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Archive for the ‘Providence’ Category

Last November I visited the Providence Public Library.  The building, a jewel of Providence, has undergone some renovations and the collections are growing.  Help is available for you to navigate the materials held in the collections.

The Providence Journal Rhode Island Room at the Providence Public Library. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The beautiful Providence Journal Rhode Island Room at the Providence Public Library. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Special Collections

I had a chance recently to meet Rhode Island Collection Librarian Kate Wells of the Providence Public Library. Kate showed me around the various Rhode Island collections.  The library is a great place to visit for some genealogical research.  I noticed the following:

  • The Providence Journal Rhode Island Room was recently restored with plenty of room for researchers to sit at the large oak tables, lighted by brass lamps.  It’s a beautiful room and contains a decent Rhode Island genealogy collection in the bookcases that line the walls.
  • The Rhode Island Index and the Providence Journal Card Index are card files, arranged by subject, that help you find important Rhode Island stories from the 1900’s.  My ordinary ancestors are not in there, but my more illustrious ones (ok, there are one or two) are.  Newspapers are available on microfilm.  Kate pointed out that although obituaries are usually not in the Rhode Island Index, they may be in the Providence Journal Card Index for the first half of the 20th century.
Catalog of the Rhode Island Collection

Catalog of the Rhode Island Collection.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

  • Manuscripts, Sanborn Maps, scrapbooks about Providence architecture, and some business materials, including some jewelry and textile periodicals are among the special collections.  Perhaps the most interesting to genealogists working remotely would be the new and growing digital image site as well as the older FLICKR set of Photograph and Image Collections.  I was also intrigued by the Fred A. Arnold Collection, donated at his death in 1924, since he was a major genealogist in the Pawtuxet Arnold line.
Kate recommended this book to me for my questions about Providence neighborhoods - Civic and Architectural Development of Providence by John Hutchins Cady. Although the book is too pricey in the used book market, I was able to order a reprint from Higginson Books, during their Christmas sale.

Kate recommended this book to me for my questions about Providence neighborhoods – Civic and Architectural Development of Providence by John Hutchins Cady. Although the book is too pricey in the used book market, I was able to order a reprint from Higginson Books, during their Christmas sale.

  • Ancestry.com and AmericanAncestors.org (NEHGS) are available in the building.  This would be a free opportunity to do a journal article search for your ancestors on the NEHGS website.  You can pull up the full articles through the search screen.

Kate and the other staff are happy to help researchers with their questions, and it’s advisable to consult them since not all the collections are on display.

A card from the Rhode Island Index.

A card from the Rhode Island Index.

Important recent developments

Kate told me that there is interest in finally getting the older issues of the Providence Journal online, something that is badly needed.  The Journal Company has chosen a vendor for the project and from what I understand, fundraising is the concern right now.  I’m glad that this is being seriously discussed.

The big news in Providence Public Library Special Collections is that the nearby Knight Library has generously donated the James N. Arnold Collection to the PPL.

Kate is the only person I’ve ever met who shares my curiosity about James Newell Arnold (1844-1927).  She repeated stories she had heard – through a lecture Providence archivist Paul Campbell has given from time to time, I think – about James Arnold’s poverty. Mr. Arnold’s zeal for collecting and organizing vital records and materials of historical and genealogical interest led him to publish and edit a magazine (“Narragansett Historical Register“) for nine years, publish the books of vital record abstracts still in use today, transcribe cemeteries, and amass a huge collection of ephemera, notes, records, and books. But none of this itinerant historical work was particularly lucrative.  It is said (this is the part I got from Kate) that he was so poor and ill-kempt that the librarians at the Rhode Island Historical Society looked down their noses at him; he resented their ill treatment and developed a passionate dislike for the society.  Thus, at death he willed his materials to the Knight Library in Providence.  He was such a hoarder that it was difficult to box and remove the mountains of paper from his home.  I have yet to find any picture of Mr. Arnold but from what I’ve read, I think he may have been disabled in some way, perhaps walked with a cane.

The James N. Arnold Collection was hard to access and use at the Knight Library, and expensive to catalog and maintain.  Recently an agreement was made with the Providence Public Library to take over the care and accessibility of the manuscript materials.  Kate said her first priority for cataloging was not any notes from the vital records, which have essentially been published, but the more obscure unpublished materials.  She hopes to make the first part of the materials available for use by researchers by, perhaps, this summer.

When I visited the PPL in November, the boxes had recently arrived and were sitting in storage.  Here are some pictures.

Boxes of materials in storage from the James N. Arnold Collection.

Boxes of materials in storage from the James N. Arnold Collection.

Yes, some materials were actually in their original 1920’s bakery boxes.

A pie box, used for storage of Arnold's papers.

A cake box, used for storage of Arnold’s papers.

When the materials start to become available to researchers, I will be most curious about any notes Arnold kept on the Pawtuxet Arnold family.  I am a little resentful that he never produced a book on them; I would like to see how far he got with the family.

