Monday, March 2, 2015

Fun with probate records

For the past couple of weeks in my free time, I've been exploring probate records of many of my ancestors online. As I've posted before, there is free access to 18th and 19th century New Hampshire probate records on FamilySearch. And American Ancestors (run by the New England Genealogical Historical Society) offers free access to a few of its databases, one of which is Essex County Probate File Papers from 1638-1881.

Probate records are extremely interesting, because they go beyond names and dates and really allow one a look into the lives of our ancestors. Depending on the specific type of probate record, you can get all kinds of information about relatives, finances, and property.

Personally, my favorite aspect of an ancestor's probate record is the inventory of what he or she owned.

We'll use as an example the estate of my 6th great-grandfather Richard Palmer of Bradford, Massachusetts, whose probate file is dated 15 January 1725. His estate included eleven acres of land, a pair of oxen, a mare, a colt, two cows, three yearlings, twenty sheep, and two swine. Some other items he owned were "pewter, brass, and iron things", "a pair of old books", and three beds--a "best" one, and two "old" ones.

Including his house and barn, Richard Palmer's estate totaled "one hundred fifty pounds two and nine pence."

It's hard for me to tell what this would be equivalent to in 2015 American currency, but it doesn't sound too shabby. Any readers more knowledgable than I am in New England colonial currency are invited to give an estimate in a comment or email me.

Richard named his widow Martha (nee Downer) as his executor; a document shows that she was illiterate, since she made her mark with an x instead of writing her name; female literacy was far from common in 18th century New England.

While vital records serve as the crucial skeletons of our ancestors, probate files provide much of the flesh that makes them real and personal, rather than just names in a chart. Don't neglect these wonderful resources!

Ancestry line:

Richard PALMER (1675-1714/15) m. Martha DOWNER
Samuel PALMER (b. 1713) m. Ann EVANS
Joshua PALMER I (1761-1851) m. Sarah SWETT
Joshua PALMER II (1815-1864) m. Arvilla BAILEY
George Bailey PALMER (1850-1926) m. Mary Olivia PURINTON
Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Monday, February 23, 2015

Think before you post that headstone photo

Like most genealogists, I love Find-A-Grave. It's a great site and service, allowing people to find graves of ancestors, family, and to request/give help obtaining headstone photos.

While many Find-A-Grave volunteers are only interested in members of their own family, there are others who take photos and create memorials for entire cemeteries or sections.

Awhile back, I came across a photo of my mother's marker. I live near the cemetery, and I had purposely chosen not to put a memorial on Find-A-Grave. However, a stranger-- no doubt well-meaning-- created a memorial. I sent her a message thanking for her intentions and asking that she transfer the memorial to me, which she did. Honestly, seeing that memorial, posted by a total stranger, felt unsettling and invasive.

Recently a Find-A-Grave volunteer complained that she received a message from a lady asking her to take down the memorial the volunteer had created of the 3 month-old son she had lost-- the message was along the lines of "Who are you and what right do you have to post this? Did you ever consider the feelings of relatives who might come across this?"

This volunteer said that the baby had died twenty-six years ago... insinuating that the woman's feelings and request were unreasonable.

While I certainly don't think volunteers have to limit themselves to their own families/ancestors, my suggested rule for posting unrequested memorials is, don't do so for anyone who lived recently enough that they could have siblings, children, or parents still living. Especially those who died as babies.

Chances are that the mother coming across a photo of her deceased three-month-old baby is not going to be happy about it-- and no, it doesn't matter if it happened 26 years ago, she will probably feel disturbed and violated. "Who are you? Please take this down at once" is not an unreasonable reaction, and for a volunteer to suggest that the mother had no right to be upset is pretty damn insensitive.

The volunteer said that she posted this because she wasn't sure what to do in response to the message. Um, how about apologizing to the lady for upsetting her and taking down the memorial immediately, as requested? What else would one consider doing, seriously?

Please, think before you post that headstone photo. Respecting the privacy and feelings of the deceased's family trumps getting all 16,345 graves in Garden Of Memories put online.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

WEBSTER of Hampton and Kingston, New Hampshire

The American progenitor of my Webster line was Thomas Webster II, who was born before 1634 in Ormsby, Norfolk, England, to Thomas I and Margaret Webster.

Thomas I died in England in 1634, and his widow Margaret remarried William Godfrey. Thomas II went to New Hampshire with his mother, stepfather, and little half-brother John Godfrey (from whom I also descend). They settled  first in Watertown, Massachusetts, and then by 1648 were in Hampton. 

Thomas II married Sarah Brewer in Hampton on 2 November 1659, and he died at Hampton on 5 January 1715. 

Thomas Webster III was born in Hampton on 20 January 1664, and about 1690, he married Sarah Godfrey, daughter of John Godfrey (his half-uncle) and Mary Cox. Thomas III and his family removed to Kingston before 1701, and he died there on 7 March 1732. 

Benjamin Webster was born in Kingston on 24 August 1701. He married Mary Stanyan, daughter of Jacob Stanyan and Dorothy Foote, on 1 December 1737. Benjamin died in Kingston in 1781.

Captain Jacob Webster was born in Kingston on 5 February 1745, and on 3 February 1767 he married Elizabeth George, whose parentage is currently unknown (note: she was not the daughter of Micah George and Mary Favor, as is commonly found in many family trees online-- that Elizabeth George married a John Jones and died in Hopkinton). Jacob was a soldier who fought in the Continental Army during the American War for Independence, and was at Ticonderoga. He was later a town representative of Kingston, dying there on 21 April 1836.

Letter addressed to Jacob Webster from the New Hampshire Continental Congress, asking him to enlist a company.
It is dated November 1775, and signed by Nathaniel Folsom

Headstone of Captain Jacob Webster, via Find-A-Grave, photo by Richard Cole

Mary ("Polly") Webster was born in Kingston on 11 December 1772. She married John Winslow, son of John Winslow and Elizabeth French, on 14 April 1796. She died in Kingston on 10 February 1861.

Daniel Webster, the New Hampshire statesman, was a 3rd cousin several times removed.

Ancestral line:

Thomas WEBSTER I (d. 1634) m. Margaret UNKNOWN
Thomas WEBSTER II (d. 1715) m. Sarah BREWER
Thomas WEBSTER III (1664-1732) m. Sarah GODFREY
Benjamin WEBSTER (1701-1781) m. Mary STANYAN
Jacob WEBSTER (1745-1836) m.. Elizabeth GEORGE
Mary "Polly" WEBSTER (1772-1861) m. John WINSLOW
William WINSLOW (1800-1860) m. Mary "Polly" SEVERANCE
James W. WINSLOW (1838-1906) m. Elizabeth MACE
Bessie Maud WINSLOW (1886-1970) m. Frank Bailey PALMER
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Finding New Hampshire probate records on FamilySearch

Old New Hampshire probate records are available online for free at you just have to know how to find them.

Probate records can encompass wills, administration of estates, as well as guardianship issues-- and they can give a wealth of information about one's ancestors! There will only be probate records for people who had estates or owned property, except for guardianship cases.

If you have ancestors from New Hampshire who lived between the mid-18th and early 20th century, you want to check these out. Here's how to track down NH probate files on FamilySearch:

First, you have to find the database itself, which can actually be tricky:

Go to "search", and then scroll down and click on "Browse all images." From there, via the navigation bar on the left, narrow your search to the U.S., and then to New Hampshire. Find the link reading "New Hampshire, County Probate Estate Files, 1769-1936."

Then, go to the case index link corresponding to the first letter of the last name. In the example screenshots, I'm looking for my 5th great-grandfather Samuel Severance, who died in Kingston, NH in 1836, so I'll go to Lolly - Stevens:

The case indexes are alphabetized by last name, then first name, so finding the name you're looking for isn't bad. I found the case index for Samuel Severance, and see that the case number is 13239:

Once you have the case number, you can then click on the appropriate link for the case number:

Although the cases are in numerical order and labeled, it will still take some browsing through to find a particular one because there are so many pages per case. Once you find the case you're looking for, you can download the documents-- with probate records, there are usually several pages, about 10 to 20 on average.

Happy digging!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Remember the Blizzard of '78?

I actually don't, being only three years old at the time. But my parents mentioned it often, and below are a couple of photos of yours truly as a tot amid four foot snow drifts in Quincy, Massachusetts after the storm:

The blizzard of '78 was a three-day disaster in the Northeastern U.S. that began on Sunday, February 5, and finally broke on the 7th-- 37 years ago today. It formed from an extra-tropical cyclone of the coast of South Carolina that merged with an Arctic cold front. There were hurricane-force winds, and because this occurred during a new moon, the high tide caused terrible flooding in coastal areas.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Right Parkers, wrong Margaret

January was a very busy month for me, so blogging has been slow. Yesterday I was finally able to do a bit of research, and made a breakthrough on my PARKER line.

You know how I keep writing about how the single biggest mistake made in genealogy is confusing two people with the same name? Well, I found another instance of that in my own research. Thankfully, I discovered the error and fixed it.

My 3rd great-grandmother was Margaret Parker, who married Captain Christopher Simmonds in New Brunswick in 1844.

I originally had her parents as being James Manning Parker and Euphemia Sinclair. They had a daughter named Margaret, but I found some information showing that this Margaret may have married someone else. So I wanted to confirm whether or not the Margaret who married Christopher Simmonds was the daughter of James and Euphemia Sinclair.

Yesterday morning I found my answer, with some help from folks via a Facebook genealogy group.

I had Margaret's death as being 14 January 1913, but could not find a record of it when I search the Nova Scotia vital records online.

Turns out, this is because she had remarried a Henry Porter in 1896, so her surname when she passed was not Simmonds. A search of "Margaret Porter" brought up her death record. Unfortunately, Nova Scotia death records at this time did not record parents' names.

But marriage records did, and when I found that of her marriage to Henry Porter, I got the answer to my question. The names of Margaret's parents were given as Thomas and Rachel, who turned out to be Thomas Parker and Rachel Cross.

This Thomas Parker was the nephew of James Manning Parker-- his father was also Thomas Parker, who was a brother of James, so the line wasn't totally wrong. The two Margarets I had mixed up were first cousins once removed.

The Parkers were Loyalists from New Jersey who immigrated to Canada in 1783 after the Revolutionary War ended. They were an interesting family, and I'll write more about them in a future entry.

Thomas Parker (1775-1868), 5th great-grandfather

Ancestry chain:

Thomas PARKER I (1775-1868) m. Ann MEARS
Thomas PARKER II (1802-1870) m. Rachel CROSS
Margaret PARKER (1829-1913) m. Christopher SIMMONDS
Thomas Parker SIMMONDS (1873-1953) m. Jessie May BAKER
Estelle SIMMONDS (1893-1930) m. Horace William HOWES
Henry Richard HOWES (1913-1987) m. Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Uncle James "Buddy" Fitzgerald RYAN photo

I had previously posted about the military service of my paternal grandmother's brother, James Fitzgerald RYAN (1919-1995), who had served aboard the U.S.S. Prairie during World War II.

Today I received an email from Janice, a second cousin by marriage, whose husband is a grandson of  a sister of my grandmother and James. She attached a photo she came across of James ("Buddy") at the wedding of his nephew Paul, in 1954.

I had lamented not having a photo of Buddy, and now I do. Thanks, cousin Janice, for sharing this!