As July 4th approaches it seems only fitting to look back on one’s ancestor’s experiences during the American Revolution to conduct genealogy research. While families often know—and celebrate—those who served as Patriots, history teaches us that not all our ancestors were in favor of declaring their Independence. David McCullough’s John Adams records that in 1775 Adams noted the country was split into thirds, with one third loyal to the British, one third in support of Independence, and one third timid—or undecided.
As we remember our Independence, every American owes a debt of gratitude to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Last week Washington D.C. was a center of attention for multiple reasons, yet rustling through the streets of Washington, D.C. nearly 4,000 proud women gathered for an annual week-long event steps away from the White House. One’s first impression of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) can easily be incorrect. Behind the formal attire and elegant sashes rests an organization with a live-stream of events, active Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook activity, huge numbers of active projects, scholarship and grant programs, and a digital resource for anyone tracing the genealogy or history of the American Revolution.
What was school like for our parents, grandparents, and the rest of our ancestors? We often see an individual’s level of education reported on the U.S. census and if we are lucky, we might know the school they attended. But how much do we know about what school life was like for them in 1920 or even 1850? Were there such things as senior parties and senior pranks? What were graduation ceremonies like?
Graduation ceremonies and traditions have certainly changed over the past 100 years, as indicated in a study by Carl M. Hulbert and Harl R. Douglass of 1930s graduation activities in the state of Wisconsin. Today, most college graduations are held at stadiums and large arenas to accommodate the large crowds. In contrast, ceremonies in the 1930s appear to have been a bit more subdued, with the focus on the invocation and benediction. In Wisconsin, 77% of schools placed their senior class on the stage for graduation ceremonies. Only 11% seated the faculty along with the senior class.
This past weekend I found myself with a few hours of downtime in Flushing, New York. Rather than taking the train into Manhattan, I decided to venture out to visit a few places that were important to my own ancestry. Nestled in the bustling community of modern-day Flushing sit two historic landmarks that hold an important place in my own family tree – and likely the place of many, many others. My visit left me inspired, refreshed, and extremely grateful for the amazing opportunities I have as a genealogist.
Many of my grandmother’s ancestors were faithful members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). My research has taken me to a few meetinghouses where my ancestors met as part of their local congregations or monthly meetings. Therefore, my first stop was the historic Old Quaker Meeting House, built on land bought by my ancestor John Bowne in 1692 With lessons learned from previous excursions, I carefully checked the website and Facebook pages of the organization and learned that they offer tours from 12:00pm-12:30pm on Sunday afternoons, immediately following their worship service.
What I found inside was incredibly humbling – and inspiring. I was carefully guided through the old meetinghouse room-by-room. I knew the story of John Bowne, who was arrested for holding Quaker meetings in his home and successfully pled his case to the Dutch East India Company court. What I didn’t realize was the building’s incredible place in history.
We covered the building’s use during key moments in our history. During the American Revolution the British, who kept American prisoners there, overtook the meetinghouse. As we walked upstairs to the rooms where children were taught and members of the monthly meeting had put their sewing skills to work during World War II our guide pointed to a cabinet that until recently had held items from John Bowne himself. We covered ghost stories and other legends before I had a chance to walk the small burying ground outside.
While I had several ancestors who were part of the congregation from its beginning, all had left the area by 1800, meaning that there were only a few familiar surnames on marked graves. As the Quakers began marking gravestones in the 1830s, I could only walk through the wooded path outlining family plots, which are likely to have included by ancestors from the Bowne, Thorne, and Willett families. There in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Queens I found a peaceful tranquility that caused me to wonder what my Quaker ancestors would think of the buildings, restaurants, and other structures surrounding their final resting place.
My next stop was to the John Bowne home itself. I visited the house nearly 15 years ago with my grandmother on one of our research trips. Then, like now, the house was closed – only open for limited tours by appointment. While a recent exterior renovation has been completed, there are plans to build a visitors center and reopen the historic home in the future. Luckily, I caught the eye of the caretaker who was working in the garden outside. She graciously let me through the gate and offered to give me a small tour of the house itself.
I’ve visited more than a few historic homes, but not too many who belonged to an ancestor. As I walked through the front door, I found myself walking across original floorboards and stopped in the main room, built in the 1660s. I passed the family table, which had been brought by the Bowne from England in the early 1600s. I passed personal possessions, many of which belonged to John Bowne and his family that were uncovered in the house, including cooking tools and other equipment.
