Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Wesleyan University

    If you've been in the Middletown area, you've probably heard of Wesleyan University. (If you haven't, click here for a virtual tour.) What you may not know is that the institution, the buildings it occupies, and the people that taught there have an incredible history.
     Wesleyan was founded in 1831 with forty-eight students on land previously occupied by the Norwich Military Academy (now Norwich University). The University originally had strong ties to the Methodist Church and maintain those ties through the 1930s. However, unlike many religiously associated institutions, Wesleyan never offered a theology degree.The campus has expanded significantly since the University's start, but the historic buildings are still used.
      Wesleyan is remembered for one famous - and controversial - faculty member. Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president remembered for segregation, taught at Wesleyan between 1888 and 1890. Wilson is memorialized in the name of a local middle school, but Middletown has never been entirely comfortable with his legacy. In 2004, residents sought to have the name changed.
      What truly set the faculty of Wesleyan apart was the institution's willingness to offer degrees to women. From 1872 to 1912, Wesleyan was one of the few colleges in the country to educate men and women together. Sadly, pressure from alumni brought that era to an end. Did one of your ancestors work or go to school at Wesleyan during these years?


Sources:
"History of Wesleyan," Wesleyan University (http://www.wesleyan.edu/about/uhistory.html: accessed 24 February 2012).
"University History: Norwich University," Norwich University (http://www.norwich.edu/about/history.html: accessed 24 February 2012).
"Wesleyan Facts and Trivia," Wesleyan University (http://www.wesleyan.edu/about/trivia.html: accessed 24 February 2012). 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tech Tuesday: The 1940 Census Indexing Project

    Many genealogists are awaiting April 2, 2012 with baited breath. Why? Because that day, the 1940 census pages will be available publicly. Unfortunately, unless you happen to know exactly where your family lived, you will have some work ahead of you! It's being released without an index.
  That's a solvable problem. Archives.com, FamilySearch.org and several other groups have joined together to create the 1940 Census Indexing Project. The idea is pretty simple. Using indexing software, volunteers will read the original images, fill in the necessary documents, and create an index we all can use. And you have the opportunity to help. Visit http://the1940census.com. The website offers plenty of details about the project. I'm looking forward to participating.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Madness: Is It Molly or Mary? - solved...

  For those of you who don't remember, I wrote a post in early December about how trying to track down a female ancestor was frustrating me. I knew Molly Graves had married Abiel Stark, senior. And that was about it. My suspicion was that I was using the wrong name, since Molly was a nickname for Mary or Margaret. Well, I just learned a valuable lesson about looking for alternate spellings on first names - not Molly's, but her husband's.
  Turns out that my branch of the family had spelled Abiel's name differently than Abiel himself spelled it. While his son used Abiel, Abiel senior used Abial. An alert Find A Grave poster had recorded Abiel's grave under both spellings  Once I had his grave, it wasn't hard to locate Molly's. 
  So, as it turns out, Molly's real name is Mary. Mary Graves was born in 1763 East Haddam to Benjamin and Mary (Ransom) Graves. She was their second child. Benjamin was killed in the American Revolution. As it turns out, there was a Revolutionary War ancestor I didn't know about, too!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Update to Portland Quarries post

   As it turns out, one quarry in Portland is still running... The owner has specialized in restoration work for the last 18 years. Sadly, he plans to close it shortly. If you're interested, please read today's article in The Hartford Courant.

Church Record Sunday: Diocese of Norwich Archives

   If you're looking for Roman Catholic records and don't know what parish to contact, the best place to start is usually the diocesan archives. In Connecticut, there are three Roman Catholic dioceses: Hartford, Norwich, and Bridgeport. Information for the diocesan archives in Hartford is available on their website. Norwich is a little harder to find: visit the diocesan website and click on the Diocesan Archivist information.
     However, be aware... Norwich is a relatively new diocese. It's only existed since 1953. Before that, you need to go to Hartford any records. Happy research!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Society Saturday: New England Historic Genealogy Society updates the Barbour Collection

