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 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: Underutilized 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! 

Headstone Photography: Dos & Don'ts

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Automated Searching With Google Alerts

Between work and family, finding time for genealogy can be very challenging for me. I love to research, to poke at my brick walls and see if they’ll poke back, to add new tidbits of information to my family tree so I can better understand and imagine my ancestors’ lives.

So when I sometimes have to go weeks – even months! – without having a moment to sit down and do a little digging, I get a little grumpy. It can even turn into an, “I really have to do this” feeling, and that’s not how I want to feel at all. I want genealogy to be one of those relaxing passions I pursue for the love of it, not because I feel obligated to give my ancestors some attention. 

Fortunately, there is a fantastic way to automate your searching and get results delivered right to your inbox. In fact, you’re probably already well aware that Google Alerts can do this for you, but have you actually tried it? If not, what are you waiting for? 

Setting Up Google Alerts 

Google Alerts makes it very easy to put the internet to work for you each and every day. Perhaps you’ve exhausted all the search results on Grandpa Edward. Maybe you type his name into Google from time to time in hopes of seeing something new, but aren’t rewarded very often. Or perhaps one day you come up with a number of fresh hits and wonder just how long these new results have existed, waiting for you to find them. 

Using Google Alerts means you don’t have to miss a thing and you don’t have to work hard for it, either. It’s very simple to set up an Alert.

1. Visit

2. Enter the terms you want Google to monitor for you, such as “Edward Smith Jones” and anything else to make sure they pull the results you really want, such as a state, county, or town.

Like any search, being too specific can work against you, so try to keep your search broad but within a few degrees of the information you definitely want/need. This isn’t as tough with relatives who have fairly uncommon names, but if you have good ol’ Smiths and Johnsons, you will need to add specifics to help differentiate your Smith or Johnson from others. 

3. Save the alert. 

Once the alert is saved, Google does the rest. They deliver results to your inbox daily, if they hit upon results daily. 

I’ve found that with genealogical searches, I can go weeks or months without seeing a hit on a particular name. But it also saves me from sitting down and thinking to myself, “I haven’t done a search for Grandpa Edward for a few months. I wonder if there’s anything new.” 

I’ve used Google for a number of ongoing searches, from genealogy to alerts on items I might want to purchase, to following news on a book release I’m anticipating. It’s a versatile tool that, of course, is only as good as you make it. 

So if you haven’t set up some alerts for Google to deliver directly to your inbox, why not give it a try? Also, if you know of an even better tool to automate research, please let me know in the comments!

Automated Searching With Google

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Brick Wall Revisit

Over the past several years, I’ve struggled with a few brick walls – haven’t we all? Alas, most remain as solid as ever. Let’s take a look at the ancestors who still make me wonder if perhaps they were left here by extraterrestrials in the middle of a dark and stormy night:

1. Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw – what more is there to say about my great-great grandmother? I shared her mystery on April 9, 2009, a timeline for her on April 10, 2009, an update on August 2, 2011, and another update on February 6, 2012. She remains intensely interesting to me, to say the least!

2. John BARRETT and Hannah HOLMES who married in 1787 in Plymouth, MA. John died between 1790-1800. Hannah died in 1803. I blogged about them on February 10, 2010.

3. Levi BENSON who married Susannah Bump(us) and died 25 Jan 1815 in Wareham, MA. I shared that story on January 9, 2010.

4. Esther, wife of Edward CURTIS of Dudley and Monson, MA. For years now, I've tried to locate her maiden name with no luck. I first talked about them on November 23, 2007

It has not been a good year for making progress on these puzzles, I’m afraid. Most of my genealogical time has been devoted to a client’s wants and needs. It’s all enjoyable no matter what – I just love the work overall, even if there remain unanswered questions. Maybe one day I will answer these questions. Maybe I will climb these walls. After all, 2015 is not over yet…

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Oftentimes, a person who has minimal information on a grandparent or great-grandparent will say to me, “I’ve tried looking in the censuses, but I can’t figure out which person is the one I’m looking for. I think Grandpa lived in Virginia, but there are so many John Smiths there… I don’t know which one is mine. 

