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Newman Congregational Church, East Providence RI (2012). Photograph by Kenneth C. Zirkel.

Newman Congregational Church, East Providence RI (2012). Photograph by Kenneth C. Zirkel.

I was recently doing some online research relating to the records of the Newman Congregational Church in East Providence, Rhode Island.  A number of my ancestors, though Massachusetts residents, attended this church. I always wondered how a church in Rhode Island became the church of choice for families in Massachusetts, especially in an age when horses and walking were the two main means of transportation. I decided to do some investigating. As it turns out, the church began its existence in Massachusetts and has actually gotten around quite a bit in the intervening years.

To begin at the beginning, according to the Newman Congregational Church itself and the East Providence Historical Society, the church was founded in 1643. (But, according to the Rhode Island Historical Society, it was founded a bit earlier, in 1641.) It was built on land that was originally part of an area known as Seacunck, then renamed Rehoboth by a community of new settlers, English Puritans. Rehoboth was officially established as a town in 1645.  In other words, the church has been around for quite awhile, 370 years, give or take.

The Newman Congregational Church remained in place for the first 170 years of its history. Then in 1812 Rehoboth’s borders changed. The western part of Rehoboth split off and became Seekonk. The church was on Seekonk land and became part of this new town. To complicate matters further, Seekonk and Rehoboth were part of an area that had been a bone of contention between Rhode Island and Massachusetts since the colonial period. In 1861 the United States Supreme Court awarded part of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Seekonk. According to the Rhode Island Historical Society, in “1862, the western part of the town of Seekonk was set off to the state of Rhode Island, and renamed East Providence.” When the dust settled, the Newman Congregational Church was now in an entirely different state. The church moved from Rehoboth to Seekonk, within Massachusetts, and then to East Providence, Rhode Island — without moving, physically that is. To complicate matters still further, the church’s address is listed as being in Rumford, which is actually a section of East Providence. Details such as these can be confusing to those researchers not used to the idea that divisions and villages such as Rumford can be parts of towns and cities rather than entities unto themselves.

In my classes I am always stressing the importance of local history and knowing the borders and boundaries for the locations where ancestors lived. What do you do if you can’t find records where you expect them to be? Look at a period map. Check the town or city history. If your ancestor’s family lived near a border, they may have belonged to organizations or attended religious services across that border in another town or county or state or province. Then again, it may be the border that changes.  As the saga of Newman Congregational illustrates, “location” can be a most changeable factor, encompassing people and their homes and even their places of worship. Though this is the first instance that I’ve found of a church having border issues, I have a hunch it won’t be the last.  And that, by the way, is how my Massachusetts ancestors ended up going to a Rhode Island church.

 

Additional sources consulted:

Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities, and Towns in Massachusetts, prepared by William Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1997. “Rehoboth, Bristol County” pp. 96-97; “Seekonk, Bristol County” pp. 103-104.   MASS 974.4 M38H  Note: Only the 1920 and 1948 editions of this reference work are available at Internet Archive.

History of Fall River: With Notices of Freetown and Tiverton as published in 1841 by Orin Fowler; Together with a Sketch of the Life of Rev. Orin Fowler, an Epitome of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Boundary Question, an Account of the Great Fire of 1843, and Ecclesiastical Manufacturing, and Other Statistics. Fall River, MA: Almy and Milne Printers, 1862. “Massachusetts and Rhode Island: Boundary Question” pp. 67 – 71. Title linked to copy at Internet Archive.

 

vea/23 September 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net

 

 

The following notice came from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. Ted Knowles will be speaking at Congregation Beth El-Arareth at 561 Ward Street in Newton on Sunday, September 25th from 1:30 to 4:30. I’ve heard from several people who have heard him before that he is excellent.   [Please note that this is not being held at Temple Emanuel. The meeting place has changed for this talk.]  For more information, provided by the JGSGB, read below. 

FamilySearch.org is the largest free genealogical website in the world. It contains the records of over four billion people worldwide and is sponsored by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Todd Knowles will demonstrate how we can make the most ofphoto2-768x844 this vast resource as we search for our Jewish ancestors. In addition to the basic searches, we will learn some tricks to finding the records of our families, including the fast growing collection of online digital records . We will also be shown how to access the Knowles Collection of Jewish records, which includes over 1.4 million people.

