Long, busy days, good food, new friends: Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.
Monday morning classes started in my course, Bridging the 1780-1840 Gap: from New England to the Midwest. Our course coordinator, D. Joshua Taylor, arrived in the nick of time from filming Genealogy Roadshow on the West Coast and dove in with introductions. Our course has thirty-five students from Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, Indiana, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, New York, and Maryland, plus, of course, me, from Minnesota. Some are fairly new researchers and many are in the very experienced/professional range.
We spent the whole of the first morning with Josh presenting a historical overview of the 1780-1840 period. The overview outlined the point that you can’t do genealogy without understanding history. Period. Josh’s presentation wove together the themes of political events (wars, treaties, admittance of new states to the Union, growth of sectionalism), social and economic trends (national debt, panics, epidemics and natural events, the Second Great Awakening, population growth, and movement), and changes in technology and infrastructure (roads, canals, railroads). Class style is informal, with Josh and the other instructors encouraging questions and discussion.
After lunch Josh returned to present a session called Five Jumpstarts. This session addressed compiled genealogies, tax records, church records, early American imprints (that is, pamphlets, broadsides, and other printed materials), and newspapers, and how to use them to build histories of migrating families during the 1780-1840 gap. After a mid-afternoon break, Debra Mieszala, CG, looked at the gap period from the Midwest end, discussing Clues from the Midwest. Debra’s lecture highlighted resources, many of them online, for creating context and finding family history of New England families as they moved west.
Josh gave the Bridging the Gap class an opportunity to do a project, either as a group or on our own. The object is to select a family that lived between 1780 and 1840 and migrated from New England to the Midwest (ideally through the Mid-Atlantic states), build a timeline, and enrich it with historical context, sources, and methods gleaned from the course. My only New England line migrated to Pennsylvania before the Revolution and stayed there, so I borrowed one of my husband’s ancestors named Peter Barnes, who moved from Anne Arundel County, Maryland through western Pennsylvania into Ohio, where he died.
Evenings at institutes typically feature dinner followed by a lecture. Last night’s lecture, sponsored by the Great Lakes Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, was What Is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search? presented by Michael Hait, CG. Michael’s presentation highlighted a Connecticut case study where all sources pointed to a birthplace in Connecticut–until a newspaper autobiography of the ancestor showed that the birthplace was actually in New York.
After Michael’s lecture, I rounded off the evening by roughing out a timeline for Peter Barnes. Since Peter was in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion, I paid particular attention to what happened during that insurrection, and where, and to building a table of associates for him.
This morning started with Josh presenting a session called New England Catch-Up. This was designed to bring those of us who are not New England researchers up to speed on research guides, periodicals, compilations, and resources particular to the New England states.
Josh was followed by Craig R. Scott, CG, who took us on a whirlwind tour called Researching a War of 1812 Ancestor. Craig’s presentations always blend military history with explanations of how records were created, where they are now, and what you need in order to find them.
After lunch, Josh took us through Revolutionary War records and the information they contain for research in the gap period, and Rick Sayre, CG, CGL, presented Ohio and Pennsylvania Land Records. Rick’s talks are always clear, with very nice visuals and lots of maps.
Wrapping up the afternoon with a little more project work (in my case, conversing with my seatmate), we adjourned to dinner. Tonight’s lecture was a doubleheader sponsored by local genealogy group North Hills Genealogists and presented by Angela Packer McGhie. Since the North Hills Genealogists are planning a Washington, DC, research trip this fall, Angela, who is based in the Washington area, started with a short talk on tips for Washington research and then followed up with an excellent, longer talk on newspaper research.
When Angela finished, we wrapped up the night by watching the season premiere of Who Do You Think You Are? The episode featured singer Kelly Clarkson learning about an Ohio ancestor whose Civil War service included time in Andersonville prison. The genealogy audience, however, was more interested in Josh Taylor’s role: Josh presented Kelly with key evidence of her ancestor’s post-war civil service as county sheriff and state senator.
Wrapping up now for the night!