Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Prickly Summer: Alternative Sources

Courtesy of B. Fallon and the Westerly Public Library, 7 May 2019

Prickly Summer: Alternative Sources
In every list of sources beyond the usual census records, family Bibles and land and house records are the mostly ignored "modern day" phone directories probably because they are not archived in places that are easily accessible to researchers who do not travel to the locations where their families lived.

My great aunt, Dorothy B. Bliven, a divorcee, led a prickly early life but managed to move above and beyond her troubles. She was my grandmother's baby sister and someone I knew and loved. 

Finding out more about her has been a genealogy mission for this past winter because she was part of our holiday celebrations and her memory is one I want to preserve for my daughter. 

I discovered this week that the Westerly, Rhode Island library holds more records past the last city directory available at Ancestry.com. (1948) and that more than one of the city directories held there doesn't contain every page that I needed. 

This is why I consider myself lucky to have my friend who can go there and look things up for me. This is one of my most rewarding genealogical experiences to have her to help me. 


Friday, April 5, 2019

Places of Childhood: Garden City

Places of my Childhood
Garden City, Cranston, RI

Land and Tax Assessor card from the city of Cranston, Rhode Island. 5 Apr. 2019

A few years after my maternal grandparents married, they moved to Cranston, Rhode Island from Westerly, Rhode Island. They lived in that town for the rest of their lives, and I have been busy researching the family homes and their family owned business. I have had great success with following their path through life.

These grandparents found a small ranch style home for their daughter, who was my mother, and they put down a deposit to help my father purchase a house. It was in that house and neighborhood that I grew up. We called it "The Plat". (Photo Collection)

I remember my father talking to a man in a big black car and he turned out to be the builder, Mr. Melocarro.  From public tax assessor records, created from Cranston city ledger books, I found out that a close by shopping area was built by that same builder on land once owned by William Harris (Rhode Island Monthly) It was great to find out who owned this land and that he did not come for religious reasons but to find land for his family and business.

I just barely remember the coal mine, where the Newport Creamery now still stands. At Christmas, they put up a carousel in the parking lot and I visited Santa Claus. 

Back door of the Creamery, 2014, collection of the author.

It wasn't until I looked for a record for the Garden City Elementary School, that I found out the name of the plot of land that Mr. Melocarro set aside for development. I had not thought to look here for records.


It is a big breakthrough in my investigation of my family history.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Wills and Probate Records for a Brick Wall Ancestor

Wills and Probate Records
for a Brick Wall Ancestor
Lieut. William Steward
abt. 1692 - 1755

I certainly didn't expect to see any more records for my 6th great grandfather, Lieut. William Steward. I knew there was one because it is mentioned in the book, History of Stonington (CT). I knew that Judge Wheeler must have had access to records because of his status in his community. This is interesting because stories abound of he and a friend jumping ship to come to America and that he paid for gravestones for his first wife and himself  and that they lie in the woods somewhere in North Stonington. None of this has been proven.

When I read about this in 2004, people who may have known the location of the gravestones had died. As a gravestone photographer, I knew that the stones might have sunk into the ground by now or be paid for and never erected.  The Barbour Index of Vital Records lists the death of his first wife and his marriage to his second wife. Several researchers have suggested who his father was but no proof was given.

I was surprised to see how many documents are in the will and probate. I did know of one grandson (with gravestone) buried in the Stewart Hill cemetery. But, family that holds the deed says that no one older is buried there.

Everyone loves a good genealogy mystery, don't they? By the way, is it Stewart or Steward?

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Memory Fades: Family You Know and Family You Didn't

The Memory Fades
Family You Know and Family You Didn't



The summer before I was two years old, I met my only living great grandfather, who was my grandmother's father. I didn't remember meeting him until my mother showed me her wedding photos. My parents were both in the room and my mother said that I couldn't possibly remember him since I was a baby when he died. I was 1 year, 11 months and 7 days old when he died. 

When I described him coming into the room where I was playing on the floor at my grandfather's feet, my father asked me to tell them exactly what I remember. 

My mother looked astounded and my father made a "hurumpf" sound. I was quite sure that I was alone in my grandmother's house that day with my grandparents taking care of me. 

The clincher was that I remembered that he smelled strongly of cigarettes and what my grandmother said to my grandfather when she opened the French doors and gave her father a gentle push inside the living room.

Neither thing is provable but she said, "Evans.  J. Fred is here". The man, the oldest person in my family at that point, came directly to me and ruffled my hair. I thought, "Oh, the other grandpa." and went back to playing with the puzzle of blocks on the floor.  He sat down in a chair next to my grandfather and talked to him.

Don't discount even a tiny memory of what you remember. I will always be glad I remember that. 

These are the only three surviving photos of James Frederick Barber (1866-1949) One taken in 1918, one taken in a group photo in 1938 and the one of him at my parent's wedding in 1946. He was always called J. Fred. 

Who was alive in your lifetime? 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Memory Fades: How to be an Organized Person

Photo of Erin Condren Paper Pads, erincondren.com, 2019
The Memory Fades: How to be Organized


I have had people tell me that I am both too organized and too clean. One girl in college bullied me because my room was clean and I was too stuck up. I was a freshman and she was a senior. Others turned against her because they through she was wrong. But, that was only the beginning. I didn't realize that for the many years to come, people would pick on me for what I was good at. It wasn't until I got good at computers that I noticed people getting even more jealous. 

