Saturday, July 14, 2012

Off to NIGR!

I’m off to genealogy heaven—a week-long intensive educational experience, the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), held in Washington D.C. at the National Archives.

My hope is to write a *brief* blog entry every day. I’ve heard that the days will be long and busy, and I’m not even sure I have a clear goal in mind for these posts, so we’ll see what really gets written here at Saint Cross Upheaval.

Right now I’m feeling over-packed and under-prepared. As was recommended for preparation, I’ve read Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (3rd edition). I had intended to have nice focused research plans for a few projects at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, but what with grading papers and putting together a seminar syllabus and life in general, my research plans remain less focused than I’d like. Which means my research time will not be spent as efficiently as it should.

I do have goals for the NIGR experience. I’m looking to learn more about federal records and become familiar with the Washington D.C. repositories that we’ll be visiting; I especially want to learn about military records, one of my weak areas. I’m excited about spending a week getting to know 39 other experienced genealogists, and meeting our instructors. I know a couple of the other attendees, and I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with them. I am NOT looking forward to the 100 degree temperatures that are forecast for next week!

I love to learn, so it should be quite a week!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 3

A third beautiful summer evening for walking from archive to archive!

Mount Auburn Cemetery

There’s so much that can be said (and is said, and written, and photographed) about this 175-acre cemetery, delight of gardeners and bird-watchers as well as genealogists, but I don’t recall hearing much about their archives before. Curator of Historical Collections Meg Winslow and another woman (whose name I didn’t catch) shared their detailed and enthusiastic knowledge of the history, records, collections, and stories (was Mary Baker Eddy really buried with a telephone?) of the cemetery. Meg referred to the cemetery and its archival collections as “a balance of monuments, landscape, and lives.”

The cemetery, opened in 1831, contains over 98,000 burials today, and inspired the beginning of the public parks movement (including Boston’s beautiful Public Garden). Its historical collections (climate controlled) include a library, the cemetery archives, and a collection of ephemera. Meg explained that a burial produces several records, including: decedent card, burial record, entry on a lot card, burial permit, and death certificate. Lot files can contain a surprising amount of information: correspondence regarding care of the lot, letters stipulating that Uncle So-and-So is not to be buried in the family lot, detailed “planting plans” (the ones we saw appeared to be professional landscape designs), and plans for monuments  Cremations also produce records, even if the cremated remains are not interred at the cemetery; I was surprised to learn that a cremation requires a medical inspection (of the body) beforehand. The cemetery is now switching to digital files for contemporary records.

Meg and her co-worker seemed very open to researchers, but pointed out that appointments are needed and that photocopies of files might be provided instead of access to the originals.

The most surprising piece of information: Mount Auburn Cemetery has a book club. Honest! I was mentally making plans to ditch my burial plot here in Burlington and buy a lot in Mount Auburn, but then they pointed out that the book club is only for living people.

What I’d come back for: Anyone buried here. Meg pointed out that Mount Auburn immediately became so popular (really, if you aren’t from the Boston area, you must check out the photos on the website to see how beautiful it is) that many families bought lots for themselves and then relocated their deceased family members here from other cemeteries. So I’d be sure to note anyone who died before 1831 and look for their records not only at Mount Auburn but also at a previous cemetery.

Cambridge Historical Society

Located in the second-oldest house in Cambridge, the historical society (founded 1905) has a very nice archival collection, a resident archivist, and is digitizing some of its collections. Archivist Mark Vassar gave us an excellent overview of the history of the society’s collections and of the collections themselves. We were treated to letters and documents signed by First Lady Dolley Madison, Abraham Lincoln, and P. T. Barnum, among others. Collections include Revolutionary War diaries, family papers, some business records, photos, maps, plans, periodicals and newsletters pertaining to Cambridge, and records and papers of the Small Property Owners Association (local folks might remember them from the rent-control issues of not too many years ago). 