I had a helpful and interesting visit with Kate Wells.  I encourage those with questions about their Rhode Island heritage to consider consulting the collections at the Providence Public Library.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2016/01/28/some-rhode-island-collections/

Narragansett Historical Register logo

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Sunday, October 4 was an exciting day at the Providence Public Library, which hosted the taping of an episode of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow, to be aired in 2016.  Kenyatta D. Berry, Joshua Taylor and Mary Tedesco are the inspiring genealogists hosting the show.

Genealogy societies and local historical societies were welcome to exhibit in the main hall where the taping was done.  So I represented the Federation of Genealogical Societies, an umbrella organization for the hundreds of genealogy societies around the country that do excellent work and are ready to help with questions.  The FGS “Society Hall” webpage can help you find a local society in an area that you are currently researching.

The day began at 8:00 a.m. for set up.  The crowds started moving in around 9 a.m. and never really stopped.  Here are some pictures from this amazing day.

The entrance to the library. Lots of tv production folks around all day. They even gave us lunch!

The entrance to the library. Lots of tv production folks around all day. They even gave us lunch!

In background, Josh Taylor showing some information to a guest. The large screen would be visible to them, but not to others in the room. I have no idea what the genealogy cases were!

Helen Smith and Pat Chappell holding the fort for the Rhode Island Genealogical Society.

A photographer getting the crowd to show some PBS love.

Beautiful Kenyatta Berry, in heels, talking to staff before her filming.

Other exhibitors at the filming.

The DAR tables were busy, and the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists also helped a lot of people.

At the end of the day, Mary Tedesco greeting the exhibitors. This was the Rhode Island Historical Society table. I also got to talk to Mary, she is really nice!

Me talking to an attendee at the FGS desk.

Me helping an attendee at the FGS desk.

We talked genealogy all day long, and it was a blast!

The post you are reading is located at: http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/10/04/genealogy-roadshow-providence/

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I drive by the First Baptist Church in America regularly, and finally went inside this week for a visit.  The church is massive, and lovely.  Although it is truly beautiful and historic, it is also familiar, comfortable and welcoming.

The First Baptist Church in America, North Main Street, Providence

The First Baptist Church in America, North Main Street, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The church was founded in 1638 by Roger Williams, who soon moved away from the idea of a formal church and others took over the ministry.

A marble plaque inside the church.

A marble plaque inside the church.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

This particular building was built in the mid-1770’s, replacing a smaller building a short distance away.  I’ve been reading about it in Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).  The Brown brothers Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses played important roles both in moving the (then) Baptist college from Warren, R.I. to Providence (now Brown University), and in the effort to build the stately new church.  The church building served, also, for the college graduation exercises, a custom that continues to this day.  Rev. James Manning, educated at Princeton, became the President of the college and also was elected as minister of the church in 1771.

Interior view. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Interior view. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

I read the Self Guided Tour booklet before arriving, and enjoyed spotting all the historic items mentioned in the booklet.

,mm,..

The Self Guided Tour explained many of the features of the church.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The church has a sense of history of course, but it is also an active church community.

The church has a sense of history of course, but it is also an active church community.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

A mystery

While at the church, I asked about a picture I recently purchased of the church; a print from J & F Tallis, London.  Oddly, it shows the church with a cemetery in the yard, something that does not exist.  The same picture was also in the Manning Room at the church, but the person I spoke to pointed out many inaccuracies in the illustration – no hill behind the church, and no surrounding buildings, which were there very early on. And most of all, no graves should be there.

Print of the First Baptist Church at Providence by J & F Tallis. Photo of the print by Diane Boumenot.

Print of the First Baptist Church at Providence by J & F Tallis. Photo of the print by Diane Boumenot.

A little research online shows an estimated date of 1843 for the print. There are other illustrations from that era by other artists which do not contain graves, so clearly this is just a fanciful rendition.  But what’s amusing is the eerie, ancient look of the graves – are those two people in the act of interring or disinterring?  Is that a skull thrown on the ground?

I very much enjoyed my visit to the First Baptist Church in America. No mysteries, ghosts or grave robbers were found, just a beautiful Rhode Island treasure, continuing Roger Williams’ “lively experiment” in today’s world.

The First Baptist Church in America, nearby.

Well known for their weekly sign on North Main Street, I captured this picture a couple of years ago when Providence celebrated its 375th birthday.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

To plan a visit, consult the “tours” page on the church website.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/08/13/first-baptist-church-in-america/

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Rhode Island researchers will look at the title of this story and say, that’s nice … wait … what?  Rhode Island really doesn’t have a State Library in quite the way that other states do.  If anything, the State Archives might come closer to what people expect from a state library.  But there is a state library located on the second floor of the Rhode Island State House, and I visited it yesterday.  This is the story (mostly in pictures) of my visit to the Rhode Island State House, Benefit Street, and the Licht Judicial Center where the Supreme Court is held.

