Tracing and Recording
My Family History
If you enjoy solving mysteries, you will truly enjoy working in Genealogy. My interest was aroused several years ago when my mother said, "You can never learn anything about my father's family because my grandfather came to Steuben County as a child when his parents died in Vermont. He lived here with former neighbors of his family. I know he had a brother who lived in Saint Lawrence County but that is all I know." That was enough to send me digging.
One of my first efforts was to read an early census of Steuben County. The County Clerk's office has records of the censuses taken every 10 years from 1825 until 1925. Here I found mother's grandfather, Perry Phelps, living first with Jonas Bridge and his wife and then with his wife, Mary, her mother and his father(!), Nathan Phelps. As you can see my mother's information was not all correct. A later census found him with his second wife, Susan Eveland and eventually with four children. My grandfather was their youngest.
My next step was to go to the Surrogate Court House in Bath to search for wills of Nathan or Perry Phelps but I had no luck there. About this time a friend asked me if I had read The Historical Gazeteer of Steuben County by Millard F. Roberts. I had not and I found a copy in the Davenport Library in Bath. Sure enough, there under the Town of South Dansville, Perry Phelps was listed as having come to South Dansville in 1832 from Orwell, Vermont, to live with an uncle, Jonas Bridge. Now I had a good hint on what his mother's maiden name had been.
I knew that Jonas Bridge's father, Jesse Bridge, had lived in South Dansville. Back I went to the Surrogate Court records and there was the will of Jesse Bridge listing his seven grandchildren including the children of his deceased daughter Millicent. Perry Phelps was one of the children. One grandson was Jesse Phelps of St. Lawrence County.
Next I wrote to Montpellier, Vermont, asking for records of Nathan or Millicent Bridge Phelps. This was unproductive because most early records in Vermont are still in the towns or the counties. I tried Addison County (Orwell is in Addison County) but there again I came to a dead end.
At the same time I read the queries appearing in The Genealogical Helper and The Second Boat, both magazines for genealogists, and found other people searching for Phelps ancestors. I wrote to some of them; one woman from Iowa sent me copies of the history of the Phelps family from the Mormon Library at Salt Lake City, Utah. However, I still could not tie it to my family.
Next I went to the Steele Library in Elmira and read there the Federal Census and such helpful books as the Genealogical Dictionary of New England by Savage, the Abridged Compendium of American Genealogy by Virkus, Colonial Families in the U. S. of America by MacKenzie, One Hundred and Sixty Allied Families by Austin, and the Genealogical Register of the First Settlers by John Farmer. These sources told me that William and George Phelps came to Nantasket, Massachusetts, in 1630 and were founders of the city of Windsor, Connecticut. Also I found a list of five generations of the Phelps family but not enough to come down to Nathan and Millicent Bridge Phelps.
Several people had told me that the Onondaga County Library at Syracuse, New York, had an excellent genealogy department. I went there and after several false starts I asked the librarian for help. She brought out a copy of the Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestry by O. S. Phelps. Here I found Perry Phelps listed with his six brothers and sisters as listed in Jesse Bridge's will, and with his parents, Elnathan and Millicent Bridge Phelps. It also listed the families of six generations before them in America and two back in England to 1520.
My main mystery was solved. I now knew who my Phelps ancestors were, where they came from and how they came to America. Minor mysteries still remain. Perry Phelps is listed on his cemetery marker as born in 1817, the census records and death certificate list his date of birth as 1819. Roberts said that he was ten years old in 1832 when he came to Steuben County. That would mean that he was born in 1822. I don't know which is correct but will keep looking and some day may find definite proof of his date of birth. In the meantime, it has been fun searching and there is satisfaction in being able to say definitely who my great-grandfather's parents were.
My branch of the Phelps family has a reunion each year in August. Grandfather and Grandmother Phelps had 9 children and 19 grandchildren. Today there are 44 great-grandchildren, 50 great-great-grandchildren. As historian for the reunion, I tell each year of the births, deaths and marriages in the family and report new information about the Phelps history which I had learned during the year. When I told my relatives at the reunion that I had traced the family back to England, many wanted a copy of the information.
Therefore I wrote it up following the format in the Phelps Genealogy. I started with the earliest known ancestor in our family and assigned a number to each person. This number is then carried with that person's name whenever it is listed.