Specific collections highlighted included some sermons of Joseph Willard, president of Harvard in 1781, including a sermon he gave after the Declaration of Independence. Most of his papers are actually at Harvard, but some which had been in his grand-daughter’s possession made their way here instead. The Quincy-Hill-Phillips-Treadwell collection intrigued me, since it includes papers from a number of prominent families, covers a large time span, and includes correspondence with people outside the families. The account book and estate papers of Andrew Craigie, a big land speculator of late 18th and early 19th century Cambridge, are here; this one caught my attention because there are a number of Craigie’s papers in the Shattuck Collection (for which I wrote the finding aid) at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. I learned that more of Craigie’s papers are at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, and re-learned (I’d forgotten) that Craigie owned the Longfellow House (our next stop) before Longfellow did. And for fans of American patriot Dr. Joseph Warren (you know who you are!), the good news is that Mercy Scollay’s letters are here at the Cambridge Historical Society. I think we were told that they are now digitized, but check the website to be sure.

The Cambridge Historical Society is open to the public for research, by appointment only. My impression is that they prefer that researchers have specific questions or targeted research plans. In other words, be prepared to discuss your specific research needs with the archivist beforehand as well as setting a time for the appointment itself.

What I’d come back for: I’ll definitely be returning to the website to take a more in-depth look at the collections, their finding aids, time periods covered, and family names. Some of the families probably interacted with one or two families that I’m slowly researching, plus I’d like to have an even better overview in my head of the various collections.

Longfellow House/Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

Our last stop of the evening was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also called the Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House after the three families who owned it, and the Washington Headquarters National Historic Site in recognition of George’s presence here for nine months during the siege of Boston. Built in 1759, it’s now a National Park site.

We saw very little of the house itself as we made our way to the basement archives. The collections here are focused mainly on the house and families, especially (no surprise) the Longfellow family. Longfellow’s son (or grandson? my notes fail me) traveled widely and commissioned photos during his trips in the 1860s through 1880s, creating a rich and unpublished travel archives—the mention of photos of Japan during this time particularly interested me. Longfellow’s [grand?]son also had a good sense of developing an archival collection, and made purchases to increase it. Some of his acquisitions were laid out for our viewing: a certificate bestowing military rank signed by Catherine the Great; a letter to H. W. Longfellow’s grandfather Peleg Wadsworth signed by George Washington; and a 1789 order for payment signed by King George III.

What I’d come back for: I’ll certainly come back for the house tour sometime; it’s long been on my list. As for the archives, I don’t have an immediate sense of anything I’d be looking for here. Fanny Longfellow is from a family I’m researching, but she’s far enough removed from my client’s branch that I probably wouldn’t need to work my way down into Fanny’s own papers.

The Cambridge Archives Crawl
turned out to be as interesting as I had hoped. For local readers, I hope these three blog posts gave you a little idea of some historical collections that you might not have been aware of. For non-local readers, I hope it gives you some ideas of the types of historical repositories you might have in your own area. Happy researching!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 2

Day One of Open Archives was focused on Cambridge city collections; Day Two will be Harvard collections, Day Three cultural collections, and Day Four (to which I’m not going this year) MIT collections. There will be less walking on Day Two, since we’re staying within Harvard.

Harvard University Archives

The archival collection of all things Harvard is located in the Pusey Library. Just walking down the hall to the Archive’s rooms was a treat: we passed the rooms of the Harvard Map Collection (, the rooms for the holdings of the Harvard Theatre Collection (, a hallway display about Theodore Roosevelt, and another display about the war of 1812.

The staff of the archives had quite a number of items for us to examine (and lemonade and cookies in an adjoining room, thank you staff!). It wasn’t too difficult for them to find items in keeping with this year’s theme of “Famous and Infamous,” but they did tend to favor “famous.” Two documents signed by John Hancock illustrated the evolution of his well-known signature; it was not quite so fancy back in 1754, but its boldness was already apparent. FDR’s update for the class anniversary report noted his current occupation as “President U.S.” and in the space to describe how much he had traveled he wrote “about 1,000,000 miles.” Other items were about the university and events (e.g. ‘60s protests) rather than about individuals.

I was most fascinated by the class book of 1837, which was open to Henry David Thoreau’s page. Each member of the class wrote long-hand, himself, about himself (no herselfs back then), and the class secretary later kept each person’s entry up-to-date with news clippings, notices of occupation and death, sometimes photos, etc. These class books, forerunners of the red class books and anniversary reports, are in handwritten format pretty much only for the 19th century. I need to go back to one of my New England research projects—I think there are some Harvard students in there, and how cool would it be to give my client a copy of something her ancestor wrote about himself in his youth.

