Friday, August 31, 2012

Follow Friday; The Size of Connecticut

 So why am I writing about a travel blog? Because, if you're anything like me, you probably haven't visited most or all of the places your ancestors lived. I'm stuck relying on travel blogs for a tour. And freelance writer Johnna Kaplan provides a nice tour of Connecticut in her blog The Size of Connecticut. Her profiles provide a nice overview of the town's history and culture from the point of view of an outsider. Some are a little superficial: her post on a mural in Middletown failed to delve into the mural's history, which is interesting in its own right. But I have to admit I now know a lot more about Plantsville!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Reviewing two more free Connecticut genealogy research databases....

   I stumbled across the Genealogy Helps blog while looking for local history blogs. The blog advertises free lookups in local history databases.  Their Connecticut database was constructed from a series of genealogies about the "ancient" families of Connecticut.  While I can't attest to the database itself  - I wasn't willing to part with my email address - I thought many of the titles looked familiar. A quick check revealed that at least a few were available on Google Books. Others should be available through interlibrary loan.  I'd prefer to look at sources in context. immediately sent up some red flags.  First of all, it claims to search all death records after 1897 through an online database. That search sends you through  I entered a name that I knew should turn up a death record and was informed that it did not return results, but that I could look at 6 other similar certificates for a fee. Why is this a red flag? Because the person I was looking for a) did die in Connecticut and b) died in during a period for which statewide death certificates have not been digitized. Second, you were informed if your ancestor died before 1897, you should request the certificate from the county clerk. Connecticut doesn't have county clerks. Better options? 1) has reliable indexes. Start there. 1) If a site uses the word county in association with Connecticut, look elsewhere. And call the town.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Motivation Monday: Hints for Middlefield, CT Genealogy Research

   I know I've already written about Middlefield, but I decided it was time to revisit the subject. I was recently reminded of how hard research there can be. I don't have any family in Middlefield, but I do occasionally end up doing research there for work. In the spirit of "getting motivated," I thought I'd share my hints for doing genealogy research in Middlefield.

   1) Remember Middlefield wasn't officially Middlefield until 1866. Before that, it was part of Middletown. If you're looking for land or vital records for someone in town before that date, you will need to plan on checking with the Middletown Town Clerk or Health Department. Middlefield is still part of Middletown's probate district. 
   2) After 1866, you need to look for land or vital records locally. This means Middlefield's Town Clerk. Don't worry, they're nice!
   3) Like many farming communities, much of Middlefield's history is still not written down. But that doesn't mean you can't find books or written narratives. Middlefield's Levi E. Coe Library or the Middlefield Historical Society are great places to start.
   4) To my knowledge, Middlefield has only two cemeteries and two mainline churches... although it originally had more. Old North Burying Ground was the town's oldest cemetery, followed by the still used Middlefield Cemetery. Middlefield Federated Church combines the town's two oldest churches - Methodist  and Congregational - while St. Colman's serves the Roman Catholic community.
   5) Be patient. Learn the art of waiting for return phone calls. It may take time to reach the right person, but someone in town usually knows the whole history of the family you're researching.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Follow Friday: Books New Haven

   Books New Haven was designed by a New Haven Register reporter as a way to profile local authors. So, why am I writing about a book blog? First of all, because I love to read and am always looking for new books... but more importantly, because they profile history authors among others. Not every book jumped to the top of my list, but a few did... A History of Connecticut Food looks especially tempting. Written as a combined cookbook and history book, it covers the history of food in Connecticut. Who knew we once grew peaches? Now I just have to order the book. Happy reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Those Places Thurday: Gillette Castle State Park

  I dangled it yesterday, so it's time to talk about it today. Gillette Castle State Park... It's a little kid's fantasy and a great part of the Gillette family history. The park quite literally has a castle, built on top of a cliff overlooking the the Connecticut River. The castle is full of fun details: hidden mirrors, wood carving, and moving furniture. The park also has the remains of a train tracks, built to support Gillette's miniature train. 
   The castle was home to actor William Gillette, best known for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The park's website covers his biography. Born in Hartford to Francis Gilettte and Elizabeth Daggett Hooker, he lived from 1853 to the 1940s. His last appearance was in 1936. While Gillette was childless, his siblings did have offspring. Who knows? You could be a relative.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Reviewing a few "Connecticut Genealogy" sites

