Sometimes it comes down to the part in the hair

This unidentifiedmale from Josie (Jones) Hodson's album has an usual part in his hair.

This unidentified male from Josie (Jones) Hodson’s album has an usual part in his hair.

As does this child. The same subject, years apart? I'd say the eyebrows and ears add to the deduction.

As does this child. The same subject, years apart? I’d say the eyebrows and ears add to the deduction.

Pairing photos can be assisted by an awareness of which side of the head a male used to part his hair. The arch of the eyebrows or the shape of the ears are other tricks I use to support or reject a connection.

 

Dipping into the archives

For genealogists, there’s something holy about the times we gain access to original source matter. Letters, photographs, maps, family Bibles, gravestones, newspapers, visits to old homes and meetinghouses or neighborhoods of our ancestors can all add to our understanding. When we examine these documents and artifacts with our own eyes, rather than copies or interpretations by others, details can pop up that would otherwise go unnoticed. And, when it comes to source documentation, the older it is, the more reverential we become.

On a trip to Guilford College in North Carolina, for instance, examining the original 1764 disciplinary actions around the marriage of George Hodgson and Rachel Oldham, I noticed the erasure of the letter m in one minute – something I’d never see on microfilm – as well as the cross-through of first and insertion of second in their cousin relationship in another minute, something that might well be edited out of a written transcript, yet the latter is evidence of a discrepancy between the books of Quaker discipline used by Nantucket Quakers and those from Pennsylvania as they melded in North Carolina.

Likewise, holding the two folio volumes of Joseph Besse’s 1753 A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience, from 1650 to 1689, which I’d pulled down from the shelves in an Ohio Friends meetinghouse and was allowed to take home(!) provided many details on my family lines through that period. I must confess looking in awe at bits of gold leaf and leather cover stuck to my hands.

While we commonly traipse to special libraries and museums for these opportunities, it’s also possible to encounter them in a cluttered small-town facility, especially when a local authority is willing to provide free assistance. As an example, I’ll tout the ways the Brookville Historical Society provided great perspective on my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry in Montgomery County, Ohio.

Of course, the archives might also have microfilm you’d find few other places. For Quaker researchers, the Swarthmore College archives provided both access to William Wade Hinshaw’s cabinets of filing cards that became the classic six-volume Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy as well as microfilm of records held in Britain. Still, some crucial data for Orphan George, his siblings, and parents might be uncovered in the original pages that carry only a “too faint to microfilm” tag. If anyone’s going to London and wants to do us a big favor, please check in.

Which reminds me, there are some details I want to clear up in the full North Carolina minutes, which Hinshaw simply indexes. Next time I’m back?

~*~

If you’ve been doing genealogical research, you’ve no doubt come across similar experiences. Tell us of your moments of awe in dealing with source materials. How much is a matter of preparation? And how much is an element of surprise? Have you ever hired a genealogical researcher? How satisfied were you with the findings? What advice would you have for others?

Ralph’s in the middle

Aletha, Ralph, and Grant McSherry

Aletha, Ralph, and Grant McSherry

My grandfather was fond of his cousin, Ralph McSherry, shown here with his parents, Althea (Baylor) and Grant. By the way, does anyone else see a resemblance between Grant and the subjects shown in an earlier post, Where Are the Siblings?

Essential research facilities

Even in an Internet age, there’s no substitute for great genealogical libraries or appropriate historical societies. You never know what you’ll turn up digging around the filing cabinet folders or a section of the bookshelves. (Come to think of it, many of my early correspondents were people who’d written letters that were included in the folders – those addresses at the beginning of the letters or included on family charts were valuable in more than one way, as it turned out.)

Sometimes, finding myself at a dead end on what I’d come to investigate, I’d start opening books in the section I was working only to find answers to other ancestral lines.

A few treks up to the Case Western Reserve Historical Society’s acclaimed library in Cleveland provided crucial material at the beginning of my research. In an ironic twist, the core of its collection had been in the public library in the city where I was living, more than an hour away.

Floyd Hodson provided me with many notes collected in similar trips to the Fort Wayne, Indiana, public library, which claims to have the second-largest genealogical library in the country. From his photocopies I gleaned contacts for fellow researchers who helped flesh out our findings.

Sometimes a library may offer the “haystack” where the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack just might be discovered. The 14 filing boxes of papers in Albert Cook Myers collection at the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pennsylvania, just might have a line that solves our questions about Orphan George’s tragic Atlantic crossing, along with names of his siblings and parents. It would take a dedicated researcher, though – one willing to order the two-box-a-day maximum well in advance.

For Quakers, opportunities to use the archives at Swarthmore and Guilford colleges in America or at Friends House in London can be, well, heavenly. For that matter, the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Pennsylvania is a trove for Pennsylvania Dutch family data spanning other denominations as well.

This points as well to the importance of specialized collections, since ethnic as well as religious denominational or regional considerations may require much different approaches. African-American research, for example, is quite different from French-Canadian or Irish.

~*~

Considering your own roots, what libraries and historical societies (among other possibilities) have you found especially helpful in your research? Which ones hold special memories? Are there ones you frequent? Which ones are on your “bucket list”? What tips do you have to share with those starting out? Any you think we should avoid?

When fashion offers a clue

Mary Magdalene McSherry? This woman could well be my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Magdalene McSherry? This woman could well be my great-great-grandmother.

Clothing styles can offer clues in historic photos. In sorting through my Josephine (Josie) Jones and Alice McSherry family images, I have an awareness of style in the Joneses’ Quaker circles, and even as it moved away from traditional Plainness, it continued to contrast with the fashions of wider society, which would have included the McSherrys.

One portrait, in particular, diverges sharply from Josie’s collection, and since Alice’s parents owned a jewelry and millinery store, the subject’s relatively extravagant dress of the late Victorian era leads me to tentatively identify her as Alice’s mother, Mary Magdalene (Bahill/Bayhill) McSherry. The little I can make out from the photo of Alice’s parents as they posed in front of their store supports this assumption. And from that, I’m looking at another portrait that runs along the same lines.

What do you think?

Is this an earlier portrait of the woman in the photo above? Or is she a daughter? Or someone entirely different?

Is this an earlier portrait of the woman in the photo above? Or is she a daughter? Or someone entirely different?

This matter of home

Woven through any decent genealogy is the matter of place. For each individual, this can begin with birth, marriage, and burial. For families that remained in one location for generations, the story can unfold quite differently than it does for families that were constantly on the move. And, if we’re lucky, we might even be able to trace our lines back to “the old country” where we originated.

Place introduces its own sets of opportunities and challenges for researchers. Movement makes it more difficult to find appropriate courthouse, church, and burial records, at least until you have the track nailed down. I rather envy those whose families never left Lancaster County or some town in New England. Let me say that trying to trace a Pennsylvania Dutch family’s relocation into the Allegheny Mountains in the last decades of the 1700s until they reappear a generation or two later in western Ohio can be quite challenging. My Swanks are perhaps the most challenging of my linage in that regard, but they’re hardly alone.

There’s also the experience of traveling across the country to visit some of the locales. Sometimes you may know nothing of your family connection, yet feel something special, as I did in Whittier, Iowa, even when I was asked if I was related to Hodgins. Little did I know at the time. Or to stand in a burial ground and know that five generations of my ancestors are buried in the yard, all but one generation in unmarked graves, was quite a sensation.

I’ve heard many Irish-Americans speak of their pilgrimage to their village of origin. More recently, at a Greek Orthodox dinner, a man told me of his trip with his father to the village his father had left. “I felt a connection,” he said.

~*~

How does place enter into your own genealogy quest? Have you had noteworthy experiences in visiting family locales? What were these like? What would you advise to researchers who are just beginning?

May 15: Where are the siblings?

His style stands out from the rest in the collection. Could it be a clue to his identity? George, for instance, went on to become a municipal airport manager.

His style stands out from the rest in the collection. Could it be a clue to his identity? George, for instance, went on to become a municipal airport manager.

Are they brothers? Or the same person? Or even unrelated?

Are they brothers? Or the same person? Or even unrelated?

Alice McSherry had six siblings: Grant, Arthur, Edward, Sarah, George, and Mary. I’m guessing that many of the photos from Joshua Hodson’s collection, rather than his first wife’s, Josie Jones, portray them. Edward died as a child.

A knowledge of military clothing might aid identification of this subject. Ralph McSherry, for instance, served in the U.S. Army in World War I.

A knowledge of military clothing might aid identification of this subject. Ralph McSherry, for instance, served in the U.S. Army in World War I.