Old Letters

Yesterday, we had a beautiful fall day and the change in temperature was such a welcome relief from summer’s heat.  I remarked to a passerby how delightfully cool the morning breeze felt and our brief conversation about the weather turned to his place of origin, Trinidad and Tobago.  I mentioned my family was indentured in Barbados in the 1700’s and that I’ve traveled to Grenada several times and love the island.   The gentleman laughed and said his mother was from Grenada and his father from Barbados.  Such a small world!

Then I listened to an interesting podcast, Sarah Gray Cary From Boston to  Grenada that I highly recommend.

Don’t you just love reading old family letters?  I certainly do!  We don’t often think about all the valuable information that an old letter contains.  Primary sources, names, places, dates and events that are recorded can provide us with clues to find other historical records, such as wills, journals, diaries, passenger lists and perhaps, even more letters.

The podcast discusses letters written by Bostonian Sarah Gray Cary who had relocated to Grenada in the Caribbean.  Grenada has had an interesting history as it went from French to British ownership.  The letters were written at the start of the American Revolution as Sarah took the last ship out of Boston after the tea party to join her husband who had taken a job on the island.  She left behind her infant son due to the hardship of the trip thinking they would be reunited soon.  Due to war, however, they did not see each other again for 10 years.   

The letters are Sarah’s only way to connect with her child and other family members.  Not only must she persevere over the unexpected length of her separation, she must learn to embrace three cultures.  

After listening to the podcast, I plan on getting the book to read this fascinating true life story.  Enjoy!

Visiting the New England Historic and Genealogical Society

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 Nov 2015.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of researching at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts.

New England Historic & Genealogical Society, Boston, MA Nov 2015
New England Historic & Genealogical Society, Boston, MA Nov 2015

If you’re planning a first visit, here’s some tips I found useful:

  •  The library is SMALL but filled with tremendous resources that you might not find anywhere else.  Don’t let the size fool you!  Obviously, the holdings are fantastic if you have New England relatives but there is also a sizable collection of Long Island and New Netherlands.  My most awesome find was from Indiana, though, so don’t discount other areas!
  • COST is free if you’re a member (about $90.00 a year) and $20.00 if you aren’t. Click for Info on Joining! I highly recommend being a member for the following reasons :  First, if you’re planning on spending a few days, it’s cost effective.  Second, as a member you get a lot of perks you wouldn’t get with a day entrance fee – those wonderful journal articles that the society puts out, discounted fee on accessing a genealogist, training opportunities and so on.  Third, you’re helping the society keep the materials available to everyone.
  • BE PREPARED (Yay, Boy and Girl Scouts!) Seriously, know what you’re trying to find before you get there so you don’t waste valuable research time.  You can do a search of the card catalog online at http://library.nehgs.org/ .  If you haven’t registered, which you can do even if you don’t join the society, it’s easy and if you save the search items, you can email them to yourself so you have it on your phone and tablet when you arrive.  It saves results with the FLOOR listed so you know exactly where you need to look.  Emailing saves a tree, time and having to juggle more stuff in the stacks!  (HINT:  Many of their holdings are digitized so you can peruse the text online and focus on books in the library that you can’t view from home.)
  • To get familiar with the library you can watch their video, which I did, but if you’re short of time you’re fine if you don’t watch it. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page for the video. (HINT:  Start on the 7th floor which is reference because those are the books you can’t easily find elsewhere.)
  • Getting there is simple – I took a cab from Logan Airport because I had my heavy bag that I couldn’t check into the hotel since I arrived too early.  It was $23.00 without tip.  Another option is to take the subway, called the T, which is super easy to navigate, inexpensive and available right from the airport to Copley Square.  It’s a short walk. There are also parking garages close by if you drive which I would recommend against.  I learned to drive in Chicago and I drive in New York City but I never ever drive in Boston.  Those narrow streets and congestion intimidate me!
  • Lockers are available but they are very small and my large purse didn’t fit.  The website says NO SUITCASES so I packed light, stuffing everything in the bag, thinking I could get away with a purse.  I mentioned this to one of the employees and she laughed and said they wouldn’t have minded the suitcase.  Oh, well.  Since the flights were overbooked and there was no space in the overheads it all worked out anyway.  Across from the lockers is a coat rack so I hung my coat (Wicked Boston cold last weekend, it was 89 degrees when I left Florida) and put my bag on the floor in the corner.  No one messed with it.
  • Check the website for hours and days opened, especially with the holidays approaching.  I arrived shortly after 10 AM.  There were few patrons researching and no one in the stacks so I was able to accomplish a lot in a little time.
  • When you arrive there is a welcome counter to your left where I was given a map.  They will check your membership before permitting you entry.  Once you’re checked, you will be directed to the elevator.
  • I was greeted by a wonderful genealogist on the 7th floor – she welcomed me, was willing to help me get started and was open to answering any questions I might have. She had a client so another genealogist took over for her.  He was very professional, too, and gave me the wireless access.  I always bring just my Kindle as I find it’s a light, space saving alternative to a laptop.  With access to my online tree I can fact check right in the stacks.  The internet was spotty, though.
  • The stacks are narrow and dark.  There is a small counter in the midst so you can put your finds on the counter and snap a picture of the page.  You can also use their copy machine or save to a thumb drive but my smart phone’s camera is good with low light so I could happily click away.  I like that approach because I tend to look at many volumes and it wastes time to carry them to a copier, wait for the copier to warm up, and you know the rest.  Read an interesting article in Family History Daily that recommends the use of other devices.  View here for other ideas but I’m good with my phone.
  • BRING PENCILS – they don’t allow pens.  I did print a concise list of the books I wanted to see and wrote my notes, mostly negative findings, on the margin to transfer to my tree notes later.  Here’s an example:  “No Adams, Cole or Dennis.”  To me, that means those are the surnames I checked out but there were no references in the index to them.  That way, I know later if there was another surname I overlooked and I’ll not have to recheck the source in another library for what I’ve already checked.
  •  BRING A MAGNIFYING GLASS or have an ap on your phone.  I miss my young eyes, I really do!
  • BRING POST IT NOTES.  You can quickly flag pages to take pictures of findings without having to flip back and forth to the index and they’re reusable.
  • Once I finished with the 7th floor I moved to the 5th.  No warm and fuzzy welcome there – two young ladies didn’t even look up from the desk when I entered.  What’s cool about these stacks is there is a light switch from the aisle you can turn on to get more overhead light.  Very useful!
  • After you’ve checked out your pre-identified books you may have additional time to look over the stacks.  That’s how I discovered my most intriguing current genealogical mystery.  Hmmm – why would my husband’s grandmother be enrolled in school at age 7 by someone named Frank?  Have NO ONE named Frank in that line.  It could be Frank’s name is an error or the record is for someone else in the area with the same name as hubby’s grandma (not likely, though, since I’ve been over the census numerous times without finding another with her name and she has an unusual first and middle name!).  Immediately texted hubby and asked “Who’s Frank?”  He didn’t know so now I’m on a hunt to discover more.  The book was a transcript of school enrollment for the late 1800’s in Indiana.  Must find the original record to make sure Frank is correct!
  • Food and directions – ask at the front desk on the first floor.  The first person there was a volunteer not from the area but she was so sweet she phoned someone to help me.  I ate at a pizza place inside the YWCA but there’s many places to get a quick bite.  I only stopped there because I was freezing and it was half way to my hotel so I could eat and warm up for a bit.

S    I’ll definitely come back after my portfolio has been submitted and spend time trying to uncover more of our New England ancestors.  So much to look at and so little time!

My finding at NEHGS also confirms what professionals emphasize – you have to look high and low to find proof.  I can’t explain why I found my husband’s several times great grandfather from New York’s place of burial in Salt Lake City and his Indiana grandmother’s school enrollment in Boston.  What’s strange is I looked for the burial records in numerous places in New York and never found them.  I never looked for school enrollment records in Indiana so I can’t say that they don’t exist there, I just find it odd to find it in Boston.  My point is check as much as you can about everyone everywhere you go.  I also find it interesting on Who Do You Think You Are celebrities fly from place to place to trace their families. Lucky for them, their family records are ALWAYS where they lived.  Clearly mine are not!