 The more I read, the more I learn... For instance, until today, I didn't know that Enfield was not included in the published Barbour Collection. Thanks to the genealogist who pointed that out. (It is however, available at the state library.) One of the ways I keep up is by checking or new sources on Google. I search "Connecticut Genealogy" and then review what comes up. It tends to be hit or miss. comes up on the first page of a Google search. The site advertises free Connecticut genealogy search engines. Most of the site linked to Rootsweb, providing searches of the message boards, cemetery listing, and surname listing. The "Search Thingy" on Rootsweb would have provided you the same material in one search. I wasn't familiar with the sites two other offerings: an archive search of USGenWeb and a family group sheet project for Connecticut. However, both were outdated and, for my family name, less than helpful. It may be helpful starter site (especially if you haven't found Rootsweb), but I think you could get the same material elsewhere - and on a more up to date site.
    I was far more impressed by The site's authors have managed to accumulate an impressive collection of free and pay Connecticut links. While I'm still not sure why San Francisco immigration records ended up on a Connecticut page, I was glad to see that s they have managed to link together some of the better free Connecticut sites. Kudos to Dennis and Judy. Nice job!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Matrilineal Monday: Rachel Church (Mack) Martin

     I've seen several mentions of the Mack family  in genealogy writings recently and thought I'd share a little about my branch of that family. Rachel Church Mack was named for her grandmother, Rachel (Church) Mack. Daughter of Hezekiah Mack and Anne Spencer, she was born in East Haddam in March 1799. She married Samuel Martin in March 1818. She died in 1855 and was buried in Mount Parnassus Cemetery.The Martins, like many East Haddam families, were farmers and didn't leave a large paper trail. As a result, I know little else about Rachel.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Connecticut's Civil War: CMSR (compiled military service records) and Connecticut soldiers

   That packet of photocopied cards you received from the National Archives... It's not a pension, it's something called a Compiled Military Service Records.  The blog Ancestry Insider  offers a good history of the documents. In theory, your ancestor's CMSR should contain all the information about his service contained in military records. This would include a date of "muster-in," a date of muster-out (discharge),sick rolls, and more. (Sometimes you can find details elsewhere, such as a pension file or a court martial.)

   So, if you know your ancestor served in a Connecticut unit, how do you get a copy of his CMSR? Actually, it's a little easier said than done... You can get basic information about your soldier on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database. Because it acts as an index for the CMSR, the site will give you a name, unit, and rank and little else., the digital source for CMSR, is missing  Connecticut units.
  What are your remaining options? You can review the microfilm of CMSR records from the National Archives. The Soldiers and Sailors database will also list something called a "film number." That film number will give you the information you need to locate the correct microfilm. You can also order a paper copy of the file through their website (my preferred option). Happy research!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sorting Saturday: What do I do with all of this stuff?

  In theory, I've got a great genealogy storage system. Family papers are stored by surname, and folders are labelled by the individual name. The family genealogies go in a file named "-- family histories" as does anything I don't quite know what to do with yet. Files are manila, acid-free. Storage boxes are acid free. Family documents, if I have to mix them, are carefully stored in protective sheets before being added to the files... However, I'm fast discovering a problem I didn't expect.
   My genealogy files are becoming gathering places for anything and anything related to the families I study. It's great to have their mementos, but I'm fast reaching the point where I can't safely store everything. And if I keep something, it's with the intention of having it in 50 to 100 years. So I've started finding some objects new homes. Old newspapers that don't have a direct connection to my ancestor are finding a place at a relevant historical society. And I'll decide what else to give up soon.
   How do you decide what not to keep? Where do those items go?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Follow Friday: Historic Guilford Connecticut

   If your family was from Guilford, it's time to start planning a trip. Guilford Connecticut has embraced heritage tourism. The first year is starting slow, with historic walking tours. Local high schoolers have been trained to give tours of the Green area. I haven't been on one yet, but they look promising! (I need a budget just for blog tourism!).
   For those of you who can't visit, make sure to visit the blog at Most of the posts are about walking tours, but there's a nice post about the Green's history. Happy reading.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Essex Steam Train