The Rhode Island State House

Since the Rhode Island State Library is on the second floor of the State House, I traveled to Smith Street, found some metered parking well down the street, and entered the State House for the first time ever.  The State House, completed in 1902, is beautiful. I wandered around the first and second floors for quite a while.  Note for next time:  ABSOLUTELY do not miss the full length portrait of George Washington, painted by Rhode Island native Gilbert Stuart, in the Governor’s State Room.

What’s hard to portray here is the unique auditory experience of the State House.  There were school children visiting, but their voices and footsteps were heard only as a kind of whirring white noise.  It was a windy day, but still I’m not sure why I seemed to be hearing that inside, too.  At one point, a piano somewhere could be clearly heard; someone was playing well and loudly.  Somehow, the piano and the circulating noises seemed to add to the homey, unique experience of the State House – I couldn’t help but think, I doubt you would hear a piano wafting up the stairwells in the State House of a really large state.  But in Rhode Island, we are who we are.

The Independent Man stands atop the dome of the Rhode Island State House on Smith Street, Providence.

The Independent Man is barely visible atop the dome of the Rhode Island State House.  This is the back entrance, on Smith Street.  The formal entrance faces a large courtyard on the opposite side – I’m not sure whether that is in use.

Completed in 1902, the State House is filled with marble.

Completed in 1902, the interior is grand and spacious. There is marble everywhere.

The State House was filled with memorials to soldiers from many wars. This cannon was used at Gettysburg, with a ball still lodged in it that misfired during the battle.

The State House was filled with memorials to soldiers from many wars. This cannon was used at Gettysburg, with a ball still lodged in it that misfired during the battle.

Charter from King Charles II. I had no idea it was so big. What you see here is a temporary duplicate; the original is out being spruced up.

Rhode Island’s 1663 Charter from King Charles II. I had no idea it was so big. What you see here in the protective case is a temporary duplicate; the original is out being spruced up.

Then it was time to head upstairs.

Then it was time to head upstairs.

A beautiful state seal graced the landing.

A beautiful state seal graced the landing.

You can see how small the Senate Chamber is. It's a small state.

You can see how small the Senate Chamber is. It’s a small state.

I love this statue of Rhode Island's Thomas Dorr. He fought for an extension of voting rights in the early 1840's.

I love this statue of Rhode Island’s Thomas Dorr. He fought for an extension of voting rights in the early 1840’s.  I believe this statue is quite new.

I was fascinated by the hallways filled with portraits - mostly R.I. Governors.

I was fascinated by the hallways filled with portraits – mostly of R.I. Governors.

The Rhode Island State Library

The library itself is imposing and beautiful, with two balconies and a marvelous gilt and glass ceiling.   I looked over the local books and biographies.  This library serves lawmakers, primarily, although the public is welcome to visit.  If one were looking for specific records, or even  for older transactions of the General Assembly, the State Archives is a better place to visit.

The Library itself is rather amazing. a tall room with two balconies.

The Library itself is rather amazing. a tall room with two balconies.

The library is a repository for some federal documents, as well as a large collection of Rhode Island law books and books pertaining to things people might make laws about - health, environment, economics, educations, etc.

The library is a repository for some federal documents, as well as a large collection of Rhode Island law books and books pertaining to things people might make laws about – health, environment, economics, education, military, social services, etc.

The biographies and local histories were quite interesting.

The biographies and local histories were quite interesting.

Benefit Street

The beautiful portraits at the State House got me very curious about finding portraits related to my family.  Since two uncles had served as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, I decided to head to the courthouse.  Knowing parking would be quite a problem, I drove down Benefit street until I found a spot, then had a pleasant walk over to the courthouse.

Benefit Street has cars and snow vying for curbside space.

Narrow, colonial Benefit Street has cars and snow vying for curbside space.

Historic Benefit Street boasts colonial charm and and some especially fabulous historic houses.

Benefit Street boasts colonial charm and some especially grand historic houses.

The Licht Judicial Complex

The Supreme Court is located in the Licht Judicial Complex, a landmark in Providence just to the east of downtown, completed in 1933 at significant expense.  The building is ornate and beautiful, with gilding everywhere.  A large law library is housed on the eighth floor, filled to the brim with law volumes.   There wasn’t a lot for me to do there, but the librarian suggested that any portraits of Supreme Court Justices should be in the seventh floor and I should talk to the guard there.

As it turned out, the guard was able to give me a complete guided tour of the whole Supreme Court area.  On this tour, I was able to take pictures in some areas (normally prohibited because the building is a working courthouse).  We talked a lot about Rhode Island’s unique place in history and about the portraits.  He had a lot of stories about the building and its history.  I did find the portrait of my grandfather’s uncle, William Douglas, and I found a copy of Peleg Arnold’s portrait (an uncle who was Chief Justice from 1795-1809 and 1810-1812) although the original is held at the John Hay Library at Brown University (their portrait collection is browsable online).

