How to Gain Local Knowledge–

I have wowed audiences from the platform with my local knowledge for many years (did I just write “wowed”–how unlike me!).

And almost every Family History Expo or genealogy seminar, someone asks me how I know so much about local areas where I research family connections.  So I decided to give you a 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. Some one born there is best. Although some one with a keen interest is also a good informant.

Local newspapers publish nostalgic or retrospective issues built around anniversaries and local 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 issue that I discovered on the oversize bookshelf at the Family History Library.

Arsenal of the Revolution: The First History of the 14th Colony, edited by Edward Fales, Jr., a local artist, with 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. his is a remarkable Bicentennial Commemorative Issue.

Let me quote a short passage or two from it:

  • “Mount Washington was obviously named for George Washington, the area may have seen its earliest farmers-settlers, come up from the Hudson Valley, before 1700. However, a 1753 report to the Massachusetts colonial legislature shows that John Hallenbeck, a Hollander, already had been there farming for 60 years–which (if correct) would seem to date his arrival about 1693.”

George Washington went back and forth through these hills and valleys during the Revolutionary War arranging for cannon and ammunition built by the iron workers in these valleys. This important fact will aid us you as you trace the families back farther in time–they were iron workers, with skilled training, and documentable.

  • “Hillsdale was called Noble Town and local residents guarded the cannons day and night against attack by roving Tory bands, hiding the iron sledges and teams by day and moving them toward Boston by night… …John Tuller and his wife Anna, from Simsbury CT settled east of the present south village in 1733…  …Captain Parmelee lost masts from his boats on the St Lawrence River going north from Hillsdale toward the sea.”
  • “Sharon CT was home to Hudson Valley refugees burned out or threatened by the British. For weeks these persons displaced by the destruction of the Connecticut towns along Long Island Sound. They flooded into town, some without food or money.  The Smith brothers outfitted two fighting companies from their own pockets and fought under Washington in the Battle of Long Island and other fracases of the War.  Parson Smith and his younger brother, Dr. Simeon Smith were charged with supplying the army clothing and medicine…”

The Great Nine Partners and Little Nine Partners grants were close by. The settlers into this precinct came from Conn–Hebron, Salisbury, and the Turkey Hills area. Please note that several of the surnames found in and around the Salisbury Iron District can also be found later on in the Ontario area of Western New York.

These two little segments include some extremely valuable items to be followed up on–kinship networks, places, and records. Earlier, in the section on Sharon, pp. 13, 17, Fales and his town historians describe the importance of Northwestern Connecticut: Sharon–just over the New York line–was part of the Salisbury Iron District which stretched from Vermont through Massachusetts and Western Connecticut to Eastern New York. The quality of the iron produced here was known widely through the New England area. The ore was hauled in ox carts to population centers for forging into cannon. So these settlers need move only a short distance to gain a better economic foot-hold.

Specific maps of this region show how close these locations really are.  Look especially at A Chorographical Map of the Province of New York…by order…Major General William Tryon, 1779, page two, which shows the large patents and manors between the Hudson River and CT. Livingston Manor borders Little Nine Partners. On the southeast corner of the manor is Salisbury CT and just south is Sharon. Canaan CT is northeast of Salisbury. It forms the namesake for Canaan NY, also in this section but north of Claverack. The Oblong cuts between them. Northeast Precinct is part of the Oblong. This map is good because it also shows the mountains–some called hills and some called mountains.

No major geographic barrier splits this whole section–the hills and mountains are easily bypassed or you can go straight up and straight down, as they pulled the cannon on the way to Boston: Fales tells how the men who went to Fort Ticonderoga to take possession of the cannon also pooled their own money to fund the expedition. The 59+ cannon they captured, they refurbished in Sharon and carried them on roller wagons overland to Boston for Washington’s army. The total commitment of men and their families in this district helped win the War!

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.  Featured events were focused on or near the American Revolution. And the editor narrates additional facts about the people and places mentioned.

I am currently researching five rather tough genealogy cases through these valleys east of the Hudson River, along the New York boundary. Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Look for these local news sources in every  library where you research–almost every collections includes these kinds of items.

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