   Admittedly this a relatively "new" attraction, but growing up in Connecticut, I found this one of the must sees! The Essex Steam Train was founded in 1971.  The company runs a variety of historic trains along its twenty-two miles of track. Such train cars were purchased from other railroads throughout the eastern United States. You can visit on a regular train run or a special event trip. Where else can you see you a car from the Eastern Vermont Railroad and the US Army in the same place?
     In researching this, I discovered that the Essex Steam Train had even more heritage than I remembered. The Valley Railroad Company (the Steam Train's business name) actually dates back to the 1860s. The track has had many different owners over time. Some have failed on their own, others have been bought out, and one nearly lost to the automobile. Yet, the track has persevered, giving Connecticut an incredible historical monument.
   I don't have any photos... I haven't been back in a while... but I hope to be there soon!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Tip: Tracing Episcopal Church Records in Connecticut

   It took me accessing the webpage for the Archives of Diocese of Hartford to find a good explanation of how to trace Episcopal church records in Connecticut. First and foremost, they do not function like Catholic records. Unless the church has closed, the Diocese does not hold copies of the baptismal, death or marriage records. According to their page, you need to contact the parish or the Family History Library.
   I turned to the  catalog to test their theory, using Church of the Epiphany (Durham). The Family History Library does have a microfilm of parish records, but the reel ends in 1940. After that, you'll need to contact the parish. And the index page had one important note: it was created from originals at the Connecticut State Library. So, as it turns out, you have three options: the parish, the State Library, and the Family History Library. I always start with the parish.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mappy Monday: Bashan, Connecticut genealogy

   When I stumbled across Bashan in a Family History Library listing for a cemetery transcription, I was shocked. I'd never heard of Bashan - or of the cemetery referenced. A little digging on Google  and the "Connecticut Unique Place Names" page told me why. Bashan is part of Moodus, which is part of East Haddam. And the cemetery... It's called Bashan Lake and is listed on Find A Grave.
    Lesson learned. If you don't find the town in your first search, make sure you check the "Unique Places Names" list. You're probably looking for a village in a larger town. And you'll need the larger town name to find records.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Church Record Sunday: St. John's Essex

      I've walked by St. John's, Essex during every visit I've made and never bothered to look into its history. Who knew how much I was missing? The church was founded in 1790 and has made its home in Essex Village since the 1890s. Today, it has a beautiful complex of historic buildings, which you can view here. The church's website offers contact information. They hold their own records.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Society Saturday: Essex Historical Society

  For a kid growing up in Connecticut, Essex means two things: the Gris (the Griswold Inn) and the train (the Essex Steam Train). Turns out the small town has a lot more to offer. I wrote about its history in a December post.
   Essex also has one place I haven't been lucky enough to visit yet. The Pratt House is home to the Essex Historical Society. Built by one of the first settlers of the town, it has been in the possession of the Society since 1985 and maintains many of its original furnishings. I'm unsure why I haven't been yet, but I'm looking forward to the trip! You can read more here.
   If you can't visit and you have Essex ancestors, make sure to put in a phone call to their researchers. The Essex Historical Society maintains an extensive collection of manuscripts and objects. Chances are high they'll have some information on your family and be more than willing to help you locate it. Such support is definitely worth a phone call.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Follow Friday: From the Archives, Florence Griswold Museum

   I was glad to see an announcement about the "From the Archives" blog on H-Connecticut. I somehow hadn't come across it, although it's been around for a few months. The blog's posts seem to all date from 18 April 2012, but they do cover a nice variety of subjects. All posts are inspired by an item from the Lyme Historical Society archives. A photograph of shad nets leads to a history of shad fishing in Lyme; a map traces the rivers from the area. Definitely a nice read!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Those Places Thursday: So Fine A Prospect

    Well, we already knew I loved needlepoint - so it's time to introduce my next love, gardening. Connecticut has some wonderful "modern" gardens. If you haven't heard of White Flower Farms or Comstock-Ferre, you should check them out. It also has some wonderful historic gardens. Garden histories are less publicized than histories of homes and people. As I result, I read anything I can get my hands on to find out more!
   I stumbled across So Fine A Prospect: Historic New England Gardens while reading an article about the Daniel Chester French property in Massachusetts. It wasn't until I finished reading that I discovered the article was  a reprint of a chapter of the book. It was so engaging that I hunted down a copy of the book.
   Alan Emmet's text is an overview of garden styles and properties in New England. Each chapter covers the history of a property, sometimes from its origin to decline. Images depict the property at plan, full bloom, and decay. Chapters include New England property as far north as northern Vermont and two in Connecticut.
   The two Connecticut properties were Henry Bowen's Roseland Cottage, which we've already discussed, and the Harkness Estate of Eolia. Each chapter traces their origins and planning stages through fruition. They include references to the family that developed the property, the gardeners and more. If you're related to someone who lived at or worked on each property, these chapters are a must-read. And maybe, like me, you'll full in love with Eolia all over again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tech Tuesday: 1940 census indexing