The Licht Judicial Complex, located between Benefit and South Main streets in Providence, houses the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the county Superior Court.

The Licht Judicial Complex, located between Benefit and South Main streets in Providence, houses the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the Providence County Superior Court.

One of the first portraits I found was my uncle's, Judge William Wilberforce Douglas.

One of the first portraits I came across was my gg-uncle’s, Judge William Wilberforce Douglas.  He served as Chief Justice from 1905-1908.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court – there are five seats. This beautiful room features carved Philippine mahogany.

Blind statue of Justice facing the judges in the courtroom.

Blind Statue of Justice facing the judges in the courtroom.

A judges waiting room adjacent to the courtroom. I really got the good tour!

A judges’ waiting room adjacent to the courtroom. I really got the good tour!

I was very happy to spend my afternoon exploring these two historic sites.  The State House, in particular, is a fun place to walk through or to take a tour.  There is a welcome room on the first floor, or the website, where one can get more information.

The post you are reading is located at: http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/03/13/rhode-island-state-library/

— Photos by Diane Boumenot. 

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Registration opened this week for the New England Regional Genealogical Conference which will take place in Providence, Rhode Island, April 15-18, 2015.  The conference is held in New England every two years and this time, the location will be at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.  I am really looking forward to it.

Enjoy the conference

The conference program is now available to download as a pdf.  I am looking forward to keynote speakers Judy G. Russell and Lisa Louisa Cook, and I won’t miss an opportunity to hear Cherry Bamburg Fletcher speak about Rhode Island research.  Personally, I am planning to add Barbara MathewsDocument Analysis special workshop to my registration.  There are over a hundred other sessions to choose from, with excellent and knowledgeable presenters on a wide variety of topics.  Choosing will probably be the hard part.  There are also an Exhibit Hall, the popular 20-minute personal consultations at the Ancestors Road Show, Special Interest Group gatherings, Librarian and Teachers’ Day, and Tech Day.  Even those not attending can submit a “Genealogical Query” for $5.00 which will be visible to conference attendees; the deadline for that is January 15 (see page 3 in the downloadable brochure).

South Main Street historic area, Providence

South Main Street historic area, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Volunteer

This impressive conference is run by volunteers representing many local genealogical organizations.  The conference only exists because people step forward to volunteer.  If you attend, plan to spend a couple hours in a volunteer job.  This will NOT lower your cost of registration (as I said, it’s ALL volunteer efforts) but will make you feel like a good citizen, and you’ll meet more people doing that.  Last time, I helped out in the registration booth for a few hours, but there will be a wide variety of jobs to choose from, closer to the event.  And if you are a local genealogist who doesn’t plan to register and attend, but you can still give a little volunteer time, they would also welcome your help.

Be a tourist

NERGC has some good tips for seeing the sites during your stay. I like their suggestion of the self-guided “telephone tour” of downtown which allows you to follow the “Independence Trail” and phone in when you reach each designated stopping point, to hear recorded guidance about each historical spot.  It’s 2-1/2 miles of walking, but it’s free, and you could go at your own pace and stop along the way.  There is also a guided local Explore Providence Tour that includes transportation and sounds wonderful (see page 3 of the program for cost and reservations).  The Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau also has a thorough list of historical sites in the area.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls.  The materials are well organized and available.  They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls. The materials are well organized and available. They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Do some local genealogical research

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.  If you have Rhode Island roots, you may want to try to fit in some research, and it would be best to start thinking about that early, and prepare for a few local visits at repositories.  A great place to start would be the excellent guidance in Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s newly revised Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

While this list is by no means complete, these are some local repositories I’m familiar with:

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Rhode Island State Archives.  About a six block walk from the Convention Center.  This is a government department which primarily records state government activity.  It has a reading room with a wonderful index of R.I. vital records from about 1853 up to the legally allowed cutoffs – about 1915 or so (after using the index volumes, you can look at the state-compiled entries on microfilm), a fair collection of books and guides, a Revolutionary War index card file and other military resources, an index to Rhode Island General Assembly actions (most frequent appearance for my ancestors? “An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors … “ ), the 1865 and 1875 Rhode Island state census records, and MANY special little index guides to state government activities.  See my posts here and here.
  • Providence City Archives.  About three blocks from the Convention Center, and next to the Biltmore Hotel.  If your ancestors lived in Providence at any time since 1636, you may want to do some research at the Providence City Archives up top of the picturesque 1878 Providence City Hall. On the fifth floor, the space is cramped and tiny, and the collection is not browsable, so it’s not a great place to just stroll around, but it is a valuable resource if you have real requests to make.  I mostly go to request Providence vital records and to view probate records (remember “probate” sometimes includes guardianships or adoptions).  See my post here.
  • The Providence Public Library.  About a five block walk from the door of the Convention Center, the library has some useful features.  I have never been in the special collections, and I’m not very familiar with them.  I mostly appreciate the extensive collection of Providence newspapers that they carry on microfilm, particularly since most of these are not online anywhere.  You can view microfilm and print, for a price per page.  They also have a large card index of Rhode Island events, well-known citizens, and news.  See my blog post here.
The State Archives reading room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The State Archives reading room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

