I was happily listening to a Genealogy Guys podcast as I drove to work the other day, and my attention was particularly caught by an email they read and discussed briefly toward the end. The email was from a guy who had emailed them before about how to get copies of some family information he had discovered was in a library. He was living too far away to make going to the library feasible and was stuck. George and Drew (who are big library supporters) had suggested that their correspondent contact the librarian and ask some questions about exactly what the library held and how to get copies. The current email reported a big success. This reminded me that I have myself found valuable family information in libraries (that I would not have thought to look in), and the combination led me to decide to post today about some of the places I have learned to explore for aspects of family history that are not the traditional places.

First, I learned from my professional office partner years ago that emailing or calling people who might have information you want often works very well. Now, maybe you don’t need to be told this. Maybe it is really easy for you to pick up the phone and call someone to ask for help/a favor/information that is their area of expertise. This is something that is very difficult for me to do, and so wasn’t something I automatically thought of when I had a question. The widespread use of email has helped, although I have also learned to make those phone calls if I really want something.

So where have I found family history information or documents? My list includes: College/university archives and Special Collections; the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center library; eBay alerts; various Town Halls.

One of the first places I discovered was various college and university archives as I began to track down the education of different family members. I was trying to trace my mother-in-law’s education and she wasn’t alive to ask.

U.B. 1930

So I started emailing the three universities she had reportedly graduated from. In my experience, the school’s archivist (or someone in that office) is almost always willing to direct you to the right person to get student transcripts from (assuming that the archives doesn’t hold them, which they sometimes do). You can also get copies of schedules for the time period (when classes started, when breaks were, when graduations happened, etc). Sometimes you strike it rich and there are yearbooks or class pictures which you can get copies from. I got a first year of law school picture for my father-in-law that way. I now also have a copy of my Grandpa Lyle’s transcript from his one year of college in Ohio. (I’m still searching for my mother-in-law’s education beyond her college graduation. She attended a Master’s program at the University of Chicago for parts of two years but left without graduating.)

At college or university websites it also can pay off to explore the Special Collections catalog. I found a whole collection for the Sweet family that included an ancestral tree and

Sweet ancestral tablet page

a number of photographs of my family members. I have to admit that I didn’t find this one by browsing their catalog, but was pointed at it by someone else referring to it – I think in an online family tree. I also found a collection that has pictures of the family of Judy’s favorite, the Davies mansion, in the Yale library collections. Judy and I plan to go together to see this collection one of these days. Finding aids for the collections, when they are available, tell you more clearly what is in a collection (as my sister-in-law the librarian and archivist would tell you).

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center deserves special mention for several resources it has online. Also for the wonderful responsiveness of its librarians/reference workers. The obituary collection it maintains is now also available on Ancestry.com, but I prefer to go to the original site (the horse’s mouth as it were). If you want to order a copy of anything you find, you have to go to the site to order it anyway. While the strength of the resource is finding Ohio people, there are sometimes people from other places included. For example, my grandfather-in-law was found there because his death was an accident involving a car and a train and it was reported in the local newspaper in the Indiana county just across the state line from Ohio. Also sometimes people who either themselves were from Ohio but didn’t die there or whose parents were get included. Besides obituaries there are other papers and references to biographical sketches etc. in the same database which is searchable by last name. I got information about several of my Snow and Denman line, as well as Shelton just recently. And I scored early by finding a whole folder of letters written by a cousin who was doing genealogy in the days when you had to write letters. She corresponded with one of the Hayes librarians and told him about what she was trying to find for several different family lines.

EBay alerts is something I actually have written about before, at least in passing. That was how I found the collection of Shelton pictures that I acquired. I first learned about doing this from Lisa Louise Cooke’s podcasts, and I try to keep several active. You do a search for something on eBay, like the place your relatives came from for example and then save it with instructions to email you when there is anything new. You have to sign up for an eBay account, which is free, in order to save your searches. Right now, I have 3 active searches, for Wakeman Ohio, Clermont county Ohio, Ohio Military Institute. I get hits for Wakeman fairly often, and little for the other two. I’m still hoping for a year book for my father’s senior year at the Ohio Military Institute.

Last, but not least: whenever you have to be in a Town Hall for genealogy information ask about local books or booklets. I bought a booklet done for the bicentennial of Neversink Township years ago, and it has all sorts of bonuses for me. Including an image (unfortunately not very clear at all) of the original deed to William Denman for the land he settled the family on originally. Also a transcript of a letter about those original Denmans, which described their living circumstances as seen by a visitor in 1797 when they were still living in a log lean-to. In another case I learned of a book about the town (Ashford Connecticut) that I was able to purchase. It has a history of the town from its beginnings, various pictures and lists of various groups (like early selectmen, etc.). This one not only includes a couple of my relatives, but also helps me see the context of their lives in that place and time.

