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Learn about researching your ancestors and visiting their times

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Linda Roorda

Anything but a boring read, military records are another invaluable source of documentation.  The first step is to determine when and where your ancestor served.  Often clues to an ancestor’s military service are found in family stories, old photos, death records and obituaries, grave markers and/or cemetery records, local town histories, and other family records or correspondence.

 

Many military records are available at Ancestry.com.  You will find draft registration cards for WW I and WW II, enlistment and service records, soldier and prisoner lists, casualty lists, pension records, etc.  In searching Ancestry’s records for this article, I found the Revolutionary War pension application file for my ancestor, John C. McNeill.  I had purchased the complete file several years ago through the national archives at NARA.gov.  So much more data has been placed online at repositories like Ancestry.com than was available when I began researching in the late 1990s. 

 

Search for records at the website for National Archives.  Click on the Veterans’ Service Records section to begin.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available.  I found the WWII enlistment records at both Ancestry and NARA websites for two of my paternal grandfather’s brothers.  They had served in Europe and the South Pacific.  NARA’s website allows you to download free forms in order to purchase the full military records which may not be available elsewhere.

 

Military records can provide a good deal of genealogical and historical data about an ancestor.  The various records may include date of birth, birthplace, age, date of enlistment, occupation, names of immediate family members, and service records listing battles fought, capture, discharge, death, etc. 

 

However, bear in mind that military records may not include all data you seek.  My John C. McNeill did not note a date of birth or age in his Rev War pension application affidavit, and stated only that he had “nine children…5 sons and 4 daughters”, without listing any of their names.  Talk about frustration!  However, Jesse McNeill, my ancestor, verified in his signed affidavit that he was a son of John and that was key evidence.  Thankfully, John’s wife, Hannah, noted their marriage date, town, name of the Justice of the Peace who married them, and her sister’s name in her affidavit when applying for her widow’s pension.

 

With military records, you can take a little data and round it out with further research.  My John C. McNeill answered the call of fellow patriots to serve with the New Hampshire Line at Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill) in June 1775.  He was a Sergeant under Captain Daniel Wilkins in Colonel Timothy Bedel’s regiment of rangers, in charge of pasturing cattle to feed the men.  In 1776, Bedel’s regiment was ordered to join the Northern Continental Army in New York to reinforce the military presence in Canada.

 

McNeill’s pension file affidavits note capture at The Cedars, a fort west of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, where they were plundered of all possessions.  They were taken to an island and left naked, without shelter and scant rations for eight days.  At The Cedars, “Bedel left the fort, either [to]… seek reinforcements or convey intelligence.  The command devolved on Major Isaac Butterfield… who on the 19th of May [1776] disgracefully surrendered his force of about four hundred men to the British and Indians [who were] about five hundred in number.”  (History of Goffstown [N.H.] by George Plumer Hadley, page 124.)

 

Morris Commager’s “The Spirit of Seventy-Six” (pgs. 212-220) provides further corroboration of this capture with many injured, killed, taken prisoner, or dying of disease.  McNeill was among survivors exchanged and returned in a cartel between the British Captain George Foster and American Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.  McNeill then served out his military enlistment at Saratoga, NY.  McNeill’s cousin and friends sign an affidavit in his pension application file stating they survived the ordeal with him, celebrating their release annually thereafter.

 

Another excellent source, a great read which confirmed the information I had on Bedel’s New York Regiment, is found in “Benedict Arnold’s Navy:  The Ragtag Fleet that lost the Battle of Lake Champlain but Won the American Revolution” by James Nelson, 2006, The McGraw-Hill Companies. 

 

I further assumed that, having served in New York for a time, McNeill later sought fertile land in what historians call the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution” – Schoharie County, New York.  After settling in my mother’s home town of Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York in the mid-1790s, one of his neighbors, and likely good friend, was Thomas Machin, whose farmland I have seen on a side road just into Montgomery County and very near Schoharie County.

 

Machin “supervised the making and laying of The Great Chain across the Hudson River near West Point.”  “W. Thomas Machin, Engineer, Washington’s Staff, Founding Father of Masonry in Schoharie County…Member Boston Tea Party; 1744-1816.”  (Personal view of two New York State plaques commemorating Machin at Carlisle Rural Cemetery, Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY, just a short distance up the road from where my mother grew up.)  However, Machin was not likely to have been part of the Boston Tea Party per my additional research.  Living in close proximity to each other, I am sure there must have been a good friendship between the two military men and their families – Machin’s grandson, James Daniel Machin, married John C. McNeill’s granddaughter, Lucy Jane/Jeanette McNeill, in 1852.

 

There is so much to be gleaned from in-depth research of ancestors, learning about their lives, extended family, and the historical era in which they lived!

 

COMING NEXT:  Last Will and Testament.

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors

Linda Roorda

As we noted previously, studying census records plays another key role in searching for ancestors.  Census records track families as they grow, move to new frontiers, into the cities, or perhaps just stay put on the family farm with family members scattered within walking distance nearby.

 

Study the old handwriting, compare unknown names or words to letters and words which you clearly know.  But, know that the old fancy cursive is different from what we’re familiar with in today’s handwriting.  I became familiar with it when researching and copying old deeds as a young secretary years ago, learning the old language of legal documents in the process.

 

I use two methods for keeping census records – one is to write all data on 4x6 lined index cards, and the other is using blank 8x10 census forms.  I eventually acquired several hundred index cards filed alphabetically in a handy shoebox.  I find them easier to refer to than the large census forms which, admittedly, are the more accurate.  The large blank forms are also used as a guide to what data to include on index cards from each census. 

 

Before searching census records, you should also know they, too, may contain errors.  At times, the enumerator may have been given wrong information, or misspelled first and last names depending on his own abilities.  When copying data, be sure to include the way names were misspelled, along with the known correction.

 

For example, I tracked a McNeill descendant whose father had removed his family from Carlisle to Decatur, New York and later to the state of Maine.  I knew his daughter, Appolonia Livingston McNeill, by baptism record.  She married William Smyth(e) and lived in Bangor, Maine.  By census records, her unmarried sister, Sarah McNeil(l), lived with them.  I followed the Smyth(e) family in Bangor by census, and the family’s billiard hall by city business directory.  I could not locate Appolonia in the important 1900 census, assuming she died after 1880.  Searching for her sons, I was surprised to find Appolonia as a widow, listed on the 1900 census by her middle name as Livingston A. Smyth.  She then resides with her twin sons in Portland, Oregon where she dies and is buried per death record I purchased.  Wondering what brought them to the far side of the continent, I can only speculate that perhaps they later enjoyed Portland’s 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.  I have not had time nor funds to pursue further research on the family among Maine or Oregon records, though I did obtain a few free cemetery records online. 

 

Every ten years since 1790, our federal government has gathered a national census.  Very few records remain of the 1890 census as most were destroyed by fire and water damage in 1921.  In 1934, rather than make attempts to restore the balance of records, they were destroyed by the U. S. Department of Commerce despite a public outcry.   The 1890 census was different from previous with in-depth questions about each family member and Civil War service, and would have been invaluable to researchers!

 

State censuses are equally as important.  Taken randomly, they are a little-known or seldom-used resource.  Typically collected by states every ten years, in years ending in “5,” New York did so in 1790, 1825 through 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925. 

 

For privacy reasons, census records are not available to the public until 70 or so years later, the 1940 census being released in April 2012.  Records available to the public from 1790 through 1940 are found at a county clerk’s office, online by subscription at Ancestry.com, on microfilm through the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with some census records transcribed and placed online at county genweb sites.  As a way to pay back other generous contributors, I transcribed the 1810 census for Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York.  I’ve wanted to do more, but have not had time to go back and transcribe additional census records for online usage. And that was back when I had the slow dial-up internet, not my fast click’n-go high speed!

 

Initial census records provide limited data.  The 1790 census includes city, county, state, page, date, name of head of household, males under and over age 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves.  

 

The 1800 census begins to break down age groups by years, with 1820 including occupations in agriculture, commerce, manufacturing.  The 1830 census includes the deaf and blind, but no occupations.  The 1840 again includes age groups for males, females, free colored persons and slaves, but also occupations of mining, agriculture, commerce, navigation of ocean, canals, lakes and rivers, learned professional engineers; pensioners for Revolutionary or military services; the deaf, dumb, blind and insane; data regarding one’s education, and those who cannot read or write.

 

The 1850 census is also a key census as it’s the first to list the name and age of every household member along with numbering the dwellings/houses and families of a town.  From 1850 through 1940, data may include the name of each household member, age, sex (which helps when a given name is not gender specific or is illegible), number of children born to a mother, marital status, years of marriage, state or country of birth, birth places, year of immigration, street address, occupations, value of the home, etc.

 

The 1880 census is free at both Ancestry.com and the LDS Family Search website.  The census for 1900 gives month and year of birth along with other family and professional data.  The 1910 through 1940 censuses are more in depth than previous.  Regardless, all census records contain a wealth of vital information on your ancestors!

 

COMING NEXT – Military Records

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors - Your Family Tree #8

 

Linda Roorda

Cemetery records are another invaluable resource for your ancestry research.  Historical societies also retain cemetery records, or transcriptions, of virtually all old gravestones for every cemetery, large or small, within any given county.  Unfortunately, I have typically found this work to have been done several decades ago (often from early to mid 20thcentury), and desperately in need of updating.  However, with our modern technology, a great resource not available when I first began my research journey in the late 1990s is the Find-A-Grave website.