NEARBY BUT NOT WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Library of the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Perhaps some may argue this is walkable from the Convention Center.  If you have good health, good shoes, good weather, an intrepid companion, and a little time, you might look into it.  On the map, it won’t appear THAT far away – maybe about a mile.  What the coy map won’t reveal to you is that it’s UP HILL. And I mean UP.  HILL.  You would be going through some lovely and historic parts of Providence, so you would, for sure, enjoy the scenery if, well, you could breathe and everything.  No matter how you get there, this is probably Rhode Island’s premier research destination.  Non-members pay a small fee and fill out paperwork for a day pass, and will not be allowed to photograph anything at all.  There are some local records from various towns available on microfilm as well as the state’s most thorough collection of old newspapers on microfilm – very few are online anywhere (however, there is very little in the way of indexing available).  There is a large collection of genealogy books and journals as well as local books.  There are manuscripts which may be requested.  They have valuable collections and the structure, rules and process of visiting there is fairly severe. Bring a smile and some well thought out questions.  Explore their holdings thoroughly beforehand here.
  • The Rhode Island Judicial Archives is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, maybe 5 miles away.  I would encourage anyone interested in the archival record of any particular case to contact the archives in advance to see if the case is on file there.  Nothing is browsable or searchable in person, indeed, you will be lining up with the criminals and lawyers to request your case records.  Ask for the historical records, and that clerk will be summoned. Older divorce cases from Rhode Island will be on file here, as well as many other types of court cases. You would need to know some details of the case (a name and rough date, to start with) in order for the clerk to try to find it. Documents can be read and photographed there.  See my post here.
The Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker.  This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

A Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker. This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland (“Cumberland 19”). Photo by Diane Boumenot.

FARTHER AWAY

Cemeteries.  The tradition in Rhode Island was to bury family right on the family farm, because early Rhode Islanders were very firmly against any centralized powers belonging to the churches.  In a growing city like Providence, many of these early plots were eventually relocated to the North Burial Ground, or they just disappeared.  In most other areas, tiny historical cemeteries remain in place.  You can research recorded graves at the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission website.

The city and town halls of Rhode Island are the place for vital records, deeds, probate, town council, and a random variety of other early records.  In Rhode Island, you won’t find materials at the county level except for some court records.

Keep in mind that town boundaries shifted over the years, meaning the records you seek may be in a different town than the one you associate your ancestors with (see this summary from the R.I. Genealogical Society to see if you need to explore this question).  Some of the local town libraries have local history rooms or special collections which can he useful.  My recommendation would be that if you are going to the town your ancestors lived in, go to the (correct) town hall but make sure you at least check out, from home, what the local library is offering as well. Less often, there is also a local historical society or historic building – those can have extremely limited hours.

Rhode Island has 39 cities and towns and each town hall has a completely different arrangement for access to records, seating areas, photocopying, picture-taking (usually allowed), access to books, ability to answer questions, and record sets available.  Going to each one is like arriving in a brand new country.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for town/city halls would be:

  • Never go into your genealogy story. Dress neatly, be polite, ask about the materials you need and possibly give the impression you are a historical researcher or lawyer.
  • If there is any archival staff, yay, but if you are dealing with the normal town clerk staff, they really have other jobs to do and can’t spend much time on non-town business; they don’t always know much about the “old stuff.”  At best, they expect to lead you to an area of old volumes and leave you there, at worst, they expect you to request one item at a time which they will reluctantly attempt to find for you.
  • There are usually (but NOT ALWAYS) tables and chairs, but if there are other researchers, don’t count on a lot of room.  A laptop may be too complicated for these settings. I would suggest a camera and a paper notebook.  I sometimes bring a tablet or just rely on my cell phone if I need to look something up.  I suspect there would be a LOT of problems using photocopiers in town halls; a camera is better.
  • Sometimes there is an official room where researchers go (particularly people doing title searches) but there may ALSO be an old archives collection hidden away in a basement or something.  Try to be sure you are seeing all that’s available.
  • If staff say you should have called, reserved, warned them, written them a letter, etc, agree with that, keep smiling, keep them talking, and usually when they see you haven’t left yet, they tend to help you anyway.
  • Genealogists are nice people. But town staff have to deal with some real, real cranks and crazy people (as I have witnessed in sitting around those offices over the years), so give them a few minutes to realize you’re not one of those.
  • Follow ALL usual archival rules, whether stated or not – no pens, no food or drink, no talking on the phone, be extremely careful of the books, try to remove and use only one at a time, always replace them in the exact spot, lay them flat on the table.
  • The index volumes may be in a completely different area of the room from the record volumes.  Give a good look around.
  • The only true problem you are likely to encounter is a flat denial of access to vital records because “it’s the law”, “because of privacy” or “the record is not about you” (like I’d be asking for my own death record).  If you need post-1914 records you may not be able to solve this one.  If you are asking for pre-1914 records, stand your ground and politely say that under Rhode Island law those records are public records and you have a right to see them, if they exist.  Keep smiling, and say that you’re probably going to need to talk to the Town Clerk. The Rhode Island law changed recently to include some new restrictions but none of that applies to pre-1914 records.
Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for local libraries or historical societies:

