Northern New England

Spotlight – Northern New England Genealogy Resources

The northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont were inhabited later than their southern neighbors and one way or another, derived or wrested their existence from them. Maine, for example, once the property of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, was acquired by Massachusetts in 1677 and became known as the Province of Maine of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although Maine was an important battleground during the Revolution and War of 1812, it did not achieve statehood until 1820. New Hampshire, once a part of Maine, came under Massachusetts’ control in 1641. While New Hampshire became a royal province in 1679, it would again be governed by Massachusetts between 1699 and 1741.

Land disputes played an important part in the colonial history of the three northern New England colonies, especially in the case of Vermont, where grantees from New Hampshire and New York held rival claims. Even after the English crown ruled in favor of New York, a number of Vermonters refused to bow to that colony’s demand that they obtain new grants. Instead, they formed the famous Green Mountain Boys, a resistance group that, coincidentally, helped defeat the British at Ft. Ticonderoga and Crown Point during the Revolution. A Vermont assembly ultimately declared independence from New York, and the former colony was granted statehood in 1791.

The people of northern New England were a fairly homogeneous lot prior to 1800. Most colonial inhabitants could trace their roots directly to southern New England or England itself. Eighteenth-century Maine and New Hampshire attracted infusions of Scotch-Irish; New Hampshire attracted some Huguenots as well. During the following century the influx of Canadians – notably from Quebec and Nova Scotia – Scandinavians, and Germans brought greater diversity to the region. Continue reading…

Welsh surnames, Wales, Welsh Genealogy

Welsh Surnames – A Glimpse of “The Surnames of Wales”

Editor’s Note: The following post relates to the new edition of John and Sheila Rowlands’ The Surnames of Wales. Those interested in tracing their Welsh genealogy may find this to be a valuable resource. Researchers less familiar with the nuances of Welsh genealogy, should also consider the Rowlands’ Welsh Family History, A Guide to Research. Second Edition as a starting point, and Second Stages in Researching Welsh Ancestry as a supplemental guide

A Glimpse of The Surnames of Wales

The revised and enlarged edition of John and Sheila Rowlands’ The Surnames of Wales seeks to dispel many of the myths which surround the subject of Welsh names. In this updated edition, evidence is taken from an exhaustive survey involving more than 270,000 surnames found in parish records throughout Wales in order to present the most complete information. The central chapters include this comprehensive survey of Welsh surnames and an all-important glossary of surnames. This is the core of the work, as it provides the origins and history of surnames from the viewpoint of family history, and also shows the distribution and incidence of surnames throughout Wales. When these genealogical implications are considered alongside the migration patterns to and from Wales, the possibilities for tracking elusive Welsh ancestors improve considerably.

To illustrate the extent of the well researched information contained in The Surnames of Wales, here are the Rowlands’ key to their Glossary of Welsh surnames, followed by a few surname descriptions taken from the Glossary itself.

Key to the Glossary of Welsh Surnames

The Glossary follows a standard pattern. First comes a short historical and linguistic paragraph about each name. An indication of the existence of earlier work on families is given in many cases. A key to these references is to be found in the list of Abbreviations, and also in the References and Select Bibliography. For the most part, the pre-1974 historic counties of Wales are referred to. Frequently included in the historical paragraph is a reference to the work of P.C. Bartrum  on personal names found in fifteenth century Welsh pedigrees (Bartrum, 1981), and also to the work of H.B. Guppy (Guppy, 1890). For an explanation of their work (and the work of others) see Chapter 6. The Welsh medieval divisions used in Bartrum’s work are quoted, and the figures are given as percentages.

Notes from Guppy are included where appropriate: i.e. where names are counted in Wales, Guppy’s figures (expressed as percentages here, to enable comparisons to be made) are shown in the Glossary; figures are also given for the English counties along the Welsh border, where they are included; for other English counties we have been more selective, indicating the figures where they seem to us to be relevant. Many names in this Glossary are totally unrepresented in Guppy’s work. The order chosen here is: North Wales, South Wales, Monmouthshire; the four border counties of Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire; other English counties. Continue reading…

maps for genealogy, New Netherlands, Colonial New York

Maps For Genealogy– Essential for Research

Editor’s note: The following post is by Joe Roop Brickey. Ms. Brickey is a familiar face in the Genealogical Publishing Company’s booth at national conferences. She is a former board member of the Federation of Genealogical Societies [FGS] and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

This article is one of several featuring the writing of Ms. Brickey on our blog. Please be sure to read her other work, Drawing Your Home – Another Dimension to your Genealogy and Too Many Books!

