Adding local history to your ancestor’s timeline Part II

In the last post focusing on Thomas Sumner, we relied mostly on books. Today, we will explore some of the other resources mentioned in the post last week, primarily US GenWeb and other websites while searching for relevant local history for Levi Savage. We will focus on the time he lived in Toquerville (1868-1910).

I first went to US GenWeb to see what they had. I scrolled down to select Utah. After that page loaded, I selected UTGenWeb county sites and scrolled down to Washington County. The link took me to this beautiful website. While this website itself doesn’t have a lot of information, the links on it lead to some great information, including biographies, cemetery indices, manuscripts, postcards and histories.

The Pioneer Index 1852-1870 states that Levi and his family arrived in Dixie (southern Utah) in 1862 and in Toquerville by 1870. Other links on the page give access to a newspaper from 1908-1923, listings in the FHL catalog, and a history of Dixie. They also have Utah research links and local research help, including local libraries and historical societies.

One of the links was to the Utah History Encyclopedia, which contains an entry for Toquerville. The article talks about the cotton-growing and wine-making endeavors of the people who lived there. By 1867 a telegraph was installed and the town was incorporated in 1917 (after Levi’s death). The information about the geology, agriculture and geography of the area are useful for understanding what life was like, but didn’t offer much in the way of local historical events. We’ll come back to the geology, agriculture and geography in a future post though as they are an important part of social history.

I also tried the Utah page of Cyndi’s List and discovered this timeline of Utah history. Relevant events listed include:

1847: First Mormon pioneers enter Salt Lake Valley1848: Mexican War ends, and the Salt Lake Valley is now part of the United States
1849: Constitutional Convention to form state of Deseret (rejected by US Congress)
1850: Congress passes bill allowing formation of Utah Territory
1852: Mormon church leaders publicly acknowledge practice of polygamy
1853: Walker war with Ute Indians
1854: Crops threatened by grasshoppers
1857-8: Utah War (conflict with US government)
1861: Another Constitutional Convention to form state of Deseret
1865-8: Ute Black Hawk War–last major Indian war
1873: Poland Act passed in US Congress makes it legal to prosecute polygamists
1882: Edmunds Act passed in US Congress making cohabitation illegal
1887: Edmunds-Tucker Act passed in US Congress–another act against polygamy
1890: Mormon leader ends church-sanctioned polygamy
1896: Utah becomes 45th state (almost 50 years after Mormons first applied for statehood)

The 1865-8 Ute Black Hawk War caught my eye, as Levi’s son mentioned some Indian troubles during this time period and I have a newspaper article mentioning US government money given to Levi as restitution for Indian attacks. I read more on the Utah Encyclopedia Page and will devote a post to what I find out about this. The various acts in Congress against polygamy, and the constitutional conventions for statehood are also interesting to me and will be explored further.

I have introduced some of the places where I go to find local history to add to my timeline. Where are some of your favorite places to go?

Adding local history to your ancestor’s timeline

A few readers commented on the importance of local history, over national history, on the last blog about adding historical events to your ancestor’s timeline. They are absolutely right. It’s not always easy to find local history events, but local events usually had a more significant impact on your ancestor’s daily lives than events that took place far away. This doesn’t discount though, the need to learn about the national history as well, where you will get a sense of wars, migrations, the financial climate, and discrimination against ethnic and religious groups. This post will focus on local history in the US.

Town and county histories are a good place to start learning about local history. Many local histories were written around 1900, or at the 100th anniversary (or some other noteworthy time period), of a town’s founding. They are often found in local libraries. Some of the older histories may be found in digitized form on Google books or Internet Archive. Digitized local histories can also be found at (requires a subscription) or HeritageQuest Online (may be available at your local library). There are also some digitized books available at (look at the books tab).

If a print or digitized version of the history for a given locale cannot be found, there are a few more places to look. The US GenWeb Project is a volunteer website with the goal of building a free genealogy website for every county in the United States. If all else fails, a google search may yield some helpful information.

Local town records, including town meeting records and church records, should also be investigated.

Whether looking at local history books or websites, a few things must be kept in mind. The local history books were often of a celebratory nature, and people would sometimes pay to have their name appear more prominently. As with all good genealogical research, tidbits found in local histories must be backed up by additional research and documentation. The same applies to information found on websites and in published genealogies.

Don’t just look for your ancestor’s name in the books or websites. Find out when churches and school were built, and when new congregations were formed. Even if you ancestor was Baptist, if the only church in town for years was the Methodist church, he may have attended that church. If the family was in the area before schools were started, did the parents teach the children to read and write?

