Category Archives: GeneaGems

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!


Overlooked Resources for GeneaGems

There are several resources that I’ve mentioned in past posts while I’ve told some of my research stories, but I want to highlight just the resources in my next few posts because I rarely hear genealogy friends telling me they have used them and I don’t see too many people posting about the tidbits that they have found.

Resource #1 – State Libraries and Archives and Library and Archives Canada.

My husband has a Williams line that migrated from Virginia to Eastern Tennessee about 1805. I have spent years, no – decades, sorting out these families and the Tennessee State Archives and the Library of Virginia have helped me find information not available elsewhere and for free.

First example: Roger Williams and wife Cassie Ann Blair of Cumberland County, Virginia had a son, Thomas, who died in the 1820’s. Little is known about him, except that Thomas married Elizabeth Woodson and had five surviving sons at the time he died in Bedford County, Virginia about 1822. His children – Thomas, Woodson, John, Samuel B. and William W. – were named in Roger’s 1835 will.

The Library of Virginia has started a project to digitize its Chancery Court records.  A search of Roger Williams, with no county selected, brought up five files. They all pertain to “my” Roger Williams, but it is Case #3 that caught my interest – Roger Williams, plaintiff vs. Administrator of Thomas Williams, deceased.

There is a nine page file, which has been digitized and contains details about the court fight between Roger and John Woodson, administrator of his son’s estate. From this file, I was able to determine that the last child was born shortly after Thomas died and Roger was attempting to claim expenses to which he may not have been entitled. The administrator is identified as the brother of Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth.

The writing is not the easiest to read, but the images are of the original documents in the court file. A goldmine!

The Missouri State Archives has a growing database of free records to search. Among them are death records up to 1963. The actual images are posted, also free. Certified copies, if needed, can also be ordered. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have found previously unknown maiden names for women and burial places for elderly parents that moved to other counties to live with children.

I have included the Library and Archives of Canada here because I have Loyalist and Patriot roots and have done a lot of research in New Brunswick. The main national website for Canada has a few links to databases available on line, but be sure to check for the Provincial Archives for your location of interest. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick is a fabulous site that only keeps getting better.

On one of my recent visits to the site, I about jumped out of my seat.  I came across “Records of Old Revolutionary Soldiers and Their Widows” so I searched for one of my Loyalists, Robert Carlisle. I already knew that the Carlisles were from Sussex, a small town in Kings County, New Brunswick. By 1830, the family had removed to Charlotte, Washington County, Maine and Robert appeared in that census. He was gone in 1840 and I assumed that he and Catherine had likely died there, buried in unmarked graves.

I clicked to search names and found “Carlile, Robert” and Catherine, his wife. There are five digitized images for them. The first is a list of pensioned widows, with Catherine’s entry dated 18 Aug 1840, when she lived in the St. Andrews District, New Brunswick.

Here is page 2 with Catherine’s statement in her pension request:


About a quarter of the way down the page, Catherine states that Robert served with the Royal Fencible (Americans), which I already knew. She then adds that he died in 1834 in the town of Charlotte, Maine and that she currently resides in Sussex, Kings County, New Brunswick! She returned home after he died. The only piece of information that is missing is her maiden name and their marriage date, but I was thrilled to have a documented death date and place for Robert.

Each archive site has different kinds of information available. Some states have digitized very little and instead describe what is available in an on-site visit. Many states have, at the very least, historical photos and images, but more and more are posting invaluable databases related to state residents from the earliest time records were kept.

Be sure to check the link above next to “Resource #1” to view individual state archives links. You, too, may find gold and access is free.