Author Archives: Lauren Mahieu

The 21st Century Pioneer Woman

A few months ago I purchased “Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier,” a wonderful book by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith.  It described the tremendous hardships 19th century women encountered when relocating to the American West.

Of particular note was Pamelia Fergus of Little Falls, Minnesota, who “had been on her own for nearly four years by the time her husband finally sent word that he was ready for the family to join him in the West.  Faced with the task of readying herself and her four children for the trip to the Montana territory, Pamelia followed a three-page memorandum from James in gathering the items she was to take on her journey…”

I cannot even begin to fathom traveling alone in 1864 via covered wagon to an unknown territory with four young children in my care.   To think Pamelia did so gives me courage in my own journey.

My husband and I are relocating to the Mid-Atlantic region.  (Hence the scarce blog posts the last couple months!)  Actually, Ed is already there, having started a new job.  My son and I are still at home in California, having prepared our home for sale and are now about ready to load up the dogs into the SUV and make the 2600 mile drive east.

Some days are quite overwhelming, thinking of all that is involved in such a transition.  It is on those days I remind myself how “easy” I have it in comparison to Pamelia Fergus, or my own 4th great grandmother, Betsy Wasgatt Stanwood, who traveled from Maine to Minnesota between 1865 to 1870, and then back to Maine where she died in 1874.

How did Pamelia manage four years without James?  How did she make it all those miles to Montana with kids in tow?  These are questions I asked myself as I struggled with some of the day-to-day responsibilities my husband would usually handle.  (Emptying heavy trash cans into the trash dumpster, maintaining the chemical balance of our swimming pool, finding time in my schedule to take my car to the mechanic for an oil change, and finding reputable home repairmen were some of my challenges!)

Yes, there is a lot modern women take for granted.  However, when I’m lamenting life without my husband nearby, I have determined to think of Pamelia and Betsy and how “easy” I have it in comparison to their trials as 19th century pioneer women!

My AncestryDNA match

When I took the autosomal DNA test, I was mostly interested in confirming my genetic ethnicity.  An added bonus was my recent connection to a distant cousin – my first definite DNA match.

While I didn’t learn anything new from my newly found cousin (I was able to fill in quite a few holes in her family tree), I did learn a bit more about DNA testing.  Ancestry had stated with 95% assumed accuracy that we are 4th-6th cousins.  However, after comparing notes, we learned my 9th great grandfather, Philip Stanwood, was our common ancestor.  To put this in perspective, Philip was likely born in the first half of the 17th century, having been a fence-viewer in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1648, and was deceased 7 August 1672.

Given the science of inheritance, it is really quite fascinating that I was matched to my 10th cousin!

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy – New England Historic Genealogical Society

New England Historic and Genealogical Society

Today I am thankful for the New England Historic and Genealogical Society.  Through the organization’s  many journals that were available at my local library, I was able to learn many details about my colonial New England ancestors.  Not only did my library have recent journals, but had bound volumes dating back to the mid-19th century.  Bradstreets, Stanwoods, Wasgatts, and more, were contained therein, and the information gleaned from those many journals provided the frame work for my research in the 20+ years that followed.

NEHGS’ own Boston library is absolutely incredible.  The following is the description from their web site:

Our 8-story research center, located in downtown Boston, is one of the premier genealogy centers in the country, housing more than 200,000 books, 100,000 microforms, and more than 2 million manuscripts and family papers. In total, there are more than 20 million documents, artifacts, records, diaries, journals, books, photographs, family papers, bibles, and other items dating back more than four centuries. This incredible collection offers a wealth of information that is simply not available anywhere else.

Awesome and incredible it is.   I’ve had two separate research trips to Boston, and each time wish I had more hours in the day to spend at NEHGS.  (Click here for my June 2011 adventure attempting to get to NEHGS during the Bruin’s parade.)

Thank you, New England Historic and Genealogical Society, for your dedication to preserving the history of our nation.

Genetic memory or hardwired preferences: Questions for the family historian

Egg Rock Lighthouse

Egg Rock Lighthouse, at entry to Frenchman’s Bay

Genetic memory is explained as follows in Wikipedia:

In psychology, genetic memory is a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time. It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code, not by a Lamarckian process that encodes specific memories but by a much vaguer tendency to encode a readiness to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli.

