Those Places Thursday: Forget the state border in 1700s research

A researcher had hit a brick wall and a quick review of their tree revealed why. They’d stopped searching for the parents of a woman at the Connecticut border – and she was from Ipswich, MA.

Prior to late nineteenth century, the fastest way to travel in New England was by water. Can’t find your shoreline ancestor in state? Remember to check ports in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday’s tip: Sorry Williams researchers, Philendra and Roderick are not husband and wife…

It’s a well documented “fact” in many Ely family histories…

Sally Pratt (Williams) Ely is the daughter of Roderick Williams. And Philendra is his wife..

Except that fact is wrong. Sort of… And finding out the truth requires digging into some little used Connecticut collections.

The first is the probate file for Roderick, digitized on Ancestry as part of the Connecticut Probate Collection. Problem one: he lists Philendra as his sister, not his wife…

The second is the Connecticut Church Record Abstracts, also digitized on Ancestry, which reveal that Philendra baptized two children as hers in 1822. One of them was Sally. It’s unusual for a woman to bring the children to be baptized unless she’s a single mother…

So, was Roderick Sally’s father? Records suggest that she was biologically his niece, the daughter of his sister. Her legal status is anyone’s guess…

And why the genealogies? Being an illegitimate child, no matter how well funded, had stigma. Family historians may have been trying to protect Sally’s reputation.

Research tip: Connecticut Newspapers have been digitized

Looking for Connecticut newspapers? Contrary to what you may have heard, a few of Connecticut’s historic editions are available online…

  1. The Hartford Courant is available to Connecticut residents on Notice missing years? They can be accessed with a Connecticut State Library card on
  2. The New London Day is on Google News at
  3. Smaller run newspapers from Bridgeport, New Haven and Norwich are on Chronicling America and from smaller towns on Newspapers of Connecticut.

Happy hunting!

Worth it? Irish records on Find My Past

Find My Past is celebrating St Patrick’s Day with free access to Irish records through tomorrow – and of course, I had to try it out.

My conclusion: unless your family left Ireland in the late nineteenth century or were land owners, it probably isn’t worth your time.

Find My Past is known for its index to the Irish parish registers. Digitized but not indexed by the National Library of Ireland, these parish records are one of the few ways to trace Catholic families prior to the 1840s. Once Find My Past made the registers searchable, finding your ancestors should have gotten much easier.

Unfortunately, at least with the names I tried, the search function doesn’t work. I checked two names, for whom I have birth dates and locations. One I know has a baptismal entry; the other I’m not sure about. Neither name returned results.

So, what did work? There are decent number of entries for births in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century… and if your ancestor was wealthy, you might get a will.

So, you might get something interesting- but don’t rely on Find My Past to trace your early Irish family.


Connecticut Probate Collection Tip: Don’t go by the image label!


Working on a Connecticut probate packet in Ancestry?

You’ve no doubt noticed that Ancestry labels the image with the “kind” of document. So, in theory, you should be able to go right to the will by clicking on “will” or the inventory by clicking on “administration papers.” If they were labeled correctly…

Unfortunately, in this case, they weren’t. The petition page is actually the last page of the inventory. And the will? It was filed under a petition paper…

Lesson learned: don’t rely on labels!



Surname Saturday: who was Deborah Niles?

According to the Barbour Collection, Deborah Niles married John Reed in January of 1700 in Lyme. But what else is known about her?

If she married at a typical age, her birth year was around 1680. There is no indication of her father in Lyme’s records, so in theory, there’s no way to trace her further.

That’s where something called the FAN club comes in handy. Look at the people around the subject for hints about their families. In this case, that requires looking closely at the other listings in the Barbour. There’s one another Niles who married in the late 1600s and early 1700s, Neomy.

Chances are pretty good the two are sisters. And Neomy’s Barbour Collection entry lists a father: Benjamin.

Probate packets indicate that Benjamin died at Lyme in 1712. It also names survivors: wife, Ruth; and daughters Nomi (Niles) Comstock, Ruth (Niles) Coleman, and Deborah (Niles) Reed…

So, we now have an idea of Deborah’s parents. Benjamin is her father; Ruth is her mother….

Now to find Ruth’s maiden name!