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52 Ancestors Week 18 - Social | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 18: Social

Amy Johnson Crow had me stuck with this week’s topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, because social events didn’t really come up in my family. Sure, we had some holiday and summer get-togethers and the occasional reunion. But I have very few stories about my ancestors going out and being sociable outside family.

One story I do have is that my great-great grandmother Ernesta used to attend dances in her hometown of Moneglia, Italy. She and a family friend, Francesco Gola, both went to these dances. Ernesta and Francesco also both emigrated to Middleborough, Massachusetts with their spouses and had families there. I wish I knew more about these dances and the kind of social life my great-great grandmother had in Moneglia as a young adult.

The most social thing I could think of about my family was the fact that my 4th great-grandfather, John Winsor, ran the Cracker Tavern in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

Cracker Tavern Duxbury Massachusetts

The Cracker Tavern counted well-known figures such as Henry Thoreau and Daniel Webster among its patrons. The Reminiscence of Pauline Winsor Wilkinson says, “Some of the boys who had gone into business in Boston and came down occasionally for a dance or a two-weeks vacation dubbed the Tavern with the name of “The Cracker,” because at every meal they had on the table the large soft crackers that were always used in clam or fish chowder.”

My 4th great-grandfather must have been a sociable person himself, to run such a business. He is even mentioned in an essay Thoreau wrote about a mackrelling excursion to Clark’s Island with him in his book Cape Cod, Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. Publishers, New York, 1908. Pages 77-78. You can read the entry at Project Gutenberg. I imagine it doesn’t get more social than being a tavernkeeper!

52 Ancestors, Week 17: Document | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 17: Document

We are moving right along with 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks and I am… not. Ha ha! This makes the second post I’m putting out there quite late/on the last day. April was hectic for me on many levels. Hoping to slow down a bit, now.

On to document, which can mean so many things. As genealogists, documenting our ancestors is part of our journey and gathering documents is exciting. What I would like to talk about here is the process by which we locate those documents.

It’s easy to focus only on online searching, to fall into the mindset that everything worth finding is at our fingertips. That, however, is not at all true. Yes, we have access to wonderful documents, newspapers, books, and more thanks to FamilySearch and other websites. But we often ignore the millions – if not billions – of documents that have not been digitized. Maybe they never will be, and if we wait and hope for it to happen, we might be missing the key to breaking down a brick wall or the answer to a question.

Even though we are in a digital age, it is important for us to cultivate or maintain traditional research skills in order to find any documents pertaining to our ancestors. First, know how to write a concise email or letter to request information. Only last week, I mailed out multiple requests to libraries in search of obituaries. These obituaries are not available via or in any other online database, so this was the next best option. I won’t have performed an exhaustive search on an individual if I don’t bother taking the time to request and review these items.

Know how to use a card catalog, whether it’s physical or digitized. Most libraries have gone to a digital/database-style catalog, but some may still have physical card files. Also, know the Dewey Decimal System. I’m not saying we need to have it memorized, but we should still understand how it works to locate books at the library.

Always carry a notebook, pen, pencil, and quarters (preferably, multiples of all of these in your research bag). I realize the idea of a research bag with physical objects like this seems outdated, but hear me out. Even the most prepared genealogist may find that their phone battery is running low and they forgot to bring a charger to the library or archives. What if you run out of memory on your phone because you’re taking so many pictures? What if you can’t take a picture and need to request copies, instead? Or, what if you need to jot down a call number to give to a librarian or archivist, so they can pull something for you? It’s important to be prepared for whatever might come, including the rules and policies at archives that might actually prevent the use of a phone camera or anything else (I don’t think that’s the norm, but it’s important to always check).

These are just a few thoughts on what you might need to consider when you’re searching for a document. Never give up and think it doesn’t exist, just because it’s not available online. It might be waiting for you in some distant church, town hall, library, archives, or other such place. And there might be a lovely staff member who will open your email or letter, and know exactly where to find the document you seek.

52 Ancestors, Week 16: Negatives
52 Ancestors, Week 16: Negatives

The writing prompt for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is Negatives, which can mean so many things in genealogy. For me, it brings to mind negative results and negative evidence, and any other relevant negatives.

We always heard that my great-grandmother Mildred Burrell’s first husband, Joseph William St. Onge, was a rum-runner during prohibition. Considering that was in violation of Federal laws, I thought if he was a known criminal, he would have an FBI file. However, when I wrote to the FBI to inquire, I received a response that there was no file under his name. Sometimes, an avenue of research doesn’t yield anything, and it’s important to keep track of those negative responses or results. This doesn’t necessarily disprove that he was a criminal, but perhaps it was on a state level, instead. Or perhaps he was never caught.

Another instance where negatives can be useful in genealogy is in searches. If you take the time to scroll through an entire set of images on Family Search, only to come up empty-handed, remember to record the name of the collection, the call number or microfilm number, the date you searched it, what you were trying to find, and the fact that you didn’t find anything. However, if you find possible connections, note that, as well.

Keeping track of searches that don’t give you any information or collections in which you don’t find what your seeking will keep you from revisiting them and wasting time. However, if a collection is sometimes updated or added to, you will be glad you kept track of the date you originally researched it, in case anything changes.

52 Ancestors - How Do You Spell That | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 15: How Do You Spell That?

It’s time for another 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks post! Since this week’s topic is about spelling, I thought I would talk about the spelling variations for one of my lifelong research projects.

I’ve been researching John Goodwin Hawksley and his sisters – Mary Hawksley, Sarah Brown Hawksley, and Margaret Elizabeth Hawksley – and trying to find their father since 1993. When I married my now ex-husband that year, people thought it was a great last name to have. Kind of unique, memorable, flowed well with my name (Wendy Lee Hawksley), and very British. You might think the name would be exempt from variations except maybe Hoxley, but that turned out not to be the case!

In fact, I’ve never found any of the Hawksleys in this family spelled as Hoxley. However, I’ve found them as Hawkesley and Oxley in marriage records, and Oxla in the 1851 Canadian Census. Surprisingly, I have not found a connection between this family and the Oxley family of Cumberland, Nova Scotia… Yet, anyway! Perhaps there is one back in England at some point.

However, I quickly learned that I should check a minimum of three different places in the alphabet when searching indices for this name – H, O, and, I figure to be safe, A. Though I haven’t found any variations beginning with A, I don’t want to discount the possibility of the name being found as Awksley or something along those lines.

So this week’s 52 Ancestors topic is a good reminder that what you see isn’t always what you get. Even if you think a name is straightforward, consider all the possibilities. Your Smith might be Smyth sometimes!