Before the memory fades, I'd like to say that I didn't immediately join the Facebook group "The Organized Genealogist" because I knew it was something I could not teach to others. When I was invited again, I did so but I seldom read it. There were too many other groups I needed to learn from. 

I think our mothers and grandmothers influence us in ways that make us successful.  My mother struggled to maintain order but she worked at it because she didn't like working and she took her "job" as housewife seriously. After talking with men friends, one of the topics where they think their girlfriends or wives could improve was "keeping house". Think about the number of census records you have read that list that as the female occupation. Women ran the farm or the store, took in laundry and seamstress work. Dawn to dusk repeats itself in many journals women wrote. 

My mother, tired of my messy room and unmade bed, at age 4 or 5, insisted that I learn to manage my own life. She had been teaching me to make my own bed when I moved from the crib to a bed. As soon as I was able, it was not optional that I do so every single morning. Because I have no siblings, I didn't know people didn't make their bed until I was old enough to ride my bike in my neighborhood.

Mom did a very radical thing. She took a bedsheet and dumped the entire contents of it into the middle and tied it up with a big rubber bands. The contents of my room was in layers, toys, books, clothes were inside. I was not allowed out of the house until I had put everything where it belonged. I don't recommend this to others because I discovered that I enjoyed keeping my room in order and demanded a bookcase, a desk and a toy chest. I was never messy again. I became less social. My room was my own queen's domain.

Although I do not agree with everything in his book, much of it can make us think about how we live and what can give us stress. I can improve areas of my life and maybe make it easier to decide what is important. One thing to remember is that this is translated from another language and cultural differences are obvious.




Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Memory Fades: Why Do Genealogists Remember?

Last Night in my Crib
collection of the author
Photo by Dorothy Frances Stewart Broadfoot
Taken in Cranston, Rhode Island
The Memory Fades 
Why do Genealogists Remember?

I know that this photo looks faded. So many of the photographs in my personal collection are fading because my mother and I looked at them a lot together. I'm not sorry that we did because otherwise I would not know some of my family history and I would not understand my childhood from the perspective of my parents and grandparents. My mother was annoyed when I wanted to label, date and write down our conversations about photographs. She wanted me to listen but she didn't want me to remember. She wanted me to live in the moment.

Dementia runs wild in my family tree, partly because so many of my ancestors lived to be very elderly and partly because dementia is a by-product of other medical conditions. Death records mention this over and over like bad song lyrics. It is hard to pick apart metal illness from physical ailments. 

Because genealogists live in a strange world of records, memories and photographs, my own personal history gets shoved to the background and I fear that I will not leave any impressions behind of, well, me. I do think that my fellow genealogists share this fear. I don't think that this is just because I am an only child, only grandchild and for a time, an only great grandchild. It is because to us, our ancestors are more fun to work with.

I stopped blogging through the holidays because I want to learn to live in the moment. I've read so much about mindfulness and how regular day to day life is giving me anxiety. Do genealogists think too much about the past or is it something that is happening to me now because I am in my 70s? 

Should I be fearful that dementia is already happening inside my brain?

I think I should write about some things that I remember because there is no photograph that matches the memory because we can't take a photograph of everything. I suspect the generations that follow me will try to do just that. 

Blogging was designed to be about short writing. I think that is why so many have stopped writing blog posts. Writing is time consuming, so let's just take a photograph so we won't forget. Is that going to work?

Some studies suggest that writing with a pen in a journal helps us remember better than recording with a computer and sharing online. What do you think?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Prickly Fall: Edward Stewart's House

Prickly Fall: Edward Stewart's House

House on Stewart Hill, North Stonington, CT abt. 1900
At the time of this photo, house belonged to George P. Stewart
shared with me by the North Stonington, CT Historical Society and the Westerly, RI Library

Ever since the summer of 2004, when I went in search of information on my Stewart family who lived in North Stonington, Connecticut,  I have been in love with the story of Edward and Rebecca (Noyes) Stewart. They were my 3rd great grandparents and my great grandfather, Charles Edward Stewart's grandparents. 

The History of Stonington by Richard Anson Wheeler (the second compiled genealogy I owned), tells me that "all that knew him loved him." 

What could be more important than that?

From the History of Stonington (CT) page 607 Stewart
Family found in an  out of copyright Google Book and my copy in print.
We had to move fast. The house was set to be torn down. We got there in time to take photos and look at the cemetery. My friend, Gladys Chase directed us to the next cemetery where Edward's parents are buried. It is still my most amazing genealogy adventure.

They tore down the house and then the cemetery was endangered. But, we found who held the deed and they restored the cemetery. Today, the place where the house stood is a new housing development but The Stewart Hill Cemetery is safe.

What did Charles Edward Stewart inherit though his father, Dudley Wheeler Stewart from the house of Edward and Rebecca? It took two probate records to be sure.

Think about it: the desk in my own parent's living room came from this house!