I have wowed audiences from the platform with my local knowledge for many years (did I just write “wowed”–how unlike me!)–knowledge essential to tracing a pedigree accurately.
And almost every Family History Expo or genealogy seminar where I speak, someone asks me how I know so much about local areas which I tell about in my presentations and use finding family connections. So I decided to give you a blow-by-blow description of just how I gather local knowledge–the kind that solves difficult pedigree problems.
You see, solving difficult problems is often a matter of jurisdiction. Or, discovering an unusual migration pattern. Or, finding a hidden record tucked away in a place you would never think to look.
Disclaimer–I did not begin my genealogy research career using the internet as a tool. I learned to do research up close and personal–in libraries and on the ground talking to people who had lived in that place for a long time. Someone who was born there is best. Although someone with a keen interest in the history and development of the place is also a good informant.
Among the first sources I check are local newspapers that publish nostalgic or retrospective issues built around anniversaries and historical happenings. You know the kind, newsprint size filled with local ads often slanted toward the theme of the piece.
Let me share with you one that I discovered on the oversize bookshelf at the Family History Library on Tuesday–
Arsenal of the Revolution: The First History of the 14th Colony, edited by Edward Fales, Jr., a local artist, with local historians of the 17 Iron Country Towns . This 100-page gem was published by the Lakeville Journal and The News. The 17 Iron Towns of the Berkshire-Taconic area are: Amenia, Ancram, Canaan, Copake, Cornwall, Dover, Egremont, Falls Village, Hillsdale, Kent, Mount Washington, Norfolk, Northeast, Pine Plains, Salisbury, Sharon, and Sheffield–located where Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York come together. The manors of Livingston and Van Rensselear are also included.
Stories and lore, maps, photographs, and drawings galore. Town historians wrote short histories of each town or dramatic event that occurred during the early days of settlement and the months leading up to the War. Featured events in this publication were focused on or near the American Revolution. And the editor narrated additional facts about the people and places mentioned.
Several times in the past few years, I have driven through these settlements in Eastern New York. And reading Arsenal of the Revolution answered questions I had about the jurisdictions, the people, and the settlements themselves. I also had taken the road that General Knox created to carry the cannon to the battlefront–almost straight up over the Berkshire mountains and down the other side. Fales and his group of historians described this trek and mapped the reason Knox selected the route in the first place.
And I am currently researching five rather tough genealogy cases through these valleys east of the Hudson River, along the New York boundary: Foster, Finch, Forbes, Woodward, and Wilcox. All five families are referenced among these towns. So this information gained by reading Arsenal of the Revolution is especially helpful:
- Who settled there? Dutch from west of the Hudson River; English and Scots-Irish from New England; English and Scots from Connecticut and Long Island–crossing to the mainland referred to as “The Continent”; Scots directly from Scotland; Huguenots from Netherlands and Germany; Quakers settling in the “Oblong Patent”; Palatines from Germany who settled in East Camp and West Camp along the Hudson; French down the river valleys from Canada. And peaceable Indians.
- Most of the towns wrote their own statements of Liberty and Property–which local residents signed as the Revolutionary War seemed imminent: The Canaan Resolves, the Amenian Pledge, Sheffield’s 14 Declarations, and the Stockbridge Resolutions.
- Roads of today may follow the paths of ancient use. Some were parts of swamps. And bridges constructed early on had to be expanded to handle later traffic. Hand-drawn maps show where the roads were and how they changed over time.
- The settlers brought with them three mighty weapons: a love of freedom, willingness to work, and a firm belief that God was their ally.
- Under British rule, the Americans were prohibited from developing ironworks to render the metal into useful products. With their declarations of independence, they could forge the rich ore into cannon and balls to defend forts, arm ships, and keep the British away from shoreline and river.
- Tenants on the manors of Livingston and Van Rensselear forgot, for a time, their dislike of paying rent and serving for nothing more than the right to live on the land long enough to shoulder muskets in a greater cause.
- Hessian mercenaries kept diaries, when as prisoners of war, as they marched through the towns ogling the comely American girls–whose faces showed few pock-marks since inoculation against small pox was common. Up to half these German soldier elected to stay behind as husbands for these girls of the “pretty lips and laughing eyes.”
This is the story of the other Cradle of Freedom–the one the history books forgot. Wherever history is still taught, children learn that America was forged at Trenton and Ticonderoga, Boston and Brooklyn, Valley Forge and Yorktown–and of course, on Mr Freemans’ farm at Saratoga. But few have ever been told about the furious “steel works” or the ox-teamsters who smuggled steady trains of cannon from these hills to the troops, hiding them by day in the notches and often traveling only by night.
Few know about the great herds of cattle that were driven south to feed the army–south through Sheffield, Amenia and Dover or the cattle that stumbled west straining Mr. Bull’s shiny new bridge at Kent. On dry days, the cattle often disappeared wrapped in their own clouds of dust.
Few were told that George Washington moved back and forth in the shelter of these hills negotiating for arms to fight the British with and paying for them with money raised by his own officers; or that the hills hid the bookseller Knox on his incredible “cannon march” through Egremont–a march that may have saved the new nation…
The grain to be processed at the gristmill in Sharon was in such demand that farmers hauled their grain from as far as Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck traveling by night and hiding their oxen and carts by day.
What clearly emerges is a tremendously vital land, almost in its strength a fourteenth Original Colony. The Dutch and the English were vastly different. The German Palatine refugees who came in were unlike either. But what they created was a natural American Gibraltar, a small inner Kingdom that stabilized the whole war effort. Without the iron courage of the farmers and the stubborn determination of the steelmakers resident in this multi-national Iron Country, the American Revolution might never have been won at all. Edward Fales, Jr.
History, laced with patriotism and fact, makes believers of us all. Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS Stay tuned for the next steps I take to learn about the local areas.