     It's done! Two indexing groups  - and The 1940 Census Indexing Project - have announced this week that they've completed 1940 census indexing. You can now search by name, rather than searching the documents page by page. Visit or to use the index.
   I decided to "test" the indexes using my ancestors. I was able to find one ancestor on both indexes but had to use different combinations. had  incorrectly added a space in my ancestor's name, while the volunteer indexer of the had missed a capital letter.  Another ancestor turned up properly on both indexes despite my incorrect search terms. I had used Katherine - while the census listed her as Kate. Both indexes had clear mistakes: country names are misspelled on both indexes, although's were more obviously incorrect (Austria does not begin with an S!). In both cases, the enumerator spelled the word correctly. In short, both indexes have problems, but FamilySearch seems to be a little better.
   To both index sites, however, please add a correction option. I don't have a problem with you reviewing my corrections, but I'd have to see these errors passed onto a family tree.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mappy Monday: Hampton and East Hampton... No, they're not next to each other!

    I can't tell you how many Connecticut residents make this mistake, even after living here for years. East Hampton has to be east of Hampton, right? Actually, the opposite is true. East Hampton is west of Hampton. They're about a 45 minute drive apart, in two different counties, and two very different towns.
   According to the Chatham Historical Society, East Hampton started as East Middletown, became part of Chatham, and separated to form East Hampton in 1915. Known locally as "Belltown," East Hampton had strong industrial roots. Today, like many Connecticut towns, it is mostly suburban.
  According to the town's website, Hampton (Windham County) was founded in the 18th century as Windham Village. In 1786, it became an independent town. Today, the town is agricultural and that tradition has deep roots. Industry mostly passed it by, settling in nearby Windham. More recently, the town has intentionally cultivated its reputation for open space and small town living.
   So... If you're looking to trace ancestors in East Hampton before 1915, check records in Middletown or Chatham. Hampton goes back  a lot further.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sentimental Sunday: Missing Family Items

    I've just finished watching a History Detectives episode about a set of World War II patches. I found the story fascinating but also wondered about the family's feeling. I'm sure they were more than thrilled when at least one of the patches came home. What had they experienced in searching for the patches?
    I have more than a few family items that are "missing in action." We know that we're missing at least one - and possibly more - family bibles. They may be in a family member's attic or gone for good. Either way, it makes me sad. My ancestors cherished these things. I just wish we could find them.
    What are you missing?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Society Saturday: Windham Historical Society

  Founded in 1962, Windham Historical Society preserves the past of one of Connecticut's oldest towns. The Society focuses most of its efforts on running a community museum out of its home at 627 Main St. Currently, it is exhibiting a variety of Windham memorabilia. It is difficult to determine what their archives look like, as their webpage is mostly inactive. Be sure to take a look at their article pages, however. The history is fascinating.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Follow Friday: UCONN Law Blog

    At first glance, I discounted the UCONN Law School's blog. Admittedly, most of it is about the Law School's day to day function. I wasn't too interested in reading about new library databases. However, it turns out to offer some good genealogy material. A February post covered the Amistad case. Links will lead you to other resources on the case, including images of the trial. Happy reading!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Main Street Historic District, Windham

   I stumbled across an interesting webpage while researching Windham: the town's website lists the occupants of every building on Main Street, the date of its construction, and basic information on the properties. The Main Street Historic District was formed in 1982 in an attempt to preserve the town's center. The website provides glimpses into that history, through looks at properties such as the building at 699 Main St. Fun!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Windham Textile and Industry Museum, Mill Museum

    Adding a new place to my "to visit" list... The Windham Textile and Industry Museum. Connecticut was an industrial state through much of the 19th century. As the Windham Textile and Industry Museum's website states, eastern Connecticut was involved in the textile industries, while western Connecticut made agricultural and mechanical implements. The Mill Museum traces life in one Connecticut mill. One section recreates the life of the elite. You can see what mill life was like in a Victorian mansion. Another demonstrates the mill worker's experience. Being from Connecticut after the mills vacated the state, I'd love to get a feel for what a worker's life might have been like.