I couldn’t resist this title. The remaining surname of my great grandparents that I haven’t yet posted about is Sweet. Imagine: I have Sweet and Salt and Snow and Minor and Coffin as last names, along with Boothby, Earhart, and Denman. Often not easy to search in various sites.

Up to a few years ago, I had very little information about my Sweet line. I knew my great grandmother (my maternal grandmother’s mother) was a Sweet. My mother told me that. From the Snow manuscript written by my grandmother’s brother, I had a little information about her and some dates. No sources. Some of it, he knew from his own knowledge and some of it was probably from his mother (who was Mary M. Sweet).

Five years ago I found out about a collection of papers, the Lillian Sweet Allen papers, at the Syracuse University Library in the Special Collections Research Center. I requested more information and was excited to hear that there was information about my family lines. After a little delay for the library to retrieve the papers and have a look to see what was in them, I was even more excited to hear that there were photographs of my direct ancestor and his siblings, and an ancestral tablet. I immediately sent off the proper request for duplication form and waited impatiently. It also turned out that they could scan the photographs and send them on a CD. So I requested that be done too.

I wish I could remember how I first discovered this special collection. I suspect it was referenced as a source of some piece of information and that lead me to go looking for it. I was surprised to discover it in the Syracuse University Library, since I didn’t (and don’t) know of any family connect with the University.

Lillian Sweet (Towner) Allen (1860-1927) was born in Iowa and lived and died in California. She was a genealogist and something of a historian. She wrote letters to everyone of a family name of interest, looking for relatives and family history. She got the local post masters (I think) to give her names and addresses of everyone with a family name in the area. (This of course, was long before the Internet and even telephones were not universal. Obviously the privacy issues were also different.)

Her papers, which included a number of letters back to her, were donated to the Library in 1963. I assume that they went to a relative when she died (she had two sons) and then were donated by that person or maybe when that person died. The Special Collections person I contacted said there is no information beyond the date they were accessioned. I still don’t know how or why Syracuse was chosen, although the Sweet family had migrated from Rhode Island through upstate New York, living for some time in Herkimer county before moving on to Lorain county, Ohio. So that might have been the connection. This collection and the little in Frank Snow’s manuscript provide almost all of what I know about this family line, so I am in the process of searching for primary sources to support the information.

A more recent acquisition from the same Lillian Sweet Allen papers on a related family (the Bly family line) shows me that there were a number of Sweets in the upstate New York area when she was searching in the mid-1920s. There are a number of letters to her in the Sweet family correspondence and in the Bly family correspondence. This strengthens the likelihood that there was still a New York connection that dictated the donation of these papers to Syracuse University.

So here is what I know so far. My great grandmother, Mary Malvina Sweet was born 16 Jul 1853 in Avon, Ohio according to her son Frank’s manuscript about the Snow family. She was my maternal grandmother’s mother. The 1900 federal census showed the year of her birth as 1852, but her son Frank said 1853. This census also showed her parents as born in Connecticut and New Hampshire, so I suspect either a reporting error or a recording error.

Mary M. Snow death certificate

On the other hand, her death certificate (with information provided by her daughter, my grandmother) reported her birth date as 16 Jul 1852. So her two children seem to have had different years of birth in their memories. Mary Sweet was born to Colvin Sweet (1812-1895) and Bricena Chadwick (1814-1863) in Avon, Ohio. She was the second daughter they named Mary M., the first having been born and died within a month in late 1837.

Mary was not quite 10 years old when her mother died, leaving at least 5 children at home. If you look at the federal censuses, it does not appear that Colvin remarried. It is a fair assumption that the older children must have helped care for the younger. However, I have found an index entryon familysearch.org of a microfilm that shows a Calvin Sweet marrying a Mrs. Mary Johnson in 1865 in Lorain county, Ohio.

Colvin Sweet 1870

This is the right place and time period, so it is possible that he did marry again. However, if this is my Colvin that marriage didn’t last long since in 1870 for the federal census he is shown as living with five children. Unfortunately the 1870 census did not list marital status.

Mary married Clemon Hastings Snow on 24 May 1880 and they had two children: my great uncle Franklin C. Snow, and my grandmother Bricena A. Snow. Mary died 30 Apr 1917 in Elyria, Ohio, having suffered what was probably a stroke two years previously. She had been pretty much bedridden and my grandmother was expected to stay home and care for her. My grandmother did not marry until after her mother’s death, and shortly before her father’s (for whose care she was also responsible).

I just returned from a 2 1/2 day roadtrip, with my sister, to Becket Massachusetts and environs.  This was another of our short trips intended to get my sister out of town and away for a short time, and to get me another short shot at some genealogical research.  This trip turned out to have a number of results as I learned more about the resources that are available in this small town.