Cemetery associations maintain each cemetery, retaining records for all burials.  They can often provide more information from their records on the deceased than that which is on a headstone, including full dates of birth and death, and family relationships with parents’ names and/or name of the spouse.  On the other hand, I’ve also seen where my trip to a specific cemetery gave me more data on a gravestone than was written in the historical society’s record.

It is also well worth making a trip to the actual cemetery whenever possible.  On one trip, I walked up and down virtually every row of a very old, but still used, cemetery north of Cobleskill.  Frustrated at not finding specific ancestors, I decided to give it one more try and got out of the car, facing a short steep slope.  Climbing to the top of the little knoll, I walked directly into an unusual circular plot.  Peering closely at the stones, I had that “aha” moment – I’d found exactly what I was looking for!  For there were my mother’s grandparents and great-grandparents!  As a teen, my Mom would drive her mother to this spot to place flowers on family graves, but she was unable to recall exactly where to find the plot.

While researching, it is helpful to know that a.e. (i.e. anno aetatis suae) on a gravestone is Latin for in the__  year of life versus age meaning year of age.  For example, you may see a stone with a date of death and age as follows:  Jan 10, 1834, a.e. 16y.  This indicates the deceased was in the 16thyear of life; but, in reality, was 15 years old on the previous birthday before death.  You may also see the deceased’s date of death with age as follows:  d. June 15, 1827, 10y 3m 5d.  From this date, you can count backwards to the date of birth, i.e. b. March 10, 1817.  Take photos of gravestones for documentation, along with proof of the location of the stone(s) and exact cemetery of burial.

In the case of very old stones from the 1700s and 1800s, I have done rubbings – either with washable chalk to make the eroding chiseled letters stand out, or by pencil rubbing on paper lain atop the sunken lettering when nothing else was available.  The latter gave me data on my ancestor, John Caldwell McNeill, that was not in the cemetery records.  I knew he was a sergeant in the New Hampshire Line, serving at Bunker Hill as per his pension file; but, a separate gravestone revealed these barely discernable words etched in stone by doing a pencil rubbing on paper:  “Corp.1, Co.1, N.Y. Regt. Rev War.”  Questioning what he was doing in a New York regiment, I spent the money to purchase his full  Revolutionary War pension application file.

I then read historical books about the Revolutionary War for their collateral documentation of the era.  Reading “The Spirit of Seventy-Six,” author Morris Commager confirmed that the New Hampshire unit was asked to join the above-noted New York regiment on a mission to Canada.  Records researched by Commager detailed how the men were captured, stripped of all clothes and possessions, and imprisoned on an island in the St. Lawrence with many soldiers dying.  The remaining soldiers were bought back in a cartel by Benedict Arnold and released to serve out their enlistment, confirmed by other reputable sources, including “Benedict Arnold’s Navy” by James L. Nelson – a really great read!  This all substantiated affidavits in John C.’s pension file and the story in a New Hampshire county historical book about the capture and release as celebrated annually by John C.’s friends and relatives who remained in Londonderry, NH after the Revolutionary War when he removed to Carlisle, Schoharie County, NY.

Although rare, cemetery records and gravestones do occasionally contain conflicting dates or errors.  A death certificate, if available, would be the more accurate record, along with collateral records.

I have personally seen few errors in gravestone data, but one stands out as part of my documented and published research thesis.  My ancestor, Lt. Timothy Hutton (b. 1746) had a nephew Lt. Timothy Hutton (b. 1764), both serving in military units in New York.  A monument to my Lt. Timothy Hutton at Carlisle Rural Cemetery in Carlisle, Schoharie Co., NY credits his service under Capt. Gross of Willett’s Regiment in the Revolutionary War.

On checking roster records, two Lt. Timothy Huttons are listed in Col. Marinus Willett’s Regiment at the same time – one in Capt. Gross’s company, the other in Capt. Livingston’s.  Purchasing military records of my ancestor, with my editor supplying a copy of affidavits for the younger Hutton, provides our proof.  This documentation notes both Lt. Timothy Huttons served in Willett’s NY Regiment.  But, Lt. Hutton b. 1764 stated in affidavits he served under Capt. Gross, with other documentation noting he died in New Jersey, while his uncle, my ancestor, Lt. Hutton b. 1746, though not stating which captain he served under, is thus presumed to have served under Capt. Livingston as per the unit’s roster records.  My Timothy Hutton (b. 1764) was documented serving in Schoharie County, NY, settling and dying in Carlisle, my mother’s home town.  And so I proved my Lt. Timothy Hutton did not serve under Capt. Gross as per his cemetery monument, but rather his nephew of the same name did.  With both men sharing the same name, it’s no wonder the kind folks who put up his monument were confused!

There has also been a concerted effort over the last several years to put cemetery records online, a great aid in research, but you should still document and prove data accuracy.  As the years pass, more and more data is making its way online than was available before 2000 when I began my research.  Again, check out the Find-A-Grave website.  Through the kindness of many people, photos are taken of gravestones, and, along with data written on the monuments, are placed online.

Obviously, not every grave is to be found online, nor is all information and family data accurate as I recently discovered from someone’s erroneous tie to my paternal family which I personally knew to be absolutely false.  I emailed the contact person and did not receive a reply back; I don’t know if it was ever corrected online as I’ve not gone back.  But, admittedly, it is very rewarding to find a photo of just the grave you’ve been searching for!

COMING NEXT:  Census Records

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

County historical and genealogical societies are another great repository of data to aid in your research.  Among their resources are town and county historical books which often include brief lineages of early settlers, donated private family records, old family Bibles or transcripts of family data, transcribed census records, church and cemetery records, microfilm of various records including old newspapers, donated copies of wills or abstracts of wills, maps, rare books, donated specialty items, published family genealogies, and unpublished family manuscripts which can often be as accurate as any published composition, and so much more.

But, please keep in mind that any family genealogy is only as good as the family’s recollections and the ability to provide solid documentation, so personal footwork is still necessary to clarify or prove data if source documentation cannot be provided.

If you know where an ancestor lived, contact the corresponding county historical society.  You might be amazed at what may have already been researched, or what the folks can help you with, and how well they can point you in the right direction.  There is a research and copy fee at a historical society, though it is always less expensive to do your own research on the premises.  When I researched in the early 2000s, an average fee of $25/hour was charged by most societies to have their staff do your research (may cost more now).  I personally traveled to several historical societies; but, since that was not always feasible, I also paid for some to do my research.

Visit the online website for the town and county historical societies where you wish to obtain data.  If you want them to research, write a brief letter of request, include their base fee as listed online, and a self-addressed stamped envelope along with a brief description of information you seek.  As they respond in the order requests are received, it may be a few weeks before you receive a reply noting your request for research has been placed.

By clarifying data on a family record form filed at both Tioga and Schoharie, NY county historical societies, I proved someone wrongly placed a daughter in my McNeill family.  I wrote the submitter for information, but never received a reply.  There were two McNeil(l) families in Schoharie County.  Ruth McNeil married Matthew Lamont, removing to Owego, Tioga County, New York by 1825.  Matthew and his son, Marcus Lamont(e), purchased Hiawatha Island east of Owego on June 23, 1830 and operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River.  Marcus Lamont(e)’s son, Cyrenus McNeil Lamont, purchased the island in 1872 and ran the famous Hiawatha Hotel until 1887.

I proved Ruth (McNeil) Lamont did not belong to my McNeill family as had been listed on the above family history form.  Instead, I believe she was more likely the daughter of John and Ruth (Reynolds) McNeil, and thus named for her mother.  John and Ruth McNeil were originally of Vermont as per that McNeil family history writeup which I purchased from Montgomery County Dept. of History & Archives.  Per her sons’ census records, Ruth was born about 1782 in New York, the same year as was my John C. McNeill’s proven daughter, Betsey, his oldest child. Betsey was actually adopted by her mother’s childless sister per New Hampshire records.

Historical societies often have microfilm of local newspapers for birth, marriage, obituary and death notices.  Newspapers are a great source of collateral family data found in ads, public notices, or community event columns, i.e. the old-fashioned “gossip” columns which note the hosts and attendees of fashionable events.

Other important historical society holdings include old church records which provide vital information for births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials.  Old baptism records often include not only the name of the infant and parents, but the sponsors/witnesses who were usually relatives or close friends.  Churches do not provide this data, but many older church records have been donated to historical societies.  Often, you will find that someone with an interest in preserving this information took the time and effort to transcribe original handwritten records into a neatly typed report.  The transcriber certifies his/her work to be true and accurate, retaining all original errors.  These records may be in manuscript form or in a published book.

Town and county clerks’ offices are also invaluable resources.  Check the respective website for who to contact and what records they retain.  Marriage, birth and death records are typically kept by the respective town clerk where the event took place.  County clerk websites provide information on who to contact for genealogical research purposes.  The county clerk’s office maintains original state and federal census records, public land records (deeds, mortgages, liens, and maps), tax records, and wills, etc.  Family documentation can be found in wills (sometimes found at surrogate’s court), estate records for those who died intestate (without a will), inventories of estates, letters of administration, guardianships, etc.

