July 22, 2013

News and Views from GRIP

Bold Hall at La Roche College, home to GRIP students this week

Family history researchers from across the country are gathered in western Pennsylvania this week for the second annual Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. At dinner in the La Roche College cafeteria Sunday evening, directors Elissa Powell and Debbie Deal welcomed over 160 students and a distinguished faculty for what promises to be a busy week of learning and fellowship. They shared that of those registered, 42 percent have never been to an institute before, while 33 percent are students returning from last year and 25 percent have previously attended one of the other genealogy institutes. So it’s a neat mix of experience levels, and you can feel the excitement in the air.

Debbie Deal, left, and Elissa Powell, co-directors of GRIP
Elissa and Debbie also announced the dates and course line-up for next year’s institute. GRIP 2014 will be held July 21-25, and six courses will be offered. They all sound really interesting. The course coordinators and topics will be:
  • Thomas W. Jones: Determining Kinship Reliably with the Genealogical Proof Standard
  • Paula Stuart-Warren: Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper
  • D. Joshua Taylor: Becoming an Online Expert: Mastering Search Engines and Digital Archives
  • J. Mark Lowe and Deborah Abbott: Finding and Documenting African-American Families
  • Judy Russell and Rick Sayre: Law School for Genealogists
  • Debbie Parker Wayne, CeCe Moore, and Blaine Bettinger: Practical Genetic Genealogy

I’ll leave you with some views of my dorm room, in case you’re wondering what the accommodations look like. The dorm rooms are simply furnished, but have en-suite bathrooms, a mini-fridge, and a small microwave oven. Then I’d better get going—I don’t want to be late for class on the first day!


July 18, 2013

Another Reason to Love Old Newspapers: Fair Results

Newspapers can be a great source of information about ancestors and their communities. Ads, news articles, opinion pieces, pictures, notices, social tidbits, and the occasional obituary all combine to create a fascinating snapshot of that particular time and place. Even if your ancestor’s name doesn’t appear in the paper, it’s like having a window on their world.

Last week I found another feature to love—and a lot of names—in a listing of winners from a local fair. Here in the Midwest, county fairs are still big events. Every county in Ohio has one. Farmers bring all sorts of livestock and produce in to be judged, and people submit baked goods, clothing, artwork, youth projects, and more in various categories. If fairs are popular now, imagine how important they were to our ancestors, particularly farm families. Many towns had their own fairs, in addition to the county and state fairs.

Winners from the 1869 Pataskala Agricultural Society fair, held the last weekend of September in Pataskala, Ohio, were published in The Newark American on Friday, November 5, 1869. The results took up a full broadsheet page. Here’s a short sample:

As you can see, there are a lot of names here. This is the kind of detail that can help round out a family history or ancestor profile—and it’s just plain fun, too. Imagine knowing that your ancestor won the prize for best 3-year-old stallion, the second best apples, the best pair of wool socks, the best canned blackberries, or the second best oil painting. Wouldn’t that be a neat fact to know?

What I particularly like are all the categories that gave prizes to women. Women’s names are notoriously difficult to find in many types of records. But here they abound. Married women are noted in this paper by their husband’s names, such as Mrs. Jas. Montgomery, who wove the best 10 yards of linsey. A number of unmarried women are named, too. Miss F. J. Pierson, for instance, apparently was quite good at making ruffled clothing.

I just stumbled upon these fair results, but if you go looking for them, keep in mind that most fairs were held in late summer and early fall, when produce was ready for market. The results may not appear until weeks later, though. Fortunately, due to its size, the feature should be easy to spot. If the community wasn’t large enough to have its own paper, look in papers published in nearby cities or the county seat.

Of course, the reason I was going through the newspapers to begin with was to search for an obituary, which I didn’t find. But I always seem to find something to distract interest me as I’m browsing page-by-page through the microfilm. Old newspapers seem to be good breeding ground for squirrels—the kind that lure me away from whatever task is at hand. They bound across the pages, inviting me to follow, look, and read. This time, they led me to something potentially useful. Now I want to look for fair results for some of my ancestral families. Anyone else for the fair?


Photo of tomato competition courtesy of Adam Fagen via ( under a Creative Commons license 

July 4, 2013

What's more American than... Philadelphia

Today is Independence Day in the United States—better known simply as the Fourth of July. Amidst the parades, cookouts, and fireworks, it’s a day for cherishing the freedoms we enjoy, and remembering the cost of those freedoms.

The spirit of American independence remains alive and well 237 years later in the historic district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where so much of the Revolutionary groundwork was laid. My husband and I took his parents there in July 2009 to see the USS New Jersey, which my father-in-law served on in World War II. Layers upon layers of history intertwine in those streets. In honor of the of Fourth of July, I thought I’d share a few of my pictures of the historic sights with you.

Independence Hall Philadelphia
Independence Hall

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t actually written or signed on July 4th? The Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain on July 2nd, and the document we now know as the Declaration wasn’t signed until August 2nd. But the wording of it was approved on July 4th—hence our holiday. (1) You can see an image and read a transcript of it on the National Archives’ site, The Charters of Freedom.

The Liberty Bell, with its iconic crack
The Betsy Ross house
A replica of the original Stars & Stripes

Hope you have an enjoyable Fourth of July, wherever this finds you. Happy birthday, America!

(1) “Did You Know…Independence Day Should Actually Be July 2?,” National Archives and Records Administration, press release, 1 June 2005 ( : accessed 3 July 2013).

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July 2, 2013

Getting a GRIP on New England Ancestors in July

Can you believe it’s July already, and we're halfway through the year? Where does the time go?

I’m excited for July, though. I don’t mind hot weather, and I love the long, lingering evenings of summer. I’m also looking forward to something I signed up for on a frosty February morning. Later this month, from July 21-26, I’ll be attending the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) at LaRoche College for the second time. I had a great experience last year and learned a tremendous amount in the Advanced Research Methods class, taught by Tom Jones. 

Happy students in Tom Jones' class at GRIP 2012 

This year I’m taking Bridging the 1780-1840 Gap: From New England to the Midwest, coordinated by Josh Taylor. Instructors Debra Mieszala, Rick Sayre, Craig Scott, and Paula Stuart-Warren will also be lending their expertise.

I’m eager to take this course because it focuses on one of the most common research problems I encounter: how to trace a family living in Ohio by 1800-1840 back to their origins in New England or New York. This is a tough period to research, due to the scarcity of records and general lack of detail in many records that do exist. I also find the whole topic of migration fascinating: why people chose to leave a settled area for the unknown frontier, how they moved everything they thought they’d need, the routes they traveled, the difficulties they encountered, and how they settled into their new surroundings. Compelling stuff.

In preparation, I’m gathering what I know about my (and my husband’s) migrating northeastern ancestors. So far I’ve assembled three clusters of families in the east that had worked their way west by 1840:

The Barnum Group
  • BARNUM—Eli Barnum was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut, lived for few decades in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and arrived in Portage County, Ohio before 1840.
  • BISHOP—Fitch Bishop has been my biggest brick wall for a few years now. He married into the Barnum family and came to Portage County. But where was he from, and who were his parents? Siblings? Anything? 

The Sanborn Group
  • SANBORN—Jeremiah Sanborn and his brother, Joseph Sanborn, came from an old New Hampshire family. They ventured to Loudonville in Ashland County, Ohio, before 1840.
  • SMITH—Two Smith sisters, Clarissa and Mary Jane, were wives of the above-named Sanborn men. 
  • IVES—Moses Ives brought several members of his family from Connecticut to Geauga County, Ohio. 

The Clark Group
  • CLARK—George Clark came from Sussex County, New Jersey, to Licking County, Ohio, before 1820. (I’m hoping Josh will talk a little about New Jersey, even though it’s not technically part of New England.)
  • DIVERS—Juda or Judy Divers, his wife, came with him from New Jersey.

All of these families probably trekked through Pennsylvania on their way to Ohio. In fact, I pick up the trails of many additional families in Pennsylvania, so I’m glad the course will take a close look at that state as well.

It amazes me, sometimes, to think of the risks these people took. What a sense of adventure they must have had. One thing I can’t help but wonder is why they did it. Why did my ancestors leave essentially everything they knew behind—their homes, their relatives, their friends, their communities—and set out for a completely different life in unsettled territory? Records alone don’t tell me that. Maybe I’ll understand their reasons better after I take this course.

GRIP directors Elissa Scalise Powell and Deborah Deal say there are still a couple of seats left in three courses, so it's not too late to jump in. They’re taught by fantastic instructors: Paula Stuart-Warren (a gem—I’ve taken an intermediate class with her and loved it), Craig Scott (who I swear knows everything about U.S. military records), and John Colletta (who is so much fun to listen to you hardly realize how much you’re learning). If you’d like to find out more, check out the GRIP website at I imagine those last few spots will get snapped up pretty quick.

It's fun to meet up with friends like Becky Wiseman in the cafeteria

I know the week at GRIP is going to be a busy one, but I’ll try to post a little about what I’m learning, as time permits. I hope to get some new ideas for solving the puzzles of my northeastern ancestors, and have a good time seeing and making lots of genealogy friends. Let me know if you’ll be there. I can’t wait!

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