I use a separate page for each family, to have enough room for all the information and for pictures when I have them.
At the present time I am putting dates and places of birth, marriages and deaths, as well as wedding invitations, birth announcements, death notices and newspaper clippings in my book. If people send additional information such as military records, college degrees or promotions, I list it. For example, one family has sent birth announcements for three children and I did not have room on their page 26 for the announcements and pictures. Therefore, I have added pages 26a and 26b. As more information on that family comes, I can add more pages for them. Everything with number 26 is about that family.
My name is listed on one page with my parents and brother and sister, and on another page with my husband and children. In the same manner everyone is carried through the book. I make a new sheet as soon as a child marries since we then have the beginning of a new family. I list the generation of the family at the top of their page.
Here is an example of several pages from my book that list families of earlier generations:
Page 6—Third Generation
11. (p 4)Charles Phelps, son of Isaac and Mary Brown Phelps, b about 1690 at Windsor, CT, d prior to 10 May 1760 at Boston, MA, m Joan Baker b 10 July 1692, d 12 Dec 1782, children b at Boston, MA.
*12.I. William b 4 Aug 1715 (p10)
13.II. Thomas b 10 Aug 1717
14.III. George b 5 Sep 1720
15.IV. Alice b 24 Dec 1725
16.V. Edward b 10 May 1731
Page 10—Fourth Generation
12.(p 6) William Phelps, son of Charles and Joan Baker Phelps, b 4 Aug 1715 at Boston, MA, d at Sturbridge, MA, 16 Apr 1796 m 1st, Dorothy _______, d 1745 at Sturbridge, MA; m 2nd, 3 July 1748 at Sturbridge Elizabeth Nichols, b 3 Feb. 1728 at Sturbridge, d 18 Mar 1794 at Sturbridge.
Children of William and Dorothy Phelps
30.I. Mary b 4 Sep 1737 at Boston
31.II. Mary b 23 Apr 1738 at Boston
32.III. Thomas b 24 Jun 1740 at Sturbridge
33.IV. Dorothy b 29 Feb 1745
Children of William and Elizabeth Nichols Phelps
*34.V. William b 19 Aug 1749 (p 12)
35.VI. James b 14 July 1751
36.VII. Elizabeth b 9 May 1753
(The letter b means born; m, married; d, died. An asterisk indicates the direct line of our ancestor. The page number in front of the first name indicates the page on which that person is first listed and the page number after the child's name indicates the page on which you will find that person listed with his family. By using this numbering system I can continue to add to my book indefinitely.)
It helps greatly to put an index in the back of the book. I have everyone listed alphabetically with the page or pages where you can find them. Also I would recommend listing at the back of the book the sources of your information. Then if a question arises, the original source can be checked. It is alway easy to make a mistake when copying data.
In writing a family history, great care must be taken not to offend anyone. I had a few women who did not want to disclose their age so it was deliberately left out. there were others who did not want their wedding dates listed. Also divorce is a touchy subject. Because of sensitivity in this matter I did not list divorces. I simply listed the first marriage and the name of that husband or wife; then I listed the second marriage and the name of that spouse. If the first mate died, I put down the death date and then the second marriage. The children I listed under the heading, "Children of (the father's name) and (the mother's name)." So far I have not had complaints from anyone.
One problem I had was how to fasten the pictures in the book. I was told that the little black corner tabs would not hurt the pictures and would be best to use. However I could not find the tabs so I asked at a photography shop the best way to attach pictures. The photographer said that double-sticky-surface cellophane tape works best and that the tape will dry out and come loose before it hurts the picture. Also, use care in writing on the back of pictures. Some ball point ink will penetrate the paper and the writing will show through on the picture side. Therefore I write only on the very bottom of the picture.
Another difficulty I encountered was the paper which I used. Because I am not a good typist, I used eraseable bond paper. This was a mistake I learned when I loaned the book and it was allowed to get wet. The pages all stuck together! I had to redo the entire book. My advise is to use an acid free, archival quality paper. I have found it available at stationery stores and even at some discount stores.
The book I wrote was designed as a history of my branch of the Phelps Family. I hope that eventually someone else will take it and that it will be continued for many generations to come.
© 1989, Inez Livermore Albee