Always note the source to document your facts, i.e. book, author, publisher, date, page, for example:

William E. Roscoe, History of Schoharie County, New York, 1713-1882. (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1882), p. 54.

John C. McNeill, Revolutionary War Pension File 20246.

Mortgage Book B, pgs. 69-70, Schoharie County Clerk’s Office, Schoharie, Schoharie Co., NY.

U.S. 1790 Census, Weare, Hillsborough Co., NH, p. 5, handwritten p. 332, line #9, NARA roll M637_5 (ancestry.com census record).

When appropriate, you may certainly state data was found on personal visit to a specific named cemetery (be sure to include the address), a personal conversation with someone specific, or in a box of letters found in Grandma’s attic.  But don’t forget to note date of visits and conversations, and full names, including maiden and married surnames.

By keeping solid research documentation, it will always be available to validate your findings as needed.  You will never regret the extra effort.

COMING NEXT:  Cemetery Records

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

In researching your ancestors, you will hit brick walls – guaranteed!  When you do, think about who the most recent known ancestor was.  Remember that we discussed previously how the Dutch used a specific naming pattern.  Each child was named after the grandparents, alternating back and forth to include each of the child’s grandparents, great-grandparents, then aunts, uncles and parents.  Other ethnic groups, including the Germans, often used a similar pattern, but did not follow it as consistently.  By searching census records of the community where a particular family was known to live, I found the probable paternal grandfather of a friend’s ancestor.  It appeared her ancestor’s middle name was that of the probable grandfather, thus creating a crack in her brick wall.

Often, names changed spelling over time depending on the speller’s knowledge, or were changed to reflect the pronunciation.  Your surname today may not be how it began a few centuries ago.  My maternal family name of Tillapaugh began as the Swiss Dällenbach, being changed in the early 1800s among several lines, including the oft-used Dillenbeck/Dillenbach, etc.  Another example is the German Jung, pronounced and often Americanized as Young.  From the 1600s New Amsterdam, my Dutch VanKouwenhoven morphed into Conover.  My French DeGarmeaux from the Albany area became DeGarmo, while my German Richtmyer became Rightmyer in other lines.

Another example of surname change is found in my Revolutionary War families.  The original Swiss Dübendorffer became Diefendorf after arrival here in the 1730s.  My ancestor Georg Jacob Diefendorf remained loyal to the crown during the Revolutionary War.  However, his son, a staunch patriot, took his mother’s surname (his own middle name) as his new surname, becoming John Diefendorf Hendree, to disassociate himself from his father.

Paying close attention to details helped me find the marriage date for my ancestors Christina Dingman and Jacob Kniskern.  Sorting book by book in one row of the genealogy section of the Steele Library in Elmira, I saw a tiny church book for Montgomery County, New York.  This is a typed transcription of original handwritten church records.  Having seen these church records online, I knew exactly what I was holding.  Searching page by page, I saw the name of “Conescarn.”  Suddenly, I realized that I was looking at the phonetic spelling for the old pronunciation of Kniskern; now the “K” is silent.  I’d discovered what no one else had recognized before – my great-great-grandparents’ marriage date of October 17, 1840!

The Kniskern name began as Genesgern in churchbooks from the 1500s in Germany.  It is one of the oldest documented pedigrees of any New York 1709/10 Palatine emigrant according to the author Henry Z. Jones, Jr. in his personal email to me.  See his two-volume set “The Palatine Families of New York 1710”.  Mr. Jones and his assistants went to Germany and systematically searched records in every town and old church to document as many Palatine-region emigrant families as possible to provide solid documentation for today’s researchers.

When researching old families, it is also helpful to know that Sr. or Jr. and Elder or Younger do not necessarily indicate father and son as it does today.  Often, this title was used to differentiate between extended relatives or unrelated men within the same community who happened to have the same name.  With the old naming pattern, it was not uncommon to find “umpteen” men and boys by the same name in town and church records.  Without the title or other differentiation, it can be difficult to place them correctly in their family of origin, though key is noting the birth parents and baptismal sponsors.

Census takers frequently wrote a surname based on their own spelling ability, which, I discovered, was often quite atrocious!  Be flexible.  As you search records, try various spellings as names were often written as they sounded.  That fact alone can make all the difference in finding your ancestor.  Even my McNeill name, consistently signed by the oldest family members with two “l”s, was spelled variously on census records as McNial, McNeal, McNiel or simply McNeil (without the second “l”).  Several years ago, I transcribed the online 1810 census for Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York and submitted it for posting on the county genweb page.  Some names were very misspelled; but, being familiar with many of Carlisle’s families from research, I understood the intended names and put them in parentheses.

However, in hitting your brick wall, do not jump hastily into accepting published genealogies.  If there is evidentiary proof with solid documentation (like I provided for my published genealogies in footnotes) from reputable journals or well-documented books, then you should be able to accept them.  But, again, beware as I found false leads, fake ties, and erroneous data which I proved wrong with personal old-fashioned research, part of my published thesis.  It pays to put in the extra effort to prove your data.

I also want to stress that I do not readily accept anyone’s claim of family ties to famous historical folks, Mayflower ancestors, or royalty – nor should you.  Maybe you truly are connected, but I want to see sound documentation, preferably baptismal, marriage and death records, or cemetery records for every generation backward.  Also know that most well-documented earliest generations in America begin in the 17th or 18thcenturies.  Viable records previous to those centuries are not always available.

Since Ancestry.com has records from Britain, Ireland, Wales and several European countries, it is a valuable subscription resource.  You can also hire one of their professionals should you feel the need for their assistance.  A general search online for records from a particular nation may also be helpful as I found a reputable website with documented birth and marriage records from the Netherlands for my grandmother’s lineage.  I purchased the book on my paternal ancestry documented by a distant relative who just happens to work in the genealogy division of The Hague.  Though her work can definitively trace my paternal ancestry only to the early 18th century, I’m satisfied.  And I was amazed to see the photo of a Dutch constable, a brother of my great-grandfather, who looked uncannily like my Dad!

Some of your best resources can be found in books containing transcripts of original documents and/or in legitimate family records (Bibles, baptism, marriage and death records) placed at historical or genealogical societies.  Unless you know that what you hold in your hands is truly legit, do like I did to prove my lineage beyond a doubt – tackle the hard work yourself to prove every ancestor.  Yes, it’s time consuming and takes years, but the end result is truly worth the effort!

Again, many genealogies were written in the past with ties to royalty and early American Mayflower ancestors which have since been proven false.  Several resources regarding what to look out for are available at the following websites:

LDS Family Search “Fraudulent Genealogies.”

Genealogy.com’s “Fraudulent Lineages” by Nicole Wingate.

Genealogy’s Star blog:  “Genealogy as a Fraud.”

 

Tips on accuracy of research in “Bogus Genealogies” by George C. Morgan.

COMING NEXT:  County Historical and Genealogical Society holdings.

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

As you begin your research, document everything, every step of the way.  Keep some paper files readily accessible, but enter data in a genealogy computer program; I have an older Family Tree Maker version.  I also have “tons” of file folders filled with family research data gleaned from online resources and reputable books, emails with fellow researchers, data from visits to or purchased from historical societies, cemetery data from personal trips, etc.  And then there’s the shoebox filled with several hundred census records on 4×6 index cards.  I also found it helpful to paperclip together each family’s successive census records.

As we’ve been discussing, the key is to seek documentation from reputable sources.  Try to clarify data accuracy yourself as even the best author makes a mistake.  I was very frustrated when the new editor for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, who oversaw my McNeill article, rewrote part of my work and erred in what I had originally said – instead of asking me to rewrite.  Not being as familiar with the family as I was, she also tied some footnote documentation to the wrong facts, which I somehow overlooked in my final editing, necessitating a correction in a subsequent journal issue, making me look input.  I was not pleased, but kept my thoughts to myself.

As we said previously, it’s helpful to use a family history form, like these at Genealogy Search.   This website has numerous forms to record your data, including blank census forms.  When I first began dabbling in genealogy research, I didn’t have this resource available, or at least didn’t know where or how to find it.  I initially did everything the old-fashioned way by writing it all out on paper.  It wasn’t until I’d typed most family histories for my tome that I was introduced to Family Tree Maker, something which I highly recommend obtaining at the start.  It stores your data, connects extended family ties, tracks individuals and families, makes multiple descendancy charts from any progenitor, includes photos, and helps you make a nice family booklet.

To publish research as I did, you must prove new data (i.e. previously unpublished) or correct previously published data which you’ve proven is in error – both of which I did.  Every fact and every statement you make must be backed by solid documentation, with the source noted for each fact in a respective footnote.  If you make a habit of doing this right from the beginning of your research, you’ll at least prove your own lineage definitively without scrambling around for misplaced evidence.

Edit, edit and re-edit your story.  I cannot stress that enough.  Every so often I’d print out my research, using color-coded paperclips to track each family branch of one progenitor in said draft copy.  Focus on one ancestral line until it’s as complete as possible before moving on to the next line.  Believe me, it keeps you sane and less confused!  Back then, I had so many individual names and family ties in my head that I was a walking ancestral encyclopedia for a time… sharing a lot of early New Netherlands/New York history at the drop of a hat, and perhaps a bore to some listeners.