What I’d come back for: I’m not particularly interested in the history of the university itself. I’ll be back for the 19th century class books, and maybe materials about events pertinent to the time that my research subjects were there.

Houghton Library

Wow, what a gem this building is! Its mission is the collection of rare books and manuscripts, and it has one of the largest collections of incunabula (books printed before 1501). Major collections include the books and papers of Longfellow, Edward Lear (also the subject of the current exhibit), Keats, e.e. cummings, and T.S. Eliot. One entire oval room, stunningly beautiful (it was decorated like a piece of Wedgwood jasperware, honest!), was devoted to a collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s works. We were treated to a view of the first book printed in British North America, a book of Psalms published in 1640; one of only thirteen copies, it’s more rare than a Gutenberg Bible.

Once again my interest was most taken by an item about ordinary individuals. Mary F. Peirce was a teacher at Cambridge High School in the late 1800s and left a collection about the school (a little more than a linear foot of material) that made its way to the Houghton Library. The papers include school records, report cards, newspaper clippings, letters, and more. Our guide admitted that it’s one of those miscellaneous undescribed collections that no one really knows about until someone takes the trouble to go through it. (My thought—Writing a finding aid/collection description would be a great little volunteer project for someone interested in Cambridge history.)

I’d love to see this building again and learn more about what’s here. The Edison and Newman Room to the left of the lobby displays the current exhibition and is open to the public without needing a researcher’s card. Tours of the building for the public take place every Friday at 2 p.m., and we were told that they are more in-depth than the hour-long tour and discussion that we had, so I’ll be back one Friday soon!

What I’d come back for: Besides the tour, I’m curious to know what other non-literary collections like Mary F. Peirce’s might be here. Longfellow intersects with a family I’m researching, so I’ll be keeping his papers in the back of my mind.

The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

We didn’t see much at all of the interior of this library, built in 1908 partly with Carnegie funding, but we were given a good overview of the types of material they collect here. Most of what we were shown was from collections about or from particular women, including Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Amelia Earhart (including her baby book which contained a lock of her very fine very straight and very blond baby hair), Judy Chicago, and Julia Child (who knew an Emmy is so large?). The Beecher-Stowe family papers, including those of Harriet Beecher Stow, are at the Schlesinger, and are in the process of being digitized. Collections not specific to particular individuals include the Black Women’s Oral History project of the 1980s.

Unlike the procedures at other Harvard libraries, research at the Schlesinger does not require that one first obtain a Harvard researcher card—as the archivist put it, we could walk in off the street to do research.

What I’d come back for: I didn’t come away feeling that I needed to keep any particular collection in mind, but that I should probably take a more thorough look at the Schlesinger’s website before dismissing it as a genealogical resource.

Cambridge Annual Archives Crawl: Day 1

Genealogists love archives, and this week is a sort of mini-tour of genealogy heaven in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The fourth annual Cambridge Open Archives, aka the Cambridge Archives Crawl, will visit twelve archives in four evenings, and I’m going to three of those. This year’s theme is “Famous and Infamous,” and you can learn a little more about the event at Please visit each organization’s website for more information about their collections, research hours, and procedures.

The Cambridge Historical Commission

Many of the archives we’ll be visiting are not set up for large groups, so we’re broken down into three groups of about ten people. Each group starts at one of the three archives for the evening, and we each move on to another archive at one-hour intervals. My group began at the Cambridge Historical Commission, located next to City Hall on the edge of Central Square.

The theme “Famous and Infamous” lends itself well to highlighting individuals, but the Historical Commission focuses more on architectural history. So the folks here drew on a scrapbook in their collection of a late-19th /early-20th century sergeant of the Liquor Squad, and used it to spark a history lesson of the pre-Prohibition “no license” (= no alcohol) movement in Cambridge. Locations and photos of taverns (a popular spot was just inside the Cambridge town line next to a dry town), owners of taverns, the sentiment behind the “no license” push (possibly veiled anti-immigrant feelings as the composition of neighborhoods rapidly changed), and an annual newspaper devoted to the topic (Frozen Truth) were all woven into the discussion. Our small group included a couple of people who were deeply knowledgeable about Cambridge history, and they saw the local anti-alcohol issues of the time as leading into the later development of what comprises “good government” in Cambridge.

