Archive for the ‘research notebook’ Category

Searching Smarter

The search

I get it.  People want to look around the web and find the parents of their third great grandmother.  They’ve had some luck with that before, finding convincing cases being made for certain family connections.  Or maybe they’ve found poor documentation and used what they found as a clue for further research and study.

But you know you’ve become a real genealogist when it’s almost never about that anymore.  When you know the places well enough to know where to start finding resources, and how to proceed. When “buried” and hard to use web records become second nature to you (like unindexed Massachusetts deeds on Familysearch.org).  When you’ve gotten used to making it out to a repository or cemetery once in a while or, if geography doesn’t permit that, using interlibrary loan to get books, putting in formal requests for records, or renting microfilms from the Family History Library.  Because actually, without a reasonably exhaustive search, you can’t make a sound judgment anyway.

I want to say one thing to all the web searchers out there:  you’re better than that.  I know that because at a certain point, even if you found something that seemed reliable, there would be a voice inside you telling you that you haven’t tried all reasonable avenues yet.  So, that birth record for Nancy Jones in a reasonable year and in the same town she got married in MIGHT be the Nancy Jones you are seeking the parents for, so that’s great, but you have a long way to go before you know that.  And even more to the point, the Nancy Jones touted in the 1888 family genealogy book – the book you were so happy to find – WON’T be the right Nancy Jones until you have done a reasonably exhaustive search of all other ways to know this fact.

City Hall, Providence

City Hall, Providence

Maybe it is already known

It’s possible someone has done documented research that might help you but you are not finding it.  Genealogy or historical journals might contain well-researched information for the family you are seeking, or they might contain transcribed records or manuscript information for the location you are working with.  But you will seldom find those in a web search – try local libraries with genealogy collections, or join some societies and receive some online journal access.  For instance, membership in NEHGS offers an online search engine for a large number of genealogy journals. National Genealogy Society membership offers online access to back issues of the Quarterly.

In my opinion the best single source of help with your research plan comes from reading the footnotes in a genealogy article for the same place and time period.  It’s an excellent way for us to learn from the pros.

Sometimes nobody knows

Or of course, there may be very little out there.  There’s something here that it takes a while to understand – and once you do, you can’t go back: maybe, just maybe, NOBODY knows.  No one on earth knows who the parents of Nancy Jones were, or has ever known since her family and friends passed away.  It’s not precisely written down, and no one has reasoned it out yet, and therefore no web search, no index search, no queries left around the internet, no calling up of those names over and over in all kinds of searches of new and better online resources, nothing will ever bring it up.

Which means it’s up to you

People write to me sometimes after they’ve been searching for YEARS for something.  Nancy Jones, Nancy Jones, Nancy Jones, over and over.  They started with vital records and vital records failed them (or even worse, they accepted the one record they found as complete proof of something).  They moved on to easily accessible old genealogy books, online records, and asking around. Maybe they called or visited a repository and asked who the parents of Nancy Jones were (wrong question, probably).  And maybe they spent a decade doing that.

Every single genealogist in the world has, at some point, been that person (I suppose the really great ones only last a month or two in that phase).  They looked in every index, it’s just not there.  It must be a Brick Wall.

Union Station, Providence

Union Station, Providence

Earning your brick walls

I’m here to say, we as genealogists have to earn those brick walls.  Chances are most of us have attended lectures, webinars, local meetings, or studied genealogy guides.  And what was talked about – maps, military records, church records, ship records, baptisms, diaries, immigration, town meetings, pensions, probates, land grants, deeds, and compiled genealogies.  And we think hey, sure, if Nancy Jones had kept a diary, that would be great, but we would have found it by now (and possibly that’s true); apparently she didn’t so diaries can’t help me.  Mark that off the list.

And we would be wrong.  Maybe the diary that would help us was kept by the wife next door, Patty Smith.  Maybe Patty Smith mentioned that Nancy’s parents, Mr and Mrs. Jones, came for a nice long visit from their new home in Tiny Town, Illinois.  With this giant clue, we should be able to find some deeds or probate from Tiny-Town and know a lot more about the parents, such as their names and (from deeds) their previous residence.  We might have found out about the diary by talking to the local historical society about what documents exist from Nancy’s neighborhood and time period.

Or maybe we know that Nancy Jones’ husband, William Stillwell, might have served in a war, but there are few records of that, and he never requested a pension.  But by not checking pension applications from others in the county, we missed the fact that Nancy’s husband was mentioned in Nancy’s brother’s application, an old man a few towns over by the name of Jones.

Armory, Providence

Armory, Providence

Possibly we have identified a few potential siblings for Nancy and poked around a bit for their stories.  But have we learned enough about each state’s census records to know how to learn more about neighborhoods in other years besides federal census years?  That may lead us to further evidence of a sibling, who just happens to have a clearer record of parentage.  Have we explored every person that Nancy’s husband ever had a real estate transaction with, to rule them out as family?