This is when I ask them what they do know for certain about Grandpa’s life, like whether or not his wife was living or deceased, where he lived at the time of his death, and when he died. “Oh, Grandpa Smith lived in Jamestown, Virginia with my Grandma Mary, and he died in December of 1999,” they might tell me. 

And that is when I can tell a person that while they think they have encountered a brick wall, what they’ve just given me is a stepping stone to more information. I go to the Social Security Index next, and perhaps I’m fortunate enough to pin down a date of death for a John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia, for December 5, 1999. 

The nice thing about recent ancestors such as grandparents and great-grandparents, as they most definitely are not a lost cause when it comes to gathering information. Those generations are, perhaps, the most documented (besides you and your parents) you will find, and a great place to start if the only facts you have are a name, place, and death date, is the newspaper. 

At that point, with the information given about, I would perform a Google search for the Jamestown Virginia public library, not in quotes and not with any punctuation marks. Once I find a website for the library, my next step is to see if they offer any databases. Some offer extensive databases including indexes to vital records and newspapers. If they do, I take down the information I need to find the record and/or article, or other relevant item, that refers to my grandparent. 

Once I have that information or if they don’t offer such databases, my next step is to reach out to the reference librarian and let her know what I need. My request generally looks like this:

To Whom it May Concern, 

I am writing to inquire about an obituary for John Smith, who died December 5, 1999 in Jamestown, VA for genealogical purposes. If you are able to locate such an obituary in your newspaper holdings, would you email me a PDF or mail me a print-out? Also, please let me know the fee or requested donation for this service, so I can send it to you promptly. 

Wendy L. Callahan 

If there is no requested donation or fee, I still like to mail the library a token donation of $5 to show my appreciation.  I’ve had librarians who have done both as far as sending me an obituary – emailed a PDF or mailed a physical copy. They are usually very willing to assist and respond to inquiries. 

That obituary for Grandpa Smith will most likely list his place of birth and the names of his parents, not to mention any siblings. This allows you to put together a family group sheet together now, showing the entire family for John Smith – his wife, his parents, and his siblings – as well as filling in dates and places of the events you have. Even the smallest amount of information is a gateway to much, much more. Don’t underestimate what you can find with just a few “iffy” facts.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Genealogy & Technology

I'm way behind in genealogy tech! Why is that?

Well, I don't have a smart phone. I don't download every nifty program mentioned in blog posts or magazines. I find that instead of streamlining my work, what having a variety of "apps" and programs does is actually make it more difficult, more time consuming, to "do the genealogy."

There is a very small amount of technology I utilize for genealogy. The first is Legacy as a family tree database. It gives me room to keep all the information I need, including notes and photographs.

The next is Word, which I use for all my word processing and writing. If I want to write a list of a particular type of ancestor or make out a detailed research To Do list, that is what I use.

Finally, there is the most basic tool of all - the internet. It tends to be where I conduct the majority of my research, even if that research is simply looking up the address of a town clerk so I can send a "snail mail" request for a vital record.

Also, Google Alerts is a fantastic resource that delivers search hits straight to my inbox. I probably don't use it as much as I could, but it is one of many tech apps that I actually have utilized for genealogy. It's nice to know if a new website pops up with a search term I use often, like "Emma Anna Murphy," Google will let me know.

Part of me wonders if there is a program I would love, love, love to use for genealogy. But I think this passion is such a varied one, that keeping it simple works best for me.

I am interested to know what programs or apps other family historians use, and what they love about them.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Genealogical Societies & Groups

If you have yet to explore what genealogy groups and societies have to offer, here's a little guide to the various types out there.

First, there are societies devoted to research itself. You can find many devoted to specific geographic areas.

My personal favorite is the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the focus of which is obvious thanks to their name. NEHGS is more of a repository and publisher than a social group. They keep a huge variety of records at their library in Boston, as well as offer scans and transcriptions of those records through their website. They also offer a variety of publications - a magazine, journal, and newsletters. Membership in NEHGS is well worth the price for me, as it costs less than a subscription to a wider-reaching site, such as, but offers far more value for my specific interests.