W. Todd Knowles is a professional genealogist on the staff of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. After being introduced to family history at the age of 12, he soon discovered his Jewish roots. His journey to learn more about his Polish-Jewish great- great-grandfather led to the creation of the Knowles Collection (knowlescollection.blogspot.com). Knowles has spoken throughout the world and his articles have been widely published. He currently serves as President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Utah.

Admission is free for members, $5 for non-members. Refreshments will be served.  For more information check http://jgsgb.org/event/getting-the-most-out-of-familysearch-org.

vea/13 September 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy


berverly-classes
I thought I would pass this along in case people looking at my blog are interested in any of these topics and can get to Beverly. I think I’ve finally figured out how to put flyers into my blog with a lot of help from our Teen Librarian. Thanks Liz!

vea/9 September 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

 

Statue of William the Conqueror at Falaise

Statue of William the Conqueror at Falaise

Genealogists understand the need for skepticism when we find new or unfamiliar information on the Internet, especially when it’s in compiled family trees and genealogies.  But when it comes to printed sources we may be tempted to let our guard down. We tend to think of print as more reliable than the Internet. Think again. It’s important to remember the old adage that just because it’s in print, doesn’t mean it’s true.

I was reminded of this when looking at an article about William I (aka William the Conqueror) the other day that my husband pointed out to me on the website of the English newspaper, The Guardian. This past August 25th was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings when William took England from the Saxons. I learned from the article that many biographers have depicted William as actually being rather sweet and jovial. This came as a surprise to me.  I would think that anyone who could win a battle as bloody as Hastings would be unlikely to have a sweet bone in his body. It is estimated that over 100,000 people died as a result of that battle and the later repression of the Saxons.

Marc Morris, a British historian researching William for a biography, felt instinctively that something was wrong with this characterization of the Conqueror, and he wanted to get the man right. He had Latin expert David D’Avray go back and translate the original source from which this jovial interpretation of the Conqueror originated – a Latin manuscript nearly a thousand years old, part of a chronicle written after William’s funeral. David D’Avray discovered that the section of this chronicle that modern historians had believed was a description of William was not about him at all. The words of praise  actually were offered in memory of  a little-known Abbot named Richard of Verdun.  Both men had died around the same time in 1087 and the description of the genial Richard had been misunderstood and taken as a description of William.*

The mistake persisted as professional historians relied on, and recycled, a translation from a printed source rather than going back and checking the original. Likewise, we find the same mistake being made by many of us as we work out our family histories. We easily assume that surely those published genealogies that we find on the shelves of our local libraries and genealogical societies have to be accurate. After all, they did make it into print, didn’t they?

Helen Osborne has written about this problem in her book Genealogy: Essential Research Methods (2012).** At one point she compares research in England and the United States.  England is a relatively small country so people are more likely to travel to look at original sources.  In the United States people are more likely to rely on printed sources rather than take on the challenge and expense of traveling great distances to consult an original document. As a result Osborne has found that there is “a vast amount of uncritical, unscholarly work deposited in the big genealogical libraries that has found its way into many family trees.” One mistake in a printed source is picked up uncritically by another and another and another, just as happened in the biographies of William I above.

If you find yourself skeptical of what a British genealogist is saying about American libraries, don’t be. She has a point. Just check with the Daughters of the American Revolution, among one of our earliest American lineage societies.   DAR genealogists have discovered that some proofs of lineage accepted by their predecessors no longer hold up. The links are broken in a number of cases and have to be proven using more reliable original sources, if such sources can be found. In these situations previous genealogical paths to a particular ancestor can no longer be trusted.  People now seeking membership in the DAR may have to forge new trails to prove they are descended from soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Of course printed sources can continue to be used as potential signposts to documents, but never as infallible proof.

Anyone familiar with the Internet is likely to have noticed how freely it can take mistakes and replicate them on a far grander scale than book publishing ever could. The Web has made it even easier to find questionable family trees online that people copy with abandon, not even checking sources (that is, assuming they are given in the first place). But the Internet has also given us a more positive gift, the ability to pull up an actual image of original records housed in other states and other countries. We no longer have to travel great distances to look at them. We do have to learn how to locate them, cite them, and use them, but that has always been a part of doing accurate genealogies. The crucial further step is to learn how to use Internet sources prudently. This takes time and experience.  But the result will be the creation of a more reliable family history and a deeper understanding and appreciation of our ancestors.

