Book marks

Courtesy of Historic Oregon Newspapers.

With the addition of so many newspapers to online databases, it’s been illuminating to page back through time to see so much of our ancestors’ everyday lives. For me, one of the more curious people encountered ‘in the news’ has been my maternal great-great-grandfather Jacob Ginder (1837–1901). Jacob’s roots are unusual in my standard array of westward migrating New Englanders. Jacob’s origins are from mid-Atlantic Quaker stock, the kind you can follow backwards from Iowa to Virginia in the 1700s.

While it isn’t in the newspapers, I know that Jacob Ginder wasn’t one to sit still. Continue reading Book marks

Local landmarks and genealogy

What do every day landmarks within your community and genealogy have in common? Everything! Yes, that is correct, everything. Regional genealogy is all around you. The names of everyday landmarks are useful clues connecting local surnames to specific geographical regions. Some of the oldest family names within a region can be found in the names of streets, buildings, and some of popular destinations within a community. Continue reading Local landmarks and genealogy

What’s in a (family) name?

My grandmother Sylvia Mae (Turnbull) Rohrbach.

I have always enjoyed musing on names and their origins. The dictionary we had in my childhood home had a back-of-the-book listing of “common English names.” I read it voraciously and repeatedly, making lists of potential names for my future children.

As it turned out, my husband and I chose family names for our children, so all that dictionary research was unnecessary. My daughter, Emma, was named for her great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother, and my son, Samuel, for my father and great-grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather. (See “The Name Game.”) Continue reading What’s in a (family) name?

Deference to defiance

The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge,[1] and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623. Continue reading Deference to defiance

What generation am I?

Catedral Santa Ana, San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic (where I have found records on my father-in-law’s ancestors back to 1822). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Following up on a post by David Allen Lambert on the question of identity, a semi-related topic involves the generation in the United States to which someone belongs. In my experience, this might mean something different for a genealogist belonging to a family long resident in America, as opposed to the child or grandchild of a recent immigrant.

My most recent immigrant ancestors were my great-great-great-grandparents Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, who came over from Ireland to Philadelphia in the 1840s and married there in 1850. Through that part of my ancestry, I would call myself sixth generation. I count Joseph and Rebecca as the first generation, and would describe it in a genealogy as follows: Continue reading What generation am I?

Another place

“It is good people who make good places.” – Anna Sewell

Courtesy of DigitalCommonweatlth.org, Massachusetts Collections online.

Like most of us discovering our family history, I rely heavily on census records. Often we come across numerous variations in the spelling of names of people, places, and things as we review those records. Recently, in looking through a few extended branches of my tree in differing U.S. Federal Census records, I discovered that a place can mean many different things.

I found an example of this with my great-great-grandfather, John Henry Record (1840–1915). John Record was from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and (for the most part) records reflecting his origins, and those of his parents, are generally consistent with that area. However, with the arrival of the U.S. Federal Census for 1900 my progenitor states that his mother was born in Sweden. Sweden? Continue reading Another place

Crowdsourcing

Implementing crowdsourcing as the chief means of gathering information has had success from Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary to Planters Peanuts. In fact, I would be so bold as to put Vita Brevis on this list – as comments from our readers have led to many breakthroughs in our bloggers’ brick walls.

Case in point: On 20 April 2015, I wrote a blog post (Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?) in which I lamented the problems facing genealogists, especially when asked to locate a person with a very common name in a very large place. Continue reading Crowdsourcing

A family reunion

The Lexington minuteman statue, in Lexington, Massachusetts. The statue stands on the southern point of the town green. Photograph by Leon H. Abdalian. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Patriots’ Day, a holiday unique to the State of Massachusetts, commemorates the famous skirmishes between local colonial militia and the British army in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775. In Lexington, the day is typically celebrated with an early morning reenactment of the skirmish on the town’s green. As an avid watcher of the reenactment, my favorite part of the event comes just prior to the skirmish. Before the fighting ensues, members of the Lexington minutemen—each representing a particular individual who was present on the green that morning—gather on the common for a roll call and commence calling their names in succession. As the roll is taken, one cannot help but notice the frequency at which similar surnames are repeated. Hearing this serves as a reminder that the men who stood on the green that April morning were not only committed to defending their town, their property, and their rights, but they were also related. Continue reading A family reunion

A twinkling star

Illustration from “The Patriarchs’ Dance,” 11 December 1894. Courtesy of The New York Times

Americans tend to reject the notion of operating within a “social class” structure, although it is sometimes easier to see ourselves as “better than” one person as opposed to “lesser than” another. At the same time, we consume (and relish) the higher gossip associated with European royal families and Hollywood movie stars, and Cleveland Amory – one among a number of authors on the subject – devoted a whole book to the question “Who Killed Society?”[1]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans treated “Society” as a kind of blood sport. Continue reading A twinkling star

Earthly remains

Of all the things we leave behind when our time is done, the most important, of course, is ourselves, the least and the most of our lives. While cultures vary in the veneration of ancestors, my staunch Puritan ancestors held to the rites of our New England traditions.

Yet one of the most fascinating yet unsettling museums I’ve experienced is the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato,[1] the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico. And what better time to visit that museum than on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? We walked with local families up the hill to the cemetery next to the museum where it is customary to picnic, decorate the family grave site, and pay homage to one’s ancestors. Continue reading Earthly remains