Becket was incorporated in 1765 out of Township #4.  My Snow relatives migrated north and west to Becket from Ashford Conneticut in about 1770.  So far I haven’t pinned the date down any closer than that.  I do know that Oliver Snow, my ancestor, married Rebecca Wadsworth in Becket in the summer of 1771.  Since it seems likely that they had known each other for at least a few months, 1770 seems like a reasonable guesstimate of when Oliver got to Becket.  There is no family tale of when or why Oliver moved north.

Oliver is one of my Revolutionary War ancestors.  He served 2  times as a private in Captain Peter Porter’s Company, in 1777.  Oliver and Rebecca lived in Becket until Rebecca died, in 1784.  Oliver remarried pretty quickly, to Roxylena Taylor, and the family moved to Tyringham at some point after the federal census in 1800.  Oliver’s half brother, Amaziah Snow and his family also lived in Tyringham.  Both Oliver and Amaziah were in Tyringham by the time of the 1810 federal census, and Amaziah and his wife Sarah died there and are buried in the Tyringham Cemetery.

In about 1805 or so, Oliver and Rebecca’s oldest son, also named Oliver, moved his wife and children to northern Ohio to a site in the Connecticut Western Reserve.  This is the Snow line that eventually continued west and joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Oliver, Junior’s children Lorenzo and Eliza notably).  That’s a post for another time.  Several other of Oliver Senior’s children migrated west to Ohio to the same area in northern Ohio in the early 1800’s.  My direct ancestor, Franklin, was one of these.  By 1822 Oliver (about 73 years old) and his second wife Roxylena,  followed and settled in Auburn Corners in Geauga County.

Having learned a little bit about doing genealogy trips like this one, I went somewhat more prepared than I had been the first time (see this post for my description of that trip).  I had a list of several cemeteries in surrounding towns that listed Snows as buried in them.  I hadn’t listed the Becket cemeteries, thinking we’d naturally see and walk them.  I had two specific goals:  I wanted to see the Snow “Genealogical Records of Inhabitants of the Town of Becket” and I wanted to find the burial site (and hopefully the gravestone) for Oliver’s first wife, Rebecca.  I had been told that the original of the Genealogical Records was in the Becket Athenaeum and to check their hours before I went.  So I did, and also called there to ask about seeing this old document and whether I could take digital pictures.  A very helpful librarian named Zina answered all my questions and offered to get out the other resources she could find in the library on the Snows.

Our first stop (after walking two cemeteries on Sunday afternoon) was at the Becket Town Hall to talk with the Town Clerk.  I hoped for help with the cemetery records and locations, and maybe with land records.  The Town Clerk was very helpful, although he wasn’t able to find a listing for Rebecca Snow in his database of deaths and burials.  He eventually pointed us to the Becket Room in the Town Hall, which is full of the Historical Commission’s pictures, etc.  It also possesses a copy of the Snow Genealogical Records, spiral bound so the 2 volumes open flat.  He made me copies of all of the pages with Snows on them, and greedily I wish I had asked for Wadsworths too.  I had not known that there was a copy of this resource in Town Hall (which was good to know since the hours the Hall is open are longer than the library).  The Clerk also asked others in Town Hall about cemeteries and came back with a report of a family cemetery on private land, somewhere in the vicinity of the intersection of two roads.  We could go looking to see if we could find anything.

The Clerk also told us about the “cattle pen” just up the road, that dated back to the earliest days.  Apparently if your animals

The Town Pound

The Town Pound

were found wandering in town, they would be penned in this central location so you could come find them and nothing would happen to them.  You can see how close to the present-day road this pen is.  According to “An Historic Tour of Becket, Massachusetts”, a small booklet done for the Becket Historical Commission, this Pound dates to 1768.  We spent the rest of that day looking at cemeteries and looking for the family one.

We went the next day to the Athenaeum and were welcomed by Zina and not only a copy of the Genealogical Records but also a number of boxes containing other resources about Snows.  Unfortunately, the original of the Genealogical Records is too fragile for public use any more, so I didn’t get to see it.

Genealogical Records of the Inhabitants of the Town of Becket

Genealogical Records of the Inhabitants of the Town of Becket

But this is a picture I took of part of one page.  You can see how clear and legible Miss Snow’s handwriting was.  (She taught school for 50 years, so it makes sense that she would have had a nice hand.)  Much of the other resources were more recent scrapbooks containing newsclippings which were interesting but hard to take pictures of.  I tried a number of them but getting a sharp focus was not possible with my camera and no tripod (and the plastic encasing the pages).

