Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category

Interviews with two NERGC speakers

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview two of the speakers at the upcoming New England Regional Genealogical Conference, scheduled for April 15-18, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island. I chose two important genealogists with Rhode Island connections. They are Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, FASG, and Nathaniel Lane Taylor, Ph.D., FASG.  They were good sports about answering lots of questions about Rhode Island genealogy.  The subject of pirates came up several times!

First of all let me say, the schedule of speakers at NERGC 2015 (Navigating the Past, Sailing into the Future) is very impressive.  The selection was, I think, very well chosen by the Program Committee: Shellee Morehead, Marian Pierre-Louis, and Maureen Taylor. If you haven’t registered yet, check out the program and consider making your way to Providence, even for a day, to hear the knowledgeable speakers and visit the Exhibits.

Nathaniel Lane Taylor

from the program: Nathaniel Lane Taylor, Ph.D., FASG, is co-editor of The American Genealogist. A historian, he has taught medieval history at the university level for many years. His genealogical work ranges from medieval Spain, France and Britain to colonial New England and Virginia. He lives in a colonial house in Barrington, Rhode Island, on a farm which used to be part of Plymouth Colony.

Where are your own ancestors from, and can you tell us a little more about your Rhode Island ancestors, if any?

I personally have NO Rhode Island ancestors, but I do have one Massachusetts ancestor who owned land stretching down across the (current) border into Rhode Island — this figures in my NERGC talk. I was researching the ownership of that parcel (now in Barrington, RI) and traced it back to a guy whose name sounded familiar — turns out he was my own ancestor, and I had no idea he had lived anywhere close to here (he died in 1723, when Barrington was a town in Massachusetts!). My own ancestors are half Yankee, half southern (Virginia & Maryland > Ohio Valley > Kentucky). On each side I have mostly Anglo, but some German. My Yankee ancestors are almost all north of Boston — no Plymouth colony, and no Mayflower! One slim strain of early Connecticut, via Nova Scotia.

My wife & children do have remote RI ancestors in Bristol, including one of the nine sisters of the famous Bristol pirate, Captain Simeon Potter. Bruce MacGunnigle has written about Potter, and in Bristol, Ray Battcher has for many years dressed up as Potter to do tours. I drafted most of a genealogical article on Potter’s nine married sisters and their combined total of circa 70 children, but it is one of those projects that is still unfinished after many years. Some day you might see it in Rhode Island Roots!

Clearly, history and genealogy are intertwined in your career. What would your recommendation be to genealogists with Rhode Island roots seeking to learn more about Rhode Island’s unique history?

My basic advice to genealogists is true wherever you are or wherever your ancestors are, not just in Rhode Island: follow your nose through your family tree, and allow yourself the time and pleasure to explore any story that piques your interest. As a newcomer to Rhode Island (only lived here 14 years) I don’t pretend to be an expert in where to find great stories of RI history! [editor’s note – wow, Nat IS recently arrived.  He probably still thinks there’s supposed to be an “r” at the end of the word “chowda”] 

Can you think of an under-utilized repository in Rhode Island that you would recommend to Rhode Island genealogists?

Rhode Island’s size and original political character resulted in more records being kept at the town level (like probate) than other New England colonies & states. Use the town records of all kinds — including tax lists and other civil records. Rhode Island Genealogical Society has some good resources on town sources — including many of the collections of town records published in recent years, but I would also urge the face-to-face visit with town clerks to ask what may be available to poke through. As for other venues, even the best-known repositories are “under-utilized”: Rhode Island Historical Society library, Providence Public Library, state archives, and judicial archives.

Has historical research led you to some unusual destinations or settings?

Not too many years ago I remember looking at the original Bristol County (Mass.) probate act books from the 1680s through 1740s. They were in a bookcase in a hallway outside a juvenile courtroom in Fall River. I’m not sure if they’re still there, but that seemed pretty unusual.

As a graduate student 20 years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a few months traveling to monasteries and cathedrals in France and Spain, to visit tiny archives and libraries to read and study original 10th-century wills. Having read wills on stacks of thousand-year-old parchments has given me an interesting perspective for approaching our American records—even 350-year-old colonial records seem young by comparison.

Only Rhode Islanders, or seasoned researchers, would understand that “East Bay” has a very different history from “West Bay” in our tiny state. What do genealogists need to know about that?

