Once again…I am in dabble mode. Hurricane Sandy really gave me the shivering fits…then my heat pump system malfunctioned giving me a $500 PECO energy bill when it would normally run just over $100 and another $500 in repair costs. But I have a good business….beautiful family and a roof over my head…amazing friends and colleagues…and a good life. Keeping that in mind…I jumped in my time machine and went to a time and place far from this temporary travail. As I had been in the whimsical study of my Williams and Smith families, I chose to delve into the NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) files to see what I could find. I have lots of solid background on these folks…particularly my Smith ancestors. Go figure. Plenty of brick walls with more unique surnames, but that is the company we keep.
Of course, there is always another research frontier…and new information is available online all of the time. Free is nice, but to be real…you have to pay to play. When I began this process, I haunted USGenWeb.com and FamilySearch.org with one paid vehicle….www.ancestry.com. I knew nothing about being an academic researcher. I was a hunter-gatherer and high on the adrenalin of the search and discovery. And then someone asked me to prove my results. OH…yeah. Prove it. Um. How did I do that again? And what the heck is a citation? Isn’t that something you get for speeding?
One painful backtrack lesson later, I was a dyed – in – the – wool citation queen. I bought all of the certification books and “Evidence Explained” and made darn sure I knew my conclusions had a trail of proof and analysis. I never want to spend time with the Ghost of Research Past again.
That is my serious side. But to tell the truth, life has been a bit too serious lately. A hard fought, bitter Presidential campaign looming…a natural disaster with the unlikely name of Sandy…a broken tooth that cost me $1500 and a heat system crashing to the tune of $1000…I shifted this old body into neutral and began the time travel…free styling.
I was rewarded yesterday with a search on the NEHGS site…www.americanancestors.org. This is a paid site and I have to give them props. It is getting better and better all of the time and I look forward to a trip to Boston to study at their archives. The results of yesterday’s casual search gave me lots of material to read and turned on some serious Edison light bulbs. I organized the material and read through them…taking notes and posing questions about related subjects and individuals and shut down ‘Old Betsey’…my laptop…and went to bed with visions of ancestors dancing in my head.
The repairman who supposed to come at 8 AM showed up at 4 PM and I had a day of anticipating a cataclysmic attack on my checkbook…sort of a FEMA with Michael Brown in charge feeling. But I can go to my drug of choice…back to my research pools…repositories if you will. Today it was www.fold3.com and a tip toe through NARA files. A couple of years ago, I resisted paying for this one…it was awful at first…a mishmash of data and images…mostly indexes only and tough to navigate. Index- only is like telling someone that a Snickers Bar tastes good…trust me…and you never get a bite of that gooey, chocolatey concoction. Mean! But they stepped it up and, boy, oh, boy, do we have a Golden Ticket.
I found twenty-seven pages of pension files for my maternal 4th great grandfather, Ira Smith of East Haven, Connecticut and Ulysses, New York. His son-in-law (and my 3rd great grandfather), Dr. Parvis Austin Williams was a integral part of the application process and so the double hit on the two men spelled jackpot.
But I didn’t skim and attach the file. I read it page by page and discovered that Ira served under Thomas Bird and was part of the East Haven militia that protected the harbor by manning Fort Black Rock. When Ira had to step down to manage his family affairs, his father, Isaac served in his place. In fact it seemed that the men of East Haven stepped up to fill in when their neighbor or family member could not fully serve. East Haven was never without a strong militia.
My grandfathers’ history has lifted me up and I have more of it to investigate for another day…heck…months. I know more about my Smith and Davenport ancestors every day and East Haven, Connecticut holds more for this descendant to explore. It is all about having good research skills and the willingness to dabble in the archives. I have goals…but I also understand that being willing to slow down and put myself in neutral gives me the opportunity to find new things and learn history.
If you are only interested in data, you are missing out on the Snickers Bars…
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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