  I know not everyone has a membership at NEHGS's website, www.americanancestors.org, but if you do, there are some changes you should be aware of. NEHGS has updated their Barbour Collection index and included several new towns. My research town of Lyme is among the new additions. A transcript of the Connecticut vital records prior to 1870, the Barbour Collection is a starting point for searching early vital records. The Connecticut State Library offers a good history of the collection on their website: http://www.cslib.org/barbour.htm. The index is organized by town, so you may miss an ancestor living temporarily in another town or one whose birth, marriage or death was never registered. I've seen cases of births only being recorded in the town's baptismal records and never in the municipal records. However, if you do find someone recorded... you now know where to look for more evidence.
    I took a few minutes to poke through the new collection and to compare it to what I already knew. Ancestry.com also offers a Barbour Collection.  The search mechanism on American Ancestors is a bit fussier. You have to be in the correct database to begin a search. Once in that database, be sure to search only by last name. There are no options for misspelling or name variants. However, the results list is much easier to read. It's organized by name, event, and date, with no additional information  that might throw you off. I've seen Ancestry.com try to record out of state events in the wrong location. Good luck!


P.S. Thanks to Barbara for pointing out the fact that Ancestry.com and AmericanAncestors.org use different indexes for their databases. You can read about her experiences on her blog at  http://lifefromtheroots.blogspot.com/2010/02/surname-saturday-farnham-and.html As always, I'd suggest contacting the town once you've found someone on either database.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Follow Friday: Why Become a Genealogist?

   The post of February 18th on One Rhode Island Family really struck a chord with me. Diane wrote about why she chose to become a genealogist and wondered why some of us know so much about our family and others don't. According to her categories, I was one of those "genealogists by birth." A family member imparted on me the idea that it was my responsibility to know my family's history. She also passed down a family tree extending back to the Mayflower. It missed the wives' families but gave me a starting point - and a love for research.
    What about you? Why did you become a genealogist?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1940 census release website

   For the few of you that don't already know, the 1940 census will be released on April 2, 2012. The website that will initially host the release has been announced as: http://1940census.archives.gov/. For more information, please visit: http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2012/02/archivescom-and-national-archives-announce-1940-census-website.html.

Those Places Thursday: DeKoven House, Middletown


                Built in 1791, the DeKoven House on Washington Street was home to one of Middletown’s illustrious families. Benjamin Williams, a successful merchant and ship’s captain, constructed the home at the height of his wealth. Sold by his children in 1818, the house passed into the Henry L. DeKoven family, another merchant family.[1]
                Clarence Wadsworth inherited the home from his mother in 1900 and soon transformed it from home to business. After constructing his Long Hill Estate, he began using the DeKoven House as his city office. According to local lore, he walked the approximately three miles to and from work. Once he retired from his business, he devoted the office to a new purpose.[2]
Since 1935, the DeKoven House has been home to the Rockfall Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization. The building reflects this new function. A few rooms are maintained as museum spaces recall the home’s history. Others hold Rockfall Foundation offices or meeting spaces for local non-profit organizations. While the DeKoven House is no longer a home, it still has a place in Middletown’s community life. [3]


[1]“Archive for the ‘Middletown’ Category,” Historic Buildings of Connecticut (http://historicbuildings.com: accessed 18 February 2012). “History,” The Rockfall Foundation (http://www.rockfallfoundation.org/history.php: accessed 19 February 2012).
[2] Elizabeth Warner, “Irene Changes City’s Landscape, Revises History,” MiddletownPatch (http://middletown-ct.patch.com: accessed 15 February 2012). “History,” The Rockfall Foundation (http://www.rockfallfoundation.org/history.php: accessed 19 February 2012).
[3] “deKoven House,” The Rockfall Foundation (http://www.rockfallfoundation.org/deKovenHouse.php: accessed 15 February 2012). Elizabeth Warner, “Irene Changes City’s Landscape, Revises History,” MiddletownPatch (http://middletown-ct.patch.com: accessed 15 February 2012).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Workday Wednesday: the Portland Quarries

   If you travel enough in Connecticut, you'll soon discover a plethora of brownstone buildings. Most of that brownstone came from quarries in Portland. First dug in the late 17th centuries, the quarries were increasingly used in the 19th century. Stone was shipped as far as Boston and New York - quite a distance for a fragile material. Production reached its peak in the late 1880s with over 1500 people working the property. By the early 1900s, brownstone was losing ground to concrete. The 1938 flood filled the quarries and ended production in Portland.
   If you have a Polish or Italian ancestor who lived in the Middletown area, consider learning about the quarries. Many immigrants were recruited because of their stone carving skill and made a respectable living onsite. Their desire for community built many of the institutions in Portland and Middletown. A detailed history of the quarry is available at http://www.yourpublicmedia.org/content/cptv/portland-brownstone-quarry-stories-part-i.  The website wasn't functionally well for me, but the detail made it worth the wait. 