  • Definitely mention genealogy, this sometimes gets you ushered right away into the special “Genealogy Room”.
  • If possible, write a week or two in advance.  Sometimes the best person to help you is only available at certain times.
  • Make sure you are seeing an index or catalog to the special collections or manuscripts.  Sometimes old materials are cataloged separately.
  • Look for unique manuscript items like indices to local newspapers, obituary collections, index lists to local town records, inventories of historic houses, local newspapers, genealogy card files, local pictures, and manuscript genealogies.  These may not be available anywhere else.
  • If you gain admittance into any local historical society or small museum, either pay admission or buy something.  They need the money, and it will help them to see that you appreciate their work.

In closing

For a more detailed review of repositories, check out Michael Leclerc’s Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, 5th edition, (Boston, NEHGS, 2012) and Diane Rapaport’s New England Court Records (Burlington, Mass., Quill Pen Press, 2006), as well as the previously mentioned Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

Sign up for the conference e-zine today!

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/10/26/providence-for-nergc/

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On a recent visit to the New England Historic Genealogical Society library in Boston I discovered a book of paintings of 1830’s Providence by Edward Lewis Peckham.  “A Painter of Old Providence” appeared in The Journal of American History, volume VI, No. IV, 1912, and included an article by Mr. Peckham’s nephew, Stephen Farnum Peckham.  This article (and additional material from two subsequent issues, volume VII, No. 1 & 2, 1913) were re-issued as a limited-printing booklet, and it is from that booklet that I photographed many of these paintings and drawings.  The remainder are clipped from the Internet Archives copies of the journals, linked above.

Clicking each image will show a larger version.

This beautiful view of Market Square was drawn in 1835, looking east.  In the foreground is the large bridge and one of the shops on it has a sign “Books.”  How I wish I could visit. You can see the First Baptist Church in America in the background.

Market Square

Market Square

View of Providence from the East Bank, 2 miles down the river around 1843.  On the right is Fox Point.

Providence from 2 miles down the bay

Providence from 2 miles down the bay

The Fox Point shore, 1832, a place famous for baptisms.  “On a calm Sabbath morning the gentlest splash of an oar could be heard; and at this distant day a favorite hymn of “Oh happy are they, who their Saviour obey,” sung as the newly-made converts walked slowly to the land, is still sounding in my ears.” — Edward Lewis Peckham

Fox Point shore

Fox Point shore

The Old Town House stood on the corner of College and Benefit Streets, and was torn down in 1860.  Built in 1723 as a place of worship for the Benevolent Congregational Society, who sold it to the city in 1795, the building saw many church services of all types, and civic activities from around the time of the American Revolution and Dorr’s Rebellion.  Later, it was used as a low-level court and police station.  Today the spot holds part of the sprawling Rhode Island state court house.

The Old Town House

The Old Town House

At one point, the long low building seen at India Point was used as a bowling alley.

India Point from Fort Hill

India Point from Fort Hill

The American House hotel, 77 North Main Street.

The American House, corner of North Main and Steeple Streets

The American House, corner of North Main and Steeple Streets

The view of the Cove is from 1846. On the right is Canal Street; Steeple Street enters it at the first brick building.  The cove, where the Woonasquetucket and Moshasuck Rivers converge on the harbor, and the tide flowed in and out, was a fixture of early Providence.  Today, the old Union Station buildings sit at the center of what, below, is water. Visible to the left is the outline of the old jail.

The Cove

The Cove

Red Bridge, looking east from below the bridge, 1832.

Red Bridge

Red Bridge

The south part of Benefit Street is the view from Thomas Peckham’s house, circa 1834, looking at the corner of Transit Street.

South Part of Benefit Street

South Part of Benefit Street

Heavy Snow, Dec. 27, 1838

Heavy Snow, Dec. 27, 1838

— Paintings and drawings by Edward Lewis Peckham

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There is a new web site devoted to Rhode Island’s historical societies, collections, and sites.

Explore RHODI

RHODI, the Rhode Island History Online Directory Initiative is a new website from the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Explore it today to learn more about the organizations, museums, libraries and preservation sites that are dedicated to Rhode Island’s history.

