Autograph Books: More Genealogical Gold


Autograph books. A bit of a novelty in today’s world, but I still have the one my parents gave me when I was in the fifth grade. I asked all my school friends to write in it, mainly so it wouldn’t draw attention when I asked the boy I’d secretly been crushing on since AT LEAST fourth grade. It went nowhere, by the way. The little 3×5 album traveled with me to England the next December when we visited my family in Northamptonshire for the holidays. The Brits really know how to fill a page with rhyming wit, and reading their words of wisdom masked in no small amount of silliness stills makes me smile. It’s tucked in a special box of childhood ephemera and remains one of my treasures.


In my work at the ECHS archives, I’ve discovered many family collections contain autograph books, and they never fail to provide interesting insight into their young owners’ lives. Last week, I was thrilled to find two in the Virginia Drown Smith Collection, dating back to the 1880s. Beautiful and charming in their own right, they reveal something of the personalities of the owners and their friends and family, and they also confirm relationships suggested by other colder, dryer records [finally coming to my point :-)]

Master Cyril Myron Drown’s autograph book begins with sage advice from his father Hosea:

Strive to improve in some way each day
so that you cannot say with regret at night
‘This day was lost.’

It’s filled with many tender sentiments such as the entry from his cousin Jessie Drown:

May virtue guide and love direct
This little boy whom I respect.
                ~March 15, 1884

The humor of a brother, January 27, 1889:

Remember Me When
Far far off where the
Wood chucks die off Whooping
                ~Your brother, Samuel H. Drown

And this, from his younger brother:


Vintage children’s autograph books are miniature wonders. If your ancestors’ family papers were donated to a local archive, or if you are lucky enough to find a personal stash of family memorabilia tucked away in the attic of your ancestral home, be sure to keep an eye out these little gems. They are a wonderful find!

In closing, I’ll leave you with my own Father’s words of wisdom, dated Winter 1974:


This page is gold-so in life be bold;
if it appears green-believe what you have seen;
if it appears blue-remember I’m watching you;
if it appears red-keep a cool head; and
if days might seem black-just never look back.

Thank you, Dad!
Autograph books belonging to two of Hosea Drown’s children, Victoria Drown Smith Collection, No. 149, Erie County (PA) Historical Society Library & Archives, Erie.

Nuggets of Gold: Our Ancestors’ Diaries

My very first assignment as a volunteer at the Erie County Historical Society was to transcribe the 1859-1862 Diary of Hosea Drown. It was love at first sight :-) Hosea was born in Greene Township around 1833 and lived his entire life in this county. He was many things: He farmed with his father and brothers; he taught school in the earliest schoolhouse in Belle Valley; and he served as constable, as well as several other offices as needs arose. In later life, having retired from farming, he moved his family to town and sold real estate. Although a simple man in many respects, one thing became clear to me as I read his diary. Hosea was an educated man. A man of deep thought and good conscience. A man with introspection enough to understand himself and those around him, an appreciation for an individual’s role in community, and the forethought to document what went on in his.


I had an opportunity, while working on another project this week, to revisit Hosea’s diary, and I was instantly reminded of the wealth of information to be gleaned in these sort of archival treasures.

Hosea Drown was born fifty-two years before the advent of vital registrations, but his observations on family and the society all around him paint a much richer picture of our ancestors’ nineteenth-century lives than any vital record I’ve ever seen.

A few entries from 1859 Spelling, punctuation, or lack there of, is Hosea’s own:

13 February: FRANK BECKAS died this morning at Eagle village after a long illness.

27 March: Went up to see JOSEPH HIRT who is sick with the measels.

7 April: Went up to see JOSEPH HIRT in the evening he is very sick & his recovery is rather doubtful.

8 April: Went up to set up at night with JOSEPH HIRT who is not expected to live he has the nervous fever.

12 April: Went to the funeral of JOSEPH HIRT who died yesterday aged 21 years he was a youth much respected by all who knew him. The good & noble are seldom left till the last they are taken seemingly to be drawn from the temptations of evil—we are rapt up in a misery which death alone can unfold.

3 April: Sunday, I felt slightly indisposed but I went over to see how LEROY PINNEY was he is getting better—sick with the typhoid fever.