Maybe we know that the Stillwell parents were Hiram and Elizabeth.  And that Nancy and William Stillwell had five children:  William, Hiram, Nancy, Abiel and Edward.  We know where “William,” “Hiram” and “Nancy” came from.  “Edward” might help if we can find an Edward Jones.  But have we scoured the county for every instance of the odd name, Abiel?

Possibly, we knew that Nancy and her husband were buried in the town cemetery.  We have a nice picture of that.  But have we examined every other nearby burial, including unmarked graves?  Have we tried every means to find any actual cemetery plot records, including using archive and manuscript indices, and checking with local genealogy societies and archives?

Westminster Street, Providence

Westminster Street, Providence

It’s not in an index

So I am saying, the knowledge may be findable with careful planning, exploration and reasoning and yet, never found in any index. In fact, finding a clear answer to any one of the questions posed above would still have to be weighed against many other questions and answers.

As we learn more, and have a little success with planned research strategies and reasonably exhaustive searches, we sometimes find that those brick walls come down.  And when they don’t, we find ourselves learning more and more about the area, the occupations, the cultures, and the records, and we devise brand new strategies we could never have thought of at the beginning.

That’s when you know you’re doing your own research and boy, do those sketchy trees on the internet start to look weird at that point.  And the most exciting part is that, in the end, YOU are the reason that there is now a reasoned case in existence for the parents of Nancy Smith.

Something which was lost became found because of you.  I hope you find a way to publish your result, formally or informally.

Next time

In my next post, I’m going to review some strategies I might try for researching a brick wall in Rhode Island in the early 1800’s.  Stay tuned!


  • The Genealogical Proof Standard is carefully explained in Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised, by Christine Rose (San Jose, CA: CR Publications, 2014). 
  • The important work of weighing, comparing and recording evidence is expertly guided by Elizabeth Shown Mills in her many speaking engagements (not to be missed if you ever have the opportunity, perhaps even by purchase of a recorded conference session) and her helpful book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Third Edition (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015) as well as the companion website.

The post you are reading is located at:  https://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/09/10/searching-smarter/

 – Photos from postcard collection of Diane Boumenot

Looking towards Warwick from Rocky Point, R.I.

Looking towards Warwick from Rocky Point, R.I.

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This is the story of how the Battle of Antietam played a significant and unexpected role in my family’s history.

The soldier

Early in the morning of June 19, 1861, Battery A of the 1st Regiment, Rhode Island Light Artillery marched down Westminster Street, Providence, then down South Main Street to India Point.  They had officially been soldiers for 14 days, and they left behind a scene that had been attracting spectators for weeks – a camp with tents at the Dexter Training Ground (the current site of the Dexter Armory).  The docks were crowded that day, particularly with the “fair sex” as the soldiers said their good-byes and the steamer Kill Von Kull prepared to depart at 4:00 p.m., headed for the Elizabethport, New Jersey railroad station (1).  As far as I know, this was the last time my gggg-grandparents James and Annie (Shortriggs) Lawrence saw their son, John.

John H. Lawrence was the second child and oldest son of James and Annie Lawrence. John was born in 1840 as the couple, both English immigrants, moved from place to place in the eastern United States and James pursued his occupation of machinist.   Born in Wake County, North Carolina, John was enumerated with his parents in the 1850 (Danville, Virginia) and 1860 (Providence, Rhode Island) census. I am related to John Lawrence in the following way:  his parents, James and Annie (Shortriggs) Lawrence were the parents of my ggg-grandmother Margaret (Lawrence) Murdock Knight, she was the mother of Louis Rufus Murdock. Louis was the father of my great-grandmother Eva (Murdock) Darling, who was the mother of my grandmother, Edna (Darling) Baldwin.

The 1860 census record indicated that John and his sister, Margaret (my ggg-grandmother) were working as “jewelers”(2).  The fine jewelry and silver industries were growing in Providence in the nineteenth century and it’s likely that John and Margaret were employed as assemblers, packers or clerks in a jewelry manufacturing company. John was still single at the time of his enlistment in 1861.

Providence Marine Corps Arsenal, 176 Benefit Street, Providence. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS RI,4-PROV,55)

Providence Marine Corps Arsenal, 176 Benefit Street, Providence, scene of recruitment activities as the Civil War began. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS RI,4-PROV,55)

John was among the earliest Rhode Islanders to enlist.  Although the family didn’t have much in the way of financial resources, John managed to have his picture taken in New York City, which must have been a stop toward the beginning of his unit’s journey.  Perhaps he had gotten paid. I have found the photo in two recent books (3) (4) and the owner of the photograph, William Robertson, eventually contacted me through the blog (I was very grateful!) and sent me my own copy.  He had purchased it from another collector, and more than that is not known.  The scrawled name and unit seem old.  John looked like a strong, handsome young man with straight dark hair and a mustache (for sure, the fair sex may have been waving on that dock specifically for him).

John H Lawrence, from the collection of William Robertson.

John H Lawrence, from the collection of William Robertson.

