Friday, July 4, 2008

Washington County wills

Index to Washington County, Pa., wills, 1781-1900
by Bob Closson; Mary Closson
Book; English
Apollo, PA (R.D. 2, Box 373-A, Apollo, PA 15613) : B. and M. Closson, [©1981]
2 Editions
Related Subjects:
Washington County (Pa.) -- Genealogy. Wills -- Pennsylvania -- Washington County.

Abstracts of Washington County, Pennsylvania willbooks 1-5, 1776-1841
by Bob Closson; Mary Closson; Genealogical Record Group of Citizens Library.; Citizens Library (Washington, Pa.)
Book; English
Apollo, PA : Closson Press, ©1995.
155856196X 9781558561960
Related Subjects:
Washington County (Pa.) -- Genealogy. Wills -- Pennsylvania -- Washington County
Both of these books can be purchased at . This is a publishing company in Apollo, PA. They have a wide variety of genealogy publications.
Register of Wills, located on the first floor of the Washington County PA courthouse. You can find:
Indexes to Office Records; Wills, Will Books (1781 to present); Administrators Bonds-aka Applications for Lettersl or Administrator's bonds, or Letter of Adm & Bond Docket; Orphan's Court Records (1781 to present); Partitions (1890 to present).
Even if your ancesor did not leave a will, there may be some other documentation that was created at the time of death. There may be an accounting of their estate, their minor children may have been appointed a guardian, etc. So don't get give up if there was no will. That just means you have to dig a little deeper.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Finding your Revolutionary War Ancestor

If you have an ancestor that served in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War, here are some tips on how to find some information. First go to the Pennsylvania Archives website at You can find information on other war veterans as well but for the Revolutionary War scroll down to Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card FileRevolutionary War Military Abstract Card File. You can search for your ancestor. If you happen to be able to find who you are looking for you will find a card that is either typed or handwritten. Above is the card for my 5th Great Grandfather George Hill. In the bottom right hand corner you will see A (6), II, 123. This stands for Series 6, volume II, page 123 of the Pennsylvania Archives series. Once you have this information, you can go to This is a relatively new genealogy website that has a lot of scanned original documents. Some of the content you have to pay to see but the Pennsylvania Archives series is free. Hit the browse button, under Category, click on Revolution 1775 - 1815, under Title click Pennsylvania Archives, then find the series that matches your ancestor card - for me it was series 6, then the volume. The battalion that your ancestor served in should also have been listed on the card. Click on the correct battalion, then the page number that was on the card. This should bring you to the scanned image of the page that contains your ancestor information. It would be a good idea to look at a few pages before and after the one listed on the card as there could be information about other people that were associated with you ancestor that served with him.

To the left is the page from that shows the information for my ancestor George Hill.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh

When I was getting my Masters Degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh a few years ago I was introduced to the wonderful resources in the Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA. I served my field placement at the library and archives from Sept to Dec in 2006, liked it so much that I went back as a volunteer. I was then hired in May to work on a film digitization project that was being funded by a grant. I worked there until this past January when I went to work at Pitt in the LIS program where I got my degree. It was during the time working in the L&A that I learned what a great place this is for doing genealogy research on families in Western PA. The Library and the museum itself actually fall under the heading of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society (HSWP). The L&A has as it's main focus, to collect materials that are representative of life in Western PA. This includes areas from Centre County west to the Ohio Border. They have some records from the nearby areas of Ohio and Virginia and West Virginia because they were all so intertwined with the history of PA.

They have maps, manuscripts, photos, postcards, books, periodicals, personal papers, famliy collections, diaries, newspapers, films, church records, cemetery transcriptions, Pittsburgh City Directories, files of newspaper articles about the city and surrounding areas, great sports collections, and so much more. They have such a wide variety of things. While I was working there I looked through their finding aids and found a family collection with a name that I recognized as being from the Centerville area of Washington County (very near Beallsville and the town where my Grandfather was born and raised). I looked through the file and found a letter that actually mentioned my Great-great grandfather being appointed to the School Board of that area! You just never know what you might find.