16 April: LEROY PINNEY died of typhoid this morning, at the age of fourteen.

24 October: We went out to GEORGE OGER’s wedding we had an enviable time without a doubt any quantity to eat & cider to drink. There was a dance at night but it was considerably crowded.

-ALBERT was there although he wasn’t invited he was allowed a seat with those that were or at least he took it—towards the noon of night the unfortunates began to pipe up some unearthly music & sounds outside but as soon as they observed there was no one to step it off they began to consider it wouldn’t pay & decamped accordingly though not ‘till they had unloosed a horse & upset old HUMPETER’s wagon & rack in the middle of the road.’

-Taking everything else into consideration the generality of the crew & the temptations the wedding went off grand in the extreme & agreeable enough to make every old maid & bach’ envy the lot of the wedded pair—except the girls generally drank a fearful amount of cider.

Despite the fact that Hosea fails to name George’s wife, the value of this entry goes beyond that of a marriage license application, which, while typically brimming with its own genealogical gold, really provides little beyond the cold, dry facts of the matter. I’d take this kind of detail any day :-)

1859-1862 Diary of Hosea Drown, Victoria Drown Smith Collection, No. 149, Erie County (PA) Historical Society Library & Archives, Erie.

Erie PA Genealogy & Historical Goings-On for November

Talk by Jennifer Liber Raines, on The Erie County, New York, Poor House Project

Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 7:00pm
Thomas B. Hagen History Center
356 West Sixth Street

Free to the public. Sponsored by the Erie Society for Genealogical Research. Please arrive between 6:30 and 6:50pm. The lecture will be proceeded by a brief society membership meeting at 6:30pm.


Lecture at the Erie Maritime Museum – Commercial Fishing by Jerry Skrypzak

Sunday, November 22, 2:00pm – 3:30pm
Erie Maritime Museum, East Front Street, Erie

RSVP to Andrew 814.452.2744 ext 225 or


Fairview Area Historical Society Public Meeting

Wednesday, November 18, 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Sturgeon House, 4302 Avonia Road (Route 98) in Fairview.

Meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact the Society at (814) 474-5855.


Elk Creek Historical Society Coffee House

The Little Church on the Hill, 16410 High Street, Albion, PA Saturday, November 21, 7pm – 9pm.

Are you interested in music, history, and fun? Then stop by The Little Church on the Hill’s monthly coffee house in Wellsburg, PA. The music begins at 7 pm and goes until 9 pm. There will be refreshments, door prizes, and a 50/50 raffle during intermission. All donations go towards the restoration and preservation of this 156 year old historic landmark. Bring friends and family for a night of music and fun. For additional information, contact the Elk Creek Historical Society at

Erie PA Genealogy & Historical Happenings in October 2015

Free Lecture: Servicewomen of WWII, by Sarah Westrick

Tuesday October 13, 2015 at 7:00pm in the Carriage House of the Thomas B. Hagen History Center at 356 West Sixth Street.

The lecture, which is open to the public, is being hosted by the Erie Society for Genealogical Research, and will be preceded by a brief general membership meeting, from 6:30 to 7:00.


Free Lecture: Erie’s Lighthouses by Eugene Ware

Sun, October 25, 2:00pm–3:30pm.
Erie Maritime Museum, East Front Street, Erie

RSVP to Andrew 814.452.2744 ext 225 or


Waterford Cemetery Tour

Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society, 1 High Street, Waterford
October 17th, 1pm & 3pm. Cost is $5 per person. For questions, please call (814) 440-3044 or visit


Haunted History Walks of Waterford

Fort Leboeuf Historical Society, 1 High Street, Waterford
The Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society will conduct Historical Ghost Walking Tours every Saturday and Sunday in October. Tours will start at the Fort LeBoeuf Museum at the corner of High Street and First Alley. The tours will start on the half hour beginning at 6:00 p.m. $9 for Adults, $5 for children 3-12, and children two or under are free.

For questions, please call (814) 440-3044 or visit


Ghosts and Legends, Erie Cemetery Walking Tour

Sunday, October 18, 11am & 2pm. join Caroline Reichel for a 60 to 90 minute walking tour of the Erie Cemetery. Tours begin at the cemetery’s main gate, 2116 Chestnut Street.

Hear some of the Erie Cemetery’s mysterious legends and learn about people that lived and died in unusual ways.

Cost is $10 per adult, $8 per child (12 and under). Reservations can be made by calling Caroline Reichel at (814) 868-4423, or arrive at the Erie Cemetery’s gate and purchase your tickets at the day of the tour.

For additional information, email

Ghosts & Legends Tour of Hope Cemetery

Little Church on the Hill, 16410 High Street, Albion
October 24th: 2pm-3pm & 8pm-9pm
October 31st: 9pm-10pm

The Elk Creek Township Historical Society’s annual Ghosts and Legends of Hope Cemetery Tours will be held again this year. An RSVP is required by the Friday before the tour. Please be sure to email or call 814-323-0447 and leave your name, a contact number, and the number of people that you will be bringing. Tickets are $3 per person and $5 per couple.


Fairview Area Historical Society Public Meeting

Wed, October 21, 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Sturgeon House, 4302 Avonia Road (Route 98) in Fairview.

Meetings are open to the public. For more information, contact the Society at (814) 474-5855.


Elk Creek Historical Society Coffee House

The Little Church on the Hill, 16410 High Street, Albion, PA Sat, October 17, 7pm – 9pm.

Are you interested in music, history, and fun? Then stop by The Little Church on the Hill’s monthly coffee house in Wellsburg, PA. The music begins at 7 pm and goes until 9 pm. There will be refreshments, door prizes, and a 50/50 raffle during intermission. All donations go towards the restoration and preservation of this 156 year old historic landmark. Bring friends and family for a night of music and fun. For additional information, contact the Elk Creek Historical Society at

Erie County History


I stopped by the Hagen History Center the other day and had a nice chat with Annita, who, if you don’t know her, is the historical society’s archivist, having served as such long enough to be the go-to person for everything that’s happened in the County for the last two hundred years, give or take… :-)

The Reading Room, aside from being gorgeous, smells of cherry wood and old books, and, as befitting a library of history, gives one a sense of being in the presence of greatness, as if perhaps Erie’s pioneers and early industrialists are looking over our shoulders, guiding us through the sea of their business and personal papers, helping us to reconstruct Erie County’s formative years and unveil the part they played in making it was it is today.

The staff at the history center has been hard at work filling the rooms of the Watson-Curtze Mansion with exhibits of all sorts. I believe there are eleven. Particularly delightful is the collection of vintage postcards. The Herculean task of moving the archives into the new storage space at the back of the Carriage House is on a brief hold until the supports for the mezzanine that will hold the 3-D collections and the movable shelving for everything else, arrive. The archives’ holdings are in storage at the old site and are difficult to access. I’d recommend checking with Annita ahead of a research visit, if you need something during the transition.

Thomas B. Hagen History Center

The Erie Society for Genealogical Research has moved its office to the newly opened Thomas B. Hagen History Center, in the Carriage House of the Watson-Curtze Mansion at 356 West Sixth Street.

new reading room

The grand opening gala was held on August 29th. It was a lovely evening. The renovated Carriage House is beautiful, although I was sad to see that it appears the research space in the new reading room is quite a bit smaller than the old space on State Street. As a volunteer in the Archives, and a member of the ESGR, I recall many times when the old reading room was filled to capacity, so I do wonder if we’ll end up fighting each other for a chair when the new space is open for researchers, Thursdays through Saturdays, 11am to 5pm. Note that hours have changed and researchers no longer have access to the library on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so plan accordingly! Also, if you need to research in the library’s microfilm collection, you may want to hold off for a bit, or at least call before stopping by, as they hadn’t moved the microfilm readers as of yesterday.

