Genealogy road trip yields Blakeslee breakthroughs in Montrose, Penna.

Sepia Saturday 478: Seventh in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Genealogy road trips were a regular part of my recipe for success when I first began compiling my family’s history. Few records were digitized then, and it was fun to visit locales where my ancestors lived — especially when my parents came along.

Later, as more records went online, it became easy to research from home — and even easier to forget just how many valuable non-digitized records (most, actually) still exist in repositories all over.

Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose, Penna. (2019) The Historical  Records room houses early court, divorce, land and tax records that yielded new information about my Blakeslee and Hance ancestors. Photo by Molly Charboneau

When I recently discovered the 1860 separation and 1866 divorce of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee, I realized online research would not be enough to fill in all the gaps.

So I decided it was time for new genealogy road trip to the Susquehanna County seat in Montrose, Penna. — where I went earlier this month to see what I could find.

Overall, I was not disappointed!

Alas, no divorce record, but…

Montrose is a lovely town with a verdant park, Monument Square, situated between the county courthouse and the Susquehanna County Historical Society (SCHS) — my two research destinations.

Historical Records room, Susquehanna County Courthouse, Montrose, Penna. (2019) Bound volumes of indexes and records line the shelves of the Historical  Records room, which is open to family history researchers. Photo by Molly Charboneau

At the courthouse, the Prothonotary escorted me to the Historical Records room on the second floor — the home of early divorce, court, land and tax indexes and records.

I had hoped to obtain a copy of my Blakeslee ancestors’ 1866 divorce decree to shed light on that event.

Alas, my search was thwarted because there was no court index for 1866 and divorces were not indexed before the 1870s.

But happily other years were cataloged.

Court, land and tax record success!

So I decided to see what else I could find about my Blakeslee ancestors. With the help of staff, I looked at old tax records, court proceedings and land transactions — and found my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee in all three!

In the tax rolls we also found some of my third great-grandmother Hannah’s family, the Hances — an unexpected bonus! Since tax records are digitized on the courthouse computer system, the Historical Records staff printed those out for me.

The old court records were in bound volumes, which I photographed with my tablet — more gentle on the folio-sized record books than attempting to photocopy them.

And when I provided the book, page and year from a deed index, the Register & Recorder staff was able to immediately print the 1827 deed for a land purchase in Lawsville, Penna., by Zebulon Blakeslee from David Fish — also digitized in the courthouse computer system.

Card files and newspapers

Next I crossed the square to the Susquehanna County Historical Society, which recently reopened for research after expanding into the entire old library building. The renovated facility is a researcher’s dream!

Susquehanna County Historical Society, Montrose, Penna. (2019) The SCHS recently reopened for research after expanding into the entire old library building. The renovated facility is a researcher’s dream! Photo by Molly Charboneau

There are card files by surname (for marriages, deaths and “odd” information from local papers/publications), compiled family histories, county histories, a huge book collection — and full sets of microfilm for the Montrose Democrat and other local newspapers.

How pleasant to work in the sunny, welcoming central research room — and to peruse books and photo displays in several side rooms.

As soon as I indicated that Blakeslee and Hance were my families of interest, staff brought out the appropriate binders/files and pointed me to pertinent books and county/biographic histories. For the usual per-page photocopy fee, I was able to photograph the records I needed with my tablet.

Blakeslee breakthroughs

A careful look at the card files yielded my latest Blakeslee breakthroughs — finally finding the date and place of death of my third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee and learning the maiden name of his second wife, Sarah Ann, from their marriage announcement!

Main research room of the Susquehanna County Historical Society, Montrose, Penna. (2019) Card files organized by surname contain excerpts of marriages, deaths and “odd” information from local newspapers and other publications, which can then be printed from SCHS microfilm holdings. Photo by Molly Charboneau

The notices of both events were available from microfilmed issues of the Montrose Democrat (covering time periods that I have not found online) — and SCHS staff quickly retrieved and printed copies for me.

Altogether, I spent about four hours in Montrose on a beautiful summer day — time well spent for the records I was able to retrieve!

And the journey renewed my belief that — even in the digital age — genealogy road trips should be part of every family history researcher’s recipe for success.

More on the Blakeslee breakthroughs from this genealogy road trip in the next post.  Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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17 thoughts on “Genealogy road trip yields Blakeslee breakthroughs in Montrose, Penna.”

  1. Glad your research trip went so well. Agree with your thoughts there. People who live in an area and work with the local historical records offer access to information and insights we need. I’ll be watching for more news of this family.

    1. Thanks! And totally agree about working with local experts who know the records best…I would have been lost without them on this trip.

  2. Your experience and success in this case shows how not everything is online and road trips can turn up wonderful records for understanding family history!

  3. You have so much more patience for that sort of thing than I have! I’m truly grateful to my paternal great grandmother for having a professional family tracing done on one side of the family which gave me a great base to work from in that area. Also grateful to yet another ‘great’ relative (or possibly ‘great great’ relative) who had a professional tracing done on a different side of the family resulting in a published book in 1901 – again a great base to work from. I’ve taken it somewhat from there, but not with the exuberance you have with your family tracing. I wish I had your energy! 🙂

    1. In this case, I lucked out because I already had a trip planned to New York’s Souther Tier. Since it was only a 40 min drive to Montrose, PA I decided “why not” and added an extra day. Not something I would do in the winter, however 🙂

  4. One of my favorite genealogy trips was to the Barry County, Missouri courthouse, where I found all kinds of treasures, including the 1876 divorce packet of my husband’s 2X great grandparents. So many family historians don’t venture away from the internet and they are losing out on so much!

    1. A divorce packet?? What I wouldn’t give to find that! I still believe there’s at least a longhand record in the court books, but that will have to wait until another time…

  5. Your genealogy series inspire me. I’ve made very few research trips, and most were not very useful, but I think several of my long stories on musicians now deserve more time searching through real paper archives. The smell of old oak card file cabinets is one of favorite library memories. I suspect that property records and legal contracts offer a lot more details and clues on the lives of people in earlier times.
    And thanks for adding a new word to my Scrabble vocabulary. Prothonotary. I wonder if I can find a way to use it in conversation?

    1. I highly recommend road trips. If you call ahead and/or check online to see what records they may have, that sometimes makes it easier. And yes, Prothonotary was a new word to me as well since I mostly do New York State research…but when I told a friend who grew up in Pennsylvania about my trip, he was totally familiar with the term.

  6. Oh that’s great news…well, old news, but records which now fill in some blanks in your family tree information! Glad to know your trip was so worthwhile.

  7. That was indeed a worthwhile trip! It’s good to know volunteers are there to assist. I had good luck like that in Rocky Mount, VA doing research for someone else.

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