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Your Family Tree #6: Historical Society Records

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Linda Roorda

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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copies of wills or abstracts of wills, maps, rare books, donated specialty items, published family genealogies, and unpublished family manuscripts which can often be as accurate as any published composition, and so much more.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

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