The ESGR’s office space is, as I understand it, located on the second floor of the Carriage House, which I did not have a chance to see the evening of the Gala. I believe there may also be a larger room of the size needed to hold our monthly membership meetings; however, I’m not sure the second floor can accommodate visitors who have trouble with stairs, as, unlike the old history center, there is no elevator. [Is it just me, or is this a strange and rather major oversight?] The first floor reading room doesn’t appear large enough for our meetings, particularly those featuring a guest speaker, but I could be entirely wrong on this point as I’d had at least a glass and a half of champagne before I took the tour :-) At any rate, the staff at the historical society has done a remarkable job with this move, although I fear they may be too exhausted at this point to enjoy the results of their preternatural efforts. It’s a gorgeous space, and will be a joy to work in. And, no small matter, parking is ample and free!

The Erie news did a nice story on the new space:

While a volunteer of both the ECHS and the ESGR, I speak for neither of those organizations, and the opinions and observations expressed here are entirely my own.

Index to N.W. Russell’s Manuscript on Erie County History

The pioneers of Erie County were proud of their efforts to settle the wilds of what was only newly part of Northwest Pennsylvania, and the Russell family was no different. Captain Nathaniel Williard Russell, son of early settler Hamlin Russell, and grandson of Revolutionary War patriot Nathaniel Russell, of Connecticut, is credited with recording much of the county’s early days. He wrote a series of newspaper articles on the History of Erie County which ran in The (Erie) Gazette from 1870 to 1886. He also co–authored Part II of Warner & Beers’ county history. An index of names from his original manuscript, housed at the Erie County Historical Society’s Library & Archives, was compiled by the Erie Society for Genealogical Research (ESGR) in 2001.That index is in the process of being published, over a number of issues, in the ESGR’s quarterly bulletin, Keystone Kuzzins, wherein, if you sign up to have the issues sent to you digitally, you will be able to search on names.

The impetus for Russell’s work, according to the publishers of Warner & Beers’ 1884 History of Erie County, a death bed conversation between Nathaniel and his ailing father Hamlin, in which the elder man is alleged to have said:1

I have made a great mistake in not keeping, for the good of future generations, a historical record of the advent and progress of the early settlers. Your retentive memory can yet collect them, and put them in a shape that will be of great use to the inhabitants hereafter. Promise me you will do so.

And, so he did, in the form of a weekly column in the Erie Gazette, spanning 1870–1886.2  He also co–authored, with Benjamin Whitman, Part II of Warner & Beers History, dealing with the settlement and development of the county. Nelson also acknowledges his reliance on Nathaniel’s work in his Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference, published in 1896.3

Apart from the fact that, as researchers, we are fortunate there was such a man as Nathaniel Russell, with a passion for history and a wish, much like our own, to preserve it for future generations, we must also take heed: We are the Nathan Russells of our time. As you study the documents made by your ancestors, and diligently record the information within, also task yourself with noting the history of the eras and the context in which your ancestors made those records. It makes a difference. It gives us a better understanding of our origins and heritage and preserves it for those who pick up the work we leave behind, either to carry it on or merely to learn from whence they came.


1.  The History of Erie County… (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), iii.

2.  See WorldCat’s listing on the newspaper articles at : accessed May 2015.

3.  S.B. Nelson, Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Erie: S.B. Nelson, 1896), iii.


GRIP 2015 Day Two!

Day two of Advanced Research Methodology got off to an early start with the 8:00am homework review, at least for those of us who are taking the “homework track” which, no surprise, is all of us. Last night’s assignment had to do with using American State Papers, the Congressional Serial Set, and the House and Senate journals. Despite Rick Sayre’s excellent talks on this subject, I confess I find them to be one of the more difficult to maneuver through. Still, the wealth of information found in them is well worth the effort. I plan on adding the Library of Congress Century of Lawmaking site to my arsenal of repositories that are the foundation of my standard research plan. Not every situation will call for this, but I’d rather look and find nothing than miss a gold nugget!

Pam Sayre was our morning guest lecturer. She gave a fabulous talk on using archival records: original manuscripts and other unpublished sources. She detailed a whole host of online catalog sources, some of which I’ve never heard of and others I don’t use nearly as often as I should. For example, I had no idea of the richness of the Library of Congress’s online finding aids to their manuscript collections. She gave us some excellent tips on getting the most about of the various search engines, such as some little known ways of accessing the NUCMC printed volumes from 1959 to 1985 online.  She also shared with us her own, took-weeks-to-create, step-by-step guide for using the NARA finding aids. Thank you, Pam!

