Monday, March 2, 2015

Home sweet home

The house I live in was built in the early 1880’s by Daniel Morgan, an Irish immigrant from County Down.  He came to the United States in 1879 with his widowed mother Catherine.  It seems likely that he came to Castleton with a job already lined up, since he was able to marry, purchase land and build a home within a few years of arriving.
A lot can be learned about our ancestors by examining where they lived.  We can make guesses about their social class, their leisure activities, their diet, their likely choice of spouse, all kinds of things based on where they resided.  A variety of resources, both old-fashioned and high tech, exist to give us clues about the types of dwellings our family called home. 
Many United States Federal census records include special schedules that include details about the farms people lived and worked on.  These “Agricultural Schedules” give details such as how many acres a property contained, how many outbuildings were on it, what types of crops were grown, how many and what farm animals lived there, and annual income.  These fascinating documents often get overlooked because they don’t contain much in the way of biographical information like their more “glamorous” counterparts, the population schedules. 

The Agricultural schedule above, from 1880, gives details about the farm in the town of Broome, Schoharie County, New York where David Jackson, my great great grandfather lived.  The document states that he spent $37 on farm repairs during the previous year, that he only employed outside help for 2 weeks out of the year, and that he had 2 horses living on the farm on June 1, 1880.  I could probably surmise from this information that David owned a small farm which he mostly worked himself, calling in help only when he most needed it such as at harvest time.    
Likewise, if your ancestor was a town dweller and owned a business, he might be found in the “Industry Schedules”.  These show details of all kinds of businesses, everything from the town blacksmith working his own shop to the textile mill owner who employed hundreds of people. 
A friend’s ancestor, Thomas Talbot, was partner with his brother Charles in the North Billerica, Massachusetts business Talbot Mills, which manufactured flannel.  The Manufacturing Schedule below from 1860 shows the brothers had $75,000 invested in the business (which would be over $2 million in today’s money) and they employed 80 people.  One could imagine the Talbot brothers must have lived in the nicest area of Billerica, in palatial homes that had the latest of modern conveniences.  A city directory from 1860 might give us a street address, and we could view what the home looks like today on Google maps.  (more about that in later posts)
These special census schedules are available online via and are accessed by choosing the community you are interested in, then browsing through the pages.  Remember that you don’t need an Ancestry subscription since Ancestry Library Edition is accessible in many local libraries.  Check your library’s website to see if they have it!
In 2 weeks, some surprisingly detailed  information from the Emerald Isle on our ancestors’ housing!

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