Massachusetts Genealogy, "Endicott cutting the cross out of the English flag", illustration depicting an event that occurred in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.

Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy

Like Virginia, many who trace their family history in the United States will at one time or another find Massachusetts genealogy tied into their research.

Here on this blog we have discussed several types of specific research related to Massachusetts genealogy, from Resources to Mayflower Research to Lighthouse and Life-Saving Service Records. Massachusetts genealogy even comes into play when researching your saintly ancestors, as we discussed in our post, Noble Ancestry Leads to the Saint in Your Family.

But what if you’re just getting started, or you aren’t sure yet how to tackle the Massachusetts ties you are sure you’ll encounter?

Author Denise Larson answers this question with Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy Research. In this quick and handy research aid Ms. Larson begins with an excellent summary of Massachusetts history from its Puritan and Pilgrim beginnings through the mid-19th century. Next comes a discussion of local records, for, as with other New England states, Massachusetts’ records are organized by town, not by county. The author then identifies the major statewide, regional, and ethnic repositories with genealogical and historical collections. The guide concludes with a listing of the major websites for Massachusetts research as well as the principal published sources for early Massachusetts genealogy.

If you aren’t familiar with Ms. Larson’s work, she is the acclaimed author of Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. We have featured her informative and incredibly reader-friendly work on our blog in recent posts including Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People, and Maine Genealogy Resources Part I and Part II.

Digging into your family history can be a labor of love. Ms. Larson’s contribution of Genealogy at a Glance: Massachusetts Genealogy Research makes tackling your Massachusetts genealogy considerably easier.

Image Credit: “Endicott cutting the cross out of the English flag”, illustration depicting an event that occurred in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. By Howard Pyle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

adoption, find adopted family

Find Adopted Family Information

Editor’s Note: Several weeks ago marked the new release of The Ultimate Search Book: U.S Adoption, Genealogy & Other Search Secrets, 2015 Edition. The information, meticulously crafted and compiled by search expert Lori Carangelo, is the first new edition of this book since 2011. 

We want to take this opportunity to illustrate Ms. Carangelo’s prowess as a finder of birth parents, missing persons, runaway children, and other contemporary individuals, by reprinting sample pages from the 2015 Edition. This list of tips will help you find adopted family information that may be a stumbling block in your genealogical research. The following comes from Chapter 2: “With or Without a Name.” 

Adoption Search Tips (which may also apply to stepparent adoptions):

  1. Read Chapter 1: Search
  2. Determine The State: in which your adoption was finalized because the court in that state, and possibly an agency, holds your adoption file(s).
  3. Determine Law: in that state on disclosure of adoption information and access to records, particularly access to your original birth certificate (See Chart but also ask in case the law changes).
  4. Locate Your Adoption File(s): Your best bet is to ask your adopters which agency and court facilitated your adoption if you don’t already know and if your adopters do not have records to provide If you cannot obtain this information from your adopters, the central office of Social Services at the state’s capital city, can tell you if it was a public Social Services agency and which branch. Ifno record, chances are it was a private agency or attorney which they would not have record of. Since the agency and Court that finalized the adoption is usually in the county where the adopter resided at the time of placement, it would not be too hard to find the Court and agency that has your adoption files by looking up the Court and all adoption agencies in that county, and if no luck then look up adoption attorneys in that county.
  5. Request Your Non-Identifying Information: from both the Court of jurisdiction and the agency that holds your adoption file, by asking ALL of the Questions listed in this chapter.
  6. Provide Your Waiver Of Confidentiality: and your request for identifying information to both the agency and court at the same time you request your Non-Identifying Information. Request the Petition To Adopt and Final Decree of Adoption from the Court.
  7. Browse The Court Dockets: for the dates you were relinquished for adoption and also when the adoption was finalized (generally automatically, without necessity for hearing, one year from date of Relinquishment of Parental Rights and placement in your adoptive home, but there will still be a docket notation). Court dockets are publicly viewable records in Probate, Circuit, and Family Courts or similar named courts; not sealed; and even though your biological parents are most likely not in court, their names may appear on the earlier docket while your adopter’s name appears on the latter Fortunately they can be cross-referenced by same Case Number, so that if you find the Final Decree case number by the date, you can check one year prior for the Relinquishment and Petition to Adopt using the same Case Number.
  8. Request the Petition and Final Decree of Adoption: Years ago, Court Clerks were instructed to “block” names on these documents with an indelible black ink marker before providing the document to the adult Unless the blackened information has also been photocopied after blackened, first try photocopying the BACK side of the document on a very dark setting to see if typewritten impressions appear. Or, the impressions left by older typewriters can be revealed by penciling the back of the document where the names would be and thereby revealing the names (just backwards). Try removing the black marker ink with a dab of hairspray or cologne (alcohol based) on a q-tip. Since this will wet and possibly smudge it’s tried last.
  9. Deceased Parent Or Adoptee: If denied records on the grounds that the person is deceased, cite the following: “Davin U.S. Department of Justice, 60F.3d1043 (3rd Circuit 1995): Persons who are deceased have no privacy interest in non-disclosure of their identities.”