So if you're looking for this kind of society in the area specific to your family history/research interests, try Google to locate one.

Facebook is a great place to find much smaller, online groups with a specific research focus. For example, try searching "Italian Genealogy" and you will find a wide variety of groups. It is very easy to join such groups. In the case of closed groups, it's just a matter of waiting for the moderator to approve your request for membership.

You can also find groups dedicated to general research, organizing your research, digitizing your records, and much more.

Most of us are probably very familiar with lineage societies, which concentrate on a particular surname or group of people.

Examples of this include the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and the various groups dedicated to researching the pilgrims who came over on that ship, such as the Alden Kindred of America. These are excellent groups to join if you want to focus your research on a specific ancestor or surname.

General and social genealogy groups and forums exist all over the internet.

A simple Google search will give you several results. Try using search terms for specific traits you would like to find in a group, such as genealogy writers or genealogists who are also cat lovers (alright - I don't know if the second one exists, but it might!). These are just a few examples. 

What do you look for in a genealogy group? What's a genealogical niche you wish was more fulfilled by groups or societies?

Genealogical Societies & Groups

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Guardianship & Adoption Resources

Something I'd love to learn more about is researching guardianships and adoptions, particularly in New England.

Over the years, I've discovered a few ancestors or collateral relatives who went through this process. Most of those discoveries were made through a lucky Google search that turned up their name. This usually isn't a topic we have to learn about until we encounter a question about where a family member ended up.

Sometimes this is a story we know from the start - that a grandparent was actually reared by an aunt or uncle, or another, unrelated family entirely. What isn't always known is whether or not there was a formal adoption. The first state to enact legislation on adoptions was Massachusetts in 1851. Even still, not every adoption was recorded, so finding formal paperwork on one in the 1880s is very much hit or miss.

This is a topic I'd really love to learn more about - what resources exist online? Offline? (I know the Massachusetts Archives has adoptions available at their facility.) What criteria did a person have to meet to obtain guardianship? For those who were not formally adopted, but still changed their name, was this just something they could do without it really being an "issue"? (It seems like it was just fine for people to take the name of the family who cared for them, without filing paperwork in court.)

Is finding adoptions a matter of luck or skill, or - like so many aspects of genealogy - a little bit of both?

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Old & New Resources

Part of the beauty of NEHGS and other publishers is that they are always producing new books on genealogy and our ancestors. Many older resources missed, overlooked, or simply did not contain certain information because the research couldn't find it or didn't know where to look. New discoveries happen every day, and genealogical societies try to keep at the forefront of this by sharing the news.

It's difficult to believe, for example, that many people still don't know the correct maiden name of Richard Warren's wife, even after the discovery of the will proving she was Elizabeth Walker, daughter of Augustine Walker. But this also reminds us that there are still new things to learn every day about our ancestors and keeping up with the newest genealogical publications is a good way to also keep up with this news.

Another thing recent publications do is correct misinformation, such as the belief that Richard Warren's wife was Elizabeth Jewett. They may also help clarify the differences between two people of the same name. I had quite a time differentiating "my" Joseph Bartlett, who married Anna Clark, from another Joseph Bartlett born in the same town and decade, and also with a wife named Anna. In this case, I had to move beyond birth, death, marriage, and census records to find a way to tell the two apart. My answer lay in books that let me know the second Joseph was an attorney who ultimately moved to and practiced in New Hampshire.

Sometimes, older publications simply omit readily available information. Robert Charles Anderson notes in his article "Documenting New England's Founders in The Great Migration Directory" that previous volumes omitted certain significant immigrants, such as one of my ancestors, William Blake of Pitminster in Somerset. He eventually settled in Dorchester and the number of his descendants is vast.

This is not to say older volumes, such as James Savage's A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England are not worth the time and effort to seek out. This collection of volumes, for example, can make an excellent jumping off point to guide your research. In fact, I simply love using Google to find such older books when I am working on a family. This is a great way to find PDFs of books that may be out of print or not available locally. Several times, Google Books has led me to fascinating and unexpected information.