Sources:
http://www.portlandct.org/pdf/history/ThePortlandQuarries.pdf

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Talented Tuesday: Freedom Trail Quilts

   Formed in 1995, the Connecticut Freedom Trail commemorates major events in the history of African-Americans in Connecticut.  There were only forty sites when the program started. Today there are over 130 sites in the state, commemorating everything from the Amistad trial to the Underground Railroad. Each offers an in-depth view into a portion of history. If you can't visit the sites in person, the website will give you a peek into their role.
  As part of the creation of the Freedom Trail, local quilters created four quilts reflecting sites in the state. You can read more about the quilts on the Connecticut State Library blog. Images of those quilts have been uploaded to Flickr, along with descriptions of the site. The quilts are beautiful. Take a look!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mystery Monday: Is this family legend true?

   I was reminded yesterday of a family story that I've always wondered about. It's lacking in details and I've always thought it might be unprovable... but I still would like to know the "truth." According to family lore, one ancestor's home was on the Underground Railroad. Of course, the relative (now deceased) who told me this story failed to specify the ancestor.
   I can somewhat limit the time period being discussed. Slavery was limited in Connecticut in 1798 but did not end completely until 1848. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased the level of resistance to slavery. So, chances are high that if this were true, it took place between 1798 and 1860,  most likely between 1848 and 1860.
   I can also limit the area. My ancestors lived in North Lyme and East Haddam.

   So where do I go from here? I've got to admit this one leaves me clueless.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sentimental Sunday: Photos in the Hartford Courant

   I don't have many photos of my Connecticut lines. Most of these lines predated the time when photos were accessible to everyone. Even those that could have accessed photos didn't take many. I suspect the time involved in visiting a photo studio may have been one cause, the money another. Whatever the reason, photos are few and far between.
   That makes the work of The Hartford Courant more special to me. In the first part of the twentieth century, local photography studios took pictures of the area's notables. The Courant included those photos in the paper, with captions describing their importance. The Courant has now been digitized and is easily searchable. One ancestor, a state representative, was regularly captured in these photos. Thanks to The Courant, I can at least trace what he looked like!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Surname Saturday: Ely of East Haddam and Lyme

   I've grown up knowing that the Ely family had deep roots in the Lyme and East Haddam area. If you've been in the area long enough, you've no doubt heard of Ely's Ferry. I knew from family lore that my Ely ancestor was actually from East Haddam. But sorting out the lines is proving to be another story.
   I've gotten as far back as John Griswold Ely, born Lyme in 1810. After that, I'm entirely dependent on published histories of the family. According to the History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut, Volume 3,  John descends from John Ely and Lucy Miller... and then back to the James Ely of the Revolutionary War. Next stop, finding the paperwork to prove it. John Griswold isn't in the Barbour Collection. Does anyone know where the records of the Lyme Congregational Church are?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Community Archaelogy Symposium at Wesleyan University

Taken from http://middletownmaterials.research.wesleyan.edu/beman-triangle/

Digging Together

Community Archaeology: Practice and Potential


Saturday February 25. 1pm – 4.30pm, Cross Street Church (Between Knowles and Vine St, opposite the Freeman Athletic Center)


1.15pm, Cheryl LaRoche (U of Maryland) “The Power of Community: Archaeology, the Black Church, and the Landscape.”

For more than ten years, my work with the public has stood on four pillars: archaeology, the black community, the black church and the landscape. Using several sites to examine the interactions between the archaeological community, and the public, my talk will highlight the power of communities in action in both contemporary and pre-civil war historic contexts.

2.30pm, Stephen Silliman (U Mass Boston) “The Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School: A Community Collaboration in Connecticut”

This talk will discuss the origin and trajectory of the multiyear collaboration between the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the Anthropology Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Since 2003, this project in southeastern Connecticut has provided eight summer archaeological field courses for undergraduates, graduate students, and Native American community members that have focused on recovering new dimensions of Eastern Pequot reservation life from the late 17th century into the 20th century.  The objectives have been to train students in archaeological techniques, the study of colonialism and its legacies, and collaborative methodologies while simultaneously orienting learning and research outcomes to benefit the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation’s efforts at historic and cultural preservation and community education.

