Great Sources


The last installment on my Pennsylvania road trip…

Where Gettysburg was a somber experience my next stop was invigorating. The next morning I got up bright and early in the city of York to do research at the York County Heritage Trust. Again, I had emailed ahead to see what I might expect and had received a very positive reply from the head archivist indicating that there was a substantial amount of information on the Helsel/Heltzel/Hoetzel families. I parking at a local ramp and walked a couple blocks to the Museum and Archives. It’s another repository that charges a daily fee for non-members and asks you to put the majority of your materials away in lockers before fully entering the premises—but it’s so worth it.

I could have spent a week here—and as it was I opted to change my plans and spend half the following day there versus making other stops on my last research day. I went in focused on the Helsel family and was very impressed with their systematic approach. With the proliferation of German names they have control spellings and numbers for their research files so, for example, the Helsel’s control spelling was “Heltze”l and the number was 2636. Armed with that, a volunteer pulled a clippings file, and the appropriate sections of cemetery, tax, estate, and vital card files. And the card files in turn led me to detailed transcriptions and facsimiles of relevant church records. And as I started going through those I realized that I could find information on almost all of my German lines within their collection. As I said, I could have stayed a week.

I spent all of day one on the Helsel’s or working through the church records. And the staff didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to come back the next morning—despite the huge one day parking garage bill. In the end that too, could have been helped if I’d asked the right questions up front. When I paid for my copies at the end of the day the receptionist told me that they had access to free parking in a temporary lot behind the building. I’m chalking the day one bill up to a city donation for having such a fabulous research facility.

Christ Lutheran Church, York, PennsylvaniaChrist Lutheran Church Cemetery, York, PennsylvaniaOn the second day, I got up a little earlier so that I had time to walk down to Christ Lutheran Church (where one branch of the family worshiped) and take photographs. At the archives I spent time on my Mohr, Morningstar, Glass, and Kuntz families—all solidly intermingled long before the same families are marrying in again upon migrating to Ohio. If I had more time I would have spent even more time researching my Dice, Coppenhaver, and Grove families. I have no doubt there would be materials to find. Maybe next trip?

Happy hunting,

Jess

I recently came upon this blogpost from The Art of Manliness on a trend the writer noticed on the ease and intimacy of men in the past in photographs. It made me think of these photos from our family collection. The following are both shots of my Great Grandfather Robert Shea and his friends. The first (which I’ve posted before) is with his fellow patients at the Michigan State Sanatorium. The other is with a friend I do not recognize (though I think I have other pictures of) and I’m not sure where the photo was taken.

Happy hunting,

Jess

Robert James Shea (2nd from right) at Howell Tubercular Sanatorium c. 1920Robert Shea (Left) and Friend

Old Bostwick Lake Congregational Church, Cannon Twp, MIIt’s that time of year again… Sunday is the Michigan Antiquarian Book and Paper Show (9:30-5 pm) which not only satisfies my interest in collecting books but is also my primary source for postcards to illustrate and round out my genealogy. I tend to collect regular and real photo postcards of street scenes and buildings that were important to my family. So Rockford street scenes dominate my collection. But I also have representative works from Grand Rapids, Howell (the Sanatorium), Leelanau/Grand Traverse, and Ypsilanti as well. And, every once in a while, I even stumble across a postcard actually sent by a distant relative or a friend of the family.

This is a relatively common postcard of Old Bostwick Lake Congregational Church in Cannon Township, Kent County, Michigan which included among its charter members: my Grandpa Bailey’s Great Grandparents, Smith and Eunice Bailey, and two of their married daughters—Eunice Pitcher and Chloe Scott. Many of the Bailey’s and their allied families were buried in the attached cemetery known as Old Bostwick or Marshall Cemetery. The congregation was organized on 06 June 1846 and still exists today in its current incarnation on Belding Rd in Rockford.

Happy hunting.

Jess

I’ve had a few questions about connecting slaves and owners since my WMGS talk last month. This is not something I’m an expert in. But I am a good researcher in general so, my advice is to gather every bit of information you can on the former slave family.

