A New Leaf

Reese William b&w

This is the newest member of the family tree.  My first grandchild, born just three days ago.  He’s one-day old in this picture. I meant to post this earlier, but I was occupied with work and taking pictures of this beautiful boy. A big part of why I’m documenting my family history is so that this little one will have a better understanding of where he came from and who his ancestors were and how they were special in their own way. He may not really care. But then again, he might.  And the history will be there waiting.

From a genealogical point of view, his birth would confuse me a bit if it turned up in a record from a hundred years ago. He’s the fourth ‘Reese’ in the family, but the previous two were born to the eldest son. This one was born to the second son.  What could have happened?  If it happened 100 years ago, the average family researcher of today could spin any number of theories about this occurrence in the family record. 100 years from now, I have no doubt that vital records and archived Facebook posts would leave little question.  The truth is, the youngest got the blessing of the eldest before the naming.

My other passion is photography.  From a photographic point of view, I tried to figure out what sort of photograph would have been taken of a newborn by a fine art photographer in the 1920’s.  I imagine it might be something like this.

Finding Delaware Families

Delaware-Public-Archives-1.jpgResearchers of Delaware families are fortunate that the folks at Delaware Public Archives are willing and able to make so many of their holdings available on the internet.  Unlike most states that provide access to transcribed or index data, Delaware provides document images for birth, marriage, death along with several other record types.  Finding a fact without being able to examine at least an image of the source document is quite unsatisfying.  It’s not that I don’t trust the transcriber or indexer, but it’s unusual for everything to be transcribed from a vital record. There’s a lot of information to be gained by examining the hand-written bits and reading the marginalia.  Access to images has also allowed me to start a collection of ancestor signatures, clipped from witness and informant lines on documents (I do seem to have a number of ancestors named ‘X’, however).

My favorite online source for these images is the Delaware record collection at FamilySearch.org.  If you have a Delaware Library Card, you can also access these records (but only these records) for free on Ancestry.com, but I find FamilySearch to be a bit easier to navigate and a lot easier when it comes to downloading images for local storage.  This month, FamilySearch  started publishing Delaware Orphans Court Records.  As of today, they have part of Kent County complete and available.  They’re proceeding alphabetically by surname and you can currently find “Aa” through “Ki”.  I’ve recently learned through Public Archives that Land Records and Will Books are  in the works.  It’s a good time to be a Delaware genealogist!

I only recently became serious about genealogy and have enjoyed the advantages of online databases and search engines.  I’m able to accomplish more in a single afternoon than researchers of only a few years ago could accomplish in a month.  I know this to be true, because I’ve done my share of time working with paper and microfilm records, spending hours at a film reader to farm one small bit of ancestral information.

Which brings me to another big advantage of having most of my family roots in Delaware. If you also happen to live in the state, it’s impossible to be more than an hour away from the Mable Lloyd Ridgely Research Room of Public Archives in Dover, Delaware.  The librarians and assistants are helpful, efficient, and very willing to explain some of the finer points of their holdings.  To get the most out of a visit to the research room, I use the Public Archives Collection Gateway to identify the records I want to review. The ‘gateway’ allows you to search a large number of the public collections by the first and last name of your ancestor.  For me, the gateway  is the next step after I’ve gotten all I can from census records and the Delaware collection at FamilySearch.  Some of my most significant finds and a couple of brick walls have been knocked down by information I found through the collection gateway.  Public Archives maintains a list of the collections searchable thorough the gateway, and they update what is available on a quarterly basis, so you need to check back regularly.

A couple of tips on the records at the Public Archives – some of the most useful information for finding unknown family members is contained in the Orphans Court records, particularly if it deals with the division of property for the benefit of heirs.  Also note that while probate records sometime include wills, this isn’t always the case.  Wills are sometimes found in the ‘Will Book’, which isn’t available through the gateway.

Give the gateway a try.  If you find it useful, or if you have any tips to share, please let me know.

Nanticoke River Roots

This is the first in a series of four articles introducing the families and surnames I’m investigating, starting with my father’s family in Sussex County, Delaware.

The picture below is my father and his grandparents, John Robinson and Ella (Ryan) Robinson. It was taken around 1918 on a farm in Little Creek Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware. The farm was just outside of Delmar, Delaware. Click on it for a larger image and notice the bare feet and the straw boater on the porch.

Reese, John and Ella

The Nanticoke River connection was found a few years ago as I began the work of unravelling several mysteries surrounding the history of my father’s family in Sussex County Delaware. This led to the construction of a family tree that goes back ten generations so far, without leaving Sussex County! The majority of the families I’m researching had their beginnings in what is roughly the watershed of the Nanticoke River. In Delaware, this includes seven of the Sussex County ‘Hundreds’ (Little Creek, Broad Creek, Nanticoke, Northwest Fork, Cedar Creek, Georgetown and Dagsborough). In Maryland, this includes the the Fork and Vienna Districts of Dorchester County, Maryland and the Sharptown, Barren Creek and Salisbury Districts of Wicomico County.

Most of the people in this family were farmers (or ‘planters’ if you go back far enough). The alphabetic list of surnames in this branch of the family includes Bryan, Carpenter, Clifton, Conoway, Isaacs, Lecatte, Lingo, Neal, Outten, and Ryan (or Rion).

This is the most difficult line that I’m researching. My father’s family didn’t talk much about those who came before. There was no written history and very little documentation handed down. Because of this, most of work work involves this branch of the family tree.