Maritime Monday: Mystic Seaport

Several years ago, I performed my first research project for someone other than me — I researched ships built in Greensboro, Md., for the Caroline County Historical Society. One of my goals was to gather as much information as I could regarding a schooner called the George Churchman for a museum exhibit. Amid my research, I stumbled upon a gold mine at the Mystic Seaport website.

The Museum of America and the Sea is located in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. You can perform research about individuals involved with maritime history on the museum’s web site (anyone from ship captains to marine artists). I used the web site to search for ship registers with details about the Churchman. Here is such a register (the Geo. Churchman is listed about halfway down). From such records, I was able to find out the ship’s dimensions and other physical characteristics.

Did you find out that one of your ancestors arrived in the United States after a voyage at sea? If you know the name of the ship, you may be able to find out more about it by searching for it on the Mystic Seaport web site or one like it. Visit the Immigrant Vessel section of the Mystic Seaport web site for some inspiration.

This museum focuses heavily on the northeast United States. Other museums may focus on different geographic areas. The Mariner’s Museum in Virginia in Newport News, Virginia, is one to investigate if you have Southern sailors in your family history. Smaller museums like the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, offer intimate details about what life was like for seafaring ancestors.

If you have an ancestor who was a sailor or a ship builder, or even if you just enjoy maritime history, I highly recommend checking out sites like the Mystic Seaport web site and/or visiting such museums in-person, if you can.

Digging into Land Records: Humor and Clues You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you haven’t explored your local land records, you’re really missing out on some valuable information as well as some entertainment. I’m working on a new house history (shh! it’s a secret!) that a coworker commissioned for a Christmas present. In seeking out the deeds for the house, I’ve found a treasure trove of details about properties that demonstrate the humor of the landowners back in the 1800s.

When settlers and colonists took ownership of land, they often named the tracts and these descriptors are thereafter referenced in future land records (a helpful clue when you’re trying to decipher all those descriptions of acres, perches and degrees). Here’s just a couple examples that made me giggle while I researched:

“Inn Intention”

“Connelly Vexation”

Other place names give clues as to the owner or the purpose of the land:


“Ohio” (this is in Maryland)

“Forester’s Hunting Ground”

“The Three Brothers”

How about:

“Everything Needful Corrected”

How does one get started digging into land records? Here’s one of the best-kept secrets in Maryland: currently anyone can use to look up property in the state. You do need a login, but it’s simple to request one and I was informed by their help desk that they usually respond to requests within the hour during the business day.

I highly recommend reading the user guide (may require a login to download) before you get started as navigating the search mechanism for the various county land indices can be a bit overwhelming for newbies.

Happy digging!

Census Searching: Ancestor Not Home? Ask the Neighbors

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

I finally had a chance to do some personal genealogy research last night and so I headed to to look for tidbits. While researching my paternal line, I found Benjamin William Franklin CORLEY (my great-great-grandfather) and fam in the 1880 and 1860 censuses in Tower Hill, Shelby Co.,  Ill., but had no luck finding them in 1870. I was relatively sure that they hadn’t left the area only to return again before 1880. I decided to look for one of my ancestors’ neighbors in 1870 instead and then check the nearby pages to see if my fam turned up.

I went back to the 1880 census and looked to see who their neighbors were that year.  A NICHOLS family was the next on the census sheet. That’s a rather common name. Next was John SHARROCK. Perfect!

Benjamin William Franklin Corley and fam in 1880. John Sharrock is two households down. Click on the image for a larger version.

I searched for John Sharrock in the 1870 census and was able to find him in the same town and county. The censustaker there that year seemed to have some creative spelling ideas and his handwriting left quite a bit to be desired. No wonder I was having trouble finding my family!

The censustaker wrote “Spirock.” His handwriting/spelling left a bit to be desired.

I scanned a couple of pages back and forth and then found what I was looking for (sort of). Due to his lengthy name, Benjamin William Franklin Corley often appears as B.W.F. Corley in various records. Well, I found what looked to me like a B.W.F. CANBY, but was indexed as CAULY two pages past Mr. Sharrock/Spirock.

Below the scan of the image on Ancestry is a typed index of the information appearing on the page. In the bottom left-hand corner is an “Add Update” button. I clicked on this to update the spelling of the household surname in the census index.

Any index is going to have inaccuracies, especially one that is based on sloppy handwriting and questionable spelling. I’m glad to see this feature on Ancestry that allows for researchers to help contribute to making the index more accurate!

52 Weeks to a Better Genealogy, Week 21: Maryland State Archives

I visited the Maryland State Archives for a client this week, in search of an elusive marriage record that the client’s family had sought for more than 60 years. I did my homework beforehand and knew exactly what to ask for when I showed up. The archives website provided all the information I needed to prepare ahead of time.

From the homepage, I clicked on Reference and Research in the left-hand sidebar. In the How to Find Specific Records section, I clicked on the link for Marriage Records.

There is an enormous amount of historical background available on this page! Be sure to read the information on how and when the state and counties started tracking marriages — it will make your search that much more fruitful if you are armed with this knowledge.

Since I knew the exact date and county of the marriage record I sought, I found the appropriate date range (Marriage Records 1776-1886) and then clicked on the links for the appropriate county (in this case, Talbot).

Here’s an example “Pull Slip” for one of the records I needed to search. I printed these pull slips out and took them with me to the archives. It was hard for me to tell from the information given in what format the records would be, so I was able to go over the pull slips with one of the archives staff. Some of the records were available online (some password protected and some not; the archives staff make the password available upon request).

