Sunday, August 17, 2014

Favorite Websites for Research

Some people are fortunate enough to live in the area where their ancestors lived, which makes research much easier. You might be able to visit the libraries, town halls, cemeteries, churches, and other repositories of information with records of your ancestors without having to drive very far.

Many of us, however, either live far from our ancestors' homes or even in another country. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Massachusetts (except for 3 years in New York), which made research very simple in a few different New England towns and states.

But I have lived far from home since 1999, including in two different countries overseas. Since then, I have relied heavily upon two websites.

The first is, which is the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It is probably the best repository of Massachusetts vital records - and so, so much more - out there. Membership in NEHGS is well worth the $79.95 a year for anyone with New England ancestry, whether they live in the Boston area or not.

The second is, the website of the Church of Latter Day Saints. While I am not a member of the LDS church and not necessarily in agreement with their religious practices (i.e. baptizing the deceased), I appreciate the records they have provided the public free of charge. Those records range from vital records to land to court records, and more.

Of course, I still send an old-fashioned letter to request specific vital records when working on applications for lineage societies or trying to fill in research holes when I cannot find answers online. But the internet has really changed genealogy, making it so much more accessible to people all around the world.

What are websites you rely upon for research?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Underutilized Resources

There have been quite a few changes in my household (one adult starting a job, the other ending one), a few visits to conventions, not to mention the usual, so I haven't posted since March. My gosh, that is too, too long.

So - DNA!

What a fascinating tool, and one we still don't understand perfectly. However, I think our understanding of it is getting better.

In 2012, I splurged on the Family Finder test on FamilySearch. I don't think I've quite explored its full potential since my results came out. My main reason for upgrading to Family Finder was the hope of finding a Murphy cousin - someone related to me through the parents of my mysterious great-great grandmother, Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw.

It was also interesting to see it break down my ethnic heritage a bit more than the mtDNA test.

To date, time has not really allowed me to play with the results or the matches. So I'm sure I'm missing out on the benefit of having upgraded. It's something I really must delve into more deeply.

Is there something out there you know might be helpful to you but, for whatever reason, you haven't fully utilized it yet?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, March 29, 2014

One Reason I Love Genealogy...

When I located my mother in 1994 (my parents divorced circa 1978-1979), we started a dialogue first through letters, then emails. This also led to exchanging letters and then emails with aunts and my maternal grandfather, and visiting with great-aunts and my maternal grandmother.

In email exchanges with my maternal grandfather, I learned he had many half-siblings and a sister, none of whom he had seen in a long time.

With my aunts, I compiled all the facts, and ultimately put together as much of the story as possible - my great-grandmother Mildred Marian Burrell (b. 1897 in Randolph, MA, d. 1972 in Abington, MA) had married a man named Joseph William St. Onge (b. 1893 in Marlborough, MA, d. ???).

Together they may have had 5 children:

1. Joseph Edward St. Onge (1919-1978)

2. Mary Ellen St. Onge (1920-1985)

3. Gertrude Mildred St. Onge (1921-2000)

4. William St. Onge (1924-?)

5. Frank W. St. Onge (1925-1996)

There are many sad stories about Mildred and the children. There are family stories and speculations that she was already pregnant with her first son when she met Joseph, that she was impregnated by a co-worker. This is certainly possible. She had Joseph Edward (20 July 1919 in Biddeford, Maine) before she and Joseph William married (17 April 1920 in Dover, New Hampshire), so there certainly is a question about his paternity.

There was also a question about William's paternity since he was adopted by the family of George Perry in West, however he supposedly was Mildred's and Joseph's son... At that point, however, it seems they didn't want to deal with having children. They left Frank at the hospital when he was born, and Gertrude apparently suffered horrible abuse from both her parents. 

However, it was Gertrude who ultimately found the boys and her sister, and helped bring the siblings together.

Joseph William St. Onge disappeared at some point. No one knows what became of him. I've talked about Joseph a few times on this blog and he remains a mystery. Supposedly he was a rum-runner during this era, who ditched the family and changed his name to Joe Brown. He did visit sometime in the 1940's, but was never seen again after that.

I guess it's fortunate for my grandfather, then, that when he was born in 1926, he was given to his aunt and uncle to raise. Grandpa's paternity has also been in question. Of course it says on his birth certificate that Joseph St. Onge is his father, but it also lists his surname as "Haley".

