Travel Tales from Times Past
by Joy Oria
It’s summer time and that means road trips. To maintain a sense of humor when stuck in traffic or staying at an uncomfortable motel, consider travel in the early days of this country. The rugged journeys of colonial ancestors lacked GPS devices and online reviews. Road conditions depended on local maintenance efforts. Crossing rivers meant paying a ferry keeper or a bridge toll, if not taking a chance fording the river on your own. Lodging options may have been limited to a lone tavern in the country. Instead of zooming down a paved highway in your air conditioned vehicle with a full tank of gas, you rode as far as you and your horse could tolerate in a day. We can learn more about the travails of early road trips and our ancestors from road maintenance records, from tavern, ferry, and bridge licenses, and from travel journals. While not typically sought in genealogical research, these records can be as revealing as vital records or censuses.
Roads, ferries, bridges, and taverns were all subject to local regulation in colonial and post-colonial times, a tradition carried over from England. The records can usually be found at the county level. They may be buried in a book marked “Miscellaneous” in the county courthouse, or in the records of the Court of Common Pleas or the General Quarter sessions. Miscellaneous books can contain a true miscellany. Carolyn Hardin County Kentucky Court Order Books, for example, contains not only road surveys and licenses for ferries and taverns, but also slave emancipations, estate settlements, child support claims, land transactions, and earmarks for animals.
Some road, ferry, bridge, and tavern records have been abstracted and published in book form. Clayton Library has several for North Carolina, compiled by the prolific Stewart Dunaway. In road records you will often find the names of property owners where a new road is being constructed. Resourceful genealogists can use records like these as a census substitute. Some records have been digitized and made available on websites like FamilySearch.org. Try a “place search” in the FamilySearch.org catalog for the area you’re researching. Remember these records may not be indexed and will have to be browsed. Using this method, I found the tavern petition of my six times great-grandfather, Caleb Way, in the Court of Quarter Sessions records for Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Tavern petitions are great for utilizing the FAN Club method (researching the Family, Associates, and Neighbors of your ancestors), as each petition contains endorsements from members of the community testifying to the petitioner’s good character. In the tavern petition of Caleb Way, one of the endorsers’ names, John Whitaker, sounded familiar; it was because Whitaker’s daughter married Caleb Way’s son, becoming my five times great-grandparents. Like a census, a tavern petition places your ancestors in a particular place at a particular time, and reveals how they earned a living, what they called their tavern, and who their associates were. Anyone who wanted to own a tavern petitioned the local government for an ordinary bond (“ordinary” being similar in meaning to a tavern or inn). Local jurisdiction set rate limits and rules of service, such as no service to sailors or slaves without the permission of their masters, and so required application to operate a tavern. Not everyone who ran a tavern took out a license but risked facing punishment ranging from fines to public whippings. Women were also tavern keepers, often continuing their deceased husbands’ business. Larger towns often had multiple taverns, providing travelers the opportunity to find one suited to their price range or desired quality. Towns with courthouses would have had a tavern near the courthouse to provide lodging for visitors on county business. Country taverns were more rustic affairs, perhaps a one-room timber house. Taverns also served as a gathering point in small communities. Men came for food and drink, but also enjoyed political discussion and games of billiards, checkers, whist, and piquet.
Travel journals give us insight into the travel experience itself and can be found in archives or published online or in books, such as the following at Clayton Library. Ebenezer Hazard kept a journal of his travels as he surveyed the postal route from Philadelphia to Savannah in 1777 and 1778. Excerpts from his travels in North Carolina were published in the North Carolina Historical Review, v.36 n.3, and illustrate the hardships of early travel.
30th Dec. Water froze in my Bed Chamber last Night.
If that isn’t enough to make you appreciate your motel’s clanky heater, imagine getting lost and coming to a restaurant without anything edible.
17th Jan. Took a “short cut” to save 12 Miles Riding - Memorandum. Take no more short Cuts in North Carolina...reached one Potter’s...The Corn there was mouldy. My Horse would not eat it. Got a Draught of Yellow Water at this rascally House: it afforded nothing better.
Margaret van Horn Dwight, a young lady at the time of her journey in 1810, kept a journal of her experiences traveling from New Haven, Connecticut to Warren, Ohio to visit her cousins.