After gathering as much data as you can about known ancestors, a good place to start researching further is at Ancestry.com.  They have free 1880 census records available, but paying their annual subscription fee will provide access to a greater wealth of records.  As a member, at your fingertips will be census records from 1790-1940 (excluding the lost 1890 records), certain military records, city and national records, land records, international records, submitted family trees, baptisms, marriages, social security death index, phone book data, some books, etc.  These resources were vital to my research, thanks to the generosity of a distant cousin and dear friend, Mimi, who shared her Ancestry site with me.  You will also find family lineages posted at this website; but, be aware that submitted family data can definitely be incomplete and inaccurate as I also discovered.

Another good resource is Family Search, a free website by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Search this website for the free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File (PAF).  Their data includes 1880 census records, baptism and marriage records, death/cemetery records and submitted family data, etc.  Again, be cautious as not all data submitted by individuals is accurate.

Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a local LDS family history center.  Their resources can be invaluable as they include public records not readily available otherwise.  I used the Owego LDS church’s family history center, ordering several manuscripts/books on microfilm.  The editor for my McNeill article routinely flew to the main family history center in Salt Lake City, Utah to aid her editorial work, finding documentation from New Hampshire I had missed on prior researches.

Your local public library is also a great resource of interlibrary loans.  I cannot say enough about the helpful ladies at my local Spencer Library.  They ordered many genealogical and historical books for me.  These books included invaluable town and county backgrounds from New York and other states from their earliest beginnings, including generational documentation on early families.

Elmira’s Steele Library is among those in New York State which maintains a viable genealogical section, and I availed myself of their records for hours many Saturday mornings.  Their great collection includes the “New York Genealogical and Biographical Record”, the journal which published my articles, the “New England Genealogical Record”, early New York county history books, transcribed manuscripts of early New York City records, many family surname genealogy books, books on how and where to search, histories of family names and how they changed over the centuries, D.A.R. lists, and so much more.

Another resource is Cornell University’s library system.  My fear of getting on campus and finding my way around prohibited any attempt at investigating their tremendous genealogical and historical collection.  Most of their material is held in the Olin/Kroch building.  Use Cornell University’s Olin Library website as a guide for searching.   Bear in mind that, just as I was able to do, many of Cornell’s genealogical holdings may be ordered through your town library.

COMING NEXT – Brick walls…

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

Growing up knowing that my dad was a first-generation American born to 1920s Dutch immigrants, I’ve always been partial to all things Dutch. Then, researching my mom’s ancestors, and discovering the several nationalities in her lineage along with New Netherlands’ Dutch and their part in building America, has been even more of a treasure.

So, why is genealogy so important to us? Put another way, why is history important? To quote David McCullough in the Reader’s Digest, December 2002, author of John Adams and 1776: “The best way to know where the country is going is to know where we’ve been…But why bother about history anyway? …that’s done with, junk for the trash heap. Why history? Because it shows us how to behave. [It] teaches and reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for. History is about life – human nature, the human condition and all its trials and failings and noblest achievements… Everything we have, all our good institutions, our laws, our music, art and poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work… faced the storms, made the sacrifices, kept the faith… If we deny our children that enjoyment [of historical story telling]… then we’re cheating them out of a full life.” 

We cannot walk in our ancestors’ shoes; we can only imagine the way their life was from recorded history. And, though their life seems from a simpler time, it was much more difficult in so many ways. We can also look back with knowledge gained from their experiences, both good and bad. With stoic determination, our ancestors left families and homes behind to sail across an ocean with hopes of building a better life in a new country, tame the wilderness, and push back the western frontier. Typically, they never again saw the “old country” or family left behind. How easy it is for us just to hop in the car for a visit to relatives, or take a flight to faraway places! We have no idea what hardships our ancestors truly faced.

As you research, consider the reasons your ancestors left behind all they knew. This will give you a better appreciation for the people and their times. We know the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620 seeking religious freedom. In 1609, sailing for the Netherlands, Henry Hudson explored the Atlantic coastline and river which bears his name, looking for the Northwest Passage. Soon after, the Dutch built their vast empire, establishing a presence in New Amsterdam and New Netherlands that helped create New York what it is today, especially the city and eastern half of the state. But, few realize it was the Dutch influence on our early legal and governmental systems, the city’s early design, free trade, individual rights, religious liberty, and language that made New Amsterdam/New York City a world hub well before the 1664 British takeover. 

A must read is the excellent book by Russell Shorto, “The Island at the Center of the World“, to understand the influence and legacy of that little Dutch colony. The idea of a district attorney or public prosecutor began as the Dutch Schout (Scout). A home’s front stoep/stoop or step often held hearings to settle neighborhood disputes. Baas/boss is Dutch, koekjes/cookies are Dutch, and even our Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch Sint Nicklaas. New York City’s Bowery district was part of Pieter Stuyvesant’s bouwerij, the farm cared for by my ancestor, Pieter Claesz/Claesen Wijkoff (Wyckoff). Pieter sailed October 8, 1636 from Texel, Netherlands as a teen to work on the Rensselaerswyck plantation. Owned by Dutch financier, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, it was located where the city stands today. Pieter’s house, now the Wyckoff House Museum at Clarendon Road, Brooklyn, built c.1652, displays a collection of early Dutch artifacts reflecting New Amsterdam’s history.

Guns at New Amsterdam Fort formed the battery on Manhattan, today’s Battery Park. Wall Street was de wal, a row of palisades erected to protect the burgeoning town against Indian raids. Brooklyn was Breuckelen or broken land; Harlem was Nieuw Haarlem named for the city in the province of Friesland; Flushing was Vlissingen. Albany, founded by early Dutch, is the oldest continuous settlement in the original 13 colonies. The Hudson valley region up through the Mohawk River and Schenectady was settled by early Dutch before other nationalities arrived to claim their place in history.

Searching for your ancestors will help show when, where and how your family fits into this country. We are a nation built by immigrants of various ethnic backgrounds seeking a better way of life. Essentially, there were four major waves of immigrants to our American shores over the last several centuries. Colonial immigration, begun in the early 17th century, peaked just before the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775. The second wave began in the 1820s, lasting until the depression of the 1870s. The greatest influx of immigrants came in the third wave from the 1880s through the early 1920s (with my and my husband’s Dutch immigrants arriving in the early to mid 1920s), while the fourth, and continuing, wave is said to have begun about 1965.

Our ancestors immigrated for religious, economic and political reasons. They sought to enjoy our government-protected freedoms, to escape wars and famines and diseases, to own land, and to seek employment opportunities to provide a better way of life for their families. Ultimately, we were melded together to form a blend of cultures and ethnicities which have become uniquely American.

Our next segment will begin to look at specifics on how and where to search for your elusive ancestors. And with this article, I hope to begin a schedule of posting on or about the 15th of every month.

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

 
Linda Roorda

As we conclude our discussion on how and where to begin your ancestry research with suggestions based on my experience, I thought it would be helpful to collect the online resources in one place.  The following is a list of some of the many online sources which I found most helpful. 

 

I also continue to stress that not all submitted family records on any given site are totally accurate.  Unintentional errors and misspellings in data creep in.  It is up to you to seek out and prove the accuracy of whatever data you find online about your ancestors.  Unless you know a book is truly accurate and can prove the author had sound documentation, do not take a published book as fact “just because it says so.”  That’s how I proved errors in a book that had been accepted as fact for decades as I noted previously.  The extra footwork involved can be extensive, but it’s worth every effort put forth to have solid documentation for your family’s ancestral heritage.

 

Ancestry.com – free 1880 census record; but, for an annual subscription fee, you get in-depth census records from 1790-1930, military records, city and national records, land records, international records, family trees, baptisms, marriages, death index records, etc.

 

Family Search - free website with 1880 census records, baptism, marriage records, death records, and submitted family data.  Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, locally as in Owego or Elmira.  They also have a free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File, PAF, which I have used, though I prefer the Family Tree Maker.

 

My Heritage – discover your roots in a free trial to a subscription-based genealogy compilation.  I have not used this site.

 

Olive Tree Genealogy - free old church/cemetery records, 1600s ships’ lists, records for New Netherland, Palatines, Mennonites, Loyalists, Native American, Military, and Canadian data, etc.  I found this website to be very helpful in my early research nearly 20 years ago.

 

RootsWeb – free source of records, county genweb sites, surname lists, e-mail lists, posted documentation for cemeteries, church records, family websites and more. Currently undergoing a full-site rebuilding, but worth checking out for sections as they come back up for use.

           

CyndisList - free listing of American and International records and resources – a great resource.

 

Vital Records – U.S. birth certificates, death records, and marriage licenses for a fee.

 

U.S. GenWeb – free County GenWeb sites with a lot of data to aid your research.

 

Three Rivers – free source for middle-eastern New York families in the Hudson, Mohawk, Schoharie river regions, family genealogies, books, etc. 

 

Sampubco - Wills from several states, but not all wills.  Fee charged for copies.  I purchased several wills from this website and was very pleased with the service.

 

National Archives and Records Administration –  Click on Veterans’ Service Records section to begin searching.  You will find military service records, pension records of veterans’ claims, draft registration records, and bounty land warrant application files and records available. Order forms are free, but you pay a fee to order copies of records. Well worth the cost.