As a child, I longed for New England.  Not that I had any logical reason to be drawn to the area.  A native Southern Californian, I’d never experienced the east coast until my mother and I visited Maine in 2004.   Continue reading

Chronicling America chronicles the Stanwood family

Friday night I continued my search for the Stanwood surname on the Library of Congress’ web site, Chronicling America.  What an awesome site!  My great-great grandparents, Albert and Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood, appeared several times in the Princeton Journal – typically when visiting their daughter Georgianna (Stanwood) Cravens.  Here are some of my finds:

Benjamin Stanwood recovers from Typhoid

Albert & Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood visit daughter Georgianna, who is ill

Albert & Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood visit daughter Georgianna, who is ill. This is curious - as Lavina died in 1920, and Albert was residing in Minneapolis at the time.

Albert Stanwood takes A.M. Palon to St. Louis lumbering district

Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood ill

Martha (Bursley) Orrock learns her sister, Lavina (Bursley) Stanwood is ill.

Melvin Stanwood nearly drowns

Albert Stanwood's team drowns in St. Louis river; son Melvin narrowly escapes.

Don’t throw the baby (or the paper) out with the bath water….

Family History Binders

Some of my labeled binders.  

I really enjoy finding stuff.

I really hate filing stuff.  (I believe I’ve mentioned that a time or two…or ten…in previous posts, lol.)  Hence, I’d made (the unfortunate) decision to go digital in my filing system a couple of years ago.  Of course, I kept all of the documents I had currently, as well as any new paper documents obtained from the courthouses or other places.   I dutifully scanned those documents, and numbered them using reference number by document type.  For example, all death certificates were numbered, beginning with the first certificate, which was DEATH 001, and the next DEATH 002, and so on.  The paper copies were kept in a binder of death certificates, and the electronic copies were kept similarly.  It seemed to make sense at the time.  I stopped printing things I’d found online, and only saved those items electronically.

This left quite a few problems, but it took a couple of years for them to surface. Continue reading

Two Thumbs Up – “Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research”

Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research

I received my copy of the fifth edition of the Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research  today, and have to say I’m impressed!  When I originally ordered the book last Fall, I wondered if this would mirror the Handybook for Genealogists (a wonderful resource), or would it offer new content.  (Surprisingly, I’ve not ever seen the previous four editions.  How have I missed it all these years?)  It certainly didn’t disappoint.

For each state, the book provides a summary of the state’s history, and then has a section discussing each of the following:

  • Vital Records
  • Church Records
  • Probate Records
  • Land Records
  • Court Records
  • Military Records
  • Other Records

State repositories are listed with contact information, hours of operation, and types of records found within each.  Next is a list of counties, followed by a helpful list of extinct counties.  (From this I learned of Maine’s extinct county, “Old Lincoln”, which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1652-83.  I would have otherwise incorrectly assumed Old Lincoln referenced the present-day county of Lincoln.)

What I like best about this new NEHGS publication is the many county maps that include details of the towns therein.  This book will definitely be sitting on my desk for regular reference, as most of my research is centered in New England towns.   Thanks, NEHGS, for a wonderful book.  It was well worth the wait! autosomal DNA test – Part II

“Baby’s Family Tree” from my mother’s baby book, written by my grandmother in 1942.

Family trees are full of mysteries.  The one thing we can be sure that we know is that there is a lot that we DON’T know!  :-)  That’s a good reason to have a DNA test done.  Hopefully it will help link us to others who DO know something about lines we are researching.  Sometimes, instead of providing answers, DNA testing presents more questions.   Continue reading

My (free) DNA results – a comparison to FamilyTreeDNA

My Genetic Ethnicity (per DNA testing)

It seems like an eternity ago I received an email from offering me a free autosomal DNA test.  (Still don’t know why I was selected…were all subscribers offered the free DNA testing or only their most neurotic users that spend most of their non-working, waking hours searching family history?)   I immediately signed up, and shortly thereafter received my DNA kit, swabbed my cheek, sent it back and have been waiting.

This afternoon I received an email from Ancestry letting me know the results are finally in. Continue reading

Excel, Evernote, RootsMagic, and my research log

Excel spreadsheet for New Hampshire – a combined planning tool and research log

After my first day at the Family History Library, I realized I need a major over-haul of my research log.     For quite a while now, I’ve used Excel to plan what materials to research at a repository and updated the spreadsheet with what I’d located.  However, I didn’t have a really good way of incorporating that into a research log.

However, I think I’ve come up with a system that will work and is relatively simple to use.   Continue reading


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