Again, it’s not so much a unique story, but small parts of small states can have their own tortured geographic and political histories, that affect how we go about digging into them. The East Bay’s journey from Plymouth Colony, to Massachusetts Bay Colony, to Rhode Island, is similar to many border shifts that can take researchers by surprise. West Bay had some of its own jurisdictional shifts, down on the Connecticut line. And there are those little towns and bits of towns that have gone back and forth between Connecticut and Mass. So each geographic story is unique, but the importance of learning about the geography is universal.

I began subscribing to The American Genealogist (TAG) recently, and noticed that you are the co-editor. Can you explain to readers how subscribing to a quality journal like TAG will improve their research skills?

TAG is a place where you can see good genealogy. Our aim is that the articles in TAG will tell two good stories: first, about the families who are the subject of the article, and second, about how the writer found and analyzed his or her sources to uncover the story. Our goal is that each genealogy can be readable for pleasure, as well as instructive, whether or not you happen to be related to the folks on the page. The value of that is that each of us should think about how best to tell the stories we uncover, to others, or to posterity. And there is no substitute for good writing, which comes best from practice. Other journals focus on one region (like the Register for New England), or focus on presenting methodological lessons (like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly). I hope TAG will be able to continue a legacy of valuing good writing.

What genealogist from long ago has had the biggest impact on your own research and career, and in what way?

Dave Greene, the long-time editor and publisher of TAG, has just stepped down after 30 years, and has entrusted TAG to me. I am honored that he saw in me a sort of kindred spirit (and someone crazy enough to try to continue TAG‘s legacy). Dave is, like me, someone who delights in a good genealogical story and in telling it well. He has been a great influence on me, of course.

Another I must name is Cherry Bamberg, whom I didn’t meet until after I had been living in Rhode Island for several years. Rhode Island is enormously lucky to have Cherry, who is one of the best writers in the country to combine a flair for a great story with impeccable research. With Cherry, and now also Michael Dwyer at the helm, Rhode Island Roots is always a great read, which makes it simply the best state-focused genealogical journal in the country.  [editor’s note: I completely agree with that last statement, and I’m glad to hear it from someone so knowledgeable]

Nat’s talk will be a must for those with Rhode Island roots:

  • Rhode Island’s East Bay: a Case Study in Border and Identity Shifts. S-318 Saturday, April 18, 1:45 p.m.  Nockum Hill is the site of the first Baptist meeting house in the New World. This lecture explores the impact of settlement patterns and border changes on research.

Cherry Fletcher Bamberg

from the program: Cherry Bamberg, FASG, is the editor of Rhode Island Roots since 2002; consulting editor to the NEHG Register since 2006; Donna Holt Siemiatkoski Genealogy Volunteer of the Year Award, 2006; Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, elected 2007; Rhode Island researcher for the Danish version of Who Do You Think You Are? 2010. Scores of articles on Rhode Island families and research, 1998 to present. Author and/or editor of books for Rhode Island Genealogical Society 2000 to present.

I am reporting her answers, below, from our phone interview.

Where are your own ancestors from, and can you tell us a little more about your Rhode Island ancestors, if any?

Cherry was born into a genealogy-minded family, although she didn’t catch the bug until later in life. Cherry’s ancestor John Fletcher, a silver chaser, came to the U.S. with his family from Birmingham, England in the 1870s, and his children married into Rhode Island families. When her father exhausted his own lineage and turned to her mother’s family for more genealogical work, he was surprised to discover that his wife’s central New York farming family held deep Rhode Island roots. Her ancestral locations include England, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and Germany. These days, Cherry pursues projects not directly related to her own genealogy.

She has a lifelong fascination with Rhode Island history. She recalls, growing up in Newport, being surrounded with artifacts, buildings and neighborhoods that represented tiny snippets of Rhode Island history … and how the normal Rhode Island history course that all schoolchildren muddle through held her spellbound as she mentally pieced together things she had seen with the centuries-long story that wove them together.

In her early days as a genealogist, Cherry worked with others on historical research for the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Database. She eventually came to realize that her passion lay not so much with the stones, but with the stories behind the stones – the lives that they represented. Even within her own family history, she especially enjoyed seeking out the quirky family stories and proving/disproving them. Her eyes were opened to the fallibility of family tradition on a visit to a cemetery in Warwick: the gravestone of the woman her grandmother always called “the richest widow in Warwick” showed that she died before her husband! The richest widow turned out to have lived in the previous generation.