In your research, are you using maps for genealogy? If not, you are missing out on one of the most important and useful tools available to us.

Maps for Genealogy – Truly Essential!

Maps contain vital information to help us find, and understand, the reasons why and how our ancestors moved from one place to another. If you look at a topographical map, you will discover the lay of the land in your ancestor’s geographic location. Mountain passes, valleys, rivers and broad plains – all played a role in determining the route they took to find a new home. Visit the US Geological Survey website for historical topographical maps; purchasable printed maps, aerial photographs, and satellite images; and the ability to download digital scans. Their FAQ concerning historical maps warns that the only way to determine the availability of an historical topo map in your specific area of interest is either to call them at 1-888-ASK-USGS or email them at Check out the historical topographical maps available at MapTech. A sample search there for Huntington, Massachusetts, identified seven quadrangle maps pertaining to this town. The Blanford quadrangle offered a choice of 1946 and 1955 maps in the 7.5 minute series. The Chester and Granville maps date to 1895. While landowner names are not included, the location of houses and other buildings and sites of interest are indicated. The maps are available in jpg. format with file sizes averaging about 2MB. If you center the map, you can print a small section on your desktop printer. You may also order a map printed in one of a variety of finishes, personalized with added information for a fee.

Maps of migration routes are useful in tracing your ancestors from one location back to a previous one. If your ancestors were living in Kentucky or Kansas, how did they get there? There were many established migration routes, and this type of map can give you an idea how they may have traveled from the coast into the interior of the country. One useful source is William Dollarhide’s Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815 (Precision Indexing, 1997). Another very useful set of maps, published in the centerfold of the May/June 2008 issue of Ancestry Magazine, illustrates how Missouri served as a gateway to the west for many of our migrating ancestors. The article predicts, based on 1860, 1870 and 1880 federal census data, where your ancestor might be living depending on his or her state of origin.

If you ancestor was “on the move” after federal census enumerations began in 1790, Thorndale and Dollarhide’s Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920  is a great book to use. For each census year, county boundaries from that year are superimposed on a map of current county lines for each state so that it is easy to see which county lines may have changed and when. Tracing your ancestor’s likely route through the counties along a specific migratory road will help you identify possible earlier stopping places of interest to your research.

Did your ancestor live in a more urban area? Check out the Library of Congress’s fire insurance map collection that document the plans of cities and towns made by the Sanborn Map Company. Your local library, or a larger library in your region, may also have an online subscription to the Sanborn fire insurance maps either for the entire country, or perhaps for your state. These maps will locate a specific address that you have associated with your ancestor, either residential or commercial, and will provide you with a “snap-shot” of the neighboring houses or businesses on your ancestor’s street. A detailed description of Sanborn maps can be found in Diane L. Oswald’s Fire Insurance Maps: Their History and Applications (Lacewing Press, 1997) and further information can be found in the Library of Congress’s Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress: Plans of North American Cities and Towns Produced by the Sanborn Map Company, a checklist compiled by the Reference and Bibliography Section, Geography and Map Division (Library of Congress, 1981).

If you are looking for historical maps of the United States, be sure to check out the Library of Congress’s extensive map collection. In addition, you can utilize the work of Jonathan Sheppard, which you can find on Amazon or in other online locations. For example, check out an 1860 map of Boston and a 1901 map of Milwaukee. If you are researching in a public land state, be sure to consult Arphax Publishing Company. This blog has covered several ways to utilize the Bureau of Land Management records and Federal Lands. You will also want to exhaust all of the map collections in the courthouse of the town or city in which your ancestor lived. Local tax offices often have great maps as will the fire department. Both the fire and police departments are often good sources of information about the location of old cemeteries or abandoned houses, particularly in rural areas, where they may use them as landmarks. Check the inside covers of county histories or family histories. Used bookstores and antique shops may have old maps. Do your local library and your state archives have map collections? You will want to check any map that might identify land owners. If you are fortunate enough to live in the New England area, landowner maps for towns may be available from early time periods. Other maps, such as Civil War battle maps, often note homeowners in the area being surveyed. See The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War (1983, Barnes & Noble Books, 2003).

