Genealogy Trip Planning – Success!

Newtown Presbyterian Church

Newtown Presbyterian Church

I have just returned from a two week genealogical immersion trip to Pennsylvania.  The first week was in the Philadelphia area, Chester County and Bucks County to research my family’s ancestors.  The 2nd week was to attend the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh for Dr. Tom Jones’s class Determining Kinship Reliably Using the Genealogical Proof Standard.  Both parts of the trip were very successful and tremendously fun.  (No small part because my dear friend Val was there to share the entire journey, as well as Kate who joined us for GRIP). In the coming weeks I will be discussing some of the documents, adventures, learnings and  ah ha moments along the way.

So, about planning…I shared with you the lack of planning that went into the Texas trip in March and how I paid for that in a very small return on my investment (however, again Val was there…so it wasn’t all bad!). Well, I put a lot more effort in this trip to Pennsylvania, mostly due to the fact that I have planning to get there for over 3 years.  I had a long laundry list of archives, libraries, cemeteries, churches and countryside to see.

In Bucks County, my primary target was the Newtown Presbyterian Church and Cemetery first established in 1734 and built in 1769.  My Keith, McNair and McMasters ancestors attended the church and were buried there.  What made this such a special experience was that I contacted the church prior to going and the head of the church cemetery restoration committee and the church historian agreed to give me the tour!

Newtown Pres Church

Newtown Pres Church

The church played an interesting part in the Revolution.  Besides the church members being strong supporters of the Revolution (22 Revolutionary soldiers are buried there), the church was used as a prison for the Hessian soldiers captured at Trenton, barracks for the Revolutionary soldiers before and after the battles and even a hospital to care for the injured soldiers in December 1776/January 1777.

James McNair Grave

James McNair Grave

The Historic Church and Cemetery Committee’s take their roles as stewards very seriously.  Karen (the Cemetery Chair) and her team are regularly raising money to repair the graves.  She has brought in an expert in restoration work to ensure that it is done correctly and doesn’t damage the graves. They participate in Wreaths Across America in December and put wreaths on every veteran’s grave buried in the cemetery. The Historic Church Committee is dealing with constant maintenance issues with a 250 year old building and is currently struggling with what to do with the water damage in the Session House (one of two left in the state built in late 1700’s).  There is a wonderful slideshow of the church and the cemetery here.

McMasters House

McMasters House

After the tour, Karen spent the whole day showing me the area. She took me to lunch at Washington’s Crossing, first driving through beautiful Upper Makesfield where all the generals planned the attack on Trenton (I like to think some of it was done in the home of William Keith where Washington was sleeping) and for a short research visit at David Library of the American Revolution.  A few days later she even followed up with me to tell me that the McMasters’ house was up for sale, so I could see pictures of the house on-line….what a treat!

Moral of the story….prep for the trip, contact the places you want to visit a head of time and remember the organizations who are taking care of the historically significant locations where are ancestors lived, worked and died.  Leave a donation (and keep sending) to help keep the preservation going.

James McMaster Grave

James McMaster Grave

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18 Responses to Genealogy Trip Planning – Success!

  1. Val Sanford says:

    It was a grand trip for sure! I got to hold a will from 1803 and meet a distant cousin who had great photos and stories. Thanks for sharing

  2. Val Sanford says:

    Reblogged this on Suitcase Full of Memories and commented:
    Thanks, Rachelle! Good work.

  3. And Kate wishes she could have been there for week 1 as well, as it sounds like a lot of fun. Oh well, working that week will provide for my next genealogy trip, right? : )

    • Rachelle says:

      Hey we are going to Richmond, VA for the NGS Conference next year, but hopefully you won’t have to wait till then for a genealogy trip!

  4. Jennifer Bundy says:

    Really makes history come alive. I’m glad people there are showing such respect for and interest in those who came before.

  5. Colleen says:

    I agree that planning makes all the difference. I have taken research trips to Pennsylvania & found the librarians and archivists to be friendly & helpful. It is a beautiful state.

  6. Celia Lewis says:

    Excellent story-telling here! Wish I could do more travelling, but it’s not possible, so I love reading about others’ research trips – and photos.

  7. Sherry Mattson says:

    Hey! I am a Mattson from Baltimore doing my family history, despite living in Phoenix, Az now. I have hit a block at a great great great great grandfather born about 1849 in Md noting parents from England. Throughout the Balt. Sun states he was a county police officer in the 1870’s. He is listed in the 1880 census, however his wife Mary is noted as remarrying in 1888 as a widow. No mention of him in the Sun after 1881. When he married Mary he list his name as John-David Mattson. Have you seen anything on this? I don’t see many Mattson’s in Md before him, except a John and Rebecca.

    Sherry Mattson Johnston

    • Rachelle says:

      Your ancestor sounds interesting being a policeman in Baltimore! Sadly, I don’t think our Mattson’s are related (but there could be a connection I don’t know about yet.) My ancestor Joel Mattson (shoemaker) was born in Pennsylvania abt 1800. I haven’t been able to find his parents in the records for Chester, PA, where he lived so far, but I have been focusing most of my attention on all of his children (specifically his 4 sons in the Civil War).

      I know what you mean about doing research remotely…I am in Seattle and it’s a struggle. You can do a lot on line, but many of the best records are still only available in person or if you send away for them! Have you tried looking in city directories or in church records if you know what religion he was?

      • Sherry Mattson says:

        I have been to Baltimore four times this past year and heading back in October. Been to many cemeteries, historical societies and the state archives in Annapolis. From what I see, many Mattson’s were from Pa, NJ, Delaware and some ended up in Maryland. I have been intrigued by Chester, Pa and with it only 1.5 hrs north of Baltimore I will end up there at some point…be there for the month of June next year. I have six death certs coming via the state archives and hoping they yield something.

        Are you from Pa or have you been there? Love that part of the country, but hear Seattle is nice and hope to get there in the fall…just got info and pics on a place with a train dining car, etc, south of Seattle.


      • Rachelle says:

        No, I am not from Pennsylvania and this trip in July was my first visit for genealogy.

        It sounds like you have had quite a few opportunities to get to do on site research…lucky you! And you are right Chester is very close. There are couple of Mattson families living in the area. Maybe we are connected…let me know if you find something!

      • Sherry Mattson says:

        BTW-Rebecca mattson died in Md and was taken to her home in Swedesboro, NJ, directly 10 miles east of Chester.

      • Sherry Mattson says:

        I heard there was a book called “Genealogy of the Mattson Family” By: George P Walmsley. Looked for a copy and hard to find one…but of course I did. It was in a historical society in NJ. They sent it to me today. Who know what it will hold.

  8. Laura M says:

    So glad to hear the first installment of your PA trip. Cant wait to hear more, and hopefully in person! I’ll email for lunch soon!

  9. Chris Shaw says:

    I am envious of your research trips, wish I could do a lot more than I have. And I agree, planning is everything and I think we all learn that from experience.

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