Image Credit: Legal, by m anima, via


using photographs in family history, tintype, civil war

Using Photographs in Your Family History Research

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly edited and updated post originally authored by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. All of the family photos are from her personal collection, and should be accredited to her unless otherwise noted.

Technology in today’s world provides us with multiple ways to capture a moment in our family’s story – from grabbing our iPhone or iPad to capturing the moment of video or a digital SLR camera. Although photography has enjoyed a long history, photographs have been available to the average individual for a relatively short period of time. The following discusses the evolution of photography and how using photographs in your family history has evolved along with it.

Camera Obscura

The basic principles of optics and the camera were known as early as the fifth century B.C.E. More specific interest, however, began in the 1660s when, using a prism, Isaac Newton discovered that white light was composed of different colors. Throughout the 1700s, the camera obscura fascinated scientists interested in creating an image of their surroundings. From the linked Wikipedia article, “The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation.” Mirrors then create a right-side up image. (Side note: Edinburgh, Scotland, features a camera obscura as one of its tourist attractions.)

Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, Tintype

Additional discoveries ensued. In 1837 Louis Daguerre began creating images on silver-plated copper coated with silver iodide. The image was then developed (taking thirty minutes!) with warmed mercury. This medium fell out of favor by 1860, in part because only one image could be developed from each exposure, and also because the final product tarnished and scratched easily. The daguerreotype was followed briefly (1854-1865) by the ambrotype, an image produced on glass. The date of either of these formats can often be determined in part by the case or mat surrounding the image. For example, a daguerreotype with a plain silk interior dates from between 1840 and 1845, while an ornate foil-stamped mat dates from between 1853 and 1855. The National Media Museum Blog has a very helpful post on how to spot a collodion positive or ambrotype photograph.

A format which became financially more accessible to the average family, however, was the tintype, produced between about 1854 and 1900. Some of us may have examples of tintype images in our family archives as many soldiers had them taken during the Civil War. This video is part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum special exhibit – Remember Me: Civil War Portraits, which shows the process of creating a Tintype photo. Tintypes later became widely available at carnivals from the late 1880s and through the 1890s. Again, the elements of the tintype can help date an image, with a paper mat indicating an image taken between 1863 and the 1880s, while paper sleeves were used between 1880 and 1900. For example, based on its paper sleeve and my knowledge of the couple in the photograph, I believe that the tintype image shown below was taken ca. 1889, the time of my great-grandparents’ (Grace Lillian Dodd and Edward Albert Smith) wedding.

Carte de Visite

Edward and Grace

Two other formats dating from the mid- to late-1800s also brought photographs within the means of many families. These images often included family members, either individually or in groups, to commemorate an important event such as a wedding, engagement, a new baby, death, etc. The first of the two formats was the carte de visite. First developed in France in 1854 by photographer André Adolphe Eugene Disdéri, this type of photograph, usually sepia in color, was printed on thin paper which was then mounted to a thicker paper card. One of Disdéri’s greatest innovations was the ability to place multiple negatives on a single plate, thus allowing the subject of a photograph to purchase multiple copies at a reasonable price. These photos imitated the size of a “calling card” (2.5”x4”). The carte de visite image below is believed to be a photograph of my granduncle, Eugene Henry Smith (born 1866). While I was unsure of his age at the time the photograph was taken, the photography studio’s advertisement on the reverse side indicates 1880, when Eugene would have been fourteen. Continue reading…

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…