Battery A

I have done very little Civil War research.  I have no direct ancestors who fought.  But even I can tell that there was something special about Battery A and several of the associated batteries.  The 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery scattered its units wherever they were needed, throughout the war.  Each Battery served independently.  The history of Battery A reads, surprisingly, like a history of the war itself – they were everywhere.  In John’s first year of service the Battery was at Manassas, the Battle of Bull Run, Bolivar Heights, the Virginia Peninsula Campaign, the Siege of Yorktown, the Battle of Fair Oaks, and many other actions in Maryland and Virginia (5) (10).

Half of a glass steroegraph of the principal street of Sharpsburg, Maryladn where the Battle of Antietam was fought. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, Sept., 1862. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs ONline Catalog, LC-B815-595 .

Half of a glass stereograph of the principal street of Sharpsburg, Maryland where the Battle of Antietam was fought. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, Sept., 1862. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, LC-B815-595 .

The Light Artillery operated small cannons (“6-to-10 pound Parrott rifles” (4)).  There must have been a lot involved in transporting, maintaining, and firing such equipment.  Battery A must have learned this, more or less, on the job.  By the time September, 1862 came around they had had 15 months’ experience with the equipment, with their officers, and with each other.  From everything I’ve read, they performed their job very well.

On September 17, 1862, Battery A was in Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland, assigned to Major General John Sedgwick’s Division, in Sumner’s Second Corps.  The Battery was led by Captain John A Tompkins. They took position in front of Mumma’s burning farm-house.  Battery A was attacked by three South Carolina regiments, and fired on them in return at point-blank range, causing them to withdraw in confusion. All morning, further attacks were fought off, firing rapidly, until the equipment and ammunition began to give out.  In a tragic and ultimately inconclusive battle, Battery A held ground and prevented the other side from capturing their equipment. Over 3,600 soldiers were killed outright that day, with a total of more than 22,000 killed, wounded or missing/captured.  It was “the bloodiest one day battle in American history.”(8)

"Burning of Mr. Muma's houses and barns at the fight of 17th of Sept" pencil and Chinese white drawing on brown paper by Alfred R. Waud. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Catalog, LC-DIG-ppmsca-21452.

“Burning of Mr. Muma’s houses and barns at the fight of 17th of Sept” pencil and Chinese white drawing on brown paper by Alfred R. Waud. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Catalog, LC-DIG-ppmsca-21452.

The death of John Lawrence

John H. Lawrence was killed sometime during the firing that morning.  After driving off the South Carolina regiments, there were further Confederate attacks and his death probably occurred during one of those in mid to late morning.  Other Battery A soldiers killed were Sergeant Charles M Read and Privates Joseph T. Bosworth and Edwin Stone.  About a dozen were wounded. Battery A called for relief around noon and was replaced by Battery G, who unfortunately only maintained the position briefly (1).

It was not possible to recover the bodies of the dead that day.  So on the morning of September 18, Lieutenant Jeffrey Hassard (Hazard) selected a crew of eight men to accompany him to recover the fallen soldiers from Battery A.  Sharpshooters prevented them from accomplishing that.  In the afternoon, a truce was called, allowing each side to bury their dead.  The bodies of the four Battery A soldiers were found, not in great shape after a 24 hour wait, and buried on the battlefield with the whole unit gathered round (1).

Battery A went on to participate in more of the war’s fiercest battles including Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.  Many of John Lawrence’s companions who had signed up for a three year stint in 1861 returned to Providence in 1864.  One of them, Theodore Reichardt, wrote a book containing his memories of Battery A (1).  A more sanitized version – with less grumbling about the officers – was published by Thomas W. Aldrich in 1904, based on his service with the unit as a boy (5).

A sad colored photograph, half of a stereograph, from after the battle. Dunker Church in the background is near where Battery A fought. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online catalog, LC-DIG-stereo-1s029014.

A sad colored photograph, half of a stereograph, from after the battle. Dunker Church in the background is near where Battery A fought. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online catalog, LC-DIG-stereo-1s029014.

Back in Providence

I have no way of knowing when the news of John’s death reached his parents.  Indeed, John’s sister Margaret signed her name with an “x” as late as 1900, leaving me to wonder if the parents were able to read and write (although no census records any of them as illiterate).  I’m not sure what the standard was for family notifications of deaths from the government during the Civil War.

By September 19 John Lawrence’s death was listed in the Providence Evening Press (6), so surely by then the family either sought out some news or were informed by friends or local officials.


Loss in Rhode Island Battery A.

New York, Sept. 19.

The following names are given in the Herald’s list of casualties:

In the 1st Rhode Island Artillery:

  • Sergeant Chas. M. Read, killed.
  • Private Bosworth,   “
  • ”   John Lawrence,  “
  • ”   John Stone,          “
  • ”   Francis Phillips.
  • ”   F. Budlong.
  • ”   Hamilton Clark.

The above are of Battery A.  Their entire loss is about 20 killed and wounded.

[Note – the list don’t state whether the three last are killed or wounded.]