One family story that she researched concerned the Revolutionary War experience of an ancestor from Marblehead, Mass. He was captured on a privateer ship off Newfoundland early in the war and was locked up with other prisoners at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, where he remained for four years. His son, during the War of 1812, also became a military captive, imprisoned at the infamous Dartmoor in Devonshire, England, for two years. HIS son enlisted in the Civil War, but upon his arrival at the Battle of Fredericksburg, took a train and returned home (thus, perhaps, purposefully ending that family legacy). The research led Cherry to trips to Edinburgh and Dartmoor that were much more entertaining than those of her ancestors.

I noticed your recent article in Rhode Island History, (Rhode Island Historical Society, Spring, 2015, 73:1) “Bristol Yamma and John Quamine in Rhode Island” in which you told the true story of two former slaves chosen to become missionaries. Can you talk about your commitment to telling the stories of obscure individuals who were not among the privileged classes?

Cherry points out that the slaves found in Rhode Island cemeteries and probate records first brought her attention to the importance of slavery in Rhode Island research. How someone who grew up in Newport had not understood the town’s role in the slave trade continues to amaze her. In 1774 almost one out of every five persons walking the streets of Newport were people of color, almost all of them slaves. She feels strongly that the legacy of slavery belongs to all concerned; many Rhode Island families participated in slavery in one way or another. We talked about the difficulties in tracing slave families, and she pointed out several ways in which published Rhode Island census records deliberately suppressed or summarized data on people of color. Some of the same records have been carefully re-transcribed and published in Rhode Island Roots over the years, to address those problems.

When asked to name a favorite project, Cherry laughingly pointed out that her current work is always her favorite. She chooses projects very carefully (always looking for a certain level of available information), but often feels, in the end, that they chose her. When she encounters a connection to the same person or event over and over, it becomes hard NOT to be curious and want to learn more.

Clearly, history and genealogy are intertwined in your career. What would your recommendation be to genealogists with Rhode Island roots seeking to learn more about Rhode Island’s unique history?

Cherry recommended several books:

  • Crane, Elaine Forman. Ebb Tide in New England: Women, Seaports, and Social Change, 1630-1800
  • Crane, Elaine Forman. A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era
  • Rappleye, Charles. Sons of Providence: the Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution
  • Lovejoy, David Sherman. Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution 1760-1776

Her most basic recommendation for those with early Rhode Island ancestors is to utilize John O. Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island (that is, the later versions which contain a few corrections).

Cherry recommends that anyone with Rhode Island roots learn as much as possible about the role religion played in their family’s story. Rhode Island became home, at its founding, to some of the most sincerely religious men and women in the colonies, and some of the least religious individuals. How did THAT work out? Her talk on “Religious Freedom and RI Church Records” (see below) gives an overview of the unique roles of different faith groups in Rhode Island history and their importance in genealogical research.

She also points out that geography is extremely important in understanding the course of Rhode Island’s history. The extensive, irregular coastline and the availability of water transportation often shaped the spread of families as the generations passed. It’s important to learn what towns were just a boat ride away from each other, and accommodated day trips back and forth. And the ports and ocean also provided almost limitless possibilities for international commerce and even piracy.

Personally, she has enjoyed exploring the correspondence of Roger Williams, although she knows that may not be the kind of research everyone is ready for.

Can you think of an under-utilized repository in Rhode Island that you would recommend to Rhode Island genealogists?

Cherry focused on the Newport Historical Society which houses a unique collection of manuscripts (note: that library is currently closed for renovations). She also pointed out that the data collection work done on Rhode Island’s many cemeteries over the years can, to a great extent, be accessed online at the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission website and this resource is extremely valuable for genealogists.

Many genealogists attending NERGC will go to the Rhode Island Historical Society or the Rhode Island State Archives for the first time. Can you name a collection, index or manuscript set that they will want to be sure and check out?

Rhode Island Historical Society: There is a card file of manuscripts located in the main reading room which lead researchers to many unique documents housed in the Society’s collection. These may or may not be mentioned on the website or online catalog.

