Visiting cemeteries

vb-nehgs-on-vacation-for-vbOne of my favorite activities on vacation is visiting a local cemetery. Not just to view the ornate memorials and beautiful architecture, but to learn about the people that a particular region/state appreciates and associates with its national pride.

On my last trip to Puerto Rico, I visited the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, founded in 1863 outside of the walls of the city’s most famous landmark, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (known by locals as “el Morro”). The cemetery has a gorgeous view over the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the final resting place of many famous and influential Puerto Ricans:[1] Continue reading Visiting cemeteries

Turbulent times

Kenny McLean’s Cosmopolitan Saloon; Kenny appears at right.

In the first year of Kenny and Alice McLean’s daughter’s life, labor strife at the Telluride mines was affecting the community.  

On 1 September 1903, difficult and scary times came to Telluride. Union members demanding an eight-hour rather than a twelve-hour workday walked out of Telluride’s ore processing mills. This shutdown caused the closing of area gold and silver mines. When the Tomboy gold mine tried to reopen with nonunion workers (strikebreakers or “scabs”), the union posted armed picketers to prevent the new workers from entering. Continue reading Turbulent times

‘How can I make a call there?’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Letters as well as books constituted Regina Shober Gray’s[1] reading. First, though, a note on the configuration of the Grays’ house at the corner of Bowdoin Street and Beacon Hill Place. This group of buildings was later taken down to make way for the East Wing of the Massachusetts State House, but in 1861 the Grays faced the William Fletcher Welds at 65 Bowdoin Street across Beacon Hill Place, which was itself a continuation of Mount Vernon Street. (In those days, Mount Vernon Street started at the corner of Beacon Street and turned 90° at the State House, and Beacon Hill Place, to continue down Beacon Hill.) Confusingly, the Grays lived at 1 Beacon Hill Place, too; Joseph B. Carter was their neighbor at 3 Beacon Hill Place:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Saturday, 16 November 1861: Wrote as polite a note as I knew how to our neighbour Mrs. Weld[2] this week au sujet de their end window on Beacon Hill [Place], which they have no right to keep open, and which they do, to my great inconvenience. Continue reading ‘How can I make a call there?’

A cautionary tale

Alicia Crane WilliamsOkay, time to get my feet back on the ground. Reader David Cummings recently brought to my attention an error in the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Samuel Jenney – that the second wife of Samuel’s son, John3 Jenney, was Mary (Mitchell) Shaw, not Phebe (Watson) Shaw. In the pursuant investigation I discovered that I also had the wrong information about John Jenney’s first wife – who was definitely not Margaret Hicks.

So how did that happen? Clearly, I was distracted. Continue reading A cautionary tale

In the news

Alice and Kenny McLean

Amongst the family papers I inherited from my grandmother and great-uncle (orphans Thelma and Fred McLean in my earlier A Telluride story post), I found several old shiny Xerox copies (remember these?) of news articles my great-uncle Fred had made. He must have kept his local library swimming in copy revenue judging by the many such copies I found amongst his papers.

Fred McLean was our family genealogist. He dutifully typed up family stories, transcribed census records and letters, and then sent copies to his sister and her four children, one of whom was my mother, Thelma Jr. I wish Fred were alive today because it was due to him that I have an interest and now gainful employment in the field of genealogy. Continue reading In the news

Secrets in shorthand

shorthand3While working in Salt Lake City in 2011, I met a sort of expert in lost arts named LaJean Carruth. Besides being a weaver, she also taught a small class on nineteenth-century Pitman Shorthand,[1] which she invited me to join. Being a lover of lost arts myself, I naturally agreed.

For those unfamiliar with Pitman Shorthand, Sir Isaac Pitman’s creation of a phonetic shorthand system in 1837 marked the beginning of one of the most lasting forms of shorthand, in use for well over a hundred years, particularly in Great Britain. With a variety of strokes to indicate consonants and interspersed dots and short dashes representing vowels, it was primarily used for its speed and ability to conserve space.[2] As a result, many records from the mid-1800s are written in Pitman Shorthand. Continue reading Secrets in shorthand


Alicia Crane WilliamsI was just given the honor of being elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. So exactly what do those initials after my name mean?

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was conceived in 1940 by three giants in the field: Dr. Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Merdeith B. Colket, Jr. When it was incorporated in 1946, the first directors were Adams, Colket, Harry Wright Newman, Milton Rubincam, and Herbert F. Seversmith. Milton once confided to me over drinks at a genealogical conference that it all began as a bunch of guys getting together for drinks! The purpose was to associate themselves and others for their mutual benefit and for the advancement of genealogy (see Continue reading Honors

‘One’s vanity does penance always’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Of particular interest in these entries is Regina Shober Gray’s[1] depiction of being photographed in September 1861: “I hope [the resulting pictures] will be reasonably good, but one’s vanity does penance always in these cartes de visite likenesses. Gentlemen look well in them, but they almost always give a harsh, stern unnatural look to a woman’s face.”[2] Mrs. Gray noted that her own standards were relatively flexible, reporting that her friend Rebecca Wainwright[3] “does not think my photographs very successful – but I feel that I ought to be satisfied with them – they are quite as good of me as other peoples are of them. Hard and rigid looking.”[4]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 5 September 1861: Frank [Gray]’s[5] birth-day – 15 years old. I can hardly realize it. He had presents from myself, “Barrington’s Heraldry,”[6] from Aunt Liz [Shober][7] a dollar, from Mary C. [Gray][8] 3 engraved Shirt Studs. His eyes are decidedly better. Continue reading ‘One’s vanity does penance always’

Chaining deeds

historic-home-deed-chartIn preparing a lecture on house histories, I was reminded of the importance of chaining deeds – that is, linking the deeds for your house together using a deed chart – as the first step in researching the history of your home. Deeds are the primary source when conducting research on a building or property. While the deeds can only tell you who owned a house and not necessarily who lived in it at any given time, the transfer of the property from one owner to the next forms the structure of your research and can provide clues for where to look for more information. Continue reading Chaining deeds

Over-egging the pudding

St Bartholomews Groton
A view of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Groton, Suffolk.

I wear several hats at NEHGS. In addition to editing Vita Brevis, I am the Society’s Editor-in-Chief, with advisory roles in the Publications, Library, and Website divisions; I write and edit books, including a genealogy of the Robert Winthrop family of New York due out in 2017; and I work with the editorial teams of the Society’s magazine (American Ancestors) and the Mayflower Descendant journal. A trend I’ve noticed in some of the projects on which I have worked might be called over- or under-egging the pudding. By this I mean the habit – picked up, no doubt, from researchers’ work with genealogical software – of abbreviating terms that should be given in full or, conversely, of undue (over) emphasis. Here are three examples: Continue reading Over-egging the pudding