The reason I am so certain that this is the same John H. Lawrence who was the son of James and Annie is that I found John Lawrence’s death at Antietam noted in the Lawrence family plot records at the Grace Church Cemetery records.

Attending the Confederate wounded after the Battle of Antietam. Dr. A. Hurd, 14th Indiana Volunteers. Confederate soldiers under tents at Smith's barn near Keeedysville, Md. Photo by Alexander Gardner. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog LC-DIG-ds-05198.

Attending the Confederate wounded after the Battle of Antietam. Dr. A. Hurd, 14th Indiana Volunteers. Confederate soldiers under tents at Smith’s barn near Keedysville, Md. Photo by Alexander Gardner. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog LC-DIG-ds-05198.

Other impacts on the family

Of course John’s death must have been hard on his family.  But as I studied what little I could find on this story, I put together a few more sad facts.

Possibly, John had several brothers who died as children.  The only brother that lived to adulthood was William J. Lawrence, born 27 May 1845 in North Carolina.  He was about five years younger than John.  In 1861 and 1862, recruitment efforts were underway in Providence and many young men enthusiastically stepped up.  Perhaps out of admiration for his brother, a desire to be grown up, or to join his friends, William Lawrence enrolled in the 4th Rhode Island Infantry, Battery D on 16 June 1862, which would have been shortly after his 17th birthday (14).  He deserted on 10 August 1862(9).

By the 1865 Rhode Island state census, William was living back with his family at 28 America Street, Providence.  He was working as an engraver, which most likely means working in Providence’s growing silver industry.  That was a position of trust, to some extent, and tells me that he must eventually have bypassed serious consequences of the desertion.  Perhaps authorities were sympathetic to the sacrifice the family had already made, and let the boy off.

Tragically, William did not get the chance to grow into the adult life he had tried out too soon.  On 17 December 1865 he died of Typhoid Fever.  The funeral took place at 28 America Street and William was buried at the Lawrence family plot in Grace Church Cemetery, Providence, in a grave with his and his brother John’s names and the word “Private.”  John was, of course, buried in 1862 at Antietam, so the Providence marker is a cenotaph.  Eventually John’s real grave was moved a short distance to the Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835(11).  I would like to sincerely thank FindAGrave volunteer Jen Snoots for helping me discover John’s two graves and for very kindly passing the FindAGrave.com memorials back to the family to maintain (12) (13).

Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835, J.H. Lawrence. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery, grave #2835, J.H. Lawrence. Photo by Jen Snoots.

September 16, 1871

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence was dedicated on September 16, 1871.  It contains, etched in brass, all the known Rhode Island military personnel who died during the Civil War.  J.H. Lawrence is on the list for R.I. Light Infantry, Battery A (15).

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

I wondered if my family attended the unveiling of the monument. I found a little volume, “Proceedings at the Dedication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence.” How often do I pass over something like this?  I am gradually progressing from a person that is interested in finding my ancestor’s name to a person that understands where the real stories might be hidden. And one was found here, although John Lawrence is only mentioned in the list of engraved names.  This little volume, when I read it, gave me huge insights into my family’s story on September 16, 1871.

A platform was raised on three sides of the Monument with seats sufficient to accommodate about twenty-three hundred persons, including the invited guests. Great pains were taken to furnish tickets through agents appointed for the purpose, to families of deceased soldiers and sailors in all parts of the State, and all who applied received them.

… all the uniformed companies in the State were required to appear in Providence on the 16th of September, to take part in the proceedings attending the Dedication.

The 1st Light Artillery is honored on this side of the monument.

The 1st Light Artillery is honored on this side of the monument. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

In addition to the families of the deceased Soldiers and Sailors, the following gentlemen were seated on the platform : His Excellency Governor Padelford, the Rhode Island Delegation in Congress, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Officers of the Army and Navy, the Governors of the New England States, Judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Common Pleas, the Mayors of the Cities of Newport and Providence, Mr. Randolph Rogers, the Sculptor, and Mr. J. G. Batterson, the Architect of the Monument, the State Officers, the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Newport, the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of Providence, the President and Professors of Brown University, the Lieutenant-Governor, and Members of the General Assembly, the State Committee on the Monument, the Presidents of the several Town Councils, and Town Clerks, with other invited guests.

A choir of upwards of three hundred singers under the direction of Edwin Barker, Esq., had places on rising seats above the platform.

J.H. Lawrence, in the ist R.I. Light Artillery section. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

J.H. Lawrence, in the ist R.I. Light Artillery section. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Chief Marshall was General Ambrose Burnside.  Every Veteran’s group in the state marched, beginning on Broadway, with their bands, drums, color guards and musket companies.  Current military ranks marched with their cadets, artillery, and horse guards.

The line of march was through Broadway, Knight, High, Broad, Dorrance, Westminster, South Main, Transit, Benefit, Meeting, North Main, and Steeple Streets, to Exchange Place and the Monument. A perfect ovation greeted the column along the whole distance. Flags and decorations were in abundance, sidewalks, housetops, windows, and every conceivable place that would afford a view of the procession was occupied. Waving handkerchiefs were met at every step, and everything indicated that the dedicating services were a willing tribute from a grateful people. There were nearly two thousand Veterans in the ranks.