I learned about the house’s legendary role in the underground railroad, the incredible mix of horticulture intrigue found on its grounds, and discovered the house has several boxes of archival materials, hundreds of textiles, and other objects that document 400 years of history and material culture. The house had various additions over the years, making it incredible visual representations of architectural history from the 1660s to the mid 1820s.
While my direct ancestral connections brought me to the historic meetinghouse and the Bowne house, their connections to history left me eager and inspired. Family history is so much more than the names and dates we collect, it is the stories and the connection to history we uncover that leaves me wanting more. I left Flushing with a renewed commitment to keep digging for those unfound lines, while preserving the stories and objects already uncovered. We must never forget what our past teaches us about the present.
Photos from my visit to Flushing, NY:
What can a genealogist learn from population studies? The opportunities are endless…
A few weeks ago The Genealogy Factor examined the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, revealing a number of insights into the origins and spread of the disease, a well as the world’s reaction to the tragedy. In the process of learning more about the epidemic itself, I became intrigued with studies relating to the epidemic’s mortality rates.
With no shortage of material to consume, the science behind determining population statistics quickly became an unexpected, and interesting, resource for genealogical inspiration. Studies of birth, marriage, and death rates are plentiful. Some discuss large regions and vast time periods, while others focus on a specific town or community during a single year or event. Genealogy and the study of populations have a great deal in common—opening intriguing pathways for anyone tracing their family tree.
A few years ago I came across a family photograph of the burial ceremony of my second great-grandmother, Rachel (Broadhead) Taylor and her daughter, Flora Taylor. Both had died within three days of one another and were buried October 28, 1918. Rachel died at the age of 55, leaving behind her husband and several children, the youngest being just 13 years old. Her daughter Flora, not yet married, was only 26 years old. The photograph was a haunting reminder of the conditions of their deaths. The mourners, particularly the children, shrouded their faces in masks, fearful of falling victim to the same disease that claimed Rachel and her daughter—influenza. Local newspapers revealed their hometown had many stricken with the disease, part of what was to be known as the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, a global catastrophe that is estimated to have killed between 40 and 50 million people.
My ancestry includes an interesting mix of occupations – a few successful merchants, hard-working coal miners, and the occasional crooked politician. For many generations however, these occupations are the exception. Whether living in New York, Georgia, Illinois, or California the majority of my ancestors spent their lifetime as farmers. A large majority of our ancestors in the United States were farmers, as estimates count the number of farmers as 64% of the population (4.9 million) in 1850, slightly down from the figure of 72% of the population reported in 1820. While the life of my crooked politician is well documented, the lives of so many of my farming ancestors remain a bit of a mystery. They did not often make the county history book or the local newspaper, yet were an essential part of their local economies and deserve some recognition…
It has been a while since I made what I consider to be a “stupid” technology purchase.
That was, until last week when I made a classic mistake – purchasing an accessory from a new vendor to save a few dollars. While the website’s reviews were mixed, I took the chance and made the purchase anyway. The item arrived safely and on schedule, but no matter what I did, it would not sync with my computer. With no technical support and limited return options, it felt as if I was stuck with my purchase.
In the end, I was able to get some excellent technical support via online forums and social media, and finally got the device to sync properly. It took a small army, but eventually I was satisfied with my new purchase.
The lesson? Never forget a few simple rules when purchasing your tech.
Know the Features You Need
Whether downloading a new App or purchasing a new mobile device, having a clear picture of the features you need is important. Do you really need a watch that displays your entire family tree? Do you have to have a large amount of memory on that new laptop? Will you really use that new wand scanner? Take some time to evaluate what you currently use before picking up the latest gadget.
Blogs and social media can be an excellent way to keep track of what features you might need. Accessing Flipboard’s category for Technology gives you instant access to a variety of reviews and comments on recently released tech. Other websites, such as cNet.com can also provide reviews and important advice on the latest technologies.
Use Product Reviews Effectively
Popular online shopping networks such as Amazon can provide an array of user reviews. Just as you evaluate your genealogical resources, it can be important to carefully evaluate a review. Look specifically for those that present both pros and cons for a product. No product is entirely perfect, and it can be important to hear from other users before making the purchase. You should also be aware of fake endorsements or paid reviews that are often found on online shopping websites.
In today’s world of social media a tweet or status update can create a flood of useful comments and actual user experiences that might not readily appear in published reviews elsewhere. Never be afraid to ask for guidance within your own social network. Don’t forget about longstanding resources, such as Consumer Reports, for a more balanced review. Websites, such as Geek.com are also worth visiting, to find reviews outside of an online shopping experience.
