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A Guide for Research

Pat Lasswell 7-2022

While everyone approaches research a bit differently, the goals are often universal; provide interesting, pertinent, accurate information that’s well documented and clear from bias. It is as important to state what we don’t know as it is to propose what we do know. Documentation and thoroughness remains paramount.

So hoping that you are still inclined to engage in plane and planemaker research, the following are some of the steps I follow in the process. (Please note that I make no claims at being an expert researcher or a trained genealogist, however I have gone through this process many times over the last 40 years.) (Also, in this discussion I will use an 18th Century plane / imprint / candidate as my example).

Please note that these research “projects” are iterative. You go through the process the first time, finding possible candidates, and then going back through the process several times in the effort to refine and hone one’s understandings … learning and documenting the strengths and weakness inherent in each “project”.

The project.

1. Ask questions of the experts amongst our ranks as they may already have done some of the work.

2. Do your homework, reviewing what's been published to date. If quoting or using this information, record your sources.

3. Pay attention to the details of a plane or planes (imprints) you plan on studying, including variations, alterations, range in construction details, where the planes were found, etc. This can help in narrowing down where the craftsman might have lived, trained and worked as well as the approximate working dates.

4. Look at the 1800 census as a first pass to find out where different candidates might be located, where they might be concentrated. (Almost all family heads in the 1800 census would have been working in the 18th C while the age range is also provided.) Allow the first initial to “float” while being flexible in the spelling. You can always sift out individuals, but you don’t want to inadvertently miss them altogether. If you get dozens and dozens of possible names you might decide to forgo the search …. and that’s OK. (The identity of a craftsman with a common name such as Adams, Davis or Harris with a common first initial will probably not be found as there will be too many possibilities with that name / initial combination. In addition, by the very nature of these investigations, the more possible individuals there are, the more unanswered holes will be present in that search. Only when the first initial is very unusual might one find a craftsman with a common last name. There have been many examples where there are well over 100 possible individuals found for a common name / initial using the 1800 census.)

5. Once different focus areas have been located (areas of concentrations for the surname) you can move into the next phase of the search… finding and using period source materials such as deeds, town records, diaries, newspaper articles, probate documents. These documents will help in the identification of specific individuals while also helping to identify the trade and working dates of each one. Finding the trade of each individual will prove to be the most important part of this phase…ie ruling in and out certain individuals by their trade in a systematic and thorough way. (If our candidate lived long enough to have been recorded in the 1850 census, this can be a real help, as their trade is often recorded.)

Each state (in New England and the mid-Atlantic) have their own idiosyncrasies with regard to the nature and extent of their records, including where they might be kept.


  • Deeds are often the most useful type of period document. For example, Massachusetts remains the easiest state in which to find our early craftsmen as the deeds are well preserved, available online and most importantly, provide the trades of the grantees and grantors. New York, Maine and Vermont are amongst the worst. New Hampshire and Rhode Island deeds, if extant, are also useful as the trades are often recorded. Connecticut deeds do not record the trades unless one of the principles lives in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Pennsylvania seems to be a mix, some regions retain detailed deed records while others do not.

Probate Records

  • Probate records are a close second to deeds in their utility, but again states vary in the nature and robustness of their records. It’s helpful to review the findings of genealogists and genealogical sites (Ancestry, Family Search, Family History, NEHGS, etc) when starting out. From a state to state perspective, they will help you navigate where(and if) probate records are kept.

Town Histories

  • Town and region histories are also a good resource with FamilySearch , NEHGS and Ancestry having exhaustive online searchable titles available.  These sources often provide colorful local details which are found nowhere else.

Family Histories

  • Family histories also provide similar information, although from a more targeted perspective. In addition you may well find that the 1800 census only provided some of the individuals…thus giving you more individuals to go back and research.

Newspaper Records

  • Newspaper records can be great sources for information. Be flexible on spelling names, especially given names. Also take advantage of using trade based words such as carpenter, joiner, housewright in the searches.

Filling in Family Records

  • Once candidates are identified, it is very useful to fill in all of the family details such as parents, spouse, children and well as evidence of parallel trades in the family. The use of family records is critical when a Jr. or a Sr. is included in an imprint.

Revolutionary War Records

  • While more limited in scope, Revolutionary War Records can be a valuable source of information. Don’t overlook these records if applicable.

Census records through 1850

  • Once a candidate list has been formed, later census records (1810-1850) can help sort out family groups, family movements and confirm individual identities.

6. Online Searches are a valuable source for more obscure records. Searches on Google (somewhat on Bing, etc) can be very profitable as you can enter in the individual’s name(s) in question along with a trade. These types of searches bring in a lot of superfluous material, but they can also find obscure but valuable information that you wouldn’t find any other way. Be sure to try different spelling combinations.

7. Local Historical and Genealogical Societies. Contacting local historical and genealogical societies can serve to provide vital information when focusing on the short list of candidates. If you have a strong link between the planes and the individual craftsmen, you can share the existence of the planes with the local societies. I’ve yet to encounter a society that’s not interested in hearing what the researcher has discovered.

8. Period Owner’s Marks. Owner’s marks are often of limited use, but sometimes they make all of the difference in sorting out the dilemma of having several candidates. This is especially true if the owner’s name is not a common one. The early OW Bly mark on a group of 18th C planes including D Salsbery and I x Ross planes was one such case.

Working through the census records, period records, historical studies (towns, regions, families) and internet searches, will hopefully provide you with a relatively complete list of possible individuals and a short list of candidates; those individuals having a “date range” which matches the known plane details, working in the right region (the region matching the reported plane designs) and a having a pertinent known trade; carpenter, joiner, housewright, cabinetmaker, etc. When reporting multiple candidates, it is helpful to arrange them into 1st tier or 2nd tier if it can be done.

You may also have individuals for which you have a name, but you do not have a trade, a probate inventory, a newspaper ad. These unknowns are a real problem if they cannot be resolved, an inherent weakness in the study, which need to be documented. Unfortunately, that’s part of the process. Settlers moving to up-state New York, Maine and Vermont are particularly problematic.

When reporting your findings; be sure to document all sources, to document all references checked, to note the strengths of what was learned as well as the weaknesses and unknowns that remain and were not resolved. 


Happy searching!











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