I was hoping to get an overview of what archival materials the Historical Commission holds, but they didn’t explicitly cover that.

What I’d come back for: Hard to say without checking their website. Offhand, I think I probably wouldn’t come back for genealogical research unless I were researching a Cambridge resident and wanted to draw in very detailed information about his home and neighborhood. (Something that’s always nice to do, but there’s that little issue of time!)

The Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library

Second stop: the Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections. This is in a brand-new light-filled and spacious space, and now has a full-time (and enthusiastic) archivist. Because both the facility and archivist are relatively new, the collection is still being processed and described; the archivist is quite excited about the collections she is finding.

The archivist had a number of items on display for us. Lucius Paige wrote a definitive history of Cambridge in the late 1800s, and his papers make up one of the many collections here; part of his manuscript was on the table for us to look at. Paige was a long-time city clerk and a minister, so he knew everyone; he spent years extracting information about Cambridge and its residents from various records, and those research notes are in his papers also. One of the other tour members mentioned that the full text of his Cambridge history is available on Google Books, but that its index is not.

A few late-18th century letters were available (in clear protective sleeves) for us to examine. My favorite was a letter from one man (“Mr. A,” let’s call him) to Mr. B, politely informing him that B Jr. had gotten A’s daughter pregnant. He mentioned that the bearer of this hand-delivered letter was his (A’s) son-in-law. One wonders about that son-in-law—was he a banker who held B’s mortgage? a thick-necked low-browed knuckle-dragging hulk, just a tad intimidating? a young minister? or simply someone who was very adept at resolving delicate situations?

What I’d come back for
: I’m somewhat tempted to return and finish reading that letter, and then see if I can find out how the story ends! But more seriously, I’ll come back here for any Cambridge resident I’m researching—or at least check the collection information online and send an email to the archivist to find out what might be available for my target timeframe and social group. I should go back once just to scan the stacks in that room and make note of some of the books that I might want to use as reference in the future.

Cambridge Department of Public Works

I was looking forward to this stop, because I wasn’t sure what to expect. The DPW is in a modern building, and we spent our time in the basement where records are stored. I was surprised (happily so) to find that half of the records area is climate-controlled. Records here go back to about 1850, although the weather reports date back to 1814.

The records are about what you’d expect to find—information about sewer lines and other such things. One of the surprises was how beautiful and detailed the old hand-drawn engineering designs are; a large sketch detailing a footing and support for an arch was on display for us to admire. Records are not limited to geographic Cambridge; the 1934 example illustrating this concerned a piggery in Lincoln and Waltham located on the drainage area of the Cambridge Water Supply. Local folk who are familiar with the location of the Cambridge reservoir at route 128 on the Waltham/Lincoln line can envision how this might be an issue!

The record set that most interested me were two small field books, now scanned and available at the DPW as downloads to a thumb drive (but not online). The first is titled simply F.B. 1, 1868-1935, and is the less interesting of the two for any genealogical purposes. There are some sketches pertinent to certain neighborhoods, and a fair amount of measurements concerning water—soundings in the Charles river; and tables of time, velocity, and flow of the Vine Brook in Bedford (again, outside of Cambridge). I found F.B. 2, Claims + Accident Reconstructions, 1889-1937 much more interesting. Each page contains a detailed sketch of the location of an accident, with names (sometimes) and dates. One page illustrates the precise situation of a sidewalk on November 9, 1898, where   “[a] man fell and hurt his knee last night”; details include “bricks sink where shaded,” “this end filled with dirt,” and the depth of an apparent hole (the small writing on the photocopy we were given is somewhat difficult to read; the original, and presumably the scan, is larger and clearer). Another page, dated October 3, 1906, concerns an incident where “[a] horse fell from bridge to top of cars” (presumably train cars), and notes “picture taken.” I’ll bet this sad accident made the news! I’d come back to this booklet if I had a family story of an accident in Cambridge, especially if seemed likely to lead to a lawsuit.

What I’d come back for
: Again, I’d probably come back here only for house and neighborhood background information, such as when certain city services came to the neighborhood or street where someone lived. The historical weather information intrigues me; if I wanted information regarding a storm or drought that affected my family being researched, I’d keep these records in mind.