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 She gave a fabulous talk on using archival records: original manuscripts and other unpublished sources.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 🙂

Erie PA Genealogy Happenings, Week of March 9, 2014

Erie Society for Genealogical Research Monthly Meeting

The next meeting of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research (ESGR) is this Tuesday March 11, 2014 at 7:00pm at the History Center on State Street.

We have a special guest speaker: JIM MCQUISTON, author and musician, will speak about Celtic roots. A membership meeting will follow. Doors open at 6:40 and will be locked at 7:10.

March is the ESGR’s membership renewal month. Send in your renewal payment to stay current! If you have an interest in Erie history or genealogy, and have been thinking about joining, now is a great time to visit! The genealogy society shares space with the Erie County Historical Society in their Library & Archives H. O. Hirt Reading Room at 419 State Street. An ESGR membership is $15 per year. As a member, you’ll receive the society’s quarterly bulletin, Keystone Kuzzins; you may place free genealogical queries in that bulletin; and, you have free access to research materials in the historical society’s library and archives. The fee for non-members to use the library and archives is $7 per visit.

If you’d like more information, call 814.454.1813 x29, email, or visit our website at

___________________________________________________________________________________Beer Night in Erie

The Erie County Historical Society and BrewErie are hosting an evening of local beer history at BrewErie at Union Station, 123 West 15th Street, Erie, this Wednesday, March 12th, 7:00pm – 9:00pm. The event will feature a special BrewErie pint of pre-prohibition era formula Koehler Beer, and appetizers. Guests will also have an opportunity to view Erie brewing archival images and items from  ECHS collections. Advanced reservations are required for this event. Tickets are $25/person and participants must be at least 21 years old. Call for more details and ticket information. 454-1813×24

__________________________________________________________________________________How To Build Your Family Tree

This Thursday, March 13th, 6pm-8pm, ESGR’s own Ray Boutwell will give a workshop on different software programs available for organizing your genealogical research, and various options for presenting your family tree using charts and reports. The workshop, which has been expanded to two evenings, will be held at the Corry Higher Education Council, 221 N. Center Street, Corry. The cost to register is $20/person and payment must be made by noon this Tuesday. For information call 664-8405.
Elk Creek Historical Society Coffee House


Sat, March 15, 7pm–9pm at The Little Church on the Hill, 16410 High St., Albion

An evening of music, history, and fun. Refreshments, door prizes, 50/50 raffle. All donations will go toward the restoration and preservation of the 155 year old landmark. Contact the Elk Creek Historical Society at

GRIP Day Three

This is a cross post which was originally posted on

Today was the third day of lectures, and (I’m sorry to say) I’m starting to get tired of sitting still for hours on end. I’m hearing the same from others, which makes me feel better; but (and every one I’ve talked to seems to be feeling the same about this too), the stiff knees and achy backs are worth it because the material is so interesting, and there’s so much learning going on.

I’m also starting to see camaraderie developing among students in the various classes (it’s even more pronounced in our small project groups). More and more, we are walking into the cafeteria alone and finding it easy to sit down at an almost full table, feel immediately welcomed, and effortlessly jump right into a friendly conversation. Unless its a conversation about the food 🙂

The grumblings about cafeteria food are getting louder and more frequent. The cereals are pretty safe, and the salad bar is pretty impressive, and the ice cream is EXCELLENT, but the hot entrees leave a lot to be desired. I was bummed this morning to discover that the only hot oatmeal was the instant kind you make from boiling water and a packet, because yesterday’s steel cut oats with brown sugar and raisins was very good. Tonight (Wednesday) is the only evening of the week with nothing scheduled after dinner, and a lot of people took the opportunity to go into the city, to visit a library or archive, or just go out for a decent meal. So, the cafeteria was a little like a morgue. Coincidentally, or maybe  consequently?, the entree was a “pretty awesome” meatloaf.

As for today’s topics in Advanced Land Records ( and that is the point of it all, right??), we covered:

Homestead Records (there are an estimated 93 million descendants of homesteaders (Act of 1862) living today!)

Tract Books (taught by Angela McGhie, who gave an excellent lecture, and is always fun to listen to)

U.S. Military Bounty Lands (my favorite)

Finding and Using Land Ownership Maps (should have been my favorite, but I was getting really tired at that point)

Military bounty lands are particularly interesting to me because a surprisingly high percentage of my recent clients have had ancestors whose migration west had to do with military service. We couldn’t cover a whole lot in 75 minutes, but Rick Sayre recommended Christine Rose’s book Military Bounty Lands, 1776 to 1855. I had looked at the book in Mia’s Books (who’s been set up in the gathering area outside the cafeteria all week) on Monday, and found it really interesting; but when I went back to buy a copy after class today, it was sold out. Fortunately, I was able to find it on, and there’s now a copy on its way to me 🙂

GRIP 2013 Midway through Advanced Land Records

My week at the Institute is going really well. Today’s topics included:

All About Deeds

Private Land Records

Using the BLM General Land Office website

Land Entry Files

Land records are like gold in genealogy research, and it’s exciting to be learning new skills to help locate those records. I’ve used the BLM website and databases before, but in sitting through Rick and Pam Sayre’s lectures on it, I’m discovering that things I’ve looked for there and couldn’t find, are actually quite easy to get to if you know what you’re doing 🙂

Last night I went to Michael Hait’s talk on “What is a reasonably exhaustive search?” The lecture hall was packed and Michael did a fabulous job. If you ever have a chance to hear him, jump at the opportunity because he’s a great teacher. You should check out Michael’s blog: Planting the Seeds

GRIP Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh

I’m at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, held at La Roche College, where I’m about to start a week long course in Advanced Land Research: Locating, Analyzing, Mapping. It’s being taught by Rick and Pam Sayre, who are two genealogy educators I really admire. I’m so excited to be here!

Things will get off to a great start tomorrow with:

Overview of Land Division in the US
State Land States
Federal Land Division
Land Division in Ohio & Other Unique Areas

I’m especially interested in delving deeper into land records because of my interest in house histories. Much of the land in Erie County was granted to pioneers, such as the Nicholsons, McKees, Reeds, and Grubbs, in the 1790s, when most of the land was controlled by the Pennsylvania Population Company. Deeds at the Erie County Courthouse date back to the 1820s, and  even earlier, original deeds, can be found in collections of family papers held at the Erie County Historical Society’s archives. One particular deed comes to mind, that of John Nicholson’s 1808 purchase of land along West Ridge Road, on which he built one of Erie’s first taverns. It is the original, vs a “true courthouse copy,” which makes it even more exciting 🙂

If you’re interested in following me along through the day, you can find updates at my twitter account: @mboxgenealogy

Family History Classes for Teenagers

Did you know the Erie County Blasco Library has a Family History Club for Teens?

The Family History Club for Teens will begin it’s Spring Session on March 25, 2013. Led by Debbi Lyon, the program is open to students age 12-17. It meets in the library’s Heritage Room, and consists of 7 classes held on Monday evenings from 6-8 p.m. Space is limited. For more information, or to sign up for the classes, call 451-6927.