  • Pay close attention to all of the locations associated with the family.
  • Look at any evidence of transactions you can—like land, produce, and labor.
  • Follow every side line—siblings, families that seem associated with the one you’re more interested in—African American or Caucasian.
  • Use the Slave Schedules to find possible owners based on age and sex—if you don’t have a better idea start where they were in 1870 but be aware that families sometimes moved with freedom sometimes only a county over and sometimes much farther.
  • Search Slave Narratives through the Library of Congress, Documenting the American South, or in Ancestry.com
  • Search the Freedman’s Bank Records through HeritageQuest.com (often accessible through local libraries)

Once you’ve got a few possibilities start researching the slaveholding families in just as much detail as you would your own. Look at land and probate records, and hunt down plantation records (these could be tucked away in university and state archives).

And if you don’t find that magical record that states clearly the connection between slave and owner, then, look for patterns. For my family that meant recognizing that you could plot the places where my ancestors appeared on a map and have it match up with a certain set of westward moving slave owners—so while I’m not certain which slaveholder was ours the odds are it’s one of a relatively small number of interconnected families.

Unless you are unbelievably lucky this will be time consuming and could take years to track down the right records. Be persistent, flexible, and thorough.

But don’t take my word for it. Track down these great resources for more detailed and expert help:

  • Burroughs, Tony. 2001. Black roots: a beginner’s guide to tracing the African American family tree. New York: Fireside Book.
  • Gates, Henry Louis. 2007. Finding Oprah’s roots: finding your own. New York: Crown Publishers.
  • Howell, Barbara Thompson. 1999. How to trace your African-American roots: discovering your unique history. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group.
  • Smith, Franklin Carter, and Emily Anne Croom. 2003. A genealogist’s guide to discovering your African-American ancestors: how to find and record your unique heritage. Cincinnati: Betterway Books.
  • Witcher, Curt Bryan. African American genealogy: a bibliography and guide to sources. Fort Wayne, Ind: Round Tower Books, 2000.

Happy hunting,

Jess

I’m pretty sure this site was brought to my attention in a presentation by Tony Burroughs at FGS2011.

One of the sites I recommended in my WMGS presentation on African American research was the Digital Library on American Slavery, a joint project between the Race and Slavery Petitions Project and the Electronic Resources and Information Technology Department of University Libraries at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is a searchable database of slaves and slave owners mentioned in petitions presented to legislatures across 15 southern states between 1775 and 1867. The material is searchable by Name (first or last), States, and keywords within the petitions.

I’ve searched a both slave names and owners and I have actually hit on the major landowners that I suspect owned members of my family—like John R. Hampton, who is listed as a defendant in an 1853 Bradley County petition. I tried searching for my 2nd Great Grandfather Sandy York in the hopes that “Sandy” was a rare enough name. As it happens it is relatively common but in the three pages of hits there was only one in the database for Arkansas. I really wanted him to be mine.  I mean… look at the information that came with this record!

Sandy in Arkansas Petition

20284905DLAS

A whole slave household with owner information and a long list of source documents related to the petition!

It could theoretically have been Sandy—who knows what last name a slave might have taken or been given—but when you have a lead (or, in this case, faint hope) make sure you follow that person out to determine their line and if it might actually overlap with yours.

This turned out to be Sandy Hopkins of Sevier County, AR who still lived in that county at the time of the 1870 Census when I know Sandy York was already settled in Bradley County. Don’t make the mistakes I have seen all over “the Internets”… really test out theories. Don’t just add whatever you find to your tree—study the information and try to verify it.

Oh and if you have any Hopkins relatives in Sevier County, AR, check out to this site soon.

Happy hunting,

Jess

I’ve spent the last few weeks tweaking a talk on researching African American ancestors for Western Michigan Genealogical Society—which was a lot of fun!—and the process left me with a number of interesting and sometimes frustrating finds… here’s one that reminded me to keep an open mind in my searching.

Do you ever just want to throw up your hands because it seems that your relatives hid out to avoid the Census takers? I’ve got a few families like that and they’re mostly from my father’s side of the family. I know that I have to be creative in my name spellings, not nearly as tied to location, and imaginative when looking at the indexing… but still sometimes I’m surprised by how far from accurate some of the records are when I finally find well hidden family members. A recent example would be when I was researching my 2nd Great Grandmother Candes Thompson Wheeler.

Detail from the Death Certificate of Sallie Wheeler York

Candes’ name and birthplace of “Codesco, Mississippi” came to me through the death certificate of her daughter Sallie Wheeler  (Her father Moses Wheeler was the informant) and from there, after a lot of searching, I located proof of Candes’ marriage to Moses in 1882—though there she was listed as Candes “Thomas.” But when I checked the census for Candes in Bradley County, Arkansas I couldn’t find her.

