Links to Collaborative Genealogy Sites

In the interest of seeing that our family tree, the actual genealogical “who, when, and where” is preserved, I have placed some of the research that went into this blog on four websites, three of which actually aim to piece together, person by person, a single family tree for everyone. Taken literally, that is wildly ambitious, not to mention completely impractical, but the effort alone has already produced, flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, a very special body of research.

These “collaborative” genealogy sites are Geni, WikiTree and WeRelate. Each is a little different.

(For example, Geni and WikiTree make room for all relatives including living people and then add privacy controls. WeRelate, meanwhile, has decided to forego information on living people and just focus on the near past. Geni makes little use of sources or documentation, but WikiTree and especially WeRelate strive (with varying success) to back up all assertions with primary documents. There are plenty of other differences, but that’s the gist of it.)

The main point is that putting the information here means it will survive even in generations when no one inherits an interest in family history– something I see as increasingly  likely.

Here are some jumping off points, categorized first by site, and then by a few key relatives…











Finally, I said there are four sites. The fourth is, which somewhat sadly, has a paywall and curious people cannot simply click over to peruse the material at will. You can see it without a financial outlay, but to do so you’ll have to email me or Elisha Lee to be put on a list of invitees. Sorry, I didn’t make up those rules. If you are already on Ancestry, you can search for our tree which is called Kinsmen and Kinswomen (revised and sourced). [15,000 relatives and counting…] On the plus side, looking for a silver lining, the highly commercial aspect of Ancestry has paid huge dividends in making a vast trove of documents available online, including – in most cases – photocopies of originals. This includes birth certificates, marriage entries in the parish register, passport applications, draft registrations, VA records, medical examiners’ notes, high school yearbooks, biographical vignettes, and on and on. People can also share multiple digital copies of rare family photos.  There really is nothing like it for primary research.

At some point in the distant future, I’ll figure out how to put a version of our tree here, on this site, with measures in place to protect people’s privacy, but until then, the four organizations above will have to suffice.


The Swain Migration Chronology, Part II: The Article in the Boston Evening Transcript

As we’ve seen, the early Swains are actually somewhat well-documented, but after branches of the family left the coast and traveled inland towards western New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, multiplying like rabbits as they went, genealogical chaos more or less set in.

With poor record keeping, and an annoying tendency of parents to all give their children the same five or six first names, it can be quite difficult to discern one early 19th century line from another.

Imposing some sort of provisional order on things was this 109 year-old article, reproduced from The Boston Evening Transcript, November 16, 1908.

At the time I obtained it, from a terrible Xerox featuring positively minute typeface, it took a good bit of work to simply put it in the readable format you see here.

Since then, the full set of Boston Evening Transcript articles have happily become available in digital format. I just haven’t accessed them yet.



bet-1 Continue reading

The Missing Ancestry of Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder: What DO We Know?

When I review our family tree in the form of a fan chart, there is one vast swath missing, a cone of “empty space,” expanding out from the center.

If I look, though, using the same format, with not me but my grandfather, Clarence Rodgers Burgin, at the center, the cone widens to consume fully half the page (see below). This glaring blankness reflects the mostly missing ancestry of my grandfather’s paternal grandparents, Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder.



The explanation runs this way. My grandfather’s father, whose name was Clarence Burgin, was the first person in his nuclear family to be born in America, and his parents, Thomas Burgin and Jane Skudder Burgin, were the last people in our extended family to be born overseas–In England.

Each generation of our family, on the right hand side of the fan chart, has put at least some time into either preserving or rediscovering knowledge of their forebears. I suspect that that happened because, as a practical issue, the information was stored locally and could be researched with some degree of ease. But the net result was a trail of breadcrumbs was created, and so the result is what you see.

In the case of the Burgin family, however, whose recent past was recorded in England not America, almost no investigation went on, and I think the reason why is straightforward: in the pre-internet era, it was hard to do. Really hard.

This post will be devoted to laying out what little we DO know about the Burgins… in the hope that it can serve as a foundation, a jumping-off point, for someone, whether a family member, or a paid researcher, or a combination of the two, to take up the challenge and find out who these people and their ancestors were.


Continue reading

Mayflower Lines

I have mixed feelings about putting these up.

There was a time maybe a century or so ago, when having a sampling of some of America’s first European immigrants in your genealogy conferred elevated status, social opportunities, perhaps even employment opportunities, and so connections like these were avidly sought, documented, passed on, etc. (Indeed it was the oral knowledge of these lines, and their loss, that I spoke of in the Introduction to this blog, and which partially started me on my quest to rediscover my family history.)

More recently, though, in at least the last several decades, the behavior of some of these people has been revisited with a justifiably critical eye, vis a vis the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s treatment of the Native Americans. And while, yes, there were indeed documented atrocities on both sides of this divide, I think it’s fair to say that on balance the judgment of history falls far more heavily on the actions of the colonists than on those of the region’s First Peoples.

Cut to the recent story, perhaps true, perhaps not, of a famous Hollywood celebrity who consented to have his family history traced for a PBS show on genealogy. He was shocked to find that some of his ancestors had owned slaves, and – it is alleged – his embarrassment and mortification were such that he sought to have this fact actually edited from the final cut of the show; censored; redacted… from a show whose sole purpose was precisely to investigate such questions. This in turn, when the news got out, just irritated people, and came across as both unnecessary and really, really vain. The whole thing was something of a public relations pratfall.

To my way of looking at it, both the 19th century New Englanders who felt that a person was actually better if their family came from x and such background, or got off the boat earlier rather than later, and this Hollywood megastar who was chagrinned that his ancestors had done y and such made the same mistake–  which is to say, from a certain viewpoint, both pride of and shame for one’s ancestors is misplaced.

None of us are better, as human beings, for the beliefs, actions, etc. of our ancestors, and none of us are worse, as human beings, for who they were or what they did, either.

To believe or imply that we are  both limits us as individuals and pollutes the project of history itself, which is to shed light on events that have long been forgotten or distorted, and say “This happened. What can we understand about it? What can we learn from it?”

I’ll revisit this topic later; this is just a sort of preliminary or introductory take on it.

In the meantime, without judgment one way or the other, here are several lines connecting our family back to the first Europeans to settle this country, almost 400 years ago.


Continue reading