Oct 22 Monday - Cook’s inn, County West Chester
The house is very small & very dirty - it serves for a tavern, a store, & I should imagine a hog’s pen stable & everything else - The air is so impure I have scarcely been able to swallow since I enter’d the house […] Tuesday Morn - I went to bed last night with fear & trembling, & feel truly glad to wake up & find myself alive and well
One wonders what her Yelp reviews would look like. You can read more of her travels in A Journey to Ohio in 1810, as Recorded in the Journal of Margaret van Horn Dwight.
With so many travel-related records available, discover how your travel experiences compares to that of Colonial ancestors. You may uncover a great story to share on your next road trip.
Attakapas Post in 1769: The First Nominal Census of Colonial Settlers in Southwest Louisiana
Book Review by Rodney Sam
Found in the Papeles Procedentes de la Isla de Cuba (The Cuban Papers) held in the Archivo General de Indias collection in Seville, Spain, the Attakapas General census is the first census in the Louisiana region to provide detailed demographic information on the early non-native residents. The Cuban papers are written in Spanish, French, and English, and can be found on microfilm on the second floor of the Clayton Library. These papers are the records of the Spanish colonies in the Americas, created by the colonial officials. They are called, Colloquially, the Cuban Papers, because they were originally housed in Cuba.
The census entries list the names and ages of Acadian refugees, French immigrants, and slaves who lived at the Attakapas Post in 1769. Family relationships are also indicated in several of the entries which can be cross-referenced with other sources useful to genealogists with deep roots in Louisiana in reconstructing family groups and providing clues to migration patterns. Donald Arceneaux was able to estimate the year of the nominal census comparing the name and age of people from later colonial census years. An oath of allegiance to the Spanish crown dated 1769 and signed by the current residents is also included in Arceneaux’s book.
This book can be found in Clayton Library’s general Louisiana book collection under call number A668 LA.
Attakapas Post in 1769: The First Nominal Census of Colonial Settlers in Southwest Louisiana published by Donald Joseph Arceneaux
The final disposition of a dead person or animal is called burial. Usually accomplished by interring in the ground, this practice dates to the origin of the human species. Often seen as respect for the dead, it has also been viewed to prevent the odor of decay, give closure, or as a necessary way for the deceased to enter the afterlife.
In addition to traditional ground interment there are alternative practices. These may include cremation, burial at sea, and natural burials. In the world of family history research, these alternative practices might bring with them challenges in identifying where someone’s remains are……if they are anywhere at all.
Often one will find the place of burial on a death certificate. Of course, as we do research and get further back in time, death certificates are scarce. A headstone might not have been placed, been destroyed, fallen to the elements, or worn away. These issues can also contribute to challenges in discovery of where a family member is at eternal rest. Casting a broader net into alternative historic records can help discover where a body lies. Some of these alternative records include land records (if a family cemetery is on owned land), wills, family stories, funeral home records, cemetery records, family narratives, other historical documents, or even family lore.
Trying to find a burial place is one of the most common questions we get at the reference desk at the library. As with historic burials when identification of place cannot be found, these alternative burial practices might prove to be of the same type of issue. If a place of burial at the time of death is known, it is often written on the death certificate. With a cremation, that act might be listed on the certificate. This can lead to the next question, where or what happened to the cremains? If only those records that we encounter when we do research could tell us the whole story. If only the death certificate would talk to us when it says “cremation” to let us know where those ashes were buried, or scattered, or what closet they are in at this time.
These alternative practices, as example the Eternal Reefs, give families a certificate with the coordinates of the coral reef reclamation project the remains are part of. But when that certificate is lost, is no longer passed down in the family, or are passed down in another branch of the family what do we do then? How will we know where the final disposition of our ancestor or family member was?
This brings us back to the importance of preservation of family history materials to be passed down. Preserving family documents in a way that the next generations will be interested in, (read in a digital format) can offer some hope of those documents being kept in the family for years to come.
However, the final disposition is accomplished, because burial practices are part family history –the practice of this disposition is a way that we can honor our families by passing down information about stories of our loved ones. How cool would it be to tell the story of “Grandmother is in the sea, with fish swimming around her and beautiful coral growing around her?”
We hope you visit the Clayton Library to begin your search through our traditional burial information sources – cemetery books, funeral home records, death certificates, wills, probates and more. We invite you to maybe even discuss documenting those non-traditional methods. We are here to help!
Burial. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2019.
After Death: 8 Burial Alternatives That Are Going Mainstream. LiveScience, Purch, 9 Sept. 2011.
Funeral Burial Alternatives | 23 Ultimate Ways To Be Buried. Lexikin, Lexikin, 12 June 2017.