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by Katie MacLeod Hanzeli
I have just finished my long awaited trip back East. My Loyalist ancestors settled in Springfield, New Brunswick after the Revolutionary War and it had long been a desire to walk in their footsteps. I got my chance when we were invited to a friend's wedding, which took place in Boston.
When I planned this trip, I set two major genealogical goals for myself, along with a bunch of little ones. I accomplished one of the major goals and most of the minor ones, plus acquired some family information that wasn't even on the list. I wish I could tell you all sorts of practical things about how to research this or find that but there were so many things coming and going that it would be impossible! So I would just like to tell you some of the basic things that I learned, mostly based on my own mistakes, oversights, planning hiccups and yes, the successes, too!
1) Check the hours of operation for the places you wish to visit. The internet is great for telling us many of these things, but there is nothing like a phone call before you leave and again once you get there. Schedules change, the web master doesn't get around to updating the web site or some unforeseen circumstance occurs which may cause the hours to change. Don't forget to ask about their lunch hours! It's amazing how much better your time can be spent if you know these things ahead. Leaving a library or archive disappointed due to a locked door is not how one might wish to spend one's precious time.
2) Explore the little places. It would seem that the big places would have everything, but not necessarily! Especially in New Brunswick, everyone was interested in genealogy. At every corner, in every small community, there was an historical museum and / or a library. These little places were full of information about the areas' residents, from the time of the first settlement to the present. They had books, family trees, vital records and helpful volunteers who knew everything you ever wanted to know about Silas Raymond and his descendants! It was amazing what these places turned up. One could spend as much time in one of them as at the NEHGS!
3) Talk to people. I asked questions and carried on discussions with just about everyone I met in the pursuit of my goals. I spoke with the volunteers at the Massachusetts State Archives. I chatted with fellow researchers at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. I listened to the long winded, eighty year old office assistant at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Abington, MA. I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation (charitably, of course!) at the Saint John Free Public Library. It was amazing the little things I learned from these conversations - things that led me into avenues of research that I might not otherwise have followed. Plus, it was just plain interesting!
4) Check out everything. I wish I could say that I did this. Time prevented me from turning over every little stone, but the ones I flipped revealed previously unknown information. For example: My Jennerson ancestor had married a widow in Townsend, MA. The census showed they had one son, Henry. I tried to find Henry's birth record without luck. But in the pursuit of this record, I discovered that he had a brother (unnamed) and a sister, Mariah. She kept popping up all over the place but I had previously ignored her, thinking she was part of the "that other line." I checked all the "unnamed" Jennerson's thinking it might be Henry. I almost didn't, but common sense won out and I found more family!
5) Never assume anything! I thought that my Great Uncle Brock was married to Great Aunt Marguerite. Finding their marriage record was Goal Number One. After a discussion with a knowledgeable person (see # 3) I realized that I had only assumed they were married. With his help in examining the evidence, I realized that there were reasons to think they weren't. Or, if they were indeed married, they weren't necessarily married at the time that I had thought. Just because they were listed together in the city directory didn't mean they were married. People in those days didn't advertise their living arrangements if they were outside the box. The evidence was staring me in the face, but I didn't recognize it for what it was because of my assumption. Keep an open mind, even with the obvious!
6) Consider the times in which your ancestors lived. The wonderful people at the various governmental agencies assured me up and down that if Brock and Marguerite were married, their marriage would be registered with all the right agencies at all the right times. Since the record couldn't be found anywhere, based on that alone, one might conclude they weren't married, at least not in Massachusetts or New Brunswick. See #5! The time frame in which we placed their marriage was 1917 - 1918. Two major things occurred during those years - The Great War and the 'Flu Pandemic. Those were very good reasons why someone may have "forgotten" to register the marriage, if it occurred at all.
7) Bring a good pair of garden gloves. The cemeteries I visited were all beautifully kept up, but several of the old headstones were covered in moss and lichen's and the like. Most of it came off easily so I could read the inscriptions, but one was particularly challenging. If you forget the gloves, remember a first aid kit.
8) Bring a knee pad. An old towel would do. Clearing head stones was mostly done on the knees, particularly if a little digging was needed to read the bottom lines, which had become somewhat buried in the grass. If you have no knee pad get some "Shout" for the pants.
9) Never discount serendipity. It's that undefinable instinct that tells you to go left when the signs are pointing right. In Plymouth County, MA, the Probate Court clerk said the records for Great-Uncle Brock were at the Archives. She then rambled on, during the course of which she said something about a basement. I thanked her and proceeded to depart. Halfway toward the door, much to my husband's dismay, I stopped dead and said, "We have to find the basement." "No, no," he said. "There's no reason to do that." But instinct was calling me. We trudged downstairs and found a room full of records and a copy machine with an attitude. Brock's probate was found! Another burst led me to look up Marguerite's record, where previously at the NEHGS I had found none (see #2 & 4!) But, there she was, along with the note about the disputed house she left, including the deed number. Burst #3 led me, husband trailing, eyes rolling, across the street to the Registry of Deeds where the record for the house purchase was found, along with the note that at the time of the purchase in 1917, Brock was "unmarried." A date, at last!!!
10) Have a personal chauffeur who is willing to follow every little turn down every odd road in pursuit of the elusive cemetery and other such things. My husband, Gabe, provided this service for me. Although the eye rolling became somewhat more pronounced as the trip went on, he never failed to take me where I wanted to go and even happily backtracked on a couple of occasions to get that forgotten photo angle. Thanks, hon!
I only achieved one of my two major goals for this trip. I didn't find a marriage record for Brock and Marguerite. But I achieved the second. I was able to stand and gaze, contemplate and pray at the final resting place of my great great grandmother, Elizabeth McLeod Raymond, from whom I received my middle name. New Brunswick is, to this day, very much like it was way back when she lived there, wide, green and unspoiled. Doing genealogy long distance is a wonderful and rewarding pastime, but there is nothing like being there.
- Reserving the Airplane tickets: $150.00 in fees with Frequent Flyer Miles
- Wedding present for the lucky couple: $250.00
- Hotels and Meals for one month: $Ask my hubby - he was in charge of the finances
- Time in planning and research: 22 years
- Praying at your ancestor's gravesite: Priceless
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