So I broadened my search—not limiting myself to Arkansas and using her estimated birth year from the marriage license. I hit on two “Candis” Thompson’s in Attala Co., Mississippi. One was married to a George Thompson and one was a year younger living with her mother, Sally; brothers, Mac, Amzi, and Burlon; and grandmother Mariah in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Sally is my Great Grandmother’s name and her siblings include an Amzi and Kosciusko is a place name made to be misspelled. So I’m tentatively approaching this as the correct line.

Sallie Thompson Family, 1880 Kosciusko, Attala Co, MS

I decided to track them back in the 1870 Census and again found no hits for Sallie and Candes Thompson. So, I decided to just try searching on first names. And by searching for a household with a head or wife named Sallie and her children named Mac and Candes I did get a hit.

I found Sallie indexed as Sallie “Buerebokite” along with Candis, Mack, and an unnamed newborn boy immediately following the household of Maria Thompson (indexed as Nona). But when you look at the original images and the names throughout the township it becomes clear that through bad indexing and a somewhat sloppy hand the family name actually written by the Census taker was Musselwhite—one of the most common names in the county.

Bad Indexing: Sallie "Buerebokite"

Sallie Musselwhite, 1870 Kosciusko Attala Co, MS

Of course all of this has just lead to more mysteries… How, when and why did Candes move to Arkansas? What happened to the rest of her family? How did Musslewhite become Thompson? … Just to name a few. But these intriguing mysteries would have remained hidden from me if I hadn’t slowed down and tried different searches to locate the Thompsons in the Census.

Keep an open mind, be creative in your searching, and get back to the original documents.

Happy hunting,

Jess

As I mentioned yesterday, part of this trip was inspired by the detailed footnotes in Eleanor Neilsen’s The Egremont Road which has a lovely section on the Alisons and their allied families. And one of the main sources she pointed to was a memoir created by Peter John Alison, Harry’s youngest child, which is held at the Western Archives at Western University in London, Ontario. So, another one of our stops was in London so that I could look at the manuscript as well as an Alison photo album that I found in their catalogue when I was searching for the memoir.

The Archives is located in the D. B. Weldon Library on campus and getting to it was a little trickier that I thought it would be. But when you reach the building it’s huge and, at least for the day I was there, it was consistently packed. Luckily, the Archives are tucked into the back corner of a large Main Floor and you feel miles away from anyone when you’re tucked into the cozy reading room and working.

It’s suggested that you contact the Archives ahead of time for materials that they need to pull from storage (as pulls are only done three times a day) so I had struck up a conversation with one of their staff by email and both boxes were pretty much waiting for me on arrival. I settled in and spent most of the day on Peter’s memoir which, according to the top page was created to satisfy a persistent cousin to whom he remarks:

You have asked me so often to write you an account of my early days in the back woods of Ontario, Canada, that I think I will have to do as the Unjust Judge did with the widow – Grant your request to get rid of you.

The document gives a rough background to the family but it is full of interesting tidbits about his parents and siblings through the eyes of the baby of the family (he was six at the time of their move to Canada). He didn’t display a lot of respect for his elder brothers whom he felt were no help to their father in the initial establishment of their households in Warwick commenting:

My eldest brother had been in the Army with my father’s regiment, and my next brother had been in the Navy, they were not fitted for the bush life at all. It was pitiful to see them using an axe, the one most useful tool of those early days. They would chop around a tree like a beaver, then of course, they would not know which way the tree was going to fall, except it had decided leaning in one direction.

But he did admire his sisters (at least in retrospect) and their accomplishments:

My sisters were all highly accomplished for my mother had them taught by the best French and English masters, it was delightful to hear them play and sing to the piano, harp and guitar, and they spoke Greek and Italian as well as they could English.

In the memoir he shares his memories of his sisters Frances and Julia’s courtships (with Thomas Rothwell and Robert Hill respectively) in detail and humorously.

The manuscript by itself was worth the trip but the other item I had pulled turned out to be a photo album given to Frances (Travers) Alison, Peter John’s wife, in February of 1880. Very few of the pictures are labeled but among the ones that are is a picture of Peter’s brother, Brisbain. I would love to be able to identify more of the images through my research but we’ll see how that works out.

The staff at the archives were very helpful and a pleasure to work with!

Happy hunting,

Jess

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