In this particular case, I found two records referring to the marriage in question. One was a hand-written copy of the index and licenses transcribed from the original in the year 1861. I was able to view scans of this index online at the Archives and printed out the pertinent pages for my client. The other record contained the original pages from the county marriage license files, preserved and stored at the Archives. I was able to page through the book and take photos of the pages my client needed.

It was useful for my client to have both versions of the record. Why? She had found the marriage license indexed on, but one of the surnames was spelled completely different. The client felt certain it was the right record because the other name, the date and the location all were correct. It appears the record was indexed based on the 1861 hand-written copy, where we could see that a spelling error was introduced after comparing it to the original record, which showed the correct spelling of the name.

My email to the client after my trip to the archives elicited a “Yippee!” and “That’s it!!!!!  This is the proof my mother was seeking in 1950!!!!” (What a priceless feeling!)

If you are seeking similar records from a Marylander ancestor, I highly recommend exploring their site to see if you too can find the tools there to break down your brickwall. There are folks like me who can go to the archives for you to search for records (advisable if you need someone to do a bit of extra hunting because of missing or misinformation, as in the case above) or you can order them yourself.

I’ve posted previously on how to order death records from the MSA. If you live in Maryland, I highly recommend stopping by the archives and getting acquainted with all they have to offer. Be sure to use their web site first to make your trip a productive one!

Requesting Vital Records from the Maryland State Archives

Today, I’ve been requesting copies of vital records for some of my kin. One item I requested was my paternal grandmother’s death certificate.

First off, why would I do this? It may sound morbid, but there can be a lot of rich genealogical information in this document. The death certificate will typically list the date, time, location and cause of death. In addition, it will include the name of the deceased’s spouse, the names of their parents, Social Security number and place of residence. If the death was related to a medical condition, the recent history of the condition may be discussed. The name of the cemetery/funeral home that accepted the remains may be listed.

My paternal grandmother passed away in Chevy Chase, Md., in 1943. I was able to determine where her death certificate would be held by reviewing the Maryland State Archives web page about vital records. Had my relative passed away after 1968, a different state office would have held the death certificate.

For death records held by the Archives, users search a digital collection for the deceased individual. Click “Search MD Vital Records” in the top-left corner and then select the repository that will contain the record you are after. Mine was “DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH BUREAU OF VITAL STATISTICS (Death Record, Counties, Index) 1910-1951 MSA SE 7.”

Clicking on that link brings you to an index broken down by date and then alphabetically. Clicking on the range pertaining to my ancestor and then narrowing down still further to the initial of her last name brought up an alphabetical list of index card images.

Each card contains the name, date of death, county, race and age of the deceased. Clicking on the index card for your ancestor brings up the form for requesting the death certificate itself. You have the option of ordering a simple copy or a certified copy.

While filling out the form, you’ll be asked to enter your personal information and re-enter the information of your ancestor (as a means of verification). Unfortunately, you can’t submit the form online. You must then print out the form and send it in with your payment (currently, $12 for a plain copy and $25 for a certified copy).

And then you wait. I’ll report back when I receive the death certificate!

Getting Started with Genealogical Research at the Library of Congress

If you are even remotely interested in history, genealogy or books, and you happen to find yourself in the Washington, D.C., area, you must make time for a visit to the Library of Congress (LoC). This post is meant to guide first-time visitors to the main facility in general and the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room, specifically. I hope to delve more deeply into some of the LoC’s specific resources in future posts.

The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room of the LoC is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ-G42, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20540-4660. It is within walking distance of the Capital South Metro Station. The facility is open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Sundays and federal holidays.

This past August, I visited the Library of Congress to check out a book on my ancestors that I knew was in the LoC’s holdings. Before requesting to see the book, I decided to attend a free class on using genealogical resources at the LoC. These 1.5-hour orientation classes are usually held twice a month, on Wednesday mornings, and are infinitely helpful if you plan to do research at the LoC and in the reading room.

On arrival at the LoC, you must pass through security (rules: and apply for a reader card that gets you access to the reading rooms and materials. This process took me less than half an hour.

Librarian Reginald Downs was the leader of the orientation session that I attended. In addition to telling us about the resources available and the protocols for requesting and using materials, he took us on a walking tour of the LoC, including the main reading room and several of the alcoves that would be of interest to genealogists/historians (the original card catalog and the city telephone directory rooms included). Reginald also briefly covered some of the other reading rooms that might be of help to historians/genealogists, including the map collection, the manuscripts reading room, the newspaper/current periodicals reading room and the rare book and special collections reading room.


When you locate a volume at the LoC that you would like to view, you fill out a call slip and give it to a staff member in the reading room. Once you are an established user, you can request materials ahead of time online when you locate materials in the catalog before you arrive (tips for searching the catalog: It takes about 45 minutes to one hour for materials to be brought to you at the room. You can write “HOLD” on the slip and your material will be set aside for you, allowing you to visit another part of the facility in the meantime (perhaps another reading room, or there are two cafeterias inside the facility that both offer pretty good food).


The reading room has desks available for your day’s research. If your work will take several days to complete, you can request a shelf or room for long-term purposes. Use reserved slips to hold the materials you are working on (this is advisable, because once you return a volume, it can take up to 7-10 days to be re-shelved and, therefore, requested again). You must use your reserved space and materials at least once a week in order to maintain it.


In addition to desk space where you can spread out the materials you are working with, the reading room also has computers where you can access the LoC’s subscription databases (including Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online, among others) and the Internet. Printing from the computers is free. Copying pages from books, on the other hand, requires the purchase of a copy card for use at the reading room’s copier for $.20 per copy. Professional copying services are available at the LoC as well.


Stay tuned for more details on using specific resources in the reading room in future posts.

If you have published a genealogy, the LoC wants a copy! Learn how to donate materials and help future researchers here: