Upcoming history and genealogy events in Greater Boston

There are many upcoming history and genealogy events in the Greater Boston area. Here is a sampling:

New England Historic Genealogical Society
(click on the “Resources” tab and the “Programs” link)
One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit
February 6, 6:00, free and open to the public

Colonial Society of Massachusetts
Free and open to the public
Mapping the Boston Poor: Inmates of the Boston Almshouse, 1795–1815
February 21 at 3:00 p.m.

Boston Athenaeum
Painting Women: Women Artists from 1860 to 1960
February 26, 6:00, open to the public

Ancestry Day with NEHGS
March 2, all day, pre-registration required and there is a fee
Full-day conference with Ancestry.com & NEHGS. See link for more information about classes that will be offered.

Massachusetts Historical Society
Open to the public
Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion
April 4-6

Seminars (most meet monthly) on the following topics. Free and open to the public.
Boston Area Early American History
Boston Environmental History
Boston Immigration & Urban History
History of Women and Gender
New England Biography

Exhibitions: Free and open to the public.
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land”: Boston Abolitionists 1831-1865
February 22 to May 24

Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation
January 2 to May 24

Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact
January 2 to May 24

New England Family History Conference
March 30, Franklin, MA. Free and open to the public. Pre-registration advised.
Annual conference sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several tracks of interest to all genealogists (regardless of religious affiliation) are offered throughout the day.

Boston Public Library at Copley (main library)
Local and Family History Lecture Series
Twice a month talks on local and family history
Free and open to the public

New England Regional Genealogical Consortium, Inc.
This multi-day genealogy conference covers a variety of topics of genealogical research, and some talks touch on social history. Attending this conference is a great way to learn and to network with fellow genealogists. Sign up for a day if you can’t come for the entire conference.
April 17-21, Manchester, New Hampshire

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife
Foodways in the Northeast: A Second Helping
June 21-23, Deerfield, MA
This is one I would definitely like to attend. I am working on a master’s in history and my thesis will be about medicinal recipes used in the home (before a doctor was called, at least theoretically). Most of the homemade medicines of the time were made from herbs and other plants, so I will learn quite a bit. As I have been doing research in preparation for writing the thesis, I spoke with the food historian or food expert at 3 or the 4 sites below and they were very helpful. It was also nice to learn from each of the sites as they each have a different focus and cover various time periods.

Historic Deerfield and other living history villages in the area offer programs throughout the year on heirloom gardening, hearth cooking and other “day to day” life activities of our ancestors.
Historic Deerfield
Old Sturbridge Village
Plimoth Plantation
Strawbery Banke Museum

Don’t forget to check your local library, your local historical society and your local genealogical society to see what they have planned. Also, there are numerous on-line offerings in social history and genealogy.

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 Ancestry.com (requires a subscription) or HeritageQuest Online (may be available at your local library). There are also some digitized books available at FamilySearch.org (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?

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.