Just be sure to reconcile the information with primary sources (such as birth, marriage, and death records), as well as newly available databases, books, articles, etc. to ensure it remains consistently correct. We know (I hope!) that we shouldn't take online family trees for granted as being true, and I think we also shouldn't consider the authors of genealogical books infallible. They are doing the best they can with the information they have, and I believe most books from certain publishers are quite reliable. However, go ahead and look for the resources they cite anyway.

You never know. In following-up on the author's research, you might find something they overlooked.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Matrilineal Musings

My matrilineal line is also the one that fascinates me the most. Why? Because it comprises the most recent immigrants in my family.

Because my family is mostly made up of Mayflower and Great Migration names/heritages, and a handful of Irish immigrants thrown in for good measure (in the early to mid 1800s), my direct matrilineal ancestry stands out because it is neither English nor Irish.

My great-grandmother, Lia Elizabeth Galfre, was born in Middleborough, Massachusetts in 1903. She died in Brockton in 1991. She married my great-grandfather, Basil Wade Bartlett, in Middleborough in 1923.

Lia's parents came to Massachusetts from Italy.

Her father, Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfre, was born January 22, 1869 in San Benigno, Torino, Italy. He died in Lakeville, Massachusetts in 1952. We know Grandpa Bartolomeo's parents, Michele and Francesca, were both born in Italy. We believe his grandfather, Giovanni Battista Bartolomeo Galfre, was born in France, as Galfre is a French name.

Lia's mother, Ernesta Maddelena Bergamasco, was born May 12, 1874 in Mongelia, Genoa, Italy. Thanks to a short family memoir by my great aunt Espezzia (Lia's sister), we know the names of her siblings were Bartholomew, Angelina, Giovanni, Peter, and Archie. As you can see, some of these are nicknames or Anglicized names.

Her parents were Giuseppe and Giabatta. We have a few tidbits about Giuseppe, thanks to my great-great aunt's family history. She wrote that Giuseppe came to visit Bartolomeo and Ernesta in Middleborough. She also wrote that he lived to age 104, and specifically said, "He went to church one night to bid goodbye to all his friends, and died that night."

And that is all we have.

I had my mtDNA tested several years ago, and was not surprised to get Haplogroup H1. Still, it didn't tell me much, so I'm afraid my options for Italian research are quite limited.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Still a Mystery: Emma Anna Murphy of Nova Scotia

Last night I dreamed my mother told me more about my great-great grandma Emma - you know, the one who has eluded me since I started my genealogical journey. The ideas in the dream were preposterous answers to questions I have (where did she go to school? Did she have any siblings? What was the name of her first husband? What happened to him?).

But they reminded me that I still have a long way to go with Emma's life.

Last time I posted about Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw, it was February 6, 2012. At the time, I hoped I might have finally found her family. The Guysborough, Nova Scotia connection is the most logical one, but can you believe I haven't looked for 3 years now?

Granted, it's been a busy time for me - had a baby in January 2013, moved back to the states in June 2013, focused on establishing a writer career, etc.

So I suppose that dream, silly as it was, might be a nudge reminding me that the answers are still out there. I just have to remember to ask.

When I tackle the gaps in Emma's timeline - specifically from her birth (1861 or so in Nova Scotia?) to her marriage to my great-great grandfather (1888 in Middleborough, Massachusetts), I don't automatically look for her birth or her parents. I feel like, if possible, I need to work my way back from her marriage to great-great grandpa Erastus Shaw.

That means I would really, very much like to find out the name and ultimate fate of her first husband. We know his surname was Reagan. We know this because of various family documents - my great-grandpa Harrison Shaw's birth record in 1889, which gives his mother's name as "Emma A. Reagion," and Erastus and Emma's marriage record in 1888, which gives her name as "Emma A. Regan" and her maiden name as Murphy.

Emma also specifies in the 1930 census that her first marriage occurred when she was 16, which means roughly 1877.

In the 1910 census, she is listed as having 2 children, but only 1 living (my great-grandfather, Harrison Shaw). Did she have a child in her first marriage? I've found nothing to indicate she had 2 with Erastus. Of course, she might have, and the birth and death may simply not exist in Middleborough or Massachusetts records. Still, I think it's more logical to assume she had a child in her first marriage, since Massachusetts birth, marriage, and death events are all pretty well documented.