 

NARA contact/forms – see various forms listed for National Archives Records Administration, government war records.  Obtain free forms from which to order military records including pre-Civil War full service records or pension application files (on NATF Form 85 and/or 86; forms are free).  Some list family members, others do not.  You will find a good amount of information in files re: a soldier’s service, enlistment, capture, discharge, death, etc.,; these records provide valuable documentation.

 

Soldiers and Sailors Database - Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database for military records.

 

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation - search passenger and ship manifest records free, or order quality record copies for a fee.  Ship manifest records are also found at Ancestry.com, a subscription resource.

 

New York Biographical and Genealogical Society – very trustworthy site with many online articles/records; they are working to put more records online; however, most are limited to membership in the Society.  The Steele Library in Elmira has the full set of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Genealogical Journal.  I can attest to the high quality of published research and records in both journals.  I used these journals in my research, with my documented research articles published in the NYGBR.  In order to publish, you must prove all of your statements with solid documentation.

 

Making of America, Cornell University – old books, magazines, newspapers online in searchable/readable format – worth wading through this free resource.

 

Higginson Book Company, Salem, Mass. - old maps, family surname genealogies, county/state historical books, published cemetery and church records, etc. Contact for free catalog; copies books/records obtained for a fee but worth it, from which I purchased a few books.

 

Olin Uris Library, Cornell University - Cornell University’s guide to research of their extensive holdings.  They note that, unfortunately, not all their genealogical books are kept in one section. 

 

Find-A-Grave - free resource of many gravestones around the United States.  Be careful of family notes – I found errors in a family of my close relatives; when I contacted the contributor who added notes tying my family to theirs by error, there was no response, no correction.

 

Tips on fraudulent lineages at:

Family Search Fraudulent Genealogies

Genealogy Today

Gustav Anjou, Fraudulent Genealogist

 

Genealogy.com - locating published genealogies

 
Genealogy Bank, Researching your Pilgrim Ancestry from the Mayflower

 

Again, locally, the Steele Library in Elmira   has an excellent genealogy section on the second floor to aid your research.  I spent many a Saturday morning searching through their collection for documentation on my ancestry data and can highly recommend it.  Cornell University also has a major genealogy library though I was afraid to go up on campus for a personal visit. 

 

And, last but not least, your local library can order books through the interlibrary loan system.  This was a tremendously helpful resource to me for out-of-county and out-of-state historical/genealogical books.  I could not have done it without these resources. 

 

I must also give credit to the many friends I made along my genealogical journey, some of whom proved to be distant cousins and have remained close friends.  We shared data, books, and a love for our ancestral families.

 

And now, I wish you every success as you search for your ancestors.  Enjoy the journey!

~ The End ~

Linda Roorda

There are many free genealogy websites which are a great resource for records and helpful family data, including RootsWeb.  This free site, part of the ancestry.com family, includes a “Getting Started” section with their “guide to tracing family trees.”  The latter has great tips on how to begin, a list of sources and where to find various records, and a list of various countries/ethnic groups.  Clicking on any of these hi-lited items will provide information on beginning your research. 

 

Unfortunately, in checking the RootsWeb site to update this article, I learned they’re in the process of making website repairs.  Feel free to check them out for their explanatory letter as some functions, like the Message Boards, are up and running while other functions will gradually return for usage.  However, most of what I reference here from their site is currently unavailable while they make repairs.

 

They have a section entitled “Searches.”  This includes surname listings you can peruse to see what might be out there.  My favorite section was the “U.S. Town/County Database.”  Here, I have found a wealth of information for vital records from churches and cemeteries, biographies, family lineages, and more.  Researching my early New York families often brought me to the Albany, Schenectady and Schoharie county genweb sites. 

 

The next section is labeled “Family Trees (World Connect).”  You can search family trees generously submitted by other researchers.  I did find errors in submitted family trees when I began my research, prompting my own research to document, write and publish my family articles.  For that reason, I tend to stay away from this section in seeking information on my ancestors.  I prefer to do as much footwork as I can on my own, albeit with guidance from friends who taught me as I learned along the way.  Submitted trees certainly can be entirely accurate; however, if used as a starting point with other online records, you can then seek sources to provide solid documentation and corroborative proof, i.e. church and cemetery records in reputable books or journals, census records, wills, etc.

 

The next section is “Mailing Lists.”  These lists are also invaluable.  I was formerly on an email list which provided discussions on various topics relating to the early settlers and records of the 1600s and 1700s in New Netherlands/New York.  It was a rewarding experience to reply to someone’s query by contributing data I have in a book of ancient Albany’s city and county records that was helpful to others. 

 

From RootsWeb , I had subscribed years ago to the Schoharie County email list.  That resource was where I saw the notice by a professor from Long Island who found an old photo in a Washington, D.C. antique shop.  The pencil writing on the back of the matting read, “First Tillapaugh Reunion July 1910…”  I replied that my mother’s two oldest brothers inherited that farm, and their sons continue to farm it today.  A reproduction of the photo is in the Dallenbach book of descendants which I own, so I was well aware of what the professor had found.  In fact, the house in the photo, built in the 1830s, is still very much in use today.  I was offered the opportunity to purchase the photo which, of course, I did, thus beginning my genealogy research in earnest in the late 1990s.

 

RootsWeb also includes a section for “Message Boards.”  Here, you can search your surname of interest, read other posts, and post your own query for information which I have also done.  Folks on these message boards have been very helpful.  This has also been a resource to meet extended relatives in various lines, which I have also done.  We have then shared our own researched and documented data with each other.  Several friendships were made this way, and they continue to be counted among my close friends today.

 

Other sections have even more options available including various surname websites, other tools and resources such as blank forms and charts, and hosted volunteer projects.  The latter includes books owned by folks who are willing to research them for information you might need from a particular book.  You may also find volunteers who are able to do local lookups at either cemeteries or historical societies for you.  When volunteers have helped by doing research footwork for me, I felt it appropriate to pay their expenses, a much-appreciated gift. 

 

You can also submit your FamilyTreeMaker data to RootsWeb.  Instead, of doing that, I submitted a McNeill descendancy outline with names and dates of birth to the Schoharie County Genweb site.  It is also common courtesy not to submit names of any living relatives, or those born within the past 75-100 years out of respect for privacy.

 

Another free online source of cross-referenced data is the comprehensive CyndisList The Categories section provides a list of resources, including American state and government as well as international resources.  There is an Adoption section to help find orphans and living people, message boards, and volunteers to assist your search.  A section entitled Free Stuff includes charts and forms, translation tools, online databases to search, volunteer lookups, surname family associations and newsletters, etc. 

 

Sections you might not have thought about include 1) Migration Routes, Roads and Trails, 2) Canals, Rivers and Waterways, and 3) Immigration and Naturalization.  There are sections entitled Heraldry, Hit a Brick Wall?, and Ships & Passenger Lists.  The Mailing Lists are great for asking questions when you’re stumped, and for connecting with researchers working on the same lines.  There are also sites to purchase items, and free trials to search various genealogy websites before paying their site subscription fee.

 

Ancestry.com has some free data, like the 1880 Federal Census records, but the best records are obtained using subscription-based entrance.  Here, you will find tabs for Home, Trees, Search, DNA, Help, and Extras.  It is an invaluable resource.

 

Perhaps your ancestors came through Ellis Island.  Search The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation   to find your ancestors and the ship on which they sailed.  A ship’s manifest lists the passengers, their age, name of the ship, port, date of departure, occupation, nearest relative in their country of origin, and their sponsor in the U.S.  I found information for my husband’s paternal grandfather’s family when they emigrated from Holland in the early 1920s.  Some went first to North Dakota before settling in northern New Jersey as dairy farmers while others settled right away in northern New Jersey and Massachusetts to work in the textile mills.   

 

I also found records at the Ellis Island website for my father’s families which emigrated from the Netherlands.  Like many families, both of my father’s grandfathers came through Ellis Island, each with their oldest son – my dad’s paternal grandfather in November 1922, and his maternal grandfather in September 1923.  They settled in and around Kalamazoo, Michigan among other Dutch.  When they earned enough money, they sent for the rest of their family.  My paternal grandfather emigrated from Uithuizermeeden, Groningen at age 15 in July 1923 with his mother and siblings through Ellis Island. 

 

However, my dad’s maternal grandfather was determined his wife and children would not go through the rigors of steerage and Ellis Island.  Instead, he sent money back home to them in Rotterdam for second-class tickets.  Decades ago, my grandmother told me only a little about their sailing on the S. S. Rotterdam to Hoboken, New Jersey.  Research showed the ship came into a New York City port in January 1926, with the ship’s manifest listing my grandmother’s family.  Unfortunately, I didn’t ask more questions.  She told me that a Dutchman, who made a living helping immigrants, met my great-grandmother and her children (my grandmother was age 15), and took them to his home in Hoboken, New Jersey.  He fed them, put them up overnight, and the next morning put them on the right train to Michigan with lunches in hand.  There, my great-grandmother was reunited with her husband, and my grandmother and her siblings with their father and oldest brother.  How exciting that must have been!

 

My grandparents married in 1931 and lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  With the Great Depression, my grandfather and his father lost everything as building contractors.  They removed to another Dutch enclave in Clifton, New Jersey where my grandfather became a door-to-door salesman before again becoming a successful general contractor, with many a beautiful house or remodeling project to his credit.

 

You can purchase quality photo documentation of the ships your ancestors sailed on.  However, I simply printed the free online photo of the ships on which my ancestors sailed, along with each respective ship’s manifest for documentation.  I used both Ancestry.com and the Ellis Island websites to obtain records.

 

For steerage immigrants, the Ellis Island experience included passing a medical and legal inspection.  If your papers were in order, and you were in reasonably good health, the inspection process typically lasted 3-5 hours.  The ship’s manifest log was used by inspectors to cross-examine each immigrant during the primary inspection.  Though Ellis Island has been called the “Island of Tears,” the vast majority of immigrants were treated respectfully and allowed to enter America to begin their new life.  However, about two percent of immigrants were denied entry.  Typically, if you were suspected of having a contagious illness, or if the inspector thought you might become a public burden, entrance to the U.S. was denied.  I can only imagine the pain it must have caused when one or more family members were told they had to go back to their native country. 

 

I am very appreciative of the efforts my many ancestors made to emigrate from their home country, to which none ever returned, of becoming American citizens, and of their hard work to provide a better way of life for their family.  By sharing bits of my ancestral heritage, of who they were and whence they came, I hope it has encouraged you to search for your ancestors, to find their place in the building of our great America, and thus to know the gift of your family heritage.

 

NEXT:  Genealogy Website Resource List

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Roorda

We previously briefly touched on the importance of your ancestor’s Last Will and Testament, an excellent source of family documentation.  Wills are filed at surrogate court or county clerk’s office along with estate records for those who died intestate (without a will), inventories of estates, letters of administration, and guardianships, etc. 

 

Some older wills may be found online at Sampubco Genealogy as posted by W. David Samuelson from whom you may purchase documents.  This site includes wills, guardianships, surrogate’s records/probate files, naturalizations, letters of administration, and cemetery listings.  Records are available for several states via alphabetical name search by county.  From my experience, mostly older wills are available, but not all of them.  I can, however, recommend this site as I purchased several ancestral wills more reasonably than from surrogate’s court or county clerk’s office.  However, it is still advisable to go to the appropriate office to search for and copy complete records, which I also did.

 

One drawback can be old style writing and language.  Having begun my secretarial career in an Owego law firm, researching and copying old deeds and wills in shorthand, I was familiar with most of the standard language.  After transcribing eighteenth and nineteenth century ancestral wills I’d purchased, I submitted several online to respective county genweb sites.  They provide an opportunity for future researchers to use this gift, a way to pay back the gifts others have freely placed online to aid in research.  It’s all about helping each other on the journey.

 

As for the old language of bequeathing one’s estate, I share excerpts in original format from the wills of a few of my ancestors – original spelling or misspelling retained. 

 

Henrich/Henry Kniskern, signed 1780, probated 1784:  “In the Name of  God Amen. I, Henrich Knieskern at Shoharry [Schoharie] in the County of Albany [before Albany became several counties] farmer being at present weak in Body but of Sound Mind and Memory… considering that it is appointed for us all once to Die do this Eight Day of May in the Year of Our Lord Christ One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty make and Publish this my Last will and Testament in manner and form following that is to Say I recommend my Soul unto God that gave & my body unto the Earth from whence it came to be decently Interred… I give and bequeath unto my eldest Son… five Pounds Lawful money of New York (I Mean and Understand good hard Silver Money) for his birth Right… it is my will and Ordre that my Wife… shall have her supporting and Maintainment yearly and Every Year for her Life Time of my Estate in Knieskerns Dorph… [Kniskernsdorf is a now-extinct hamlet established on the Schoharie Creek by my ancestor, Johann Peter Kniskern, the Listmaster of one of the original 1710 Palatine settlements on the Hudson River.]  …I Give unto my Two Sons… together Equally my farming utenciels and Tools as both or Two Waggons & Two Sleeds Ploughs and Harrows with all the Tackling and furniture thereof… axes hoes & other Implements of husbandry… I Give to my Two Daughters, as bed Goods, Pewter Goods, Iron pots, Cooper goods & other goods… I give to my Two Sons… Equally my Loom and all & Every articles that belongs to Weavers…”

 

Adam Dingman, a prosperous freeholder of Kinderhook and Albany, wrote “...know all men that in the year seventeen hundred and twenty and twenty-one, the twenty-first day of January, in the seventh year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King George, I, Adam Dingeman, born at Haerlem, Holland, sick and weak of body, but having the perfect use of my senses…”  Unfortunately, he did not name his children from whom I have proven descendancy.

 

George Hutton, son of Lt. Timothy Hutton, listed all children, with daughters by their married names, a very helpful will.  An interesting inventory with values was attached to his wife Elizabeth’s will from 1845.  Numerous items were listed, including “1 feather bed $7.25, 1 blue and white spread $4.00, 1 straw bed tick $.25, 1 brown calico dress $.37, 1 black cashmere shall $.75, 1 pr morocco shoes $.50, 1 rocking chair $1.00.”

 

Other wills bequeath hereditaments (one of my favorite words), i.e. land, crops, tools, animals.  A McNeill family will “allows” an unmarried sister to use half of the house for life.  And an inventory made in 1758 for the estate of John McNeill, an apparently wealthy mariner (father of John C. McNeill), includes “1 Jacket of Cut Vellvet & 1 pair of Black Vallvet Britches, 1 paire of Lether Buckskin Britches, 1 Great Coat of Davinshire Carsey, 1 fine linnin Sheet x3 coarse ones, 1 45 weight of fetther, 1 paire of carved Shew buckells & knee buckells of silver, 1 paire Sleve buttons of gold, 2 Small Bibells w/one Silver clasped, 1 book called fishers Arithmitick, 1 seet of Harrow teeth, 1 Seet of plow Irons.” 

 

Old documents do make fascinating reads! 

 

COMING NEXT:  Genealogy Websites

Original blog post at: Homespun Ancestors - Your Family Tree #10

Linda Roorda

Welcome to the world of genealogy research where your ancestors come alive! It’s exciting to put names, faces, and personalities to your family’s past. Here, we’ll delve into clues to find those whose genes flow through your veins, and who contributed their part to who you’ve become today. But, I need to warn you – it’s addicting!

I used this poem, Dear Ancestor, in the 600+ page manuscript I wrote of my mother’s ancestral history:

Your tombstone stands among the rest,
Neglected and alone.
The name and date are chiseled out
On polished, marbled stone.
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn.

You did not know that I exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you
In flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
Entirely not our own.

Dear Ancestor, the place you filled
One hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
Who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved,
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot,
And come to visit you.

By: Walter Butler Palmer (1868-1932), written in 1906

 

Several years ago I gave a two-part seminar for the Spencer (New York) Historical Society on researching ancestors. In this column, I’d like to revisit that arena because you may be beginning your research journey, may have hit a brick wall or two or more, or maybe just want to find a little more information on your elusive ancestors. The key to starting a study of your family’s history is through personal research of family records, census records, church records, cemetery records, and war records, etc.

This series was originally published biweekly in the former local newspaper, “Broader View Weekly.” My intention is to expand the articles and provide interesting historical backgrounds. Many of you know I also wrote other personal interest/interview articles for that paper, and began a blog, “Life on the Homestead”. When the “Broader View” paper closed, my “Homestead” blog was previously included on the Elmira Telegram website, and was written by researching various aspects pertinent to our early 19th century American history and way of life. I may even decide to intersperse a few of those articles in my new blog here.

To introduce my genealogy work and credentials, I researched and documented both of my mother’s parents back to the early 1600s Dutch of New Amsterdam and the greater New Netherlands, including founders of New York City and the Albany and Schenectady area. Along the way, a few French, Belgian and English folk became part of my family with their own fascinating histories. My lines also include numerous 1710 German/Swiss Palatine immigrants documented from church records in Germany and Switzerland as researched and published by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and the ca. 1718-1720 Scots-Irish immigrants to Massachusetts Colony, founders of the Londonderry, New Hampshire region.

Among various genealogy reference books, there are two books in my personal library which were invaluable to my early research: “The Palatine Families of New York, 1710, Vols. I and II” by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and the incomparable background history of the Palatines and their travails in “Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration” by Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D.

I am not a professional genealogist, but a hobby researcher who loves history. I had no prior training, but learned along the way with the help of kind strangers met on my journey. Several even turned out to be distant cousins with whom I continue to maintain a close friendship.

My quest began with my mother’s family tree in hand. Though I never saw the actual tree (which now belongs to one of my cousins), it hung on the wall in my maternal Tillapaugh family farmhouse in Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York. In 1969, my Mom carefully copied down all the names from the tree for my first Bible. Then, in 1998, I purchased a book on my paternal Dutch Visscher genealogy from a distant relative who works at The Hague’s genealogy center.

I also have “The Dallenbachs in America” which documents my maternal Swiss Dallenbach/Tillapaugh ancestry. It includes a photo showing my mom’s parents at the 1910 Tillapaugh Reunion on the Hutton Homestead, settled in the early 19th century. My mother’s two oldest brothers inherited this dairy farm, and my cousins continue to run it.

But, it was another item which actually launched my deeper research. In 1999, a photo was offered on the Schoharie County Genweb email site noting these words penciled on the back: “First Tillapaugh Reunion July 1910, Hutton Homestead.” As noted above, my uncles inherited this farm from our Hutton ancestors, and my cousins still farm it today. Informing the seller (a professor and antique enthusiast) of my immediate family ties to the photo (showing my grandparents and paternal great-grandparents), he offered it for my purchase, and I was determined to learn more about my ancestors. And part of that photo is featured above as my header image.

Out of my several years of extensive research and documentation came three articles published in the “New York Genealogical and Biographical Record” (NYGBR), which are in Elmira’s Steele Library Genealogy Section. You can also find the NYGBR in Cornell University’s genealogy library, or other libraries with such holdings. If there is no viable genealogy library near you, you local library can obtain various books and journals for you through the inter-library loan system.

My first article was titled, “Which Elizabeth Van Dyck Married John Hutton?” (NYGBR REC.135:31 – REC indicates the volume, followed by the page on which the article appears). It documented use of the Dutch naming pattern to clarify which of three Elizabeth Van Dycks married the shipwright John Hutton, not the goldsmith, of the same name. They were all of New York City and documented in records of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Though this naming pattern is endemic to the Dutch, other ethnic groups used a similar pattern, but not as consistently or as extensively over the centuries as the Dutch. They faithfully followed a pattern of naming the first two sons after the children’s grandfathers, and the first two daughters after the grandmothers. Thereafter, children were named after the respective great-grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, or even the baptism sponsors. I absolutely enjoy mapping families using this naming pattern in the online baptismal records of the early Dutch Reformed Churches of New York City, Albany and Schenectady.

My second article, “The Family of John Hutton and Elizabeth Van Dyck,” (REC.136:45; 136:135; and 136:193) again used the Dutch naming pattern to determine that Elizabeth Deline Hutton’s parents most probably were William and Ariantje Deline. I could not accept that a prior researcher had published as fact (and believed by multiple genealogists with whom I was in contact) that she was the daughter of 63-year-old Margrietje Clute Deline, a woman who was more likely Elizabeth Deline’s grandmother. Margrietje would’ve held a world record for sure if that were true!

This article delineated John Hutton’s descendants (some not previously documented in this family), including my ancestors who settled on the above-noted Hutton Homestead in Carlisle, New York in the early 19thcentury. My research article also corrected other mistakes in lineage, and corrected wrong Revolutionary War data chiseled onto my ancestor’s tall obelisk monument. There were two Lt. Timothy Huttons, my ancestor and his younger nephew. I proved the military data on the monument is actually that of the younger Lt. Tim Hutton. Oh, but it pays off to do your own thorough research!

My third article, “The McNeill Family of Carlisle, Schoharie County,” (REC.139:123; 139:217; 139:313) documented the descendants of John McNeill, mariner, of Boston [Massachusetts] and New Boston [New Hampshire]. John’s wife, Hannah Caldwell McNeill, died (presumably) soon after childbirth, while John likely died at sea as per estate records purchased (no cemetery record available). This left their only son, John Caldwell McNeill, an orphan, raised by his mother’s parents in and around Londonderry, New Hampshire. About 1795, John C. removed his family to Carlisle, NY.

The McNeills had never been documented as a family, and I knew of only one son, my ancestor, Jesse. But, piece by piece, a family was built from John C.’s Revolutionary War pension file (which only had an affidavit by son Jesse, no other children’s names), census records, cemetery stones, other family war pension files, obituaries, historical society data, out-of-state historical books the local Spencer Library graciously ordered for me, and from other descendants who replied to data I posted online. Unfortunately, I know nothing about one daughter, and only the nickname of one other daughter.

Again, there is no substitute for the hard work of personal research and documentation; but, making friends with researchers of the same lines, and sharing data, goes a long way to helping you find your ancestors!

It is my hope to inspire you by providing valuable tips on researching your ancestors in future articles. But, again, fair warning – it’s extremely addicting!

 

"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

Linda Roorda

Okay, let’s start researching.  As you ponder a few names in your ancestral tree, the burning question may be, “How do I start looking for ancestors I don’t even know about?”  Actually, the best way is to begin working backward from what you do know.  Start with your birth certificate to prove your parents.  Obtain copies of birth, baptism and marriage records, newspaper death notices or obituaries, and cemetery records of your near relatives.

Research can be an expensive endeavor and I will admit I’ve not done all I’d like to simply for that reason.  I’m able to join the DAR with about ten ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War; and, though I have a good deal of documentation, I’ve not been able to afford all that which is necessary for the DAR forms.  I know that I have DAR status with the evidence in my hand, and don’t need to prove that fact to an association.  Yet, even on a limited budget, you can accomplish a great deal like I did with the resources available – particularly as my initial online research of records for several years was done using the painfully slow dial-up internet service!

Make a list of your known and extended relatives.  Talk to the older folks and write down their memories and stories.  They are a wealth of information, and will be honored to have you ask.  But, again, research helps validate the truth from “stories” which might have snippets of reality amongst exaggerated stories passed down as family history.  Check out Cyndi’s List for a great listing of various types of charts and forms which can be printed off to help you keep records.

I also wish I had had an interest in knowing my family history when I was younger and my grandparents were still alive.  With my mom born as child 11 of 12 in a large farming family, her parents were long gone by the time I finally developed an interest.  And, since both her parents were only children, there’s a paucity of extended “rellies” for me to speak with. Yet, I’ve met other extended cousins and have enjoyed getting to know them while we compare our family lineage notes.

With her own family history interest, my mom recalled bits and pieces, but that’s why the original family tree mentioned in my first article was vital.  Working through the known three generations to prove their accuracy, my empty-nest project evolved into a 600-plus page manuscript.  I documented historical family backgrounds and descendants from church and cemetery records, historical records, census records, and books, etc. for every known surname branch.  Don’t research just the male lineage as some folks prefer; the women are equally as important to your heritage!  I even included research on the extended families as a record of their historical times and how families became intertwined.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to them, search old diaries and letters which may reference family members.  Old family Bibles often list family births, marriages and deaths, but not all do.  For example, an old Bible found in the brick McNeill house in Carlisle, NY by the current owners (with whom I became friends) held no data other than three McNeill obituaries, two of whom were known to be related.  Yet, the obits became key evidence in my search as one obit was for a Martha McNeill Tillapaugh Seber of Decatur, New York.  That little piece of paper gave credence to my theory that she is related!  She is the presumed daughter of Samuel McNeill as she fits the age of a female born 1814 on his census records, the only McNeill family in Decatur at that time.  This gave a descendant, who I was assisting, substantial probability for Martha’s birth family since his family papers noted Martha McNeill was born about 1814 in Decatur, thus lending credence to our being distant cousins.

The following also shares how one clue leads to another in research.  Based on a gut feeling, I purchased Robert McNeill’s War of 1812 pension application file after finding him on the 1820 Carlisle, New York census.  He lived very near my ancestor, John C. McNeill (typical of the old generations), and was listed on the War of 1812 muster rolls.

In pension application affidavits, Robert noted service at Watertown and Sackett’s Harbor, New York and as a guard of prisoners on a march to Albany.  He made no mention of service on any ship.  Sadly, I had to break the news to a descendant friend and cousin that Robert’s claim to be in a famous battle on Lake Erie during the War of 1812 was not backed up by documentation in any of his records.

Also, unfortunately, he served only 53 days of the required 60, making him ineligible for a pension.  However, additional key data found in his affidavits note Robert served in place of his brother, Samuel McNeill, of Decatur, Otsego County, New York, and that he, Robert, lived first at Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York.  Thus, he was born about 1794, after his parents removed from New Hampshire to New York.  Bingo!!  I now had two more presumed brothers of my known Jesse McNeill!  When Robert enlisted in September 1813, it appears he was about 18, unmarried, willing and able to serve for his brother, Samuel, who had a young family per the 1810 Decatur census and who presumably had farm crops to harvest.

By census records, we track Robert and family on the 1820 census in Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York, the 1830 census in Conesus, Livingston County, New York near his wife’s relatives, and the 1840 census in Dundee, Monroe County, Michigan.  After his first wife died, he lived near his sister’s family in Wayne County, New York where he remarried, moving his family back to Michigan per 1860 census.  I like to think of them as “frequent flyers” on the bustling Erie Canal, sailing Lake Erie from western New York to the frontier in southeast Monroe County, Michigan.  Curiously, his second wife is later found without Robert on census and cemetery records with their children in Wayne County, New York.  As Robert is listed on census records in the homes of his first wife’s children, dies and is buried in Michigan, his descendant and I have concluded that he and his second wife separated, but never divorced, as she died and is buried in Wayne County, New York.

There is so much to be gleaned by searching for and finding actual records.

Coming next:  Document everything, every step of the way!

Linda Roorda

If there’s anything that exemplifies the Christmas season, it’s the music. The familiar faith-based carols and popular melodies embody the meaning of a beloved holiday as well as add to our joyous spirits. But Christmas music back in the early days of America wasn’t what we think of today. Obviously, there were no radios for listening to popular tunes, and there were no records, cassettes, CDs or MP3s to buy.

And, if anyone was dreaming of a white Christmas, it certainly wasn’t with a popular tune! It was simply the beauty of a night made more silent by the pristine-white ground cover, and the time it took to harness the horse and ready the sleigh for a trip thru the woods and over the river to Grandma’s welcoming arms.

It’s hard to believe now, but centuries ago the singing of Christmas carols was officially banned from the medieval church! Undeterred, hearty souls who loved to sing songs of their faith went door to door, singing to their friends. That is, until Oliver Cromwell put a ban on this activity in 17th century England. Even the early American Puritans did not celebrate Christmas, and William Bradford ordered those slackers back to work who dared to celebrate – after all, Christmas was not a holiday… yet, anyway! It wasn’t until 1870 that we Americans officially recognized Christmas as a “Federal” holiday. Prior to that, festivities began to be popular about 1840; previously, celebrations were considered “unchristian.”

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In all fairness to the Puritans, they believed every day was to be lived for God.  Their common adage held that “they for whom all days are holy can have no holiday.”  This belief was based on not finding Scriptural support for any holy day other than the Sabbath, though they definitely found other reasons to enjoy hearty celebrations.

Biblically, early Christians were encouraged to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…” (Ephesians 5:19 NIV) So, it’s really no wonder songs of joy have been in the hearts of those who celebrated Christmas over the centuries, including our ancestors.

In the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps the oldest Christmas song was written by St. Hilary of Poitiers in the early 4th century. The Latin “Jesus refulsit omnium” or “Jesus illuminates all” is believed to have been written by St. Hilary in 336 AD for the first Christmas celebration. Aurelius Prudentius, a Christian poet also of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote “Corde natus ex Parentis” (i.e. Of the Father’s Love Begotten”), a 4th century hymn, not a Christmas carol per se`.

A few years later in 354 AD, the Roman Catholic Church drew up a list of bishops, with a note for 336 AD: “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” (i.e. December 25, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea.) Thus, December 25, 336 is believed to be the “first recorded celebration of Christmas” (i.e. Christ’s mass) even though no one knows the actual date of Jesus’ birth.

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In the early 13th century, Italy’s St. Francis of Assisi used live “Nativity Plays” with singing of carols to revive a Christmas spirit among his parishioners. As Christianity spread, the Roman Catholic Church began singing “Angel’s Hymns” at the Christmas mass, and other churches followed the example across Europe. Over time, new carols were written with Scripture-based themes, and traveling minstrels shared the music on their travels.

Though once banned, the old carols regained popularity as common folk sang privately or in special bands for Christmas Eve services. Eventually, Christmas carols were welcomed in the church worship service, and continue to thrive today not only in our many church hymn books, but have also been made popular via modern media. Most carols we sing today are only a few centuries old, written in the 18th and 19th centuries, while many newer carols and popular songs were written in the latter 19th through the 20th centuries, with even newer and more contemporary Christmas music written in the mid-20th century through this current 21st century.

With carols being songs expressing our joy, and knowing their origins, they are especially meaningful to us as we sing our favorites during the Advent and joyous Christmas season. Only one verse is shared of each song except the last two; you will easily find the balance in your hymnbook or in an online search.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – a long-time favorite, it’s a song of the medieval era, perhaps written in the 9th century by a monk or nun. John Mason Neale, an Anglican priest of the early 19th century in the Madeira Islands near Africa, translated this Latin poem from an ancient book of poetry and hymns he had discovered. Neale is believed to have used musical accompaniment from a 15th century funeral hymn of French Franciscan nuns, as per a manuscript at the National Library of Paris. The tune we still sing today is based on the ancient “plainsong” rhythmic style. There are eight or nine original verses, but the typical church hymnal uses five.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – though the composer of both this carol and the tune are unknown, it has been sung in churches as far back as the 16th century. First published in 1827 or 1833 (source difference), it was traditionally sung in the streets of London by watchmen and among revelers in taverns. In fact, Charles Dickens referenced it in “A Christmas Carol.” When Ebenezer Scrooge heard this song being joyfully sung in the street, something he could not abide, he threatened to hit the singer with a ruler! It has been popularized by numerous 20th century recordings. Originally, there were eight verses.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
Refrain:
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Joy to the World – this favorite carol by Isaac Watts was published in 1719 in his book, “The Psalms of David.” Based on his paraphrase of Psalm 98, it does not reference the traditional Christmas story found in Luke 2. Though not being written for Christmas per se`, it celebrates Christ’s coming again as all earth rejoices – completing the reason for His humble birth in Bethlehem. There are four verses to this very joyful and beloved carol.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – one of over 6000 hymns written by Britain’s prolific hymnist, Charles Wesley, this carol was penned in 1739 as a poem of ten verses. An original line, “Glory to the newborn King” was later changed by Wesley’s student, George Whitfield, to “Glory to the King of kings.” That change led to a rift between the two men with Whitfield eliminating some of the verses, yet this carol is considered one of the richest theological assets to the church hymnal. Its melody was written by Felix Mendelssohn, a familiar name as musician and composer.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King.”

Angels We Have Heard on High – this popular nativity carol originated in 18th century France among the people who truly love to sing their “Chants de Noel” or Christmas carols. The title is taken directly from Scripture, Luke 2:14, using Latin for the chorus: “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (i.e. Glory to God in the highest). The carol entirely references Luke 2:6-20, and was first published in North America for the Diocese of Quebec in the “Nouveau recueil de cantiques” (i.e. New Hymnal) of 1819. It was first published in the Methodist hymnal in 1935. There were four original verses.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Refrain: Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! or Silent Night, Holy Night! – the simple yet elegant words to this beloved carol were written as a poem in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, Catholic priest at Mariapfarr. Two years later, Mohr had become priest for St. Nicholas’ Church at Oberndorf in the beautiful Austrian Alps. When the organ broke just before Christmas, Mohr took his poem to the organist, Franz Gruber, asking him to write an easy tune for singing with guitar. Gruber then composed the organ accompaniment several years later. But, if it were not for the organ repairman taking a copy of the song with him and sharing it with others, one of our favorite carols might have remained a seldom heard Austrian folksong. In 1859 or 1863, Mohr’s original poem of six verses was translated from German into the familiar English version by an Episcopal priest, John Freeman Young – verses 1, 6, 2 being what we sing today. Read more history at Stille Nacht Gesellschaft. 

This carol was sung during a WW I truce between American and German troops. Men climbed out of battlefield trenches to celebrate their beloved holiday together, while the war carried on as usual the next day. The Austrian von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame) included this carol in their singing tours, helping to popularize it in the U.S. after they had escaped the Nazi regime during WW II.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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Cantique de Noel, or O Holy Night – my absolute favorite, this poem was written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, priest in a small French town, for mass that Christmas Eve. His friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, was asked by Cappeau to write the musical score. Unfortunately, learning that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams was a Jew, the church leaders banned the song, proclaiming it was not appropriate for worship services. Fortunately for us, the parishioners loved the song so much they sang it anyway! John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist, was deeply moved by the phrase, “chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” and published the song in his American magazine during the Civil War.

Across the sea, O Holy Night was sung by a French soldier on Christmas Eve in 1871 during war between France and Germany. Climbing out of the trenches and walking onto the battlefield alone, the brave young man began singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the first line in French. Then, a German soldier climbed out of his foxhole to sing another carol, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will.” “From heaven to earth I come” is a carol written in 1534 by the reformationist, Martin Luther. Feeling the bon homme of Christmas, fighting ceased for 24 hours, with the French church subsequently welcoming this beautiful and popular carol in their worship services.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Refrain:
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

What Child is This? – this poem was written by William C. Dix in 1865 (1837-1898), an Anglican layman born in England, who lived and worked in Glasgow, Scotland. It is believed the hymn was written to fit the tune of Greensleeves, a traditional English melody which dates to the 16th century. Shakespeare actually referred to this particular tune in his play, “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Though Dix references the traditional Nativity scene of Luke 2:8-16, the original poem entitled, “The Manger Throne,” also refers to Christ’s later suffering on the cross.

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
(The following section of this first verse is used as chorus for each subsequent stanza):
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – In 1861, tragedy struck America’s beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” In July, the flame from a candle ignited his wife’s dress. She ran to her husband’s study where he tried to put out the flames with a small rug and then by wrapping his arms around her. She died the next morning, but his face was so injured he could not attend her funeral. After their eldest son went off to war, Lt. Charles Longfellow was nearly paralyzed by a bullet passing between his shoulder blades in November 1863. Traveling to Charley’s side, a still grieving widowed father sat down Christmas Day 1863 and wrote this poem from personal anguish, yet with a heart of hope as the church bells rang out… for God is not dead! Peace on earth, good will to men.

Longfellow’s original poem:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet, The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along, The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

 – traditionally thought to have been written by Martin Luther in the 16th century, it first appeared in a Lutheran Church hymn book in 1885. It is now believed the song was not written by Luther, but was a song published anonymously in the Lutheran children’s songbook and given the title of Luther’s Cradle Song. The third verse was written by Dr. John T. McFarland, a Sunday School superintendent.

Long considered a child’s hymn, and perhaps the best well known, it captures our hearts with its simplicity. Christmas is not about the gold, glitter and gifts. It’s the story about God humbly coming to earth as a newborn baby for our redemption. His earthly parents found no room of comfort in the inn for the birth of their first child. Instead, baby Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by cattle, donkeys, and likely cats, mice and other animals, and was laid to rest upon a humble bed of hay in a manger, a feed trough. (Luke 2:1-7)

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

May each of you and your families be blessed with a most wonderful Merry Christmas!

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