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American Ancestors and Sustainable Genealogy

Originally published 2 Dec 2013

After a frustrating day at work, the positive forces converged to deliver two genealogy publications to my mailbox this evening: The Fall 2013 edition of American Ancestors and a book entitled, Sustainable Genealogy by Richard Hite.

The latest American Ancestors is chock full of interesting articles. The NEGHS has a new Conservation Lab that I’m anxious to learn about. An article entitled “Researching Irish Domestic Servants” provides sources and tips for researching females as well as excerpts from an Irish domestic servant’s letters. There’s also an article about a female asylum in Boston with records that span from 1800 to 1866.

I purchased Sustainable Genealogy, which is subtitled, "Separating Fact From Fiction in Family Legends," to find out where my family’s stories may be incorrect or exaggerated. I have a “Three Brothers Came to America” family story. These stories can often be the result of considering people with the same surname as brothers, though they were actually unrelated. I have yet to untangle my situation.

A quick scan through of Sustainable Genealogy gave me many interesting tips, two of which I will pass along here:

  • Though middle names were often family names, a middle name may also have been derived from the names of politicians at the national and local level or the name of the a child’s attending physician. (From the section entitled, When Middle Names are Not “Family” Names, found on page 18).

  • Civil War veterans were often referred to as “Colonel” or “Major” even though they were enlisted throughout their service. Descendants of these veterans may have subsequently interpreted the references as the soldier’s actual military rank. (From the section entitled, From Private to Major, found on page 57).

Sustainable Genealogy was published in 2013 by the Genealogical Publishing Company. Much of the book’s content is conveyed through anecdotes of Mr. Hite’s successes and travails as he performed his own family research. The reader benefits from his personal experiences.

So far, my grandmother Robbins’ stories have been quite accurate. As a child, I doubted her claim that we had an ancestor who arrived on the Mayflower. To me, it seemed improbable, and when I reviewed the Mayflower Compact, I didn’t see any Robbins! She was correct, however. Our line of Robbins married into the line of Mayflower passenger, Richard Warren. The reality is that I’m finding documented evidence of stories she would have loved to know, but never recounted to me. I’m left to conclude she was not aware of them, which I find a bit sad.

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