Are you researching geographical locations in Europe? Again, Jonathan Sheppard provides a vast collection of maps at reasonable prices. Examples include a series of maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and an 1875 map of Germany. If you are researching in England and/or Scotland, check the Ordnance Survey website.

Maps are especially useful if you are facing a brick wall. According to my grandmother, her family had never lived anywhere outside of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Maps became essential in tracing this family back from Kentucky, through the Cumberland Gap, into Virginia. I used migration maps, county outline maps, and topographical maps, along with county histories, the census, and good old fashioned sweat-equity to take the family from Garrard County, Kentucky; back to Harlan County Kentucky; Lee County, Virginia; Augusta County, Virginia; and finally to Stafford County, Virginia.

I took the county outline maps from The Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 and plotted the counties in which I found the surnames for which I was searching, as I found them in the censuses. I did a state search for the surname (lucky me, it was not too common!) and noted the number of families by that name in each county where I found them. Working backwards from 1850, it did not take long to plot their reverse route of migration, from west to east, through Kentucky, and back into Virginia. If your surname is more common, choose a relative, or neighbor with a less common surname, and research that individual to see if you can narrow the number of counties in which you might find your ancestor. People often moved in groups with members of their community or church, so there is a good chance that you may find these names together in more than one place.

Where do you find maps? What are your favorite sources? How have they helped you solve a problem? Let us know. We would love to learn from you!


Drawing Your Home – Another Dimension to your Genealogy

Editor’s Note: The following post is by Joe Roop Brickey, originally entitled “Adding Another Dimension to Your Genealogy.” This article originally appeared in Heritage Quest, 16, no. 3, issue 87 (May/June 2000). It is reprinted here by permission of the publisher. Joe Roop Brickey is a familiar face in the Genealogical Publishing Company’s booth at national conferences. She is a former board member of the Federation of Genealogical Societies [FGS] and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Faded photographs are among a genealogist’s treasured possessions. A picture of a family gathered on the front porch of an old farm house, or gathered around the Thanksgiving Day table, may be fun to have, but identifying everyone and establishing when and where the picture was taken can be difficult tasks. When my parents were visiting a few years ago, we sat down with some of the mystery photographs and in the process of identifying who, what, when and where, began talking about the houses and farms – the physical location of the events preserved in the pictures.

Out came a pad of graph paper and pencils. Let’s see, Dad said, You came into the entry hall and the steps to the upstairs were straight ahead, the den to the left and the parlor to the right? Stories came pouring out of my parents. Memories long forgotten came to light in drawing the walls that surrounded them. Before long, both of my grandparents homes were committed to paper, my great-grandparents’ farm came to life, and the town where my father was born and raised had been recreated.

This project is easy and inexpensive. It takes paper, pencils, a BIG eraser, and time. Add a tape recorder for the stories and you are all set. My mother and I began with the home she grew up in. She did not worry about exact room dimensions, but rather the layout of the rooms in the home. The front right corner was the living room where the piano sat on the inside wall. Her parents bedroom was in the right back corner. On the back of the house were the bathroom and a small den. The steps to the basement were off of the kitchen which sat in front of the den, and the dining room was in the middle of the left side, with a small parlor on the left front. “Remember when your grandmother tried to brush her teeth in the dark and put BenGay on the tooth brush?” (Sure I do; Grandmother’s howl could be heard for blocks!) “There was a lilac bush on the corner of the house outside their room.” Yes, soon you are drawing in the yard and before long the names of the neighbors get filled in.

An added plus for this project is that friends have tried it with relatives who have claimed to remember nothing. Something about making a drawing of a childhood home, the street you lived on, or the family farm brings even the “I don’t remember anything” unclear memory into focus. Knowing where the table that now graces my living room sat in my grandparents’ home adds to my enjoyment of the piece. Having a clear picture of the great-grandparents’ sheep ranch makes the stories told about summers there more meaningful because I can “see” it better.

