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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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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