Thursday, April 16, 2015


I am attending my first New England Regional Genealogical Conference. (And my second major conference - I attended the IAJGS Conference when it was in Boston in 2013. I blogged about that conference here and here.)

I arrived in Providence this morning and during today I attended several sessions, as well as met up with many, many other genealogists. A summary of my genealogy day follows:

My day started with a welcome to the attendees (there are over 950 registered to attend during the three days of the conference, although not all are here yet) and then a presentation by John McNiff, who, in the character of Reverend William Blackstone (1595-1675), described what life was like for early immigrants to New England. His description of life on board an early 16th century ship for two months on the way from "Old England" to "New England" was quite descriptive (wearing the same clothes, no opportunity for bathing, being constantly wet, rotting food…). He then went on to describe his early life in New England: in Boston, Plymouth, and Rhode Island, as its first settler, dealing with the natives as well as the "wilderness" of the area.

After a quick lunch, I attended "No Person Shall… Gallop Horses in the Street" Using Court Records to Tell the Stories of our Ancestors' Lives with Judy Russell, JD, CG, CGS.

Judy, a speaker to be heard at any opportunity, told us about how important court records are in our research, especially to tell us how our ancestors lived. She provided an overview of the Court System, noting that County Courts are most important for genealogists.

Using many examples from her own research in the southern U.S. to show the audience what we could find in court records (for example, what happened to people who couldn't pay their debts or take care of their children), Judy explained where we might find these records. Judy emphasized that genealogists should explore these cases even if it's not our family by using all kinds of wonderful examples showing what life was like for our ancestors in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. And of course, her last example was one of a law which stated: "No person may gallop horses in the streets."

Do check out her blog, The Legal Genealogist, if you have not done so.

Next was Finding Berrys in New York Probate and Property Records: A Case Study with Harold Henderson, CG, whom I previously interviewed here.

Harold used an example of William Berry, a Revolutionary War ancestor of his wife's to learn about his children and grandchildren. William was born in Rhode Island and died in Allegany County, New York, where he made his will in 1839 stating that he wanted his property to pass in a certain way to his grandchildren. Since his children and grandchildren didn't follow his wishes, this created many probate and deed records which he was able to use, in conjunction with federal and state censuses, to find out about William Berry's children and grandchildren.

There was humor to be found, as in the statement found in his will: "One cow…to be divided equally among said Rachal heir[s]."

One cow?

Things to remember from this lecture include:
When property changes hands, it creates records. Look for those records.
Everybody dies, many leave probate records, fewer leave wills. Look for those wills and probate records.
Although many records can be found at, most still need to be found by going to the local county courthouse.

The final afternoon session was From New England to New York with D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS

Again, another wonderful speaker who reminded the listeners that a community or group of individuals usually migrated together and had shared experiences of that migration. Josh spoke of using maps to learn about how our ancestors migrated from New England to New York and beyond. He shared all kinds of useful information about traditional migration paths, noting that it's important to look at the key stopping points along those paths for our ancestors, where they might have lived for a few years before moving on. These migration paths are known by name, (one example is the Boston Post Road). I kept thinking about my Townsend line and how they got from eastern Massachusetts to western Massachusetts and that many ended up in Genesee County, New York (though Amos Townsend ended up in Maine).

I came away from this session with many ideas about exploring more about my ancestors who migrated through New York:

Search for names of the trails you've identified as the possible migration route of your ancestor and search in local histories found on Google Books. Even if you don't get your family's name listed, you can uncover a description of the migration route, travels and actual descriptive stories.

The conference syllabus (available to registered attendees) includes information from each speaker and Josh's syllabus for this session provided a range of additional resources and reading material, which I plan to explore in more detail.

After dinner with some fellow genealogists, I attended a SIG (Special Interest Group) for geneabloggers. We welcomed some well-known geneabloggers, such as Dear Myrtle, Cousin Russ, and Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy, and I got the opportunity to meet some geneabloggers whom I've been Facebook friends with: Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen and Pam Carter of My Maine Ancestry, as well as geneabloggers whom I've met previously: Sara Campbell of Remembering Those Who Came Before Us and Dame Gussie.

Looking forward to the next two days!

Update: Read my reviews of NERGC Day 2 and NERGC Day 3.

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