3.15pm, Whitney Battle-Baptiste(U Mass Amherst) “An Archaeology for the Living: Bringing the Past into the Present Through Dialogue, Collaboration, and Real Exchange.”

In recent times historical archaeologists have used terms such as, “engaged” and “community-based,” in descriptions of their archaeological projects. However, as we move closer to an archaeology that transcends borders and boundaries, we have to broaden our understanding of who and what community is and what our role as scholar contributors are. I will highlight some of my past experiences and reveal some current challenges in the shaping of an interpretive message at the W E B Du Bois National Historic Site in Great Barrington, MA.

4.00pm, discussion, followed by a reception and informal conversation

Background to the Beman Triangle:

This public symposium takes place to highlight the abilities and issues of community archaeology as we begin a project on the Wesleyan campus. this project
In 1830 the first AME Zion Church on Cross Street, Middletown, was constructed, one of the first in the country, built by a congregation who had been meeting for seven years. With the new church came a pastor; Jehiel Beman, a local man (from Colchester, CT). Jehiel’s father, Ceasar, had been freed for taking part in the Revolutionary War in place of his white master. Jehiel’s sons were to go on to further the work of the Church, and of the African American community in Middletown.
Leverett C. Beman (1810-1883), the eldest son, was a trained shoemaker and had kept a shop with his father on Williams Street. In 1843, Leverett bought a house on the corner of Cross and Vine Streets (around the spot where Neon Deli now stands), commissioning a survey in 1847 of what we now call the “Beman Triangle”; land between Vine, Cross, and Knowles Streets. Members of the AME Zion Church began to populate other houses on the land. Within the next forty years, the African Americans living here became a stable community, with most managing to pay off their mortgages. They, and the Church, were active in the Underground Railroad. Three men from the neighborhood served in the Civil War. By the turn of the twentieth century the neighborhood was changing, and African Americans were moving out of Middletown in the face of changing employment opportunities offered in the industrializing city. But the Triangle retained its centrality to the AME Zion community with the re-location of the church itself from the top of Cross Street, where the Exley Science Center now stands, to the spot in which – until three years ago – continued to be their place of worship.
The Beman Triangle then, is a site which shows the changing nature of the African American community in Middletown, tied together by the centrality of the AME Zion Church. Today the site is on the State Register of Historic Places, to recognize the importance of the former residents of the Beman Triangle in their ability to build community and prosperity, and their participation in the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. The community archaeology project planned at the site continues from some initial excavations which have demonstrated the potential of archaeology to bring to light the artifacts of daily life for former Beman Triangle residents. Through this work, we hope to bring together the Wesleyan, AME Zion, and wider Middletown community to explore and remember the history of life at the site. Historical archaeologists in similar contexts have shown that it is possible through examining materials – such as table wares, food containers, and knick-knacks – in use by the Beman community, that we will be able to learn more about the realities of the everyday social life of the residents, something it is almost impossible to glean from the limited historical records available. We also hope to raise the profile of the site and to work towards placing it on the National Register of Historic Places. In beginning to present the ways in which community archaeology projects have faced challenges, but have come to be deeply engaged with various social groups and individuals, this public archaeology symposium offers the chance for the wider Wesleyan and Middletown communities to come together to learn about the potential of this archaeology project. Beginning in April we will begin excavations on the Beman Triangle, involving Wesleyan students and the wider AME Zion and Middletown community, with research directions being shaped by the interests of all participants.

Sponsored by:

Academic Affairs
African American Studies
Archaeology Program
Office for Diversity
Service Learning Center

For more information about the AME Zion Church history in Middletown and its connections to Wesleyan, check out the online exhibition from the Special Collections and Archives, Olin Library: “Cross Street AME Zion Church: Struggle, Jubilee, Vision.”

