The institute is a one week program with up to ten courses covering different aspects of genealogical research. Nationally renowned genealogists are on hand to instruct classes of up to 30 students each. There are evening lectures for those who wish to attend them. The Friday Banquet always has a terrific speaker. Plenty of time is available for research at the Family History Library.
The course that attracted my attention was Research Methodology: Genealogical Problem Solving. Students are divided into groups of five or six and assigned two professional consultants. The groups are set up regionally: New England, Midwest, South, British Isles, etc. "Research Problems" are submitted by the attendees and the consultants prepare research suggestions for each group member. The group meets for two hours to discuss their research topics and progress (or lack thereof) made each day. Suggestions are made and everyone heads for the library.
Having a never-ending list of brick walls to tackle, I have attended the Problem Solving Class every year. I have met with varying degrees of success. A couple of brick walls are still standing, one I solved with follow-up research the next year, another I have since learned may never get solved, and last year was very successful. At best you solve your research problem. At worst you have the opportunity to find leads to the solution.
My first year was dedicated to trying to fill in the gaps in the life of John Faucett, my 4th great-grandfather. I knew his birth date, that he served in the Revolutionary War on the Virginia Frontier, moved to Ohio in the late 1790s, and on to Indiana during the early 1820s, where he died in 1838. What I was trying to do was fill in the blanks between 1751 and 1775 and between 1783 and 1797. A dogged search of Virginia and western Pennsylvania records and the Draper Collection turned up many "maybes", but no "definites." One of the best suggestions I received from the consultants was to track the names of the officers and men mentioned in John's pension file. Several turned up in the same general area of Washington and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania that John Faucett lived in. The question remained, was the John Faucett in this area my John Faucett. Conclusion: Probably, but not definitely.
Since then I have learned that John was captured by Indians as a child and spent several years living among them. He eventually returned to the "white community", but it was not made clear if John Faucett was reunited with surviving family members. A few questions have been answered, others remain.
My next venture involved trying to verify that I had the correct parents for my 2nd great-grandmother, Ann Bethia Rhodes Prall. According to an account written by one of Ann's sons, she was the daughter of a Baltimore sea captain who was lost at sea in the Chesapeake Bay. Her mother and aunts had all married men of the sea. I knew that Ann had been taken in by an aunt and uncle, Bathia (Cunningham) and Ralph Porter. After Captain Porter died, Ann and Aunt Bathia moved to Harford Co., Maryland. Ann married Isaac R. Prall and Bathia Porter, widowed, married Isaac's widower father.
Ann's mother apparently died when Ann was fairly young. If Ann's father was the Zachariah Rhodes who was born in Rhode Island, as I suspected, then I had connections to numerous "First Families of Rhode Island." The consultants told me to try checking Revolutionary War records (for Zachariah's father, Holden Rhodes), as well as probate records. Rhode Island records turned up nothing concrete on Zachariah, but offered a great deal on his "probable" family. The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton did contain a genealogy of the Rhodes family that stated Zachariah and Perry Rhodes died at sea in 1815. That supported the family story.
Next I was directed to Baltimore records, were much more helpful. I was not able to find death data on either of Ann's parents. The will of one of Ann's cousins verified that Ann was living with her aunt and uncle by 1818.
The conclusion drawn by the consultants at the end of the week was that (under old genealogy terminology) the "preponderance of evidence" supported my theory. Ann's father was the Zachariah Rhodes born in Rhode Island. The next year while browsing the genealogies and family histories stacks in the FHL, I came across a book on Roger Williams that expanded the Gorton data: Zachariah and Perry Rhodes died at sea enroute from Baltimore to Puerto Rico. One of the consultants joked that I could become an expert on maritime research. Now if I can find a record of the ship. . . .
Two years were quite frustrating. Trying to find elusive ancestors, the Crail family and the Simmons family, met with one dead end after another. Neither family appeared in the 1850 census (so far).
I was able to find a marriage record and a handful of deeds and other information on the Simmons family. The Crails were an absolute dead end. A compiled genealogy of the family appears on line, but there is no document trail that directly ties my Crails to the compilation. My three Crail brothers, Aaron, John, and Sylvester, married during the 1850s, making the elusive 1850 census the only one with parents and children as a family group. Their mother turns up in the 1870 census, living with John. I have since researched military records, city directories, and other records, but nothing leads my bunch to the compiled Crail family. The consultants were very disappointed that they could not be more helpful.
Last year was the "dream year." I went to the SLIG with the idea of disproving part of the St. John lineage. Another researcher had presented the idea that the St. John Genealogy had incorrectly assigned children to two of the Matthias St. Johns. Among them was my ancestor Samuel St. John. A week of digging through Connecticut records, county histories, and deeds did the trick. Everyone in the group, including the consultants, agreed that Samuel belonged as the son of the 2nd Matthias St. John, not the 3rd Matthias as stated in the St. John Genealogy.
I just about have my material ready to send in to the SLIG. I'll be trying to determine if Mary Hazen's mother was Elizabeth Dart or Elizabeth (Turner) Dart. I also need to get the Hazen family into New Jersey in time for Mary to marry Seth Mahurin. I also have two birth dates for Mary Hazen.
I'm looking forward to the Institute. A week of grueling research, a week of renewing a few acquaintances and making new ones, and, hopefully, a week of solving a genealogy mystery. Oh, another idea! If you can, plan to spend an extra day or two for additional research. That has really paid off well for me. I've been able to do some census and city directory research that has added to my research.
If you haven't attended the Institute before, register and give it a try. You will have a great experience. If you are able to attend, look me up at the Monday evening social, I'll be hogging the celery!