So the end of this story, so far, is that I haven’t yet found Rebecca Snow’s burial site or stone but I’m not giving up. I hope to get permission to go see the family cemetery, and hope that she might be there. I am also more and more curious about the land that Oliver might have owned. This will require a trip to Pittsfield Massachusetts where the county registry is. In Massachusetts the land records are kept at the county level (sometimes divided into 2 or more different registries depending on size). And while recent records have been digitized and are available online, the old ones haven’t been. I should have known this but didn’t really think about it. I had such wonderful luck in Connecticut with the Town Clerk having the old records that I wishfully thought the same might be true in Massachusetts.

I’ve recently had several experiences that remind me how useful it can be to use your email to ask discrete questions about a family line you’re following.  Phone calls work the same way – but calling England doesn’t occur to me as quickly as sending an email does.

The first set of experiences involved English records that I was hoping to find, to provide sources for information I have that isn’t well-documented.  I emailed the Parish Councils of three locations in Kent, England to inquire about records and availability.  In each case I got a quick response acknowledging my questions and telling me what was being done with my request (who it was going to).  In each case I also got a timely response answering my specific question(s).  I was looking for information on my emigrating ancestor (William Denman) who married in England about 5 years before the family emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1790s .  From one source I got a narrative about the wife’s family, most of which was information I did not have.  From one, I got a confirmation of a marriage date for the couple along with the specific Marriage Register information (a number and the names of the witnesses) along with the information that there were no other records for the couple after the marriage (baptisms, deaths) implying that they had moved to another town (the groom was from a neighboring town).  This answer raised a question because the date was 6 months off from the one I had (and had gotten from a family record sheet from the Family History Library).  From the third place a very kind assistant actually went to the local library and looked at a microfilm of the parish registers for the dates I had asked about and told me there were no marriages or christenings but she did find one burial of an infant.  If this infant was born to my ancestor it adds a new child to the family.   This wonderful assistant also gave me information about where all the original records as well as the Bishops Transcripts are held, with contact information (an email address).  Finally she told me that there is an adjoining parish where people from her parish are often buried, so now I have a new lead.  Not bad for what started with three short emails!

In another effort I emailed the minister of the local church, asking about the cemetery behind his church (who maintains it, and who would have the records).  He answered both questions, and followed up by talking with the Town Clerk to get more information.  He recommended that I talk with the Town Clerk directly to ask my specific questions and added that she would put me in touch with the town historian if she didn’t have the information I was seeking.  And the bonus was that he told me about a church history that had been put together which has a picture of 2 women with the family name I’m searching (Snow) and offered to send it to me if I was interested.  Well of course I said “yes, please!”.  It arrived the end of the week,  and I now know more about the area where my relatives lived for a couple of generations before moving further west.

Becket MA churchThis quintessential New England church is the First Congregational Church in Becket Massachusetts.  I think that it was built around 1850 as a replacement for the older church that had originally served this village.  There is a small plaque on the side, from the Becket Historical Commission that is dated 1850.  The cemetery behind the church, the Becket Center Cemetery,  is one of the oldest cemeteries in the village and has a number of Snows (my family), which is why I wanted to visit it.  So on a recent Sunday afternoon I set out toward western Massachusetts, with the goal of my friend’s house as an over-night stopping point.  Judy came up from southern Connecticut, so the three of us could go exploring the next day.  Luckily for me, both of them are interested in rambling through old cemeteries, whether they have family buried there or not – Judy because of her genealogical interest and Ann just because.  We all like reading the old stones.  Ann is also a photographer, and it was a good thing she was there.  Once again I had trouble with my camera’s battery running out in the middle of my picture-taking, even though it started out indicating a full charge.

I did find a number of Snow (and Wadsworth) headstones, some of which I know are relations and others which will require me to do more research.  Very satisfactory outcome!

This cemetery also has the distinction of having the best marker, from a genealogical perspective, that I have yet seen.  When we found it, we all stood in awe as we read the lines that detailed the family line of Origen Augustus Perkins back 5 generations, to the Perkins ancestorOrigen Augustus Perkins headstone who came to this country in 1631.  Read it and weep.

So what is my family connection?  Nearby were two stones, one for Augustus M. Perkins and one for Ruth Susan Snow wife of Augustus M. Perkins.  But I did not know offhand what relation Ruth Susan Snow would be.  I knew she would be a collateral line but didn’t know which one or how far back the connection would be.  And there was no indication of Augustus M’s relationship to Origen.

A little research once I returned home and had time to focus on the question shows that in all likelihood Augustus M. was a son of Origen’s.  Ruth Susan (or Susannah) was likely the daughter of Sylvanus Snow who was a brother of my Samuel Snow.

And I finally learned my lesson:  I immediately went and bought 2 new batteries for my camera.

© 2009-2014 The Genealogy Gals All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright