Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!
Source: My Personal Collection

REMINDER: My RootsTech 2019 Pass Contest ends tonight at midnight Pacific time. Winner will be announced tomorrow.

Growing up near New York City, my family took advantage of some of the historical places nearby. One year, I think I was about ten or eleven, my mother decided to take my brother and I to visit West Point. It was late fall and near Halloween. Along the way back, we stopped at Tarrytown, home of Washington Irving, about 30 miles south of the military academy.

I always and forever will associate Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with Halloween. Folklore says that the Headless Horseman, featured in the story, was a Hessian soldier whose head was shot off by a cannonball during the Battle of White Plains (New York) in 1776. The setting is Tarry Town, the fictional version of Tarrytown.

It was late in the day after visiting West Point and it was  cloudy with very cool, crisp air. The wind was whistling through the trees and, as it got close to dark, the village took on a very spooky feeling. It had all the elements found in Irving’s story!

Although Irving’s home there – Sunnyside – is a tourist site, I have no memory of going in the house and I don’t think Mom would have paid for the three of us to go on a house tour. I think we might have eaten a snack she had packed while we sat in a public park. Since it was getting dark and it was feeling VERY spooky, I was only too happy to get in the car when it was time to go.

When I became a teacher of upper elementary school aged children, they heard me read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow year after year because I really liked the story and each class I taught seemed to enjoy it, too.

Do you have a favorite Halloween story?


Digging into Our Ancestors’ Lives: Finding Social History Records – Part 5, The Poorhouse

“We’ll end up in the poorhouse!”

Hearing a threat of ending up in the poorhouse struck fear into the hearts of most people. Sadly, for more than most realize, it was much more than an empty threat, whether it was the poorhouse, the workhouse, the almshouse, the poor farm or the county farm, they all amounted to the same thing.

In the earliest days of colonial America, there were no poorhouses in any form, but there were poor people, in spite of the best efforts of town officials to curb poverty.

As I mentioned in the post about children’s lives, binding out orphaned children was a necessity so that they would have a trade as adults and be able to contribute to the livelihood of the community.

Children born out of wedlock were also often not only bound out, but efforts were made to force mothers to name the baby’s father so that financial security would be provided as the child grew up.

Where would one find information about being these topics? Most often, these records are found in local court records.

In colonial New England, towns adopted the practice of warnings out. When a family arrived in town, even if a father was present, and it became obvious that they had no means of support, town officials warned them out. They were ordered to return to the town from which they came, as that town was legally responsible for their upkeep.

Warnings out aren’t the easiest records to locate, as they would be in town minutes. Most town minutes are not digitized and are not accessible online. However, local genealogical periodicals sometimes have articles about warnings out that have been found.

Here is an example from the New England Historic Genealogical Register, published in July 1993. They are from the town proceedings of Corinth, Vermont and are scattered through minutes dating from 1805 to 1817.

July 1993, page 257

Most often, these warnings out in the town records don’t give further details other than names. Occasionally, there might be an additional comment such as “lately of Stoneham,” which means they were told to return to Stoneham!

Permission had to be given to newcomers to purchase land and settle in a town. If the applicant/s were unacceptable, they were expected to go on their way.

Josiah Henry Benton wrote an entire book on the topic in 1911, Warning Out in New England, 1656-1817.

This system worked in the early years of the colonies as there weren’t all that many people. However, the constant influx of settlers brought additional problems and the idea of the workhouse or poorhouse took root.

A second book, not digitally available, Unwelcome Americans, by Ruth Wallis Herndon and published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001, takes a more modern look at the early colonial New England attempts to curb poverty. It’s $25 and available online.

Warning Out – An article which details the process used by town officials

Warnings Out – 2017 blog post on Vita Brevis

There doesn’t seem to have been any similar system in the South; I imagine that churches and towns likely provided some support to the elderly, sick, orphans and widows. However, binding out children was a universal practice in colonial America.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that poorhouses began to appear, usually at the county level. As mentioned earlier, the terms poorhouse, the poor farm and the county farm all meant the same thing. The workhouse had a slightly different take, in that residents did exactly what the place name said – they were able bodied and worked.

The workhouse was more common in Europe than America.

Men, women and children who could work DID work. In this manner, they learned a trade and contributed to society in a positive way.

If you have an ancestor or ancestral family that you suspect might have lived in poverty, where would records be found about them?

As with warnings out, they will be found at the town and county levels, IF they exist. Accounts and ledgers from specific almshouses are scarce, but orders to pay for upkeep of individuals may be noted in court records.

A more accessible source of information is the newspaper, as summaries of court proceedings were often published so townspeople would know what their elected officials were doing.

I personally have found newspaper mentions of costs for maintaining my husband’s 2X great grandfather, Isaac Sturgell, at the Barry County, Missouri county farm. An article published on 6 March 1902  in the Cassville (Missouri) Republican newspaper includes payment of $10 to J.A. Barnes, for Isaac:


The death certificate for Isaac’s ex-wife’s husband, Ben Cookman, who died in Peoria County, Illinois in 1885, noted that he lived in the almshouse:

Census records are another source of information about poor farms. However, some enumerators seemed to have omitted stops at them. Isaac Sturgell lived at the county farm for at least nine years in the first decade of the 1900s until he died in 1909 and I suspect he may have lived there for at least part of the 1890s, too. However, he is nowhere to be found in the 1900 census, but the county farm isn’t to be found in that census either. I know because I’ve read every page of Barry County’s census and also contacted the public library there to ask for information. The same thing might have happened in other communities.

What was life like at the county farm? There are many online resources:

The Poorhouse Waif – Life in the Poorhouse

Life in the Poorhouse, Lee F. Dunne, $14

Life in a Poorhouse, Powerpoint by Joseph Bonneau at the University of Maine

Poorhouses by Sarah Albee

Before Welfare: True Stories of Life in the Workhouse

Poorhouse Sweeney: Life in a County Poorhouse by Ed Sweeney, 1927, pricey on Amazon, but it’s available and an option

In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America, Michael B. Katz – preview is available on Google, but there is enough viewable text to learn a lot.

The Poorhouse Story – website about the history of poorhouses

If you have ancestors who lived at an almshouse, search out their records to learn their stories. They need to be remembered!




Preparing for RootsTech 2019 and the Family History Library – Part 1

RootsTech 2019 is still 4 months away, but NOW is the time to begin planning for your visit to both the conference AND the Family History Library, which is one block to the north of the convention center, across from Temple Square.

I’d like to share some tips that should make your library research and conference experiences fun and productive. First, let’s talk about the Family History Library.

Pre-planning will allow you to make the most efficient use of your time. I always recommend having one’s ducks in a row long before walking through the library doors. How do I do it? Here is my 2018 updated list (first published in 2015) with my best practices.

1. Keep a running list of the items and call numbers you want to view in the library.

I began preparations for my next library visit as soon as I got home from my last trip to Salt Lake City. How? By starting a running list of everything I wanted to view on my next library visit. I keep a pad of paper on a shelf behind my desk. Every time I am in the midst of researching a family and come across an item – book, film or library-only computer access – I add it on the “to do” list.

2. Just before I leave, I review my list. Have any books or films been digitized since I entered the title on my “to dos”? If so, and I can view it at home, I cross it off the list. Be aware that digitized books are no longer on the library shelves!

Are any of my films in the Granite Vault? If so, I need to make sure to request them as soon as I first enter the library so there is time for delivery and viewing before I leave. Is any item on the only-in-the-library computer access arena? If so, I try complete these items early in my visit so they don’t get overlooked.

I can’t stress that enough – make a list of items to look up BEFORE you leave home. That list should include the film number or book number for each item. If it is something that has been digitized, unless it is hard to read or in a foreign language, don’t waste precious library time reading it in the library.

If you will be visiting the library for the first time in February, arrive with your list ready to go. It is fine if you start working down your list and get sidetracked because you have success and want to follow up new leads. However, if you are not successful in one search, you have the next item on your list with film/book numbers cited so you don’t have to take time to do that in the library.

3. If you have never been to the Family History Library before, check the FamilySearch website for library tips, floor plans, hours of operation, etc. so you are somewhat familiar with it. I also recommend letting the volunteers at the library reception desks, located on each floor, know that you are making your first visit so they can help you get started. It is very easy to be very, very overwhelmed by this library so taking time to get oriented is time well spent in the long run.

4. Being retired, my travel time is somewhat flexible. My travel funds are less so and I try to stretch my dollars. Obviously, reasonable airfare is the first thing I check. However, and I don’t think most people think of doing this, I am not adverse to hotel hopping. I actually do it on every visit. I am reasonably fit and figure I can easily walk a radius of about six blocks from the library. When I look for hotel rooms, I check prices day by day for the time period I plan to be in Salt Lake City. Rates vary considerably and I choose the hotel with the lowest rate per night. It isn’t a problem to get up early, check out and drop my luggage off at the next night’s hotel on my way to the library in the morning. NOTE: Rates for 2019 hotels continue to creep up from past years so be sure to find out if they have a conference rate available.

I also often time my visits for a Sunday evening arrival. That way, I am fresh on Monday morning and can build my library time stamina up with “only” an eight hour day the first day since the library closes at 5:00 on Mondays. It sets the tone for the rest of my week.

5. What to pack – When packing, I always include some granola bars, mozzarella sticks and licorice and bottled water to have something on hand in case of airport delays and need for a bite while in the library in between meals. There is a lunch room in the FHL, located on the first floor in the back. Vending machines have drinks and quick snacks.

Pack a layered wardrobe! Always wear comfortable layers of clothing and shoes as you may be walking many steps in the library as you research. Some floors in the library are warmer/cooler than others. The RootsTech convention center is huge and you will definitely be walking a lot in there. As in the FHL, some classrooms and sections of the convention center are warmer/cooler than others. Dress accordingly.

I also bring two pairs of tennis shoes, as they provide good traction with a rubber sole in case the sidewalks are wet or slippery. If one pair gets wet, I can wear the second while the first is drying out. SUGGESTION: Since the holiday season is approaching, I would recommend buying a pair of waterproof boots on sale if you live in a warm climate and don’t own any. I have been at RootsTech in past years where it has snowed and sidewalks were slippery.

6. Bring a couple of flash drives with a lot of memory (at least 16GB) with you. Information found on the computer can either be directly saved or screen clipped and saved. Many images can also be emailed directly home, but I prefer to have mine with me. Or, better yet, email them home AND save to your flash drive so you have a back up.  Also, BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME, create a file folder on each flash drive titled “If Found, Return to Owner” and put a document in there with your contact information in case you lose/leave your flash drive behind in the library. Flash drives are OFTEN left behind by library patrons. Staff loves finding one with an owner folder in it. It is also a good idea to attach the flash drives to a lanyard so you are less likely to walk off and leave it in the computer.

My 1 November 2018 post will have six more tips + a bonus tip for having a great experience in Salt Lake City.