraving stand out, are just as dangerous. Flour can seep into the pores of the stone and contribute to flaking, expansion, and cracking. The chemicals in shaving cream will ultimately cause the deterioration of the stone.

In fact, you shouldn't use any food items, beauty items, writing implements, paints, abrasives, or cleaners on a gravestone. So what can you do to make the engraving stand out for reading, transcribing, or photographing?

First, try the most basic substance of all - water. Spraying a headstone with water may darken the engravings so that you can read and photograph them. Later on, you can use a photo editing program to enhance the image.

A method I like to use when I make a spontaneous stop at a cemetery is simply tracing with my fingers. Running my fingertips over the engravings usually helps me determine the difference between similar looking numbers or letters.

Sometimes, it's a simple matter of redirecting the light to reflect off the engraving. However, since not everyone drives around with a large mirror in their car, there is another way to read gravestones that can save space and allow you to get a detailed photograph - aluminum foil. Simply press the foil against the headstone and use a wet sponge to rub it. The imprint won't last, so this is your opportunity to take a photograph (probably of the stone both with and without the foil is best) for posterity.

I'd love to know about your successes with these safe techniques for headstone photography, especially if you've used the foil method! 

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan