Category Archives: GeneaGems

Overlooked GeneaGem #4 – Ethnic Societies

America is called a melting pot for good reason. Most of us are descended from a mixture of ethnic and/or religious backgrounds. While my maternal grandfather’s family has proven to be solely colonial American and Canadian immigrants from Britain, one side of my maternal grandmother’s family is the same, the other side is Danish with a Swedish line added in. My paternal grandparents’ lines  are all Slovak with their ancestral villages being near Presov, Slovakia.

Why am I mentioning this? Because ethnic societies can often provide a huge amount of information on members of a community at any given time. We want our ancestors to become real people, who are more than just a birth, marriage and death date on a piece of paper. We want to know about their friends and neighbors, cultural traditions and jobs.

Ethnic societies can provide some of this information.

Cyndi’s List

Federation of Genealogical Societies – has many ethnic societies, but database is in ABC order so you will have to scroll.

I suspect that none of these lists is terribly complete because there are so many small organizations across the country in addition to some entities that are only websites.

Since I mentioned my Slovak heritage, I will share a website devoted to the Carpatho-Rusyns who emigrated from Slovakia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It includes a large amount of information on the people who emigrated from the villages of Udol and Ujak, which were the ancestral homes of my grandmother Julia’s family, to Passaic, New Jersey, the city where I was born and grew up.

The Carpathian Connection

The section on Passaic has historic photos of people and places, stories from descendants of those early Slovak immigrants, historical information on the churches, shops and neighborhoods where they lived. I recognize many of the family names as those of my grandmother’s friends.

Growing up, I knew that she had a lot of Slovak speaking friends from (today’s) Greek-Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, but I knew nothing of the mills where they all went to work, the cultural customs continued from the “old country” or that a huge percentage of those immigrants all migrated from Udol or Ujak, two small villages in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains near the Poprad River.

I tell people that if they look at a map of Poland and Slovakia, look due south from Cracow across the border. the mountain range at that border is the Tatras. Udol and Ujak in ancient times only had 500-800 inhabitants. The population was about the same in the 1800’s and remains that way today in spite of all the emigration.

I have learned so much about my grandmother’s way of life in the early 1900’s through information found on The Carpathian Connection. If you have a strong family connection to one or more ethnic groups, check out the directories in this post, but if you don’t find one fitting your heritage, do what we all do today – google it!

Overlooked GeneaGem#3 – State Genealogical Societies

The third of the overlooked gems is state genealogical societies. Yes, genealogical societies cost money to join, BUT some have free databases on line that can be accessed by anyone. My husband’s Williams family lived every place imaginable where the records burned from Virginia to Tennessee. Because they lived mostly in the South, birth and death records were rarely found until modern times.

Two of my favorite genealogical periodicals are those of the Tennessee Genealogical Society and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. 

Both societies have digitized images of their publications, Ansearchin’ News and Arkansas Family Historian, posted on their websites. The Arkansas Genealogical Society also has PDF images of Ancestry Charts and Family Group Sheets submitted by members over the years and a database of the Arkansas Ancestry Certificate Index, listing early Arkansas settlers for whom descendants have submitted documentation.

Here are a few examples of harder-to-find types of genealogical-related information that I randomly found in these journals:

From the July 1964 issue of Ansearchin’ News, p. 119 – “Early East Tennessee Land Surveys” of Anderson County. These surveys are great because they not only list the land owner, but often give neighbors’ names as they owned bordering properties and the “SCC” or “sworn chain carriers” were often friends or relatives.

Misc 1

In the October 1962 issue, also Ansearchin’ News, page 132,

“Spears-Gable Bible.” Note that the death entries even include cause of death in a time period where death records were not kept in Tennessee. (I did not include the birth and marriage records in case this is your family, but they are there.)

Misc 2

In the Arkansas Family Historian, June 1966, page 40 I found the descendants of Don Jose Vallure de Hautervive listed in an abstract of a White County, AR land deed dated 1841. Don Jose served as Captain of the Sixth Regiment of Louisiana under the Spanish government and received land grants in both Louisiana and Arkansas. He died in New Orleans in 1799 and the deed lists all of his descendants known over forty years later. (As with the Bible records above, I only clipped part of the entry.)

Misc 3

Last example: Arkansas Family Historian, Jan 1976, page 43 has family queries, which I absolutely love. I have found more missing twigs and branches of the family tree than I can count by perusing queries in genealogical publications. Yes, I know that I can look at family trees on line, and I do, but so many people don’t do their own research anymore. They just cut and paste and/or import data that is just as likely to be wrong as right. This query gives a lot of possible background for the Fowler/Oats family:

Misc 4

What else can be found in genealogical publications? Cemetery records! Why would you want to look at 50 or 60 year old magazines for cemetery records when we have findagrave.com, BillionGraves, etc.? First reason – many transcriptions in these journals are from abandoned cemeteries that still have readable stones or are from cemeteries in out of the way locations (like in a family’s backyard) and are not yet available on line. Second reason – because many of these published epitaphs are 50-60 years old, or even older, these stones might no longer be readable due to the ravages of time and weather or they may have sunk in the ground or been removed or destroyed. Therefore, they won’t ever appear, at least with a photo, on any cemetery website.

Besides cemetery listings, there are many transcribed tax lists (which, yes, can be viewed on microfilm, but many don’t ever look at this resource in a library), there are occasional family diary excerpts, there are old photographs and many other tidbits of information to help paint a picture of your ancestor’s life.

Here are a few sources with links to state genealogical societies:

Genealogical Societies

Ancestry’s List

Take a moment and check out a state where your family lived.

 

 

Overlooked GeneaGem #2 – Historical Societies

Yesterday, I provided some links to state archives around the U.S. and included a link to the Library and Archives of Canada. Today’s overlooked resource is the many historical societies around the country.

Here are links to several directories:

U.S. Historical Societies

Directory of Historical Societies

Historical and Genealogical Societies of the U.S.

List of Historical Societies

When I first started researching my family, back in the days when that meant lots of library and site visits, I often didn’t bother with historical society publications. If I did happen to browse through a journal, it usually contained stories about the winter of 1855, building a bridge over the river or other such stories. There was little genealogical material to be found.

However, I have found that while society publications are often very bland in terms of genealogical information (I know there are exceptions, but I have not found any of my families in them), the society often maintains files on families who settled in the region. I was stumped for a long time on a maiden name for one of my husband’s ancestors. In looking at some unusual given names, it seemed likely that there was some kind of tie to the Lewis family. I found nothing about them and there was no genealogical society in that area. There was a small historical society so I phoned them. The volunteer who answered said she would be happy to send information on the family, but it would take a couple of days to copy all the material in the family file folder they had accumulated. Not only did I prove the maiden name, but I also gained a couple of genealogical contacts and we shared information. The only fee was the copy costs, but I included a donation to the society, too.

Obviously, not all sources are free, but these small local societies may have items not found elsewhere – like family papers, copies of Bible records, old news clippings and drawings of cemetery layouts with epitaphs from gravestones lost to time. If there is a historical society, but no genealogical society in the area, it may be even more likely that the historical society maintains family information, too.

Check out historical societies where your families lived using the links above. If you don’t find anything for your town or county, try an internet search as none of the directories above are complete listings. Happy hunting!