———————————————————————————————————

*Marc Morris’ book is entitled William I: England’s Conqueror and has been published by Penguin this summer on the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. The mistranslation begins with the publication in the nineteenth century of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, whose prose is characterized by Morris as a “flowery Latin . . .  not the administrative Latin that most medieval historians – like me – can cope with.”  See Dalya Alberge, “Not So Jovial After All: How Historians Misunderstood William the Conqueror,” The Guardian, August 20, 2016.

**Helen Osborne, Genealogy: Essential Research Methods (London: Robert Hale, 2012), pp. 176-177.

 

vea/31 August 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

 

Immigrant Ship

I discovered the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) site while looking to interpret the abbreviations used in a ship passenger manifest.*  Since the site so efficiently answered my questions, I was curious to see what else it offered. I began exploring the Guild’s website http://www.immigrantships.net.  The more I explored, the more impressed I became.  Founded in 1998, the Guild was created by and is made up of volunteers. For nineteen years these volunteers have been transcribing ship manifests and have completed over 17,000. These lists cover voyages from the 1600s through the 1900s and include a number of ports worldwide. Once transcribed, the manifests are filed into sixteen online volumes that are right on the home page. You do not, however, have to go through each volume if you are searching for something specific.  To find an individual person or ship, enter the name into the search box at the top of the home page’s left frame.

You would think that 17,000 ships’ manifests would be more than enough for any website. But this is just the beginning. The site’s home page is divided into two frames. Prominent in the left frame is a link to The ISTG CompassThe Compass is aptly named. It leads you to additional sites that help you find and use immigration and naturalization records.  When you click on the Compass you will see a number of buttons on the left that help you with various designated topics. Those buttons cover a lot of territory, from general ancestral resources to material on immigration, naturalization, and maritime resources. Didn’t find the passenger or ship you were looking for at the ISTG? They give you links to additional passenger lists for both USA and non-USA arrivals.  Wherever there is a ship’s manifest, there is a ship and that ship has a history. Use the “Ships” button to find more sites with additional information on individual ships. The Compass also gives a short but impressive description of the ISTG’s goals and ways you can further use the site to find answers and expand your knowledge.

No website, however, is perfect. And that goes for ISTG’s site. Here and there you will find a dead link.  Yet the Compass even anticipates this problem. It explains how to access the Wayback Machine, a site that periodically saves snapshots of a website. You can copy and paste your defunct website address into the Wayback Machine, and it should bring up all the dates on which it copied your site of interest. Click a date to find the information you need. Directions regarding using the Wayback link appear in the third frame of the Compass on the far right. That said, the Wayback machine certainly is not perfect. The Guild’s link to “Armenian Immigration to the US & Canada” does not work in Wayback because the site contains something called robots.txt. (I assume these are second cousins to web crawlers and spiders used in dynamic – always changing — web browsers.) So I just copied and pasted the title with quotes (“Armenian Immigration to the US & Canada“) into a Google search and up it came, complete with links and information. There is usually some way to get around a computer glitch. And sometimes we mere mortals can figure it out.

If you go back to the Guild’s home page, a brief examination uncovers another useful (and perhaps unexpected) section: it treats adoptees and the adoption experience. According to the author of this section, “Only a handful of states have open records; in all others the records are sealed. Those involved in adoption, whether it be the adoptee, the birth family or the adoptive family have become statistics; perhaps nothing more than a number on a sealed file. . . .  From personal experience, I know that genealogists and family historians are some of the best sleuths in the world. Please take a look and see if you may be able to help someone complete their family tree. The Adoption Story Board puts a human face and words from the heart on a situation and an injustice that has existed far too long.

There is one other quote from the home page I want to share with you: “We are expanding our research to become more personal. If you are searching for an ancestor and you know the name of the ship, the date and port of arrival, we will do all we can to locate and publish on our site the passenger list from that ship. The Research Team can be contacted by emailing Research Team.”  This is one extraordinary group of people. If you do contact them, however, allow plenty of time for a response. There are only so many of them and lots of individuals who want to use this service.

* For those curious about my original search, this end-note is a description of what brought me to the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild. I was looking for a photographic image of a passenger list that included a particular family. I found the visual I needed by going back and forth between Ancestry and FamilySearch. FamilySearch gave me the transcription that allowed me to bring up the actual image in Ancestry — a 1946 alien passenger manifest that was a listing of displaced persons who were coming to the United States after World War II.  Located next to the typed information of each individual were handwritten abbreviations. I wanted to find out what they meant.

I started with a quick Google search of “alien passenger manifest” and abbreviations. (When you put quotes around a Google search, you are searching for the exact words listed in the exact order as they appear within the quotes.) The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild was the first likely site in Google’s list. When I clicked on the link, up came the SS Marine Flasher (a sister ship to the SS Marine Perch that I was researching). Below the list of passengers were all the abbreviations I was looking for and what they meant. They stood for the different organizations that were sponsoring the passengers.

vea/5 August 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

New Bedford Whaling Photo (Cropped) by Lee Wright on Flickr/Creative Commons

New Bedford Whaling
Photo (Cropped) by Lee Wright on Flickr/Creative Commons

If you think you had an ancestor who worked aboard a whaling ship, you now have a means of checking for him online, at least if he signed out from New Bedford. Volunteers at the New Bedford Whaling Museum have created a database with information on all the mariners who signed onto whaling ships leaving the port of New Bedford from 1840 to the last whaler in 1927. The information comes from records kept by the chaplains of the New Bedford Port Society. When this was completed it was combined with previous work done at the New Bedford Free Public Library that brought the time covered back 31 years to 1809. This combined work covers 127,531 seamen.

Although these men came from all over the world, they were only listed if they signed on from the port of New Bedford.  Those picked up along the way from places like the Azores were not listed unless they subsequently left on another voyage from New Bedford.  For more information check the Boston Herald article “Did Your Ancestor Hunt Whales?” and the Whaling Museum’s website.

Keeping with this nautical theme, my next posting will focus on a key website covering ship passenger lists from the 1600s to the 1900s.

vea/4 August 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

Map that you see on the main wiki page at FamilySearch.org

Map from the main wiki page at FamilySearch.org

Our ancestors had a tendency to move around.  If they didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have so much trouble finding their records.  When you track people from state to state, you start noticing what holds true for finding records in one state is not necessarily true in another.  Different types of records were kept during different periods in different places.  For example, those who are used to the time frame of New England vital records, which can go back as far as the 1600s, are startled to find that New York state started saving birth, marriage, and death records at a far later date.  New York finally passed a law requiring the collection of vital records in the 1880s, but it was very slow to be implemented. You can still have difficulty finding them in a number of New York towns during the early part of the 20th century.

When you start to follow your ancestor into a new state, you need to do some homework or you may miss key information. Otherwise you could hit a brick wall that you’ve unwittingly constructed yourself. So how do you find out which records were kept when and where they are located? One very good source is Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. You can check information on the various types of records available under each of the fifty states. This book is available in the Newton Free Library’s Special Collections Room for quick consultation or a more detailed read. But if you are working elsewhere and you don’t want to interrupt your work to look for a book, you have a simple alternative.  Red Book is available online at the following live link. Click on it and read away.  http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/index.php?title=Red_Book:_American_State,_County,_and_Town_Sources

But what about records outside the United States?  There are a very large number of books on family history research that deal with specific countries and even areas within a country. But for now you want to know how much trouble you are going to have tracking your line back to another country. You just want to get a general lay of the land. This is where FamilySearch’s wikis are invaluable.

If you have done much research in genealogy at all, you learn that, besides Ancestry, FamilySearch.org is one of the most extensive databases for genealogical records. The nice thing about FamilySearch is that, unlike Ancestry, it is free. Upon first discovering FamilySearch you will no doubt zero in on searching for records and thus might be likely to miss all its other resources. If you focus on the very top of its home page (as of July 2016) and run your cursor over the word “Search” you will see a dropdown menu. At the bottom of that menu you will see the word “wiki.”  Click on it and you see a map and an invitation to search the wiki by place or topic. For countries such as England that have a huge amount of literature written about researching ancestors, the topic is made manageable by the way FamilySearch sets up its main wiki page for each country.

But where do you find information for other countries where the records may not be so easily accessible?  Anyone who saw America Ferrera’s segment on TLC’s cable program “Who Do You Think You Are?” understands how difficult such a search can be, even when you have help. She was searching for information on her father’s family in Honduras, a quest made especially challenging because of the problems of record preservation by both local as well as national governments.  Specifically, where do you find basic information on the existing records of countries whose history has been filled with internal conflict?  FamilySearch’s wiki is an excellent place to start. Check out Honduras, or any other country of interest, to see what FamilySearch has done with it.  There are a number of links to information, records, and online help. Just as you would consult maps before taking a trip, it’s a good idea to know something about where you are going before you get there.

 

vea/29 July 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  
http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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