Homes, streets, farms, the list is endless as to what you can create with your pencil and pad of paper. I drew the school where I went to first grade. In the process, the name of my teacher surfaced along with names of long forgotten classmates. Mrs. Perkins was my first grade teacher and she lived just a few blocks from the school. On nice days we would walk to her house and have a picnic in her backyard. Since moving every few years was a part of my childhood, finding a trigger for these memories has been great! I have placed my drawing in the file with the class photograph, along with the things that I remember about going to first grade. Maybe I’m writing my life story without realizing it!

So, when you are talking to a relative, or even a neighbor, feeling a bit stuck, or in a rut with your research, try adding this new dimension to your genealogy. Your best memory of a house can be sent on to a cousin to add details and stories, an aunt may remember a house that is no longer standing, and just maybe, if you are very lucky, someone will finally remember who is the third person from the left in the picture of the family on the front porch. At the very least, now you know about the house behind the family.

Happy drawing!

Related reading:

Arthur, Stephen and Julia, Your Life and TimesThis oral history handbook is a guide that will help you record your life experiences on tape simply by answering questions that will lead you, step by step, through the precious moments of your life. When finished, you will have completed the oral history of your life and times–a treasure for yourself and a gift of love for your family and its future generations.

Light, Sally. House Histories: a Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home.

Image credit: Drawing of a house, By Attributed to James G. Jones (active 1860s) (artist, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – Tool for Locating Ancestors

If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from? According to the authors of Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources, Raymond S. Wright III, Nathan S. Rives, Mirjam J. Kirkham, and Saskia Schier Bunting, the answer to both of these questions is “No!”

First some background: the German Territories, and later the German Empire, provided more emigrants to America than any other European national group. When they came to America, German immigrants left behind a trail of records familiar to everyone in genealogy from births, marriages, and deaths, to citizenship and census records, and from land and tax records to emigration records. The key to German genealogical research, of course, is to find out where these records are located, but since there are more than 2,000 national, state, and local repositories in Germany, to say nothing of church repositories and other private archives, such an undertaking is daunting if not downright impossible. We know there are records, but what good are they if we can’t find them? And these records stretch back to the Middle Ages, encompassing family history sources so vast in number and so scattered that the mind reels.

To overcome this challenge, Brigham Young University (BYU) launched its Immigrant Ancestors Project in 1996. The principal mission of this undertaking at the time was to identify the records of German emigrants and to create Internet-accessible databases describing emigrants’ birthplaces, occupations, spouses, and children. Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources is the direct outgrowth of that ambitious project.

Under the supervision of Professor Raymond Wright, BYU mailed questionnaires to approximately 2,000 national, state, and local German government archives, as well as private archives. The questionnaires asked archivists to identify their archives’ jurisdictions and to describe the records housed in their collections and the services provided by their staff. The questionnaires asked specifically for information about each archive’s collections of vital records, religious records, military records, emigration records, passport records, censuses, and town and county records. Archivists were also asked to describe any published guides or inventories to their collections. The returned questionnaires, supplemented by Internet searches, were used to create summaries of each archive’s jurisdictions, holdings, and services.

The result of this massive survey is an exhaustive guide to family history sources in German archives at every level of jurisdiction, public and private. Anyone searching for data about people who lived in Germany in the past need only determine which archives today have jurisdiction over the records that were created by church or state institutions. The Locality Index at the back of Ancestors in German Archives, moreover, makes this task even easier because it identifies every town with an archive, no matter what kind.

Let’s return to the questions we initially asked as it relates to a German genealogy search: If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from?

If you find a passenger record that states when and from where in Germany your ancestor came, you still have to figure out what German state, city, parish, or other repository has control of his/her records. If you cannot find a passenger record but have a rough idea of your German ancestor’s origins (e.g., from Heidelberg after the U.S. Civil War), you may be able to skip over the missing passenger list and go directly to German vital records for your ancestor. Whichever the case, Ancestors in German Archives will make your task far easier than ever before. It is a one-stop guide to genealogical sources in Germany, and, most importantly, it answers the fundamental questions about the very existence of genealogical records in Germany and paves the way for successful research.

Image credit: Emperor Charlemagne and Emperor Sigismund, by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.