There's still the question of whether or not she was born in Maine or Nova Scotia. The existing vital records and censuses are roughly 50-50 on that question. Again, though, I think if she'd been born in Maine, there would be some indication of her in the 1870 and 1880 censuses... and there's nothing, which is why I err on the side of Nova Scotia as being correct.

This post is a bit rambly and probably only makes sense to me if you haven't read the previous posts. ;)

It also tells me I need to go in and re-examine all the records, and the timeline to see what I need to do next.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Link Hoarding

I must admit I'm a bit of a link hoarder. With anything else in life, I like to keep it simple. Put everything in its place and if I have no use for it, out it goes.

Links are too easy to collect, though, especially genealogy links. Heck, I even save links for sites I don't actually need... but could need in the future.

Fortunately, I went in and cleaned my favorites out last night. Good thing, too, because plenty were broken. It just goes to show that when you find a link that is potentially useful, you need to try to mine it for nuggets as quickly as possible.

I like to organize links for ease of finding what I want, so my favorites are broken down in a folder called "Genealogy" into subfolders:

New Brunswick
North Carolina
Nova Scotia

Last night before I cleaned out links, I had more folders - folders I ultimately realized I never used. So this is a very basic way of organizing links. I can find what I need quite easily. If I am working on my Mayflower ancestors, I know the Massachusetts folder will be my first stop to see what links I have available.

There are probably plenty of folks who don't see the need to have these various subfolders for organizing links/favorites. Alas, if I didn't do this, the Genealogy folder would be one, long, disorganized list of links that I would have to scroll up and down through.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Organizing All That Paper

So I'm not entirely down with going all digital. YET. I'd really love to scan every single bit of paper I have and save it to disk, so I have that back-up available to me for emergencies, or just to be able to carry it with me on research trips (useful when I finally get a laptop again).

Fortunately, I'm not drowning in paper, so to speak. I keep it very organized with binders.

I use a color-coding system for binders and scrapbooks. Plain black binders are for genealogy. Some are dedicated to pedigree charts, some are dedicated to general family records and pages copied out of reference books, and some are dedicated to vital records.

Organizing paper from the get-go makes it easier to stay that way. Everything I have that is not a pedigree chart is organized by surname. My vital records, for example, are all alphabetized. And for those ancestors for whom I have multiple vitals, those are then placed in chronological order.

So for a man, I have his records in order of birth, marriage, and death. The wife's birth and death are filed under her maiden name, and her marriage is cross-referenced to the husband.

I use an index to make the system easy for someone to understand. If someone picks up one of my vital records binders, they can see at a glance whose names are in there, the order in which they are arranged, and the cross-referenced marriages as well.

Furthermore, I keep a spreadsheet to track the records I request and receive. Admittedly, though, I do the same with my Nancy Drew book collection. ;)

Other paper documents I have include copies obtained from manuscript collections at NEHGS, Civil War pensions, family-created documents written by great-aunts or great-uncles, and more. While I don't index these, I do alphabetize them. Perhaps it's high time I also indexed them by name, document, and - if applicable - title of book or collection from which it came...

Being organized is a boon when it comes to genealogy, particularly if you would like someone else to easily interpret and utilize what you have collected.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Research Plans 2015

It looks like I will be homebound for most of 2015, and focused on work, work, kids, work... So there won't be any on-site research for me this year.

The places I still really want and need to visit are Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. However, other things take precedence this year, like remodeling our home (with our own hands, mind you!) and my husband continuing his college education (and our last surviving laptop doesn't get wireless internet, so traveling is out of the question).

That means my research efforts must take place from home.

As always, March meant it was time to renew my NEHGS membership. I don't use NEHGS as much as I used to, since most of my New England ancestors are "done" - of course, family history is never done, and there is always something new to learn about an ancestor's life. However, I would hate to miss out on anything they offer, so I will remain a member until the very end.

I still like to gather records by writing to town and city clerks, and I really need to check to make sure my spreadsheet of birth, marriage, and death records I currently have is up to date.