The companies of Veterans then formed in a solid body at the lower part of the open space with the Uniformed Militia in a compact form in the rear, the lines extending entirely across Exchange Place. When the word was given, this great body of men, more than four thousand in number, marched in division front up the wide thoroughfare towards the monument. The solid host, the many tattered battle flags, the blue uniforms of the Veteran Corps, the brilliant clothes of the citizen soldiers, the gleaming of the muskets and bayonets, and the firm and regular marching to the music of sixteen bands, was a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. As the column advanced, the spectators on the stand and the immense crowd which filled the side walks and grounds adjacent to the Monument and Railroad Depot, applauded, cheered and waved their handkerchiefs over and over again.

While the curtain which enveloped the Monument was being slowly withdrawn, a dirge was played by the Band.  The solemnity of the spectacle touched the hearts of the spectators and drew tears from hundreds. But when the whole structure appeared with its beautiful bronze statues, cheer upon cheer, loud and long, arose from the vast multitude which filled the square.

Rev. Augustus Woodbury, minister of the Westminster Unitarian Church (in Providence at that time), military chaplain, champion of abolition and other causes, and well-known literary figure, gave the oration, a humble and grateful tribute to the fallen, of all ranks and origins.  For more about the monument, and to check the names of the Rhode Islanders killed in the Civil War, see this guide to the monument.

Augustus Woodbury, from a memorial volume published after his death. Rev. Augustus Woodbury, from a memorial volume published after his death.

Augustus Woodbury, from a memorial volume published after his death.

When I read about that day in 1871, it brought tears to my eyes and I hope that the Lawrences found comfort in the tribute. I picture my great-great grandfather Louis R. Murdock, 8 at the time, probably left at home by the somber adults who went to the ceremony, joining the neighborhood boys in chasing the parade down Westminster Street, marveling at the bands, the uniforms, and the pageantry.

What I realized

As I studied the date of John’s death at Antietam, September 17, 1862, I realized some things that will never be found in books.

Approximately 6 weeks later, my gg-grandfather Louis Murdock was conceived. Margaret “Maggie” Lawrence may well have been single at the time – she claimed, when she married William Murdock in 1867 that it was her second marriage, but much later in life, in 1900, after William Murdock had passed away and when her next husband, Jeremiah Knight, was on his deathbed, she reported that she had been married a total of two times. Louis thought he was adopted, but he was in the household with Maggie and the Lawrences before her marriage to William Murdock; Maggie brought Louis to her marriage. And, more recently, my mom has been linked in DNA testing with a descendant of Maggie’s aunt.

Did the chaos of those days impact Maggie’s decisions?  Was her family understandably upset?  Did the father marry Maggie at that point, not yet located? Was the child wanted?

When I think about these years, I can’t help but see that out of the tragic loss of son after son, the Lawrence family was left with a son after all – that was Louis.  Since Louis pursued the same occupation as his grandfather – machinist – I have often pictured that grandfather spending his later years teaching and guiding Louis, and helping him find his first job.  If that is true, James Lawrence was able to pass down a wonderful gift.  Louis supported his family securely while working for 50 years at the Brown & Sharpe machinery company.  And more to the point, Louis had the happy life denied to the Lawrence boys, a wonderful wife, and three daughters who cherished him.

Louis Murdock, nephew of John Lawrence, at around age 16.

Louis Murdock, nephew of John Lawrence, at around age 16.

10 things about this research

  • This is the first research plan I’ve accomplished with my new Research Notebook plan.  My plan came out to about 40 pages.  It took me about 4 weeks from start to finish.  It now goes into my paper notebook to be on hand when I can get to some repositories where I need to look for a few more things.
  • I found, surprisingly, that making the research report helped me to write a proper narrative of the story itself in this blog post.  It separated research from writing.
  • The research report helped me to think more globally about the whole situation as it impacted the family.  Since I couldn’t write, I thought more.
  • Well Rhode Island is a pretty small place.  So I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find that I knew one of the authors of a helpful history of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, Rhody Redlegs(3).  Cynthia Ferguson is a fellow Rhode Island genealogist and a great Facebook friend.  It’s so much fun to know more people.
  • I have the 3rd edition of Evidence Explained and I am getting better at writing footnotes.
  • There are a lot of resources for the Civil War.  Wow.  A lot.  The best source I found for knowing which Rhode Islanders were involved are the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for the year 1865 mentioned in note 9, below.  Both volumes 1 & 2 should be consulted.
  • All this research into the Lawrences still gets me no closer to the source of Louis Rufus Murdock’s first and middle name.  It must come from his real father.  I have combed the neighborhood for Louises.
  • UPDATE – the Antietam Battlefield staff answered my email inquiry about some records I found (a picture and a possible letter), in footnotes, attributed to their collection.  They sent me a set of photocopies of some letters and a Mother’s pension file.  An update on that is presented in the post “Give My Love to Gramma.”
  • The civil war was so long ago, I forget that there were pictures in that era.  Artists and photographers recorded a great deal.  Many of the pictures are gruesome and sad.
  • I am happy to leave it to others to tell the story of the regiment and Antietam – I will never attain the level of Civil War knowledge that others have.
Civil War artillery. From History of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments Rhode Island Volunteers, p. 117.