Rhode Island State Archives: There is an extremely valuable opportunity to view an index of all post-1853 births, deaths, and marriages in Rhode Island (keeping in mind that certain more recent records will be unavailable, according to state law). Once found in an index, the researcher should pull up the specific record on microfilm. Prints can be made from the microfilm very economically. For those researching pre-1853 ancestors, another rich source is the collection “Petitions to the General Assembly,” indexed in a card file. These lead to unique and often personal stories about our ancestors or their neighborhoods. Once found in the index, the General Assembly records can be viewed on microfilm. Free parking is allowed in the lot next door for up to two hours; bring your ticket with you to the archives to have it stamped.

What is the one advancement in digitization of Rhode Island records or resources that you would like to see, most of all, in your lifetime?

Cherry chose Rhode Island deeds, which are housed in the 39 cities and towns of Rhode Island. Since they have for the most part been microfilmed, perhaps we could hope that they make their way online someday.

I highly recommend both of Cherry Bamberg’s talks at NERGC:

  • Diving into RI Genealogy F-226 Friday, April 17, 3:15 p.m. Worried when your colonial ancestor steps across the border into Rhode Island? Come learn the basics of how to follow him or her into the wilds of the Ocean State.
  • Religious Freedom and RI Church Records S-314 Saturday, April 18, 10:00 a.m. Rhode Island’s unique religious history shaped the colony and its residents. Come learn the importance of identifying your ancestor’s faith as a clue to genealogical research.

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The Federation of Genealogical Societies conference for 2015 took place last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, alongside the Rootstech Conference.  I arrived on Sunday so I could get several days in at the Family History Library.  I never registered for Rootstech because I knew I couldn’t fit in time at the library and TWO conferences.  I was really looking forward to checking out the Exhibits for new and improved products.

The snowless view of Salt Lake City from my hotel room (except for the tallest mountains).  It was approaching 60 degrees every day, and very pleasant while I was there.

The snowless view of Salt Lake City from my hotel room (except for the tallest mountains). It was approaching 60 degrees every day, and very pleasant while I was there.

As it turns out, I barely went to sessions, partly because a foot problem made it easier to stay in the library and partly because it was a little overwhelming to navigate the conference crowds (over 20,000 Rootstech attendees during the first few days, I heard).  I heard wonderful things about many sessions both at FGS and RootsTech.  The keynote speakers and special events were widely talked about.  So I spent most of the week at the library although it was nice to see genea-friends at other times.

Pansies blooming at the entrance to the Family History Library.

Pansies blooming at the entrance to the Family History Library.


I visited the Exhibits several times.  There were many companies represented, and I enjoyed looking around.  Not as many books as I would have liked, and I only bought two, plus some copies of Going In-Depth, the new genealogy magazine.

Genealogy and the Law, Mayflower Bastard, and two copies of Going in-Depth.

My book purchases: Genealogy and the Law, Mayflower Bastard, and two copies of Going in-Depth.

There were several vendors that I enjoyed talking to:

The ScanPro 3000 is filled with new features.

The ScanPro 3000 is filled with new features.

  • I guess I am some kind of microfilm geek because I had a long talk with the ScanPro 3000 vendor.  The 3000 allows you to scan MULTIPLE pages with one command (swoon), allows for upload to the cloud, and interacts enough with OCR technology to allow you to do some searching on the screen.  I was impressed and I hope these become widely used in libraries.  They are a step ahead, for sure, but still maintain the easy to use menus and buttons genealogists are used to.
This busy booth allowed guests to access their family tree and have a beautiful chart printed on the spot, ready to take home.  I was impressed.


  • This busy booth, GenealogyWallCharts.com, allowed guests to access their family tree and have a beautiful chart printed on the spot, ready to take home. I was impressed.
Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA

  • I was also impressed that Family Tree DNA set up a large booth and had many employees sit with many, many customers over the course of the conference fielding questions and comments.  DNA testing is confusing, and I thought this was the perfect approach.
A view of one portion of the Exhibits.

A view of one portion of the Exhibits.


I had prepared for months ahead of time by building a workbook of research plans for the Family History Library.  I concentrated mostly on capturing microfilm records.  I would say before the conference the library was just about at capacity, though not so far beyond capacity that it was impossible to get things done.  Once the conference started, traffic in the library slowed way down.

Yes, that was Robert Charles Anderson (The Great Migration series) a bit ahead of me in line.

Yes, that was Robert Charles Anderson (The Great Migration series) a bit ahead of me in line to enter the library Monday morning.