Follow Friday: Connecticut Explored Connecticut History Blog

   On my worth-knowing (but not necessarily worth reading daily) about blog list is Connecticut Explored's Connecticut History Blog. A blog for the magazine Connecticut Explored, the Connecticut History Blog outlines the topics covered in each issue of the Connecticut history magazine as well as magazine sponsored events. For those - like me - who do not subscribe on a regular basis, it's a good way to learn what's upcoming. The latest issue seems to cover maps in Connecticut history. I always hunt down the magazines that look like they might further my research.
  I've linked my Connecticut blog list to the blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Connecticut's Civil War: Orphans' Home Project

   I thought the following (taken from a Rootsweb message board post) might be of interest to a few of you:

The Mansfield Historical Society is working on an exhibit on the Civil War Orphans' Home in Mansfield, Connecticut. If you have family stories or photos of individuals that lived or worked at the Orphans' Home, we would like to hear from you. Photographs of superintendents Edwin Whitney and John B. Carpenter are also being sought. Both previously worked at the Providence Reform School before serving as superintendent of the Orphan Home. Replies may be sent directly to Ann Galonska: mansfield.historical@snet.net or to this message board.

   I'm looking forward to hearing more about the exhibit!

Ancestry.com offers a free access weekend...

 Ancestry.com is offering free access to the 1930 census from February 16th-20th. If you don't have access to this collection normally, you now have plans for the weekend!

Thrify Thursday: Historic Archive of The New London Day

  I had, sadly, been putting off doing research for my Lyme families in The Day. While The Hartford Courant and The Middletown Press are easily accessible to me, The Day usually requires a special trip. It's only available on microfilm, so to access the older issues, you have to order the microfilm or visit a library that has the reels. Or so I thought.

  It turns out that the archival branch of Google News has digitized some of the older issues of The Day. Sadly, they've stopped adding new issues, so the collection will never be expanded. But for those of us researching New London County, this is a potential goldmine. I found two obituaries, multiple vacation stories, and more. The archive covers most of 1903 through 1920, although there are issues missing. Scattered issues are available from years before and after this period.
  
   To access articles about your ancestor, start by searching their name or information in Google. This should link you to an appropriate article in the archives. Once there, you can easily use the archive search function. Unfortunately, entering via the Google News site seems to throw off the search function. If you search from there, you will end up without results.

 Good luck!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Starr Swords

  Because my ancestors were by and large farmers, I tend to forget that Connecticut had - and has - a wide variety of industries. In the 19th century, Connecticut was known for the military equipment to the American Army. Starr Swords, of Middletown, was among these suppliers.
   Nathaniel Starr produced his first swords in 1798. A former armorer for the Continental Army, he filled an order for 1000 cavalry sabers. The order was successful. A little over a decade later, he had an order for 10,000 swords. In response, he formally established a factory on Saddle Hill in Middletown. Starr and his factory would average five thousands swords a year for decades before switching to firearms. They ended production in 1845. The equipment was moved to government arsenals.
   Sadly, Starr has been largely forgotten - except by military memorabilia collectors. His swords and sabers are popular collectables. Their values vary widely, and an explanation is far beyond my skill level. However, if you have a Starr in your line, you may have research to do!
  
Sources:
http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/regional_review/vol4-1d.htm
http://www.middletownplanning.com/middletown_history.html
http://dunhamwilcox.net/town_hist/middletown_history4.htm
http://connecticutwatertrails.com/CWTA%20-%20Middlesex%20County%20Water%20Trails%20-%20Middletown%20-%20Coginchaug%20River.htm

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tueday's Tip: A Quirk of Ancestry.com's Barbour Collection Indexing

   In playing around with my Martin family over the weekend, I discovered a quirk of Ancestry.com's Barbour Collection indexing that I wanted to share. The Barbour Collection they offer is in fact a typed index to the actual fifty-five volume Barbour Collection. They've gone an extra level and made it searchable.
   Unfortunately, that search function isn't perfect. Elihu Martin was born in East Haddam, and his 1802 death -in New York - was recorded there. If you search the index for Martin's death, the search results will indicate that he died in East Haddam. It's a quirk of the indexing, which lists the date of the event and where the record was stored but nothing else.
   My point? If you're using the Barbour Collection search, click through to see the actual document. There will be a few details you might have otherwise missed.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Military Monday: The War by Ken Burns

   This past weekend's activities included finally doing something that had been on my to-do list for awhile: watching Ken Burns's The War. A documentary on World War II, The War compares the experiences of individuals from four different American cities. One of those cities was Waterbury, Connecticut.
   While I'm only through the 1941 to 1942 episode, I'd recommend the series to anyone interested in World War II genealogy in Connecticut. There are some great scenes describing life in the "Brass City." The first discuss the experiences of the individuals interviewed. Their local interviewee was Italian. Her description and corresponding photos provides insight into the local Italian population. Later scenes cover the early war experiences, including the sale of war bonds. I'm looking forward to episode two.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cromwell or Upper Houses CT Genealogy Websites

I've updated my business website with links for Cromwell genealogy websites. Happy research!