We get about ninety minutes for lunch. I cut mine short to stop by Maia’s Book Shop, and let me just say, if you don’t know about Maia, you are missing out! Seriously. Although she has a website,here, she conducts a good deal of business at the various genealogy institutes and conferences around the country. She carries the usual genealogy reference books, but the real treat is getting to look through the specialty books she brings. For example, because we’re in Pittsburgh, there are boxes and boxes of books about Pennsylvania records: compilations, local collections, and topics pertinent to the western part of the state. She opened this morning. It’s always a bit of a mad rush to see what new treasures Maia might have brought. She lets us set aside the books we want in piles at the back of the room, and we have till Friday morning to buy them.

Rick Sayre spoke about military records in the afternoon. I regularly use the compiled military service records and pensions applications at NARA, Fold3, and Ancestry, but Rick’s presentation went well beyond that, to the other kinds of records generated by military service: things like medical records, quartermaster records, and court martials. He also covered records the military kept on civilians, an especially underused record set.

The day wrapped up with Tom’s presentation on transcriptions and abstracts. It was very hands-on, which was exactly what I needed after such an intense day of learning! Our homework for tonight was to transcribe and abstract a document of his choosing, in this case an early New England quit claim deed, and then, similar to the requirements for the document portion of the BCG certification portfolio, we had to decide on a specific research question, for which the document provides some kind of evidence, and create a preliminary research plan based on that question. I worked with a team, and I highly recommend this approach. It took us a little over two hours to complete the assignment and I learned a great deal, not only from doing the work, but also from the interaction with my fellow genealogists. One other advantage to a group effort…it’s a comfort to see I’m not the only one with lots to learn! As Tom pointed out in class today, the fact that we  (all thirty of us) took about a half hour to group transcribe just three lines from a two hundred year old document reaffirms that we are none of us too advanced to be taking this class!

GRIP 2015 Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh

Back in Pittsburgh for another week-long genealogy institute! My third. This time it’s Thomas W. Jones’ course of Advanced Research Methodology.

The instructors here are at the top of the field; experts in a variety of specialties. I learned so much from Rick and Pam Sayre on Land Records in 2013, and from Judy Russell on the Law in 2014 Although only one day in, I know this year will be no different. My introduction to Dr. Tom Jones and the world of genealogy  scholarship  was at the Boston University Genealogical Research course in 2011. What a profound eye opener! I had no idea how little I knew! During that course, I realized my  approach to genealogical research would have to change from one focused on the haphazard gathering of information and as many names in my family tree as possible, to one which was evidence based and adhered to the Genealogical Proof Standard. The single best thing I did in an effort to do that, was to start reading the National Genealogical Society Quarterly religiously. Studying its case studies. The next best thing was to set a goal of attending two educational conferences/classes per year.

What’s particularly nice about this institute, apart from it being close enough that I can get to it without flying, is that so many of my friends attend.

I remember my ProGen13 study mate, the wonderfully redoubtable Melinda Henningfield, telling me the best way to develop excellent genealogy practises, build a network of colleagues, and cultivate friendships with those colleagues, is at an institute. She was so right! Genealogists never get tired of talking about genealogy. Being surrounded by people who don’t get that glazed over look in their eyes at the mere mention of a courthouse, Ancestry, or cemetery, is such a delight!

Classes today dealt with developing an evidence orientation to our research, determining a good research question, and creating a focused research plan. Tom is a great teacher, and one of the things I particularly like about this course is that it’s not just a series of lectures. He walked us through some specific examples, and it was very interactive. I find it incredibly helpful to see how he approaches his problems. Later in the day, Rick Sayre gave a talk on Federal Records, with emphasis on the records available online at the Library of Congress’s Century of Lawmaking site: American State Papers, House and Senate journals, and the Congressional Serial Set, etc. These are wonderful, accessible, yet underused record sets, rich with details about the lives of our ancestors who for one reason or another had personal interactions with the federal government. The link to the site is here.

We had homework related to Rick’s part of the day, and there was an evening lecture on researching German origins of immigrants. All in all a tiring day but worth every minute :-)