With workbook in hand, I approached the library early Monday morning and waited in line.  Worried about crowds, I found a microfilm machine I liked on the second floor and settled in.  Over the course of five days, I managed to complete my entire workbook.

Workbook and the microfilm machine.

Workbook, tablet, and the microfilm machine.

I have to say my experience with the workbook (and the amount of thinking and planning needed to prepare it) served me very well at the library, keeping me focused and productive.

I examined the following over the course of five days and recorded about 650 images:

  • The (Rhode Island) Andrews genealogy prepared in 1915
  • Manuscripts of work on the early Rhode Island Sweet families
  • Probate records for Joseph Arnold, d.1819, and other Joseph Arnolds
  • Early Rhode Island court record index pages for various names
  • Probate, cemetery, vital, and property records from Coventry, Rhode Island, looking for Phillip Andrews
  • Bristol County, Mass probate records for two people
  • The several versions of an index for Christening records from Southwark, England, looking for my 4th gr-grandfather James Lawrence
  • Marriage records from St. Mary’s, Lambeth, England, for James and Elizabeth Lawrence
  • Pictou County, Nova Scotia Estate files, looking for Robert Murdock
  • Early Westerly, Rhode Island town, land and probate records, looking for the original Lamphere and Tefft lands
  • A map of George Lamphere’s property division among his children, circa 1731
  • Later Westerly probate records, looking for Tefft or Minor
  • Preston, Connecticut church records, looking for Minors
  • Two early Norwich, Conn. city directories, looking for Lampheres and Andrews
  • Tuscaloosa, Ala. property records, looking for Russell Lamphere or his partner, Wm B. Murrell.  Also probate for Murrell
A page from a Sweet genealogy manuscript.
A page from a Sweet genealogy manuscript. This was a camera picture right at the microfilm machine.  I scanned important documents at the computer microfilm readers.
  • Norwich District probate (Conn.) for Elisha Minor of Preston
  • Norwich, Conn. property records looking for Andrews and Lampheres
  • A rare Cranston, R.I. city directory from 1895, looking for occupants of a house on Blackmore Street where I know calling hours were held in 1898
  • Hampden County, Mass. court records
  • Kings County, Nova Scotia Court of Probate records looking for early Coldwells, Martins and Grahams
  • Early Wrentham, Mass. land grants
  • Early Sudbury, Mass records related to the Browns
  • any compiled genealogy work on the Sudbury Browns
  • Northbridge, Mass town council records from 1867
  • about a dozen books related to these same issues

I will be working for the rest of the winter on the documents that I found, and recording the unsuccessful searches, too.

The most important thing that happened

Amidst the hoopla and excitement that week, I was reminded of what is really important about family history.  I never really started this journey to locate cousins, but as every genealogist knows, it does happen sometimes.   After my dad’s DNA test a few months ago, I was contacted by a second cousin.  She and I share great grandparents, Torquil and Sarah (MacLean) MacLean of Englishtown, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Torquil and Sarah had five daughters followed by six sons.  Their children scattered all over Canada and the U.S., and so their grandchildren and great grandchildren never had a chance to know each other.

Torquil MacLean, 1841-1921, from Jo-Anne's original

Torquil MacLean, 1841-1921, from Jo-Anne’s original

My second cousin, Jo-Anne, lives in Orem, Utah.  So when I told her I would be in town during Rootstech, she said that she and her husband would be happy to meet me.  I went to lunch with Jo-Anne and Brent on Friday.  Jo-Anne is an only child, the daughter of two only children.  She has no cousins, and essentially no living relatives outside of her own children and grandchildren, and her husband’s large family.

It was just so great to meet her.  She and her husband couldn’t be nicer, and I enjoyed my time with them so much.  Jo-Anne brought some old pictures and allowed me to scan them with my Flip-Pal portable scanner.  We looked at all the pictures and talked about the memories they brought up, of things we have been told over the years.

Sarah (MacLean) MacLean, 1852-1940, from Jo-Anne's original

Sarah (MacLean) MacLean, 1852-1940, from Jo-Anne’s original

When Jo-Anne turned to the page with the photographs of Torquil and Sarah MacLean that I have seen all my life, I had a feeling I seldom experience in genealogy.  Put DNA aside, put records aside, when she showed me those photos, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we were family.  Her copies were superior to ours – her family had originals and our photos, I recall, were copies made in the 1960’s and given to my father.  But both families treasured those photos for many years.

Torquil and Sarah lost some children during their lifetimes, particularly Sarah, who had one son left out of six by the time of her death in 1940.  It was this rather tragic story that influenced my grandmother, after the untimely death of her husband, to NOT return to Nova Scotia, where dangerous occupations were the norm at the time.  She wanted her children to be safe and live long, productive lives (which they absolutely continue to do).  But I don’t think Torquil and Sarah would really want to be remembered that way.  If their great grandchildren befriend each other, I think that would be a much more fitting legacy.

Jack MacLean, Josie MacLeod (dark skirt), and Jack's sister-in-law Sadie (Campbell) MacLean, in Englishtown, approximately 1918.

Jack MacLean, Josie MacLeod (dark skirt), and Jack’s sister-in-law Sadie (Campbell) MacLean, in Englishtown, approximately 1918.

Jo-Anne has already brought a lot of happiness to my family by unearthing a picture of my grandparents, Jack MacLean and Josie MacLeod, apparently just prior to their marriage.  No other such picture of them exists; I am making copies and mailing them to my father and his siblings.

I have started a MacLean web page where I will do my best to arrange the stories and pictures (or links to such things) that come my way from Torquil and Sarah’s descendants.

The post you are reading is located at: https://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/02/17/fgs-conference-2015/

Jo-Anne's beautiful grandmother, Margaret MacLean, R.N.

Jo-Anne’s beautiful grandmother, Margaret MacLean, R.N.


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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 Fletcher Bamberg 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.


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 Fletcher Bamberg’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:


  • 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.  There is also microfilm of most pre-1851 town vital record books.  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.


  • 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.


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, talk to them, 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-1916 records you may not be able to solve this one.  If you are asking for pre-1916 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 or, ask if they can just show you the one record. The Rhode Island law changed recently to include some new restrictions but none of that applies to pre-1916 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 Fletcher Bamberg’s Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

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

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This week I attended GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.  I registered in late winter and managed to get into the “Law School for Genealogists” class led by Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL and Richard “Rick” G. Sayre, CG, CGL.   The institute was held at LaRoche College, and I stayed, along with many other attendees, in the dorms, and ate meals in the cafeteria.  Others took classes on genetic genealogy and a variety of other topics.

My dorm room was a large triple - there was also a microwave, mini frig, and bathroom to myself.

My dorm room was a large triple – I had the room (as well as microwave, mini frig, and bathroom) to myself.  Since I was driving, I was able to bring a couple things. I was glad I brought the quilt, lamp and extra pillows from home.

Day 1

I arrived on Sunday and moved into the dorm.  I knew several people who planned to attend, but that’s not a necessity – genealogists are friendly.  Some people shared dorm rooms and even those staying at local motels were welcome to pay by the meal to eat conveniently in the cafeteria.  The schedule on Sunday was to check in, get settled, and have dinner in the cafeteria.  This was followed by a welcome session and some door prizes.

I was in for a surprise at GRIP, though, because after the class lists came out, I heard from a young woman named Sara that she was my husband’s third cousin and would be there, and in the same class, and she was looking forward to meeting me.  I had to look back at my email to remember that my husband and I had corresponded with Sara several years ago, and she was obviously an accomplished genealogist who had done some excellent work on my husband’s difficult family tree.  I was very happy to be able to meet her.

Our classroom during a break.

Our classroom early in the morning.

Day 2

Monday morning, my first class was at 8:15.  I enjoyed the talks and quickly realized this was a pretty intense learning experience – for people who truly want to learn more about methods and resources for family history research, these institutes are excellent.

And I discovered there was homework each night.

A takeaway from day one:  get an old copy of Black’s law dictionary and look up each new term you encounter in probate, deeds, etc.  A late 1800’s copy should be available for free download from Google Books.  No point in buying a new one; the old terminology was removed a couple decades ago.

The lunch line, with the table area in the background.

The lunch line, with the table area in the background.

Day 3

By Tuesday I was getting used to things.  Judy Russell is a superb and experienced teacher; she is a clear speaker and very interesting.  I was far less familiar with the material being covered by Rick Sayre, about federal laws and how to find documents related to the federal government, but the wheels were turning as he got me wondering about all sorts of records I’ve never looked for.  Clearly, there are many research projects ahead for me.

Tip for the day:  Try this website: “A Century of Lawmaking” for index entries to government records that you may need to further track down and obtain.

Using my Galaxy Note tablet, I could keep the screen open for writing notes, plus another window for the pdf app to look at the syllabus.  My friend Minda McAully showed me how to open the syllabus in Acrobat Reader so I could also highlight, write on it, etc.  She's brilliant!

Using my Galaxy Note tablet, I could keep the screen open for writing notes (with the stylus), plus another window for the pdf app to look at the syllabus. My friend Linda McCauley showed me how to open the syllabus in Acrobat Reader so I could also highlight, write on it, etc. She’s brilliant!

Day 4

On Wednesday we were treated to two sessions with Marian L . Smith, who leads the Historic Research Branch at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (Department of Homeland Security).  Marian has immense knowledge of immigration and naturalization records and she gave us excellent advice about what records might exist in what era, and about the laws (and purposes) behind the various questions, forms, and records.  Since naturalization procedures were only moved to the federal government in the 1890’s, prior records – like the 1840’s records I am seeking – could be in any state, county or local court of record.  As I listened to Marian I realized I could definitely obtain, at some point, my grandparents’ naturalization records from when they came from Nova Scotia in the early 1900’s.

My takeaway from Wednesday was to pay the $20 for a Genealogy Program Index Search to obtain the correct record numbers for an ancestor processed after 1893 (but not ship manifest records, or records from port locations).  Then I could pursue getting the actual records.

That night I ate dinner with a friend from the DNA class and asked her about some questions I had about testing.  That’s almost the best thing about being here – the mealtime conversations about genealogy.

The season premiere of Who Do You Think You Are? was enjoyed by the crowd Wednesday night.  There were many aspects of the show that related to knowledge of the law for the time and places mentioned.

Some of the crowd enjoying the season opener of Who Do You Think You Are?

Some of the crowd enjoying the season opener of Who Do You Think You Are?

Day 5

On Thursday, the content was focused on laws about women, children, marriage and divorce.  There were also sessions on military pensions and Claims Committees.  I am on a mission to find supporting papers for my ggg-grandfather’s 1878 claim for reparations after the Civil War.  I feel like I have some more things to try now.

Takeaway from this day:  when using those faulty OCR-produced index services on the internet (in other words, indexing NOT produced by humans) try to use as many services as possible (like maybe Ancestry.com, Fold3 and Family Search) since they will all have different index entries.

My books from the Maia's Books exhibit.  She is willing to ship them, also.

My books from the Maia’s Books exhibit. She is willing to ship them, also.

Day 6

On Friday, I finalized my book purchases from Maia’s books, we had our last sessions, received certificates and prepared to depart.  Our teachers sent us a set of electronic documents they had gathered just for us, which I look forward to exploring more at home.

The major point of this week: find the law that will help you understand more about the document you’re reading, and also the reverse of that: continue to learn more about laws that might have impacted our ancestors, and produced record sets we’re not even  thinking of.  The whole process this week was one of reading the informative articles in the syllabus (over 100 pages), listening to and occasionally participating in the lectures, and following that up with homework each night, and, when I return home, with a lot of research I would like to do using my new knowledge and skills, plus the extra documents to go through.

There were interesting talks each night for the whole group, and I heard wonderful things about each one, but didn’t attend them.  I had some quiet evenings with friends or just doing homework.

In closing

I can heartily endorse this program.   The company was wonderful, the classes truly excellent, things ran smoothly and I know that’s not easy, and I am going home with a list a mile long of things I should be trying and ideas for specific problems. Nothing is perfect, and staying in a dorm is never a dream vacation, but overall I have no complaints. I have had more genealogy conversations here (along the lines of Did you try this?  Did you look here?  What about … ?) than probably any other venue I have ever been in.

I am grateful to my teachers Judy Russell, Rick Sayre, and Marian Smith.  I learned this week that there are laws (or occasionally some other motivation) behind records and we need to understand those purposes, look up national and local laws, and think through what was allowed and legal for the time and place that our ancestors lived.  Knowing the law can give us data and genealogical information that never appears in any index.  If person A did x in a certain year, and x could only be done by people of a certain age, that gives you a piece of data you may not find anywhere else.  And legal records are absolutely filled with direct evidence too, for instance when certain facts had to be documented for, say, a pension application.  Did our ancestors ever lie?  Well sure, but that’s just part of the fun.

You can see the 2015 program here.  I had a great week and I look forward to similar events in the future.

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I am attending the Federation of Genealogy Societies Conference in Birmingham, Alabama this week.  Day One, Wednesday, was mostly devoted to society sessions and activities.  While interesting, I thought 2-1/2 days of genealogy sessions would be overwhelming enough, so I made other plans.

I hoped to go to the nearby Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library and pursue some research on my ancestors that spent some time in Tuscaloosa before the Civil War.   I also hoped to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute if I could manage it.  In many ways, the Civil Rights Institute would be a very personal family history journey since my parents took part in several aspects of the civil rights movement.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

So I spent the morning at the Civil Rights Institute.  Once inside, no pictures are allowed.  I learned the story of the struggle for basic human rights that took place in the deep south over a period of 400 years, from slavery into its aftermath.  Birmingham was, famously and tragically, an extreme example of oppression and hatred based on race.  Government, controlled by whites after Reconstruction, made sure to use the law to legitimize the customs they preferred.   Basic rights of citizens, such as voting, were denied to many blacks in the south.  After World War II, what was unacceptable became unbearable.  Nowhere, perhaps, was the struggle more difficult or monumental than Birmingham.  It is no wonder that Birmingham was the focus of many efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King.

And Birmingham had its own powerful leaders in the fight, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. The struggle fought issue by issue, for voting, riding buses, eating in restaurants, getting government jobs, education … without the federal government stepping in at many times, and the efforts of attorney Thurgood Marshall to make that happen, success would have been in serious doubt.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

As I learned more about the civil rights activities of the early 1960’s I felt a deep connection to the struggle that was playing out in the exhibit.  My mom had participated in several of those events.  My parents had a vision about the world and tried to live it (still do, in fact).  My memories of those years include, as a 5 or 6 year old, looking at the news on our black and white television with my brothers and sister “looking for mommy,” to see if we could see her in any of the large crowds.  As I stood in the museum I was that little girl again, looking for mom in the 20 foot image of the March on Washington, or the pictures of protesters in buses.

What I hadn’t expected was that as I was looking at images from 1963, I was also wondering about my family’s history of 1863 when some of my northern family spent about 20 years in Tuscaloosa.  I thought of my great great grandmother Emma Lamphere, who was a little girl during the civil war and experienced the hatred and violence of that era.  Could she ever have pictured her great granddaughter (my mom) returning to Alabama 100 years later to help to bring some peace and justice to those that (I suspect) Emma felt should be oppressed and marginalized?  Legacies are never as simple as we would like them to be.  I had to admit that I have connections to both sides of this dreadful fight.

I left the museum newly determined to learn more about the Tuscaloosa portion of my family history.  I passed the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of one of the many Birmingham bombings of places used for civil rights gatherings, and Kelly Ingram Park, where young protesters were treated brutally by Birmingham police in 1963.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of one of the many Birmingham bombings. Although many will remember that four Birmingham girls were killed that day, fewer know that two teenage boys were killed by gunfire on the same day, one by a policeman and one, randomly, by a white teenager who was sentenced to six months in prison. No one was brought to justice for the bombing until 40 years later.

I arrived at the Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library around noon and spent the afternoon there.  If any FGS attendees were missing from the conference, they were surely here.  The rooms were filled with researchers.

Linn-Henley Research Building at the Birmingham Public Library

There were more Alabama resources there than I had ever seen.  Shelves and shelves of local histories, some of them privately published or reprints of university theses. There were several large sets of compiled indices that I had only heard of, never seen before.  I spent hours looking through them.  I turned up very little directly about my family, other than some evidence of Confederate Soldier service by two of my gg-grandmother’s brothers.  But I was able to photograph an entire hundred-page book containing three accounts of the 1865 experience of the city of Tuscaloosa, for examination later.  With little direct evidence to go on, I will start the real research with learning about Tuscaloosa.

The main reading room at the Linn-Henley Research Library

All in all, I wonder if my visit to the Civil Rights Institute didn’t teach me more about my family history than any library could.  That, and meeting up with my fellow bloggers, who I am now realizing can be reliably found in the hotel bar each night.  Those conversations were wonderful.

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