The collection at the Library and Archives is non-circulating. Nothing leaves the reading room but if you live near Pittsburgh and have ancestors from that area, it might be worth a trip. The library catalog can been seen online at the Historic Pittsburgh website.
In the upper right hand corner you will see the tab HSWP. You can do keyword searches and title searches of the catalog. The catalog on this website is a few years behind so not everything is available here but it will give you a great idea of what they have. You can also contact the library reference desk by phone or email if you have any questions. They do have research services for hire as well. Depending on the item, they can make photocopies of things and send them to you for a very reasonable price.

This is one of Pittsburgh's hidden treasures and one that I highly recommend checking out.

Your Guide to Cemetery Research

Your guide to cemetery research
by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Book; English
Cincinnati, Ohio : Betterway Books, ©2002.
1st ed
1558705899 9781558705890
Related Subjects:
United States -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc. Cemeteries -- United States. Cemeteries -- United States. United States -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.

My sister gave me this book as a Christmas present and although I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, what I have read is very informative and entertaining. The author interlaces her instructions on how to do cemetery research with some wonderful humor that is so close to home. Just to give you a glimpse, here are a few quotes from the intro to her book:

" The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can't some out, and those outside don't want to get in. --Arthur Brisbane

This quote isn't entirely true. There is one group of people that wants to get into cemeteries: genealogists. Some of them have been known to climb fences and scale walls in order to get in and locate an ancestor's grave.
Did you know that scientists have isolated the gene that makes certain people predisposed to an interest in genealogy and cemeteries? It's true. It's called the cemetery gene. That's the one that makes you unconsciously turn your head and slow down when you drive by a cemetery. Non-genealogists don't do that. And you don't even realize that you've begun doing it. Just one day, after you've become addicted to climbing your family tree you start to look at cemeteries in a new light. All of a sudden, the cemetery is your favorite place to be outside of a research repository or in from of the computer. Pretty spooky, huh?......

I quickly learned that for genealogists, cemeteries are not frightening or gruesome places. In fact, we often hope ghosts or spirits will appear while we are searching. We would love to ask them some well-placed questions about those missing wives and parents."

I don't know about you, but I find that both of these comments hit pretty close to home and I can't help but chuckle to myself because they are so true. I don't know how many times I've carried on conversations with those buried in the cemetery wishing I would get an answer to a mystery that I've encountered while researching. My husband is one of those that doesn't understand. He only shakes his head when on a nice spring day I'll say I'm off to the cemetery. To his credit, he has tagged along on some trips, transcribing tombstones with me and taking photographs, searching for elusive stones.

There is another reason that I try to document cemeteries. Each of the people buried in a cemetery had lives at one time, had families and people who cared for them. Sometimes one of the only records of that person's life is the tombstone on their grave and those are constantly being worn away by the effects of nature and by human actions. Many of the photos that are on the tombstones in Beallsville (and I'm sure other cemeteries as well) have been used as target practice for bb guns. Many of the tombstones have fallen over. Those that fall face first are actually well preserved but can't be read as the stones are often too heavy to lift. The ones that fall face us are very susceptible to the effects of weather.

These two photos are of the same tombstone in the old section of Beallsville Cemetery. They were taken two weeks apart. The one on the left was taken before the remnants of hurricane Ivan came through Western PA. The one on the right is the result of the storm - the whole face of the tombstone just slid off. Those pieces are now gone too and you can not read the stone. There are no written records at the cemetery for this oldest section. All that remains to let anyone know that there are people buried here and who they were, are the tombstones that are left. Now the only record that I know of that Margaret Greenlee,who was 23 years old, died Oct 1st, 1840, and is buried in Beallsville, is this photo and the record I've been able to create and give to the cemetery office and include on the website. I don't know who Margaret was but I feel bad for her but am glad that I was able to help preserve her memory.
There are so many small family cemeteries nestled in the countrysides across the country, some have been covered over to make way for parking lots (before there were laws protecting them). Some have been forgotten and neglected. It's a shame that so much personal history has been lost to us because these cemeteries and burial grounds have not been documented. I thank all those who have made an effort to preserve or document even just one stone and then share that information with others. Keep up the good work - it is appreciated by all of us genealogists who drive slow past all those cemeteries and wonder if any of our ancestors are there waiting to be discovered.