Church Record Sunday: Connecticut Society of Genealogists Town Pages

   One of my biggest challenges in chasing down church records is figuring out if the church is still in existence. An open church may still hold its records - or at least know where they are - while a closed church's records are probably in an archive somewhere. For me, that often means a lot of Google searches, some estimated guessing (the Congregational Church in town is usually the original church) and some hope - until now.
   The Connecticut Society of Genealogists has built webpages for each of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns. These town sites give the town's founding date, probate information, the name of the town's schools, a list of newspapers, and most importantly, a list of the current churches. While this may not help you locate the records if the church has closed, it does at least provide a starting point!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Surname Saturday: Martin of East Haddam

   I'm playing - yet again - with one of my East Haddam families. I started out interested in the Ely family. For my family, they were the stuff of legend. Shipbuilders in farming community, their descendents saw them as romantic figures. I grew up hearing all about my g-g-?-grandfather, the steamboat captain. Of course, one line leads into another. An Ely married a Martin, so here I am.
   The first few generations were fairly straightforward. That Martin's parents were easily identifiable as Rachel Mack and Samuel Martin. While many of their children died in infancy, I'm certain I've identified all that survived to adulthood - Ellen and Hezekiah. I've also tracked Rachel's  parents without issue (if your family has been in CT long enough, the DAR can fill in a lot of blanks!).
   It's Samuel's parents, Jonathan and Hannah, that pose the problem. I have found a few of his siblings: Jonathan and Joseph.  I suspect from what I'm reading that Jonathan and Hannah arrived from England sometime before the American Revolution and had more children then I'm finding. I can eventually check the family against local records, but I'm curious to find out if anyone is working on this family. Does anyone know Jonathan's family?


Friday, February 10, 2012

Follow Friday: Momento Stones

  Thanks to CGN (the Connecticut Gravestone Network) for introducing me to the Momento Stones blog. Although she hasn't updated the blog since 2010, Alison Pierz does a good job introducing her readers to the funerary art of Connecticut cemeteries. If you're like me, you had to be convinced that this actually was an art. Take a look. You may be surprised at what you find.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estate

  While never a Newport, early 20th century Middletown boasted its own elite families. The DeKovens, Russells, and others built large homes, established an active social scene and supported the city's cultural life. At one point, the city even had a mansion row. While they may have worked - and occasionally  lived - elsewhere, they called Middletown home.
   Sadly, many of those homes no longer exist. Most were vacated as Middletown's status declined.  Run down, they were then destroyed in attempts at urban renewal. Mansion row is now a shopping district. Only photographs attest to its former glory. To my knowledge, only two of the city's mansions still stand, although there may be more.
   One of these homes exists only because of the hard work of Middletown's residents. The Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estate was purchased by the City of Middletown at the urging of its residents in 1994. Abandoned and badly run down, it survived numerous fires only because its creator used the latest technology of concrete. The City invested $5.8 million to restore the building in a historically accurate manner. Used as an event space, the Wadsworth Mansion has become a self-supporting monument to Middletown's past.
   The building is also an important  monument to the Wadsworth family. Some of the history is held in the building itself. Built for Katherine Fearing Hubbard, a daughter of an elite Middletown family, and her husband Clarence Wadsworth, the home was of several the family owned. It saw many family events, including the wedding of a Wadsworth son. Thanks  to the work of the Friends of Long Hill Estate, the Mansion is also home to many artifacts of the Wadsworth history, including Clarence Wadsworth's ceremonial sword (he was a Colonel in the Foot Guard).
  If you have Hubbard or Wadsworth in your past or if you're interest in Middletown's millionaire history, the Wadsworth Mansion is well worth a visit. Located at 421 Wadsworth St., Middletown, the Wadsworth Mansion is open for tours every Wednesday from 2-4 pm. 




Additional sources:

http://www.middlesexhistory.org/exhibits/jews.htm
http://www.wadsworthmansion.com/htmlsite/history.html

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Connecticut's Civil War: A Profile of Benjamin Wilcox, Company B, 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry


                I use soldiers from the local infantry company, the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Company B, as examples when I teach Civil War genealogy. Formed in Middletown in 1862, these men saw some of the most brutal battles of the war. They’re useful teaching tools since they tend to show up not only on National Archives manuscripts but also in local records. For Civil War buffs, they’re still considered local heroes.
                Benjamin C. Wilcox was one of these men. Likely born in Berlin to a Middletown family, he was raised on a farm. He enlisted in the 14th Connecticut in August 1862. Wounded at Antietam, he went through the military medical system before being discharged in January 1863. Benjamin married Clara Birge and had two children, Arthur B. and Anne E. Benjamin died in 1910 at age 70. He was buried in Middletown.
                As a farmer and a short-term soldier, Benjamin did not leave a large paper trail. However, using the census, Find A Grave.com, Civil War records available on Fold3.com, and a surprise find on an auction site, one can start to piece together his Civil War story. All we need is his National Archives pension file to complete the tale!



Sources: 
1850 U.S. census, Hartford County, Connecticut, population schedule, Berlin, page 248 (stamped), dwelling 192, family 215, Benjamin C Wilcox; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 40.
1860 U.S. census, Middlesex County, Connecticut, population schedule, Middletown, page 43 (penned), dwelling 331, family 370, Benjamin C. Wilcox; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012); citing NARA microfilm M653, roll 83.
1870 U.S. census, Middlesex County, Connecticut, population schedule, Middletown, page 4 (penned), dwelling 22, family 26, Benjamin C. Wilcox; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012); citing NARA microfilm M593, roll 108.
1880 U.S. census, Middlesex County, Connecticut, population schedule, Middletown, enumeration district (ed) 64, page 33 (penned), dwelling 288, family 313, B.C. Wilcox; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012); citing FHL microfilm 1254102, image 94.
1900 U.S. census, New Haven County, Connecticut,  population schedule, Meriden, enumeration district (ED) 331, sheet 1 (penned), dwelling 8, family 9, Benj. C. Wilcox; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012); citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 144.
“U.S. Civil War Soldiers, Records and Profiles,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 February 2012), entry for Benjamin C. Wilcox.
Find A Grave, digital images (http://www.findagrave.com: accessed 8 February 2012), photograph, gravestone for Benjamin C. Wilcox (1840-1910), Middletown, CT.
“Lot 237: A Connecticut Soldier Reports on…,” Art Fact (http://www.artfact.com: accessed 8 February 2012.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Middlefield Genealogy Websites

I've updated my business website to include Middlefield genealogy links.

Tueday's Tip: Learn Surname Migration Patterns

   I've been playing around with tracing a peripheral line on my family tree - the Gates family of East Haddam. They're cousins of an ancestor's half-siblings. Since they're not directly part of my tree, I feel less inclined to guarantee that my work is perfect. In short, they're good research practice.
   Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the family is easy to trace. I found their birth information fairly quickly. Thanks to my own family records, I knew where they had lived as children. Using that information, I turned them up quickly on the 1860-1880 census enumeration. After that, things quickly dead-ended. Why? Because I was searching on the mother's name and, although I didn't know it at the time, she had died in 1892 at age 60. I might have accomplished my goal by switching to a child - although several died young and may not have shown up later. Something else, however, came to my rescue.
   I remembered some earlier research I had done in East Haddam. The Gates family has been in the area since the 17th century. By the 18th century, they had begun to migrate but never went far.  Most of the family could be found in either East Haddam or the northern part of Lyme. Assuming that the family followed their traditional pattern, my Gates should be found in East Haddam or Lyme. Bingo! 
   Lesson learned: with an older Connecticut family, make sure you know the surname migration patterns. They tend to repeat and learning them will save you some time. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Durham Connecticut genealogy websites

   I have updated the links listing on my business website to include genealogy links for Durham, Connecticut. Happy research!