At some point - we don't know when - Mildred did marry Herbert Haley. She named my grandfather Herbert Haley as well.

Mildred had one more child (that we know of), and that was Lorraine Haley in 1927. She apparently chose to do right by Lorraine, and keep and rear her, though I imagine it was also the right thing to do to give Herbert to his aunt and uncle (Charles and Edith Haley).

Unfortunately, my grandfather and his sister lost touch over the years. However, I helped reconnect him with some of the children of his half-siblings. And then, thanks to one of my aunts, Herbert and Lorraine also got back in touch.

I write this today because, a couple of weeks ago, my grandfather had a stroke. My uncle made the very difficult decision to move him to hospice care, after grandpa suffered complication after complication.

Because of my parents' divorce, I never knew my maternal grandfather beyond emails we exchanged.

But I'm glad I was one of the people who was able to help him connect with his nieces and nephews. I'm glad my aunts and I made every effort to find his sister, and they got to meet again after so many years, thanks to all of us looking for her. I'm glad I got to exchange letters with her too - Aunt Lorraine, another family member I've never been able to meet.

At least we know that once, when grandpa was in better health, he got to see the sister he never thought he would see again.

Genealogy is not just about tracking down the dead, but the living as well.

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sideways Searching

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 I know 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.

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, Canaday.

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) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How I Got Started in Genealogy

This is the topic I used to get the ball rolling in the NGGN Writers' Group: How did you get started in genealogy?

For me, an interest in genealogy began when I was about 12-years-old. My parents divorced when I was quite young (around 3 or 4), and I didn't see my mother after that. So of course I was intrigued about my family! I started with my father's side, collecting what information I could. Fortunately, my dad had names for my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents on my mother's side.

But what really drew me in was a large leather wallet my paternal grandmother had. It was full of documents and typed-up genealogies done by her maternal uncle, Erwin Blake, relevant to our Blake ancestors in Wrentham, MA. There were also a couple photographs of the Blake family.

When I was about 18 or so, I asked my grandmother for the leather wallet, and she allowed me to have it. I made sure to photocopy all the photographs and documents, just for safety's sake. I donated many of the original documents (mostly deeds and Civil War documents) to NEHGS, since I knew they had the technology to preserve them, and gave my paternal aunt the original photographs. As technology evolved, we also made sure to scan everything too.

Of course, I've built a much larger family picture over the years with my research, but it was an absent parent and some yellowed papers and photographs that piqued my adolescent curiosity.

What about you?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, February 9, 2014

NGGN Website Goes Live!

Well, more than a month (let alone four) between postings is beyond excusable, and I do apologize. 2013 was, as you know, a rather busy year. I had a baby. I moved across an ocean. Even in the fall, I didn't feel quite like I had all my ducks in a row. By winter, however, things were settling down.

Now I have routines and structure, and I hope I will not be lax about my research or genealogy in general.

Especially since, as publications chair for the NextGen Genealogy Network, I've got a bit more on my plate, producing the NextGen Dispatch - the official quarterly newsletter of NGGN.

And, yes, NGGN's website is now live! I'm hoping the newsletter will be on there in a few more days, once everyone is rested up from their time at Rootstech.

If you would like to see the first issue, please leave a comment and your email address (email AT provider DOT com), and I will send you a PDF. The first issue will be available to everyone on the website, once it gets posted up there.

However future issues will be available in their entirety to members only, with some tidbits posted for the general public. So this is your chance to take a look at what we have to offer and see if you might be interested in joining NGGN.

They are also seeking a webmaster and social media chair. Details for both positions are in the first issue of the newsletter.

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Do You Have Research Phases?

Are there certain times of year you are more drawn to researching your family tree?  Perhaps more in the mood or less in the mood to do your research?

I know I am interested in and passionate about genealogy year-round, but the different seasons bring different possibilities.

When the weather gets cool, it feels like the perfect time to stay indoors, research and write letters from the comfort of my own home.  This is the time of year I tend to gather the most vital records by way of letter-writing and/or emailing town clerks.

Warmer weather means I'm more likely to make in-person visits to libraries, town halls, cemeteries, and more such places.

I also find my interest in researching family history is greater from roughly October through December.  Perhaps it is the holiday season that inspires these feelings of wanting to feel a connection with ancestors. There is certainly an ancestral connection to Thanksgiving that makes this a particularly meaningful time of year for me to focus my efforts on research.

Copyright (c) 2013 Wendy L. Callahan