If you are visiting Rhode Island, or looking for information from a distance, you can learn more about available resources by following the many links at the RHODI website.

Visiting the Roger Williams National Memorial

Speaking of historical sites, I recently visited Rhode Island’s only National Memorial (there are no National Parks in Rhode Island).

The sign at the south end of the tiny park.

The sign at the south end of the tiny park.  You can see some colorful flags in the background along Canal Street.

The Roger William National Memorial is located in Providence, to the north side of downtown, around the spot where Roger Williams first settled in Providence.  It consists of a tiny park and a welcome center, with a little parking along one side.  This picture, below, was in early morning, but by mid-day, in warm weather, there are usually people playing catch, parking their bikes, having a picnic, or exploring the memorial.

Some daffodils were blooming this week.

Some daffodils were blooming this week.  You can see some colorful flags in the background along Canal Street.

The rest of the pictures were taken last winter, obviously a quiet time at the park. The picture below shows the Hahn Memorial, built in the 1930’s to honor Isaac Hahn, “the first person of Jewish faith to be elected to public office from Providence”, according to the Roger Williams National Memorial website.

This picture, taken last winter, shows the picturesque entrance along North Main Street.

This photo, taken last winter, shows the picturesque entrance along North Main Street.

There is a welcome center at the north end of the memorial, in the Antram-Gray House.  Part of this building has survived since 1730, and has served many purposes over the years before it became the welcome center.  A spot next to it called “Bernon Grove” commemorates the founder of King’s Chapel (now St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street).  As Roger Williams planned, those of many faiths found refuge in the colony of Rhode Island.

The Antram-Gray House welcomes visitors and provides park offices.

The Antram-Gray House welcomes visitors and provides park offices.

Inside the visitors center I was greeted by a very nice park ranger and we had a great chat about Roger Williams and Providence history.

Books are for sale in the welcome center.

Books are for sale in the welcome center.

I looked around at the exhibit inside.

Roger Williams is there to greet you at the Vistitors Center exhibit.  Occasionally when I drive by in the summer, he is on the sidewalk welcoming visitors.

Roger Williams is there to welcome you at the Visitors Center exhibit. Occasionally when I drive by in the summer, he is on the sidewalk greeting passersby with a silent “what cheer?”

One last thought

On North Main Street, just up the street from this memorial, is the First Baptist Church in America.  I took this picture, below, of the church and the sign out front during the celebration of the 350th Anniversary of Rhode Island’s 1663 Charter, last year.

The First Baptist Church in America, nearby.

The First Baptist Church in America, nearby.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/04/19/rhode-islands-historical-sites/

Photos by Diane Boumenot

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I visited the North Burial Ground in Providence this week for the first time.  This large municipal cemetery holds over 35,000 markers (1) and over 100,000 interments (4).  It was begun by the city in 1700 and remains active today, with new burials occurring regularly.  It was originally positioned north of the Providence settlement, but over the centuries Providence and Pawtucket grew around it and it is now located at the intersections of North Main Street and Branch Avenue, with I-95 running along one side.

The southern entrance shows the cemetery office just inside the gates.

The southern entrance with the cemetery office just inside the gates.

Prior to the creation of the cemetery, and during its early years, residents of Providence buried their loved ones in family plots on their own property, since there was no central church and accompanying graveyard.  Gradually, many of those small cemeteries were relocated to the North Burial Ground (4).  By the mid-1800’s there was a desire to make the appearance more rustic and scenic, and extensive landscaping and improvements were undertaken (4).  In the 20th century the cemetery continued to grow but struggled with some deterioration and vandalism.  Today, the cemetery remains a unique and authentic memorial to Providence, past and present.

The downtown Providence skyline, barely visible on the horizon from the center of the cemetery, gives an almost exaggerated idea of the distance.

The downtown Providence skyline, barely visible on the horizon from the center of the cemetery, gives an exaggerated idea of the distance.

Visiting

Those who frequent Rhode Island’s many historic cemeteries will appreciate being able to walk into a cemetery office and get some help finding a grave – a rare opportunity in Rhode Island.

Entrance to the office

Entrance to the office

While it is likely that I have some early ancestors there, I only knew about one grave for sure that I was seeking.  It was the grave of my great-great aunt, Sarah E. Lamphere Capwell (1843-1905).  She was the sister of my gg-grandmother, Emma Lamphere Darling.

I walked into the office (open hours are listed here) with some information in hand that I had found on The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project website (7) about Sarah’s burial.  The staff in the office were patient and cheerful as I stumbled around a little checking the year of burial; it turns out that date is the crucial starting point.  I did know the section (section BE), but they wanted to find the plot record and let me see that.

The book containing the ownership and record of burials for the plot.

The book containing the ownership and burials for the plot I was seeking.

The cemetery records

The record book was extremely helpful.  It showed the layout for the 10 graves in the plot, and gave some information for each one.

The Capwell plot in Section 17, Lot no. 2563.  On the map, the section is called BE.

