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Genealogist vs. Historian

GENEALOGIST VS. HISTORIAN: What’s the Difference?
By Linda Vivian

We often hear someone described as a genealogist, forensic genealogist, family historian, or just plain historian. So what’s the difference? All of them may use aspects of genealogy and history, the label just depends on the purpose.

A genealogist concentrates on identifying a family lineage and may then choose to capture their story in a narrative (family history). The account focuses on the family itself, perhaps with a reoccurring theme, using history as context to explain their circumstance and actions. Other people are included only to support the family story. Example: Dowd: An American Journey is a set of four volumes about eight generations of the Dowd family. Their generational migrations from colonial times to the 21st century is the thread that ties the personal stories together, using history only to provide context. The author (me!) is a genealogist/family historian.

A forensic genealogist researches deceased people to determine identification and sometimes find living relatives, e.g., to solve a cold case, mystery, mistaken identity, return an heirloom, etc., such as MIAs, victims, imposters, etc. Example: America, Your Roots Are Showing by Megan Smolenyak, a series of stories about her exploits to uncover or unravel identifications or heritage. The author is a forensic genealogist.

A historian focuses on an era, event, or circumstance, and then uses a person or group (not necessarily related) to support the account. Although it may contain biographical or familial content, the purpose is to present the historical aspect. People’s stories are included to personalize or explain it in an engaging way. Example: Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard is about the Manhattan Project (creation of the Atomic Bomb during World War II) using personal stories of eight unrelated women to illustrate the circumstances and environment of a historical happening in World War II. The author is a historian.

Church Records: Quakers

So You Think You Know Your Ancestors?
By Linda Vivian
GenNews Vol. 19 No. 4
April 2011
Halifax Genealogy Society

Several years ago, I attended a session at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference where the speaker said that you are so lucky if you have a Quaker ancestor because there are great records. I remember thinking, That’s too bad because I don’t have any Quakers in my family. So I thought. Later, I discovered quite by accident that I did, indeed, have ancestors who were Friends in North Carolina.

By searching online, I found that each Monthly Meeting (church) kept minutes. I further discovered that most were indexed and published by William Wade Hinshaw in several volumes as Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy.

After consulting the index, I further located the North Carolina repository at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. For me, it is conveniently located about 30 minutes from my sister-in-law’s residence and 90 minutes from the North Carolina State Library and Archives. The college has all of the minutes on microfilm, but luckily had also photocopied the ones I needed from Cane Creek MM and filed them in folders.

What did I discover? That several of my Quaker ancestors were disowned, mostly for marrying “outside of unity” a common occurrence in rural less-populated colonial North Carolina. But my most recent find had historical significance about William Greaves, a fourth generation Quaker whose family had immigrated to Pennsylvania and lived next door to William Penn’s daughter. He relocated with his wife, brother, and sister to North Carolina about 1767. Quakers were pacifists and required to stay neutral and away from any political conflicts.

In 1766, the Regulator Movement began among rural North Carolinians, surprisingly led by two Quakers, Simon Dixon and Herman Husbands, to protest unfair governance by colonial government officials. They believed these officials were overcharging taxes, falsifying records, and corrupting the system. Since most of the officials were from eastern North Carolina, petitioners believed that there was a bias against residents in the colony’s central and western areas. By some estimates, 6,000 North Carolinian men supported this movement.

Found on the list of Regulator petitioners to the colonial government in May 1771, is the name Wm. Greaves, among several other Quakers from Cane Creek Monthly Meeting.

Lack of any positive response by the colonial government to their petitions and civil disobedience over five years finally lead to armed rebellion at the Battle of Alamance in May 1771, where 2000-3000 Regulators were soundly defeated by Governor William Tryon’s smaller but well-armed and trained colonial militia. This little known unrest in North Carolina preceded the Boston Tea Party by two years and sowed the seeds for continued discontent with the colonial government by many North Carolinians leading up to the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.

Although supportive of the cause, there is nothing that links William Greaves to any violent acts. However, I came across an entry in the minutes dated the 1st day of the 6th month 1771 producing letters of denial to thirteen men, including William Graves [Greaves] and two Hinshaw men, ancestors of William Hinshaw, the aforementioned author. (John Hinshaw later produced an offering to the Meeting to be reinstated.) This made my additional find in the North Carolina Archives logical. William Greaves was listed in the Commissioners of Army Accounts records, indicating he was a soldier in the Third Chickamauga Expedition along with providing other services. I now have a new and unexpected Revolutionary War patriot.

The lessons I learned so dramatically are not to make assumptions and to conduct the exhaustive search -- not just on my indexed entries, but throughout the records, as it provided context. It also helped that I had studied the history of the colonial period in North Carolina so that I immediately recognized the 1771 date’s significance along with other names.

Why does this matter? It changes my family history. For you see, his daughter Hannah, my fourth great-grandmother, was disowned by Cane Creek Monthly Meeting at age 19 for consorting with Conner Dowd, who later became her husband. I assumed that her delayed marriage until age 22 was probably because her father, William Greaves, would not give consent to a non-Quaker. Obviously, this is not the case. Will I ever know what happened for sure? Probably not, but these recent facts impact what I thought I knew.

One last thing: I bless that speaker at the NGS conference for introducing new information that opened a research avenue when the time came. Conferences can literally change your family history.

Scrapbooking Your Military Ancestor

By Jean Hallenbeck
Halifax Genealogical Society presentation
November 10, 2011

Why scrapbook your ancestor?

  • To honor
  • To remember
  • To leave memories for descendants

How to scrapbook your ancestor

Collect materials

  • Information sources
  • Family background
  • Personal items
  • Stories
  • Certificates
  • Military papers
  • Pictures
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Internet research
  • Museums
  • History books
  • Memorials

Gather scrapbook materials and supplies

  • Appropriate scrapbook
  • Themed paper
  • Embellishments
  • Stickers
  • Borders
  • Tools
  • Scissors
  • Paper cutter
  • Acid-free Tape
  • Acid-Free Glue
  • Protective page covers
  • Scrapbook materials for Purchase
  • Michael’s Arts and Crafts
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Wal-Mart
  • Target
  • Creative Memories
  • Online

Homestead Act

By Linda Vivian
GenNews Vol. 19 No. 9
December 2011
Halifax Genealogical Society

If your ancestors were pioneers in the westward expansion during the mid-to-late 1800’s, you may be able to obtain their homestead files from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The 1862 Homestead Act established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.Even more interesting is that the act stated “citizens” rather than “men” so women were also eligible to file a homestead application. My great-grandmother, Kate R. (Moore) Dowd filed in Nebraska as a single woman in 1883, but finalized her homestead as a married woman in 1889.

To obtain these records from NARA, you will need the certificate number, land office, and legal property description. Many land descriptions are online at the Bureau of Land Management website (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx). For those that are not, it will require a search of the tract books in that state. I found an online index and then I contacted the county clerk’s office to obtain the information in their land entry register, which included the certificate number. Once I had that information, I could submit my request for a copy of the homestead land entry file online to NARA for $40 [note: now $60]. Because I had several requests, I opted to wait and request the file on my next trip to the Archives. Last month, I sat in the hallowed research room and opened the file box to retrieve my homestead records. I was not disappointed. The original document file at NARA contains her name change, family situation, residency, structures, and land use. I have more than facts; I have a peek into their lives.


HGS 2013