Readers of Walking the Berkshires know of my passion for genealogy, and that our family possesses an historical archive of my Grandmother Athalia's people with primary sources going back to the Revolution. There are two branches in the line, and the Olmsted one is particularly interesting because it has been passed on by family genealogists since the late 1830s. Were it not for the willingness of Great Aunts and Uncles to pass along their life's work to whichever family member in the younger generation had the interest and the passion to continue it, this extraordinary trove would have be in the collections of some research institution instead of my home with me as curator. There were moments, I am certain, when each family genealogist despaired of every making even a fraction of what we possess accessible and meaningful to the extended members of the family, which is why I am so grateful to the blogging medium. It animates the stories behind the dry dates and ever-radiating lines of a vast pedigree.
Two Great-gr-gr-great uncles of mine, Henry Morse Olmsted (# 5183a in the Olmsted genealogy complied in 1912 by Henry King Olmsted) and his older brother Anthony (#5183),got the ball rolling when they were young men in the late 1830s. Henry was a meticulous researcher and kept detail notes. He took to writing his middle name as "Morse" instead of Moss, believing that that was both the correct spelling and pronunciation of the family surname "Moss" that was given as a first name to his father (Moss Olmsted #4430). One of the many treasures left to the family by Henry M. Olmsted is a ledger book, identical to the one in which he kept a record of his two voyages to China, in which he lays out both his pedigree and his lifelong journey of genealogical discovery. In so doing he provides his own biography. The following comes from that volume, and I reproduce it here thinking it may be meaningful to others who trace their roots besides Olmsted descendants to know how it was done by one living in 19th-Century America.
It was in the year 1839 that I first turned my attention to working out the Pedigree of the Olmsted family. I was then in my twenty second year and all the information concerning the early history of our family was derived from my mother [Sarah Gilmore Olmsted]. From her I learned that my father was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, that his brother [Russell Olmsted #4431] was living in Canada and that other Olmsteds were still living in New England also but her information was very meagre and partook more of the nature of tradition than actual fact. Among other scraps I learned that a [2nd] cousin of my father was then living and established in Albany New York. His name was David [#4460]. To him I wrote and this lead to a correspondence. I got enough from him to whet my curiosity and I was lead to researchers into all the books relative to the early settlement of Conn. and in books published by the Connecticut Historical Society. My work was interrupted by a business voyage I took to China, returning home in 1840. During my absence my brother A. I. Olmsted kept the research alive so that by the time I got home enough information was gathered to give me a fair start.
I had learned from all this that the first Olmsted who had reached New England had emigrated from Essex Co. England and had landed at Cambridge Mass in 1632 and from their sprang my immediate ancestor who as it will appear in this genealogical record settled in Hartford, Norwalk, Ridgefield. In 1843 I again went to China and was absent from home till 1852 when I returned to my home in Philadelphia, and soon after having married in 1853, settled in Morristown, N.J. During all these years material had been accumulating but it was not till some years later that I made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry K Olmsted of Beverly Mass who was working on a history of the Olmsted family pursuing his investigations as far back in England as he could reach with very limited means. In his researches there he was assisted by the wife of the well known Frederick Law Olmsted, who it was that visited Olmsted Hall and whose pilgrimage there and description of what he found at length unfolds on pg 4-8 of this volume. With Dr. Henry K Olmsted I corresponded for some years, in fact from my first meeting with him till his death in Jackson, Michigan in the winter of 1896. He constantly provided me with information and to him I was indebted for many facts and dates, more especially for that portion of the family history which was collected for him in England."
Henry King Olmsted's research, revised and expanded by Rev. George K Ward, was published as Genealogy of the Olmsted Family in America in 1912. My grandmother Athalia is listed as #8858 and was one year old at the time the book was printed. She was undoubtedly one of the last survivors of all those listed in this family history before her death last week at almost 97 years of age.
Henry Morse Olmsted kept much of his correspondence with distant relations and with Dr. Olmsted, as well as the History books he purchased. All of these have been passed along as part of an intact record of his research into the family origins and comprise a significant part of our Olmsted genealogical archive.