The Capwell plot in Section 17, Lot no. 2563. On the map, the section is called BE.

The “Proprietor” was Nancy M. Capwell.  Sarah appears to be the first buried, in grave #1. Sarah was married to Burrington Anthony Capwell, who was the son of Nancy Maria (Wesson) Capwell and Joseph Alexander Capwell (a butcher), who were buried next in #2 and #3.  In the 1900 census Nancy Maria reported that she was the mother of 10 children, 4 living, so possibly the five names recorded in the plot record could have been for their children.  The staff explained to me that the scanty records of those names – Sarah, Maria, Caroline, Clark and Lillian – could indicate that they were re-interred from another location.  The last three names – Burrington himself, Sarah’s son Charles, and Charles’ wife, Margaret, complete the plot record.  Since Margaret was actually #11, she apparently shares a grave with her husband.

All interments for the Capwell plot

All interments for the Capwell plot.  The list of names included ages and dates of burial for some of the interred.

The staff pointed out several helpful pieces of information on the sheet.  Names are listed and numbered, and the diagram of the plot shows the appropriate number in each spot.  So you know where each person was buried. The rectangles and lines drawn at the foot of some graves usually represent markers.

The diagram of graves also shows some information about the location

The diagram of graves also shows some information about the location

Underneath the chart is an indication of the location of the plot within the section, indicated by feet from from the nearest roads – “61 ft E of Central —  79 ft S of Prospect area”.

Finding the grave

Staff were ready to accompany me but I was willing to drive over and try to find the grave myself. They gave me a map, and highlighted it with my route.   Section BE was large.  If it weren’t for the specific notations on the page I think I would have had a big problem finding it.  But I counted out the feet and found the spot.

A tiny portion of my map.  You can see where staff pointed out the number of feet from each street.

A tiny portion of my map. You can see where staff pointed out the number of feet from each street.

The map is not online, it is pretty much expected that you will go to the cemetery during open hours Monday through Friday and get specific directions, or be escorted, to the plot you are looking for in the huge cemetery.  Staff are busy, of course, but good at getting visitors the information they need.

Sarah E. Lampher Wife of B. A. Capwell Died Mar 14, 1905 Aged 59 Years

Sarah E. Lampher Wife of B. A. Capwell Died Mar 14, 1905 Aged 59 Years

I found Sarah’s grave among the Capwells.  The plot map and seeing these graves “put to rest” any idea I might have had of finding connections to Sarah’s Lamphere family, for instance, a sibling buried near her.

Sarah is in the second row, at the end.  Her husband Burrington should be immediately in front of her, but he has no marker.  Oddly, his parents have a double marker which says "Mother" and "Father" with dates, but no names at all.  Perhaps there had been plans for one more, grander monument.

The ten graves. Sarah is in the second row, at the end. Her husband Burrington should be immediately in front of her, but he has no marker. His parents have a double marker which says “Mother” and “Father” with dates, but no names at all. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the short railing (in front) said “Capwell” at ground level. 

Research

The record books in the cemetery office apparently go back to about 1848 (3).  To find earlier information, most people consult John E. Sterling’s North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island : Old Section, 1700-1848 (9).  That book is out of print, so the people at Gaspee Virtual Archives (3) have provided some information about where to find a copy.  There is, of course, a copy available in the cemetery office.

A Firefighters memorial to "Men Killed in the Line of Duty", beginning in 1828.

A Firefighters memorial to “Men Killed in the Line of Duty”, beginning in 1828.

The cemetery is filled with interesting memorials added over the years – a Firefighters memorial, an Elks section, various veterans memorials, to name just a few.

The Elks memorial

The Elks memorial

I’m sure I will be revisiting this huge cemetery in the future, since I suspect I have ancestors among the oldest burials.

Sources for further information

  1. The city of Providence webpage for the Old North Burial Ground
  2. List of names frequently found in the cemetery from The Bucklin Society website
  3. Instructions for finding graves at the cemetery, from the Gaspee Virtual Archives website
  4. National Register of Historic Places nomination form (1977; Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission)
  5. Two volumes of North Burial Ground notes (mostly legacies), from the Early Records of the Town of Providence:  volume 18 and volume 19.
  6. Some old inscriptions are recorded in The Narragansett Historical Register with the title ” The Story of the Tablets” by James L. Sherman  See volume 4 (p. 70, 116, 178, 283) and  volume 5 p. (67, 166, 268).  Find links to all volumes here.
  7. The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project.  This large index can be downloaded in small pdf sections.  It includes entries statewide.
  8. FindAGrave section for the North Burial Ground.
  9. North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island : Old Section, 1700-1848 by John E Sterling.  Greenville, RI : Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 2000. This book is out of print.  See the WorldCat record here, and another list of repositories that hold the book here.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/04/14/north-burial-ground-providence

2014-04-11 12.36.05

 

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