historical pastimes, pastime, ancestors, ancestry, genealogy

Pastimes of our Ancestors

The following post, “A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors,” is written by author Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of the recently updated and rereleased Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

Please note that Ms. Jacobson’s book, History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors, has been recently released in e-book format and is available for purchase here

We hope you enjoy the following post by Ms. Larson below.

A Lighter Side of History — A Timeline of Pastimes of our Ancestors

Though it can be said that our ancestors did not have the economic advantages that most of us enjoy today, that doesn’t mean their lives were completely humdrum and colorless. They had their fun, too.

A new chapter in Judy Jacobson’s History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors gives hints on how average people in past centuries filled their free time with hobbies, entertainments, sports, and social gatherings. Was your great-grandfather a member of the Masons or Odd Fellows? Did your grandmother march for women’s suffrage or in favor of prohibition?

Genealogy was and still is a favorite hobby and pastime, and the recording of births, marriages, and deaths can be approached in creative ways. The pedigree charts typically used by genealogists to plot a person’s parents, grandparents, etc., is a generational timeline. A genealogist I once met diagramed his family lineage on a white window shade. He slowly unrolled it to show me generation after generation of his ancestors. Easily portable, he understandably was very proud of his ingenious family timeline. Continue reading…


Finding Your Canadian Roots

For many U.S. genealogy wayfarers, their journey usually includes a stop in Canada. Surprisingly, this is true for persons with and without French-Canadian roots. Not surprisingly, living along the 3,000-mile border that separates the U.S. from its northern neighbor are innumerable families who share common ancestries as a result of their desire for greater economic, religious, or political freedom–in one country or the other.

Continue reading…

Using tax records in genealogy

Strategies for Using Tax Records In Genealogy

Editor’s Note: Genealogical.com recently reprinted Emily Anne Croom’s excellent manual, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research. The Sleuth Book is brimming with wonderful checklists, case studies, and novel approaches for using any number of genealogical source records. Ms. Croom’s book is so full of useful information, we’re quite fortunate to be able to excerpt it here on our blog. The following post discusses strategies for using tax records in genealogy, sources where you can find the information, as well as why the information is, in the cases of some states, priceless in your search:

“He was excited. Excited and happy, like a dog which has followed a cold trail for a long time, and suddenly finds it a hot one.”–Nurse Detective Hilda Adams about Inspector Patton 68

Research in tax records has produced this reaction of excitement for many genealogists and has resulted in many “hot trails.” A number of states and towns have preserved tax records that date to their early years; others have not been so diligent. Nevertheless, the genealogist needs to use them whenever they exist. They are particularly valuable for research in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and early West Virginia when it was part of Virginia. The surviving records are usually found in county courthouses or in state archives. Many have been microfilmed and are available from the Family History Library.

Tax records are kin to land records because residents paid taxes on land they owned, as well as on slaves, horses, cattle, oxen, personal property, and luxury items such as clocks and carriages. In some cases, specific items were taxed in a given year, such as certain items of furniture, mirrors, and window curtains in Virginia in 1815. Sometimes, as in Virginia, the land tax records and personal property tax records are separate. People who owned no land could still have paid poll taxes (head taxes) on themselves, slaves, or sons of taxable age. Widows were not normally taxed except on their land and slaves, although men of taxable age in their households were taxed.

Following the existing tax rolls for a given ancestor over a period of years can give the researcher quite a bit of information. Yet, each state had its own laws, forms, and lists of taxable property. Free men could begin being taxed when they became 16 or 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state and the time period. Slaves were often classified in the tax rolls in age groups, such as those under 12, 12 to 16, over 16, or 16 to 55. These categories also varied from place to place and year to year. Usually, the tax laws designated an age after which a person was exempt from certain taxes.

Information Sometimes Found in Tax Records:

What kind of information, in general, may be shown in these records? Below are some of the standard column headings, but these vary from state to state, even from year to year:

  1. Name of the person charged with the tax, usually the head of household
  2. Names of free men of color being taxed
  3. Number, and sometimes names, of taxable free white males in the household
  4. Number of acres of land owned, sometimes with location information–adjoining neighbors, watercourse, distance from the courthouse, or district number
  5. Name of original grantee of land
  6. Number of slaves in the household each year, sometimes with their names
  7. Rent received on rented property
  8. Number of horses, oxen, or cattle owned
  9. Value of land, slaves, or other taxable property
  10. Amount of tax paid

What other information might the genealogist glean from studying some tax rolls?

  1. Relationships, either expressed, deduced, or suggested
  2. Suggestions of birth order among sons in a family, depending on when they first were named or became a head of household
  3. Suggestions of death year or moving, when someone no longer was listed, when an estate was listed, when someone was named as guardian of the children or administrator of an estate, or when someone is taxed for the property formerly belonging to another person
  4. Occupations, expressed or implied by paying license fee
  5. Suggestions of family groups of slaves, when, over the years, the same slaves were named in a household; sometimes, slaves’ ages
  6. Changes in a person’s net worth or lifestyle, expressed in changes in the number of slaves, livestock, and luxury items
  7. Preliminary identification of neighbors by studying adjoining landowners and watercourses, or when the tax collector dated each entry and it ap¬pears that he visited the households in person.

Image Credit: This image, The Unknown Tax Payer, belongs to Christopher Allen via Flickr.



Revolutionary War Pensions, Battle of Trenton

Revolutionary War Pensions – Locating Missing Records

Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of a two-part piece adapted from a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Please see Part I for historical background on Revolutionary War Pensions, what information can be found in these genealogical treasure-laden applications, and select resources on Federal Pensions. Part II, below, will discuss the potential complications of locating Federal Revolutionary War Pension records, how you can work around these issues, and additional resources to help you on your search for your Revolutionary War ancestor. 

Revolutionary War Pensions, Part II – Locating Missing Records

Revolutionary War research is a huge topic within American genealogy; however, you will discover a helpful, concise overview of in Craig Robert Scott’s Genealogy at a Glance: Revolutionary War Genealogy Research.  Pension records, as we discussed in Part I of our discussion, are gold mines of genealogical information. While much information can be found through online databases and published indexes, do not stop with such sources. Close reading of original documents (even if they are on microfilm) will prove well worth your time, effort and eye strain.  Continue reading…

revolutionary war pensions

Revolutionary War Pensions – History and Resources, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following post is an adapted, edited and updated article originally written by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. In its adaptation it has been divided into two-parts on Revolutionary War Pensions and useful resources. In part I, published below, the background information on Revolutionary War Pensions is provided including the types of information you may find in them, or why you may want to find them. Part II, which will be posted in the coming days, will address where and how you can find the pension records, challenges you may face in locating them, and ways to improve your search. 

How well do you know your Revolutionary ancestor? If he had a federal pension (or his wife received a widow’s pension), the information included in the application for that pension may provide you with a great deal of information that will help you know him better. Please note that state level pensions were also awarded. The best source for state pension information can be found in Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck’s Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905.

Pensions as incentives/rewards for military service were not a new concept to colonists at the time of the Revolutionary War. Previously during a conflict, Great Britain had used the promise of a pension to encourage enlistment and to reduce rates of desertion and resignation. After a peace treaty was signed, pensions were provided as rewards for service already rendered.

Three basic types of pensions were granted by the new federal government as a result of the Revolutionary War: Continue reading…