Civil War artillery. From History of the Ninth and Tenth Regiments Rhode Island Volunteers, p. 117.


(1) Theodore Reichardt. Diary of Battery A First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery. Written in the Field (Providence: N. Bangs Williams, Publisher, 1865), iii-iv and 6, also 64-67, accessed as Internet Archive edition http://archive.org/stream/diaryofbatteryaf00reic   For other deaths and burials at Antietam, see Robert Grandchamp, “Rhode Island Civil War Soldiers Buried at Antietam,” Rhode Island Roots 34:1 (March 2008), 38-40.

(2) 1860 U.S. census, Providence County, Rhode Island, population schedule, Providence Ward 5, p. 264, dwelling 1367, family 2082, John Lawrence; image, Ancestry.com (hhtp://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1210.

(3) Robert Grandchamp, Jane Lancaster, and Cynthia Ferguson, “Rhody Redlegs”: A History of the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery and the 103d Field Artillery, Rhode Island Army National Guard, 1801-2010, Kindle book (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2012), chapter 7, “Civil War”.

(4) Ted Alexander, The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, Google Play edition (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), 57-64.

(5) Thomas W. Aldrich, The History of Battery A First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery In the War to Preserve the Union 1861-1865 (Providence: Snow & Farnham Printers, 1904), 142-143, accessed as Internet Archive  https://archive.org/stream/histbattery00aldrrich

(6) “Further From Maryland. Loss in Rhode Island Battery A,” Providence Evening Press, 19 September 1862, HTML edition, archived, (http://www.GenealogyBank.com : accessed 26 June 2015), Vol. VII, Issue 5, p. 3.

(7) Rhode Island Committee on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Proceedings at the Dedication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Providence, to which is appended a list of the deceased soldiers and sailors whose names are sculptured upon the monument.  (Providence: A Crawford Greene, Printer to the State, 1871), 62.

(8) Ted Alexander, The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, Google Play edition (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), 90.

(9) Elisha Dyer, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for the year 1865, Corrected, Revised, and Republished in accordance with Provisions of Chapters 705 and 767 of the Public Laws, Volume 1 (Providence: E.L. Freeman & Son: 1893), 288, digital images, Google Books (URL : books.google.com : 22 June 2015).

(10) National Park Service, “Battle Units,” database, Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System. (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm : accessed 20 June 2015), entry for Rhode Island Volunteers. Battery “A”, 1st Regiment Light Artillery, Union.

(11) Interment Control Forms, A1 2110-B. “Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985, Record Group 92”.  The National Archives at College Park, College Park, Maryland. Digital. Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 July 2015), entry for John H. Lawrence.  

(12) “Find A Grave,” indexed database, Findagrave.com  (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 June 2015), memorial page #23954951 for Pvt. John H. Lawrence (1840-1862) with gravestone images, created by Jen Snoots, citing Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Washington County, Maryland.

(13) “Find A Grave,” indexed database, Findagrave.com  (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 15 June 2015), memorial page # 23955792 for John H. Lawrence (1840-1862), created by Jen Snoots, citing Grace Church Cemetery, Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island.

(14) National Park Service, “Soldiers,” database, Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System. (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm : accessed 28 June 2015), entry for William E. Lawrence, Private, Company D, 4th Regiment Rhode Island Infantry, Union.

(15) Exchange Terrace/Providence City Hall Plaza (Providence, Rhode Island), Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, J.H. Lawrence, (memorial) plaque; photographed by Diane Boumenot, 16 June 2015.

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This is the story of how I decided to record my genealogical research more deliberately and thoroughly.

Recently, I saw a “Quick Lesson” by Elizabeth Shown Mills on her website, “Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage” called Quick Lesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success If you have not seen it, I can strongly recommend reading it.

This article made a major impression on me.  My experience over the past year in building, using, successfully finishing and moving past my “Research Workbook” for my visit to the Family History Library has convinced me that I like to work with a notebook, and that I would like to combine computer/software documents with a paper notebook. My desire is to carefully prepare pages at home including, sometimes, snippets of text, pictures of documents, lists of microfilms, book citations from a card catalog, etc., which I can then write in while sitting in a repository.  But until I read her article, I did not have a clear idea of how I could do that.

What’s with the software?

My problem really lies in the software, of which I use several.  Any genealogy software constrains you to facts and sources, and arranges those facts person by person.  Facts and sources are great, if you can get them, I suppose.  But, what are facts and sources? If my ancestor Paul Darling reported in his 1850 census record that he was 52 years old, and I find a birth record in that town for Paul Darling in 1798, do I now know who his parents are?  Of course not.  I have evidence that may lead to a conclusion about who his parents were, after I have done a thorough search and analyzed all the evidence.

Beyond all that, I can’t be the only person who has computer folders filled with other stuff that is not a source – the pdf book that didn’t contain specific information, the map that didn’t show me where my ancestors lived, the list I found in a reference book and wanted to save, the military pension file for a cousin which might or might not contain helpful hints, the photos of nearby graves that I took just in case, the list of books I looked at the last time I was in the repository, or the hints I found on Rootsweb which make no sense.  How do I manage these, and remember to come back to them at the right time?

While genealogy software is not meant to solve this problem, probably Evidentia2 comes the closest.  It helps you pull all possible information out of sources and apply it to multiple people.  I like Evidentia for tackling big problems. But I know that the real attraction for me of the research workbook I made in 2014 is that it was of my own construction.  It made sense to ME.  I got to decide what to include and how to include it.  I got to decide what end product I needed, and what it should contain.

My spiral bound book used during my Family History Library visit in February.

My spiral bound book used during my Family History Library visit in February.

My workbook

When I came back from the Family History Library this winter and carefully went through my workbook and images of documents, I realized that all I really had available to record my findings were the software products that didn’t cover enough, and the computer file folders.  I was not happy adding data to traditional software, family-by-family “unsuccessful” search list documents and family-by-family research notes and to-dos.  That seemed pretty lame.

That was my state of mind as I approached this “Quick Lesson 20“.  Mrs. Mills gives an excellent layout for a working research report.  She explains how the document will evolve over the course of the research – what you start with, and what you end with, and what to do next.  The process she describes does not seem new to me – very simply: preparation, execution, reporting, and data entry – and yet, as I read the excellent suggestions, I realized that this process makes a perfect way to get research information under control. And she had excellent tips about limiting the scope of research projects to a manageable level, and keeping what I record separate from my own notes and my conclusions about what I found.

In my own research, I am usually working on more than one project at once, not because I think that’s a good idea, but because access to repositories, and time to access them, vary throughout the year.   To approximate the style of research that she is recommending, with clear and limited goals, strategies, documentation of findings, citations and attachments, future work plan, and storage of the report, I could use one report for each current project.

I realized that I COULD manage the computer-to-paper-to-computer workflow that I am looking for by building a loose-leaf notebook of these plans, and taking it everywhere.  Active plans could be produced electronically and printed for the notebook, and reprinted from time to time as I processed findings. Mrs. Mills recommends typing (and thinking) at the repository, and I will do that whenever possible (not always possible in Rhode Island’s tiny town halls). Research reports will be removed from the binder after completion but saved on the computer, ready for guidance on future work and plans.

The software

And the recommended software?  It’s Word.  This is a revelation to me.  Many times over the years I’ve heard well-known genealogists say that their favorite genealogical software is Word.  Well, I thought, I don’t know, that sounds like a lot of typing.  But somehow that essay by Mrs. Mills finally made me realize how much better and more helpful the product would be when I could control it.  I finally get it – research in Word, write reports in Word, but also keep the data in other genealogical software if that helps you make a chart, visualize problems, share findings, etc.  Because of the research “cycle” that Mrs. Mills describes, pieces typed in one report may be useful in the next working report.  Copy and paste can help a lot.

Although I can’t share them here, because they are based directly on her work, I have built a template for the research report to help me start recording properly, and I have taught myself to insert custom “quick parts” in Word to easily add information from sources and not forget anything. It starts as a template and gradually gets filled in.  Worksheets, so to speak.  In a workbook.  Just what I wanted.

The notebook, all ready to start.

The notebook, all ready to start.

In conclusion

I suspect once I get used to this, I will discard the paper altogether except in unusual circumstances and rely on the computer to show me my working report.

I already decided on my first project using this method – researching a reference to the death of an uncle at the Battle of Antietam, something that I had no idea of.  Civil War research is new to me, so that will help me to slow down and strategize.

I hope this notebook, both the digital and paper versions, can help me make more conscious decisions about how many projects I consider myself to be working on at once, help me limit that number, and help me create projects that are manageable and bring them to some kind of conclusion.

The post I have been referring to is this:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Quick Lesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success.” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage,  15 May 2015. https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-20-research-reports-research-success : 2015.

The post you are reading is located at:  https://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/06/11/the-research-notebook/

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A visit to the Family History Library

As an ambassador for the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in February, 2015, to be held in connection with Rootstech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have a lot of work to do to get ready for this conference.

I am arriving several days in advance of the conference to use the Family History Library.  It will be my second visit.  I am really, really looking forward to it, and preparing much more than you would think.

The notebook idea

I will only get to the Family History Library every few years, at most.  Since it’s a chance to access all the microfilm in the world, and lots of books, I need to prepare well to get the most benefit from this.

A couple months ago I was visiting a local city hall archives and ran into a man who was researching a local historical topic.  He was asking me a few questions and we got to talking, and he pulled out his notebook.  I have to admit I was fascinated by it.  He had developed pages of typed notes with pictures and maps, in color, scattered through the pages. I suspected it was, essentially, a draft of the book he hoped to put together.   He had the materials printed double sided in color and spiral-bound.  It was just maybe 200 pages with the spiral binding.  It was lightweight, portable, and easy to use even on cramped tables.  He scrawled some notes on it; it was clearly his working copy.

My spiral bound book

My spiral bound book

I couldn’t stop thinking about the little notebook and decided, in November when a coupon came up for a big discount at lulu.com, that I would try it.  I put together my tree charts, color coded according to sections of the tree. I copied into Word some of my blog posts that I thought I would be most likely to want to refer to in the library, downsized the pictures, and saved those as pdf’s.  I forgot to add my pdf Evidentia reports, but I would do that another time.  I uploaded these separate pdf documents into lulu.com, then combined them into one book.  I made a cover and ordered.

When the spiral book arrived, it was attractive, but I was disappointed at how heavy it was.  I forgot lulu uses extra heavy paper for color printing.  I think the point of the notebook is that it should NOT be a lot to lug around.  And, the paper was shiny, not good for writing on.

A page from the red portion of the chart

A page from the red portion of the chart

Looking at the notebook gave me some new ideas.  If I really wanted to write in it, I should leave space for that.  And, I decided during my last trip that I might prefer to bring my list of microfilms on, say, a clipboard, instead of using an electronic device.  What if I combined these ideas into one custom, spiral notebook?

The workbook for FHL

I realized that what I really wanted was a workbook for my library visit.

So I created a form for collecting my microfilm lists.  I wanted to copy the details of the film from the familysearch.org catalog.  My pages should be suitable for taking a few notes, since I will mostly be saving scans of each page I need, but I would like to document what I saw and what I saved, and some notes about the content.  I also wanted to note in advance on each page what I was looking for, and to check the item off after I was done. I wanted an indication along the edge of which research problem this was part of.  I think I will add an extra ruled page on the reverse of each sheet.

My micorfilm form for the notebook

My microfilm form for the notebook

I’ve spent several weeks gathering about 25 pages, and I will work on this for about another month.  I’m trying to focus on no more than three or four research problems and to look for unique resources that are either inconvenient or impossible to obtain elsewhere.  So far I have found some unusual local records, plus some records from Nova Scotia and England. Given the restrictions in some Rhode Island repositories, I also will be looking at some records that it would be hard to print or photograph elsewhere.

I like to search the FamilySearch.org catalog by place name or family name, and I’m finding such interesting stuff.  Of course, some family genealogy books have now been digitized and I guess I would have to access those on site through a computer.

Another page from the microfilm sheets

Another of the microfilm sheets

I will try, when I am there, to concentrate on reading records and NOT race through trying to capture as many screens as possible.  This is difficult for me to do, but I will try.  I always feel like I will concentrate better at home, reading what I’ve copied, but then I lose the chance to use new ideas to find additional materials.

Sometimes I dropped images into place that I know I might want to refer to. dropping text and images into the Word document was surprisingly easy - if my ruled lines went over onto the next page, I just deleted some.

Sometimes I dropped images into place that I know I might want to refer to. Dropping text and images into the Word document was surprisingly easy – the form accommodated all that.

I will want to look through the books, and I usually park myself in the stacks for a while looking through everything related to certain locations.  I also have started a book list.

The book list, for the notebook

The book list, for the notebook

So the NEW spiral notebook, which I will order in black and white about a month before I leave, will contain:

  • The tree charts
  • Some useful posts from my blog
  • The few Evidentia reports I have made so far
  • The microfilm worksheets
  • The book list

I will probably carry this spiral bound book around for about a year to libraries.  It will cost less than $10.

The Word document used for the microfilm page is HERE.

A few words in hindsight

I’m adding this note about 6 months later:  I spent about 3 months after my visit going through all the records and images I had saved, and my notebook.  I carefully recorded in my real files the searches I had tried that didn’t work, and I closely examined everything I brought back.  A few things I learned:

  • I managed to finish the entire workbook during 5 long days in Salt Lake City.
  • always make a note about result on the notebook page, even if it’s just “see images on camera”, “see saved scans in SMITHFIELD folder” or “nothing relevant found.”
  • I should have left more room for notes on the book list.  You take just as many notes from books as from microfilm.
  • I didn’t use the blog posts that I had included in the notebook because it turns out that when you thoroughly prepare for a repository trip, you are NOT paging through old notes for that one fact.  You don’t need to.
  • The tree charts were useful.
  • I wish I had numbered each page because it would have helped me monitor my progress.
  • Next time, I will make up some useful blank forms for sets of records, like deeds, and add those in the book.  This will help me to document those deed pages that I scan from microfilm.
  • As I reviewed the notebook at home, I added sticky tabs to the pages where I think I can follow up at another library or site, saying “Warwick City Hall” or “RI Historical Society”.  I’ve done a few of those, and when I finish the last 3-4, it will be time to get rid of the notebook.

The post you are reading is located at: https://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/12/11/a-workbook-family-history-library

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