Military Monday: World War II Memories

   NBC's Nightly News ran a nice feature on World War II memories recorded in a New Hampshire town tonight. Their short article  explained how seniors in a local retirement home banded together to tell their war stories. These men and women had been fighter pilots, internees, newly weds and more. In recording their words, they guaranteed their stories would live on. Kudos to these men and women - and NBC - for taking the time to teach all of us about their experiences.
   I wish my ancestors had done the same. Several served in the Army or Navy and one in the WACs and the Land Army. None recorded their stories. Perhaps it was too painful to do so; perhaps they deemed their experiences uninteresting. They gave me the outline of their service - one was a POW; another canned fruit - but very little else.
   I'm left trying to put together the pieces after their deaths. I can get draft files for my male relatives and POW records. Each will give me statistics such as the name, rank, etc. Due to privacy regulations, I would have a hard time requesting their service records. I have pay stubs for the female ancestor, the only part of her records remaining after the 1973 fire in National Personnel Records Center. What I would love are the details: what was their service like? What were they thinking or feeling?
   As genealogists, we should at least try to record our family's stories. I'm sure I won't be the last one to wish I knew more.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sentimental Sunday: Jumping the Puddle: Zoldani to America

  Rudy J. Favretti's Jumping the Puddle: Zoldani to America broke my streak of stiff immigration histories. Written colloquially, Jumping the Puddle is both a straight-out history and a personal narrative. The first part of the book describes the daily life of immigrants Italians from Zoldani both in Italy and in Old Mystic, Connecticut. Favretti delves into personal experiences, referencing individual Zoldani, their successes and their tragedies. The second part of the book touches on Favretti's personal histories. Both parents came from Zoldani but for different reasons. Through their experiences, he traces how the Zoldani transformed once they arrived in Connecticut and gave way to new generations.
   This book was one of those titles that I would never have touched if it hadn't been recommended. I do most of my work in the Middletown area, which has a Sicilian - not mainland Italian - population. Yet, Favretti's book attracts me on two levels. First, it's on a population I never would have known. They have an interesting history and a strong sense of tradition. Second, Favretti manages to tell the story of his family without making it only about his family. It's a lesson we all can learn.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Surname Saturday: Stark

  If you've followed this blog long enough, you probably remember that one of my Connecticut family lines is the Stark family. The Starks are by and large of Scottish ancestry, descended from the Aaron Stark who arrived in the "New World" in 1608. They spread out fairly quickly. One branch remained in Connecticut, settling in the Groton/New London area.
  The Starks were and are very proud of their heritage. As a result, there are some great genealogical resources available in print and online. Charles R. Stark published several extensive genealogies including The Aaron Stark Family. The book is out of print in the original form but a reprint is available on Amazon.com. Online, Clovis LaFleur has compiled Stark history, the Stark Family Association Yearbooks and more to create "The Aaron Stark Family Chronicles."
  You should have some great information to start with...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Follow Friday: In Search of Our Ancestors

   I recently stumbled across the companion book for a PBS series I have to admit I never saw, entitled In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and Connection in Rediscovering Our Family History. Megan Smolenyak did a fantastic job of editing the collection of short stories. The end result is a cute review of everything we love about genealogy from forgotten cousins to generous genealogists.
   My favorite parts of the collection were the stories about the family item rediscovered through happenstance or kindness. The tales are worth reading, because they remind of us why we do this: that special moment when you can see what your great-grandmother looked like as a child. They also set me to wondering what I would most like to reclaim. Thanks to some cousins, I already have scans of family photos... but I sure would love those family bibles!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: CTGenWeb

   Although it was popular in the 1990s, most of us have forgotten about GebWeb by now - it just seems outdated. In some cases, that impression may be right, but skipping the site is a mistake. You'll miss out on a great free site for vital records, online histories and more.
    CtGenWeb is organized into a state site, county site, and town sites. Click through each level to find out what resources it holds. Some sites are better than others. In one case, the site hasn't been updated for at least three years. Others are regularly updated and contain great features. I can't review each page, but I do know that it's always worth a look.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Locating an Ancestor's Obituary in a Connecticut Newspaper

   As I mentioned in yesterday's post, finding the local newspaper does not always guarantee that you've found the location of your ancestor's obituary. Family members often chose to publish in another a newspaper. Why? That newspaper may have had more reach to your ancestor's friends, better reflected his political viewpoint or simply been better read.
      How do you then find "the" newspaper? Look first at the largest local city. Connecticut River towns often had their announcements published in The Middletown Press. Second, consider your ancestor's political or social reach. Hartford locals chose their favorite papers. The Hartford Times once appealed to a different political party than did The Hartford Courant. I've also seen an ancestor's early 19th century Lyme marriage announcement in the Hartford papers - because the woman's father had Hartford connections. Finally, look at a paper's reach. Today much of the shoreline reads The Register or The Day.