Let’s see what is available in local history resources for Thomas Sumner (Thetford, Orange County, Vermont Colony). A future post will cover the local history for Levi Savage.

I found the “Gazetteer of Orange County, Vt.” at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. The first several pages describe the creation of State of Vermont, and tension between the settlers and various competing governments: New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the French and the Dutch. In 1764, King George annexed Vermont to New York (prior to this parts had belonged to New Hampshire, p. 34). In 1777, a convention was held that declared Vermont an independent state (p. 6). Below are the local events that are of interest in our research that were found in this book:

1) Competing claims mentioned above may have affected his land interests and ownership2) Town of Thetford chartered in 1761 (p. 35)
3) A Thomas Sumner appointed by New York government present at first session of court in Vermont, May 29, 1770 (p. 36).
4) Court in session with a Thomas Sumner, Esquire Judge, present for the following dates: 28 Aug 1770, 27 Nov 1770, 28 May 1771, 25 May 1773 (pp. 36-39).
5) “In 1777 Capt. John Strong, John Wright, John Robinson and William Moor served as a committee of safety, and the same year seven men suspected of tory sentiments were disarmed by the committee and made to take the oath of allegiance before their arms were restored. March 26, 1777 William Moor, Abner Howard and Joseph Hosford, the “committee of inspection,” took, according to an act or resolve of Congress, the real estate and personal property of Thomas Sumner, who had left town on account of tory sympathies, and placed Capt. John Strong in charge of it.” (pp. 425-6).
6) “At this date [1773] Rev. Clement Sumner was settled here…During the Revolution, Mr. Sumner being a tory, found it convenient to depart, going to Swanzey, N. H. where he exchanged his right in Thetford for the farm of William Heaton.” (p. 450).
7) In 1797 the state was divided into 11 counties (p. 9). It is possible, and perhaps likely, that some of the boundaries may have changed from when Thomas lived there. This is important to know when looking for government records.

According to the published genealogy “Record of the Descendants of William Sumner of Dorchester, Mass 1636” by William Sumner Appleton Clement and Thomas were brothers, both with tory leanings. This book also states that Thomas was a “Justice of the Peace, Commissioner, and Associate Justice of Inferior Court of Common Please of Gloucester Co., 1770; but being a decided Tory was obliged to leave the country, moved to Nova Scotia, thence to Canada, where he d. near Toronto, 4 January, 1820.” (pp 17-18). This book is also available at HeritageQuest Online.

From these records we learn that IF we have the right Thomas Sumner, he was in the Thetford area by 1770 and left about 1777. At least of his family members were also Loyalists, although his brother Clement did not have to leave the United States–he was able to relocate in New Hampshire.

Read more about the various acts of Congress and the states in punishing Loyalists.

Where to look for new ideas

A post on Facebook about an upcoming episode of History Detectives prompted me to view some of the current episodes available via On Demand through my cable company. A segment about a 1775 almanac caught my attention. [spoiler alert] The research showed that the notations in this almanac captured the geographical fracturing of a family due to the onset of the Revolutionary War. The son was a Loyalist while the father was a Patriot. The son went to England and did not return permanently to Boston until after his father’s death, although letters showed they maintained a close relationship.

Of most interest to me were the sources that were used to trace the story. Professor Joseph J. Ellis of Mount Holyoke College, a renowned historian of Revolutionary War history, mentioned that the Revolutionary War was a civil war and divided families. He also mentioned the Suffolk Resolves that allowed newspapers to print the names of supporters of King George (or detractors of the Suffolk Resolves), with the admonition to not talk to these people.

The researcher also met with Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard professor who is an expert on Loyalists. They met in the Boston Athenaeum, which has an impressive Loyalist collection. They mentioned Lorenzo Sabine’s “The American Loyalists,” which is available in google books as an epub or pdf download.

Finally, Dr. Jasanoff mentioned the Banishment Act of the State of Massachusetts in 1778 that banished Loyalists and confiscated their property. She consistently referred to the Loyalists who were banished or left of their own choice as refugees. Thinking about exiled Loyalists in this way gives me a much better sense of what they gave up and what they may have suffered.

When doing social research, new ideas and sources can come from almost anywhere: TV programs, websites, books, podcasts, and Facebook posts. The trick is to use this new information to perform additional research on your family, utilize new resources and raise new questions.

Here is my to do list from what I learned in this program (even though the family that was the focus of the program is not related to me).

  • See if the Boston Athenaeum has any records on Thomas Sumner, even though he wasn’t from Massachusetts.  Even if I don’t find anything specifically on Thomas Sumner, I may find some general background information.
  • Read the introduction to Thomas Sabine’s book for background information about loyalists. I searched for Thomas, but didn’t find him listed in this book.
  • Get back to reading Maya Jasanoff’s book “Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.” I have only read the first chapter
  • Is there a similar banishment act in Vermont that affected Thomas? Why did he have to leave when his brother, who seemed to have similar political leanings, was able to stay? What may have Thomas’ life been like as an exile and refugee?

Where have you found unexpected information such as this that has kick-started your research, given you new insights, or raised new questions?

Adding historical events to your ancestor’s time

Now that the timeline of personal information such as births, marriages, deaths,military service, job history and family moves has been created, it is time to look for external events to add to the timeline. Wars, major historical events at both the national and local level, and disasters and epidemics are all examples of external events.

Let’s start with historical events.There are several websites you can use that will help generate this list. Also use your own knowledge to add historical events to the timeline. This is one website that I like: Let’s look what was going on during Levi’s lifetime (1820-1910). The generated list is very long. You can go here to see the entire list. Timeline for Levi Savage for historical events

Below I have listed the events that may have either directly or indirectly affected Levi or his family. As with any information pulled from the internet, the dates listed below need to be backed up by other sources.

1817-1823: cholera epidemic
1824: Erie canal completed
1828: 1st railroad in US
1829-1851: cholera pandemic
1830: Mormon church founded
1837: Michigan enters the Union
1837: Depression and panic-inflation & speculation
1846-1848: Mexican-American War
1850: Utah organized as a territory
1852-1859: cholera epidemic
1861-1865: Civil War
1862: US Homestead Act
1869: Trans-continental railroad completed
1873: Color photographs invented
1885: Automobile invented
1893-1897: Financial panic & depression
1893: Movies invented
1896: Utah admitted to Union as a state
1903: Airplane invented

Other interesting tidbits
1821: US population reaches 9.2 million
1828: 1st Webster’s dictionary
1850: US population reaches 23 million

Whenever you are thinking about your ancestor, you should be asking yourself questions. Did anyone in Levi’s family contract cholera? Do any color photographs exist of Levi and his family? Did he own a car, or did he ride in one that may have been owned by his children? How was he affected by the financial crises? I hope to be able to answer some of these questions in my research.

Let’s look briefly at some important events during Thomas Sumner’s life. The full list can be found here. Timeline for Thomas Sumner of historical events

1231-1808: Papal inquisition
1736: English statutes against witchcraft repealed
1752: Britain and its colonies adopt Gregorian calendar
1754-1763: French and Indian War
1770: Boston Massacre
1773: Boston Tea Party
1774: 1st Continental Congress meets
1775-1783: Revolutionary War
1786: The dollar is adopted
1788: US Constitution goes into effect
1812-1814: War of 1812
1824: Erie Canal complete

This timeline seems to focus more on the US and selected European events. Since he was living in Canada for about the last 50 years of his life (I think), I should find a timeline for Canada and add that.

Notice that during his lifetime the Inquisition was ongoing. It was starting to abate during the 18th century, but was not abolished until 1808. Also note that convictions for witchcraft were still possible until shortly after his birth. This is a reminder that he was born in a time when more enlightened and progressive ideals were coming about, but that much superstition still existed.

See here for more information about the history of the Inquisition.

Fieldstone Common podcasts on New England history

Taking advantage of both free and paid opportunities to learn is an important part of being a genealogist and social historian. There are many, many opportunities for learning online and in person. I will cover many of them in subsequent posts, but would like to start first with a weekly podcast that focuses exclusively on authors who have written a book about some aspect of New England history.

Marian Pierre-Louis’ podcasts cover diverse topics such as Louisa May Alcott’s mother, Thanksgiving (with a culinary historian at Plimoth Plantation), the poorhouses in Massachusetts, and the murder of a man by his wife in colonial New England. Kathleen Wall, the culinary historian, exposed some myths about early food in Colonial America and opened up about what they did eat and drink. The murder story was interesting to me because both the wife and her husband were Loyalists and she used soldiers in her plan to murder her husband when she became pregnant by one of the soldiers. The author in this podcast was very knowledgeable about the entire period, social customs, and what it meant to be a Loyalist living just outside of Worcester.

These podcasts, and others exploring the rise of luxury items in New England, the Rhode Island Campaign in the Revolutionary War, international commerce and trading in New England, mourning jewelry, preserving family archives, learning about the common people in colonial New England and more, are available for free via iTunes or at her blog.

What a treasure for the social historian and genealogist. With rare exceptions, each guest on the podcast has written a book which you can utilize for further information about a topic that catches your attention. I hope you check out this resource. Tell me about your favorite genealogy and history podcasts.