Another thing I'd like to do this year is expand my library a little more. There are a few recently released Mayflower silver volumes I would like to have.

There remain brick walls, of course, and over the next several weeks I plan to revisit them, review my previous efforts, and see if I can make any breakthroughs.

I think I need to take a broader picture approach, and work my way through each of my lines, as I do a few times a year. That is, I "begin" at my children, and then work up through each line of ancestry, checking for "holes" and inconsistencies, and seeing who needs my focus.

This is when I like to work off paper - to use printed pedigree charts to give me a visual. So my husband will just have to put up with the pile of binders on my desk as I sit down and try to answer questions such as, "Who was Emma Anna Murphy's first husband?" and "So, what happened to Joseph St. Onge?" (not my ancestor, but still a person of interest).

So watch for posts revisiting brick walls and dead-end immigrant ancestors as I endeavor to learn more about my family!

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Social Media in Genealogy

As the internet offers us more and more places to connect, it can be very tricky to determine who you "ought" to follow on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and more. There are many recommendations out there - some that are considered staples of social media/the online community in genealogy.

It is well worth checking out the suggestions on "Top 100" lists and the like, but sometimes finding the right folks to follow on social media is as simple as a few search terms.

What do you want to get out of making these connections online? Do you want to find potential distant cousins and other people with similar research interests? Do you want to keep up to date on more general genealogical news or the latest scientific advances with DNA? Would you like to find people local to you or communicate with genealogists in other countries?

And, once you find these people, what next? What should you do with these connections? What is the point of a widespread network if you don't make use of it, or participate in it?

Sometimes, it is nice to sit back and watch news, ideas, and more scroll by in your Twitter feed. But it won't necessarily help break through that brick wall or bring you closer to uncovering what happened to an ancestor who apparently dropped off the face of the earth.

Take time to reach out to the people with shared research interests, or even who live in the area where your family resided decades or centuries ago. Before the internet, we sent each other letters - even long-distance relatives! Email makes it even easier to say, "Dear John Smith, I noticed your post on the Smith forum, and I do believe we may have an ancestral connection via Robert Smith."

We tend to be a friendly lot, so most of us will respond courteously - probably even excited to hear from you.

So use that social media to be social. That's the whole point of it.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Basic Genealogy Forms

Family Group SheetPaper genealogy is still where I feel most comfortable when it comes to collecting and organizing information. It makes life simpler to pull out a binder of charts or vital records for an "at a glance" look at things.

Never underestimate the power of the basics. Most of us start out with these. I don't know if any genealogists ever really phase them out of their work, even with all that family history software can do for us!

Pedigree Chart 

This is the place where most family historians begin. Using yourself as a starting point, these charts allow you to go back a few generations, recording names and dates, and places of birth, marriage, and death. It doesn't go in depth. Instead, it gives an overview of yourself (or the ancestor listed on the first line), parents, grandparents, and so on.

Research Checklist

Family Group Sheets

Some people make extensive use of these to focus on a specific set of parents and their children. This isn't a form I use much, but it can be handy if I need to utilize lateral/sideways research techniques.

Correspondence Log 

This form can be handy for tracking emails and letters you write in your search for information.

Various other forms that are useful as you delve deeper into researching your family history include:

  • Research Worksheet
  • Research Calendar
  • Research Journal
  • Research Checklist

Most of these forms are available at Family Tree Magazine's website or via a Google search.

What forms do you find indispensable in organizing your research?

Basic Genealogy Forms

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where does 2015 bring me?

I've been far busier than I would like. Far too busy to work on genealogy. However, things are cycling around and settling down. I've decided to step back from editing work and focus specifically on my writing and my research.

My goodness, I haven't even sat down to take a look at my goals for the year! As it is, 2015 may be an ebb-and-flow sort of year, and Type A me is okay with that. As much as I thrive on plotting out what I plan to do from year to year, month to month, even day to day, there are times I need to just let things happen.

So it's already the end of March and I am still at the point where I need to "just do it."

Fortunately, I spent time with a genealogy friend today and I think that's the kick in the pants I needed to get going. Sometimes, that's what you need - someone else's enthusiasm to refuel your own.

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan