27 April 2011

Treasure Chest Thursday - Family Papers Collections

I always run a Google search on a new name that I am researching, but I rarely run it as the first step in the search. This time, though, I vaguely recognized Thomas Masters White from earlier research in that same county. And while the surname "White" alone would undoubtedly yield hits in the millions, the middle name was just different enough that a search on the forename, middle name, surname  combination might turn up a hit on on my man. 

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. My search found four hits. Two were queries that led nowhere, and one was a pedigree for his first wife's family that listed the marriage. The fourth was the Treasure Chest - or at least the key to the chest. It was a State Archives catalog entry for a collection of personal and business papers from 5 intermarried families that in the end had been inherited by one single woman who ultimately contributed them to the State Archives.

There were 23 cubic feet of records: family bibles, literally hundreds of letters, photographs, legal and business documents, wills, guardianship papers, deeds, store receipts and many, many others. And while some of the individual records, such as the wills would have been found by my standard searches iin the county records where the family lived, none of the personal correspondence or photos would have been.

The records began around 1800 and continued until well after the the turn of the next century. It was a sizeable slice of history collected and stored in 39 boxes. It took a very long time to go through, but I was smiling nearly all of the time. 

I have since found other collections of private papers. None has held as much relevant family history, but some have mentioned ancestors and several have shed light on how my ancestors lived. I heartily recommend looking for them in your research area. Major repositories such as State Archives, large libraries - and especially university libraries are the most likely place to find them.

18 April 2011

The "Bad" Census Years

I was talking to a member of my local genealogy society about how his research was going, and he started grumbling about not being able to find his ancestor anywhere but in the bad census years.   He was talking about the pre-1850 census reports, of course, and specifically about the 1840 census report.

A lot of people feel that way about the pre-1850 censuses - since they don't name all of the people in the house, and since they don't give specific ages or other personal details about the members of the household, they are seen as having very little value.  I disagree.

The 1840 census, for example, has this wonderful column in the middle of page two that lists the name and exact age of any Revolutionary War pensioner. These pensioners include the soldiers who served or their widows who received pensions after their husbands' death.

This column, taken from the 1840 Census of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, shows a neighborhood with a high percentage of surviving Revolutionary War vets. The youngest of these pensioners appears to be age 75 - not too surprising when you consider that this is the 1840 census and that the Revolution ended in 1783:

If you find a pensioner living in the household of one of your ancestors, you now have a brand new research tool - the pension file for the Revolutionary War pension that qualified him or her to be recorded in this column. These can be found at the National Archives, at Footnote.com, and at Heritage Quest. Your local State Archives may also have microfilmed copies.

Consider, too, that while it is possible that the pensioner is simply a boarder in the house, it is far more likely that he or she is related to someone in the household.

There is no such thing as a bad census - just some that are preferable to others.

16 April 2011

The Name

It all started with a series of phone calls. Well, it really started some years back when my darling young wife decided to name our first son after me - not content to just give him my first name, she gave him my full and exact name.

Now we skip over a sizable chunk of history, during which time I become addicted to genealogy and also become active in the genealogy community, to the current time, where divorce, the bad economy, restaurants closing, new opportunities opening in our area, etc., etc., led to the son of the same name, now a chef and father of two, coming with his sons to live with his mother and me.

Now back to the series of phone calls. The eldest grandson, who seems to suspect that the time-space continuum might be interrupted should the phone ring more than twice is often first to answer, and a conversation like this one would usually ensue:
 Grandson:  "Hello?"
Caller: "Hi, is Jack there?
Grandson: "Which Jack would you like to speak to?"
Caller: "Jack Butler"
Grandson:  "Which Jack Butler? We have two."
Caller, starting to get flustered: "The one who uses this phone number."
Grandson: "Uhmm, the older one or the younger one? Jack Sr. or Jack Jr.?"
Caller: "Look, I need to talk to the Jack Butler who does genealogy!"
Grandson: "Okay, hold on a moment."

Eventually coming to the realization that callers seldom desired to play 20 questions, the grandson soon evolved his technique:
Caller: "Hi, could I speak to Jack?"
Grandson: "Did you want Chef Jack or Genealogy Jack?"
Caller: "Genealogy Jack"

And so the name evolved. My wife thinks that it is a little bit too cutesy. So be it. Genealogy Jack is in the house, where he will attempt to share tales of genealogy and occasionally try to make a point or two.