Compare Before You Buy
Comparison shopping sites have become a popular part of purchasing items online. While sites like Amazon or Overstock might offer a lower price, the ability to bundle or add extended warranties and support might be more easily accessible through the manufacturer or another resource. That being said, great technology can be found across the web, from eBay to NewEgg, to other digital storefronts.
Besides price and warranties, ongoing customer support should also be a point of comparison when purchasing something new. With big box software stores disappearing, the ability to receive one-on-one support is diminishing. Instead, look for shopping outlets that provide easy, no-nonsense return policies, support via social media, chat, and email.
Many might dread the need to purchase or acquire new technology. Upgrades and compatibility issues are just a few of factors that cause a genealogist some angst when adding something new to their ‘tech bag.’ While the places (and the technology) we purchase have changed over the years these few fundamental pieces of advice still stand the test of time.
A new category for genealogists and family histories, “Tools of the Trade” will examine key resources – both online and offline – Joshua recommends for tracing your roots. This edition of “Tools of the Trade” features JSTOR, an online database of scholarly journals covering a variety of disciplines, including history, political science, cultural studies, and other areas relevant to genealogical and historical research.
Each year, millions of users tap into JSTOR ‘s rich holdings, searching across more than 6.8 million articles (over 40 million pages) from nearly 1,500 journals. With its full text search, JSTOR is a “must-have” tool for any genealogist.
What to Search?
While an article’s author might not realize they have created a resource for genealogists, their writings can hold important clues for family historians. Consider searching articles for surnames, locations, and other pertinent keywords from your own research. Articles might hold clues to migration patterns, church membership, or existing records.
Though genealogy and family history is not included among the many categories found in JSTOR, several important sections exist:
- Art & Art History
- British Studies
- Irish Studies
- Library Science
- Political Science
The majority of searches in JSTOR should include keywords relating to a location or historical events rather than individual names. Sample search phrases might include:
- Lee County Iowa Churches
- Adams Pennsylvania Revolution
- Migration Adams County Ohio
- Baltimore Maryland Immigration Irish
Using and Accessing JSTOR
You can access JSTOR from home through a paid JPASS, or through a local library or university. A complete list of institutions that have access to JSTOR can be found online. Many of these institutions also provide remote access, allowing you use JSTOR from your home computers by logging into your library account. Keep in mind that an institution’s access to JSTOR might differ from one to another, depending upon the categories and titles a specific repository might have purchased access to.
Some of the materials found in JSTOR’s collection are searchable through Google, which often displays the citation and the first page of an article. Consider trying your search on Google Scholar first, before visiting JSTOR to get an idea of other resources that might be available.
Be sure to create a MyJSTOR account, which allows you to save citations and searches for future use. A MyJSTOR account is free and can be used regardless of what institution a user might be accessing JSTOR from. MyJSTOR can even be set to automatically email updated search results if desired.
A tremendous resource provided by these articles is their bibliographic citations, which often reference unique manuscript and archival collections used in developing the article that can be goldmines for genealogists. Collections might include a journal or series of letters housed in a small repository not yet online or the location of a church’s records previously unknown.
You can keep in touch with JSTOR by following JSTOR Daily, a new digital publication that shares some of JSTOR’s holdings on a regular basis.
I am delighted to announce that for the next several weeks my column, The Genealogy Factor will appear at JSTOR Daily. JSTOR is an incredible collection of scholarly articles from various subjects, including history, art, music, archaeology, political science, and other topics. Available at libraries and through an individual JPASS subscription, JSTOR is a terrific resource for anyone interested in family history. I am delighted to showcase a few of my JSTOR finds in the coming weeks.
First up? Gravestones and Graveyards…
“Those tracing their family tree often find themselves scouring graveyards in hopes of uncovering new facts about their family history. Though not all burial locations are marked, gravestones can be an incredible source of information—providing names, dates, places, relationships, and other key details. Genealogists know that an individual gravestone can reflect multiple elements—including one’s standing with a community or their financial status. A single gravestone might only yield a name and year, though it can fill in the gaps. In such cases, a genealogist might move beyond the individual plot—taking a step back to analyze its position, noting nearby burials, further context can be understood by examining a gravestone’s art and comparing it to others, looking for common themes and patterns that showcase religious beliefs, local cultures, and other clues…