ICYMI: The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 June 2014.]

St Bartholomews Groton
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Groton, Suffolk

Over the last five months, Vita Brevis has featured a number of blog posts about the Great Migration Study Project and related subjects. Robert Charles Anderson, the project’s director, has written on the topic, as have Alicia Crane Williams and Roger Thompson. Bob’s posts tend to focus on his continuing research in this area, whether it is his trips to Salt Lake City to review a thorny question about identity or the latest literature on the subject as he prepares to write a book tentatively entitled Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England. Continue reading ICYMI: The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

The evolving game of football

Walter Camp of Yale
Walter Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 6 November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Rutgers Queensmen[1] defeated the College of New Jersey[2] Tigers by a score of 6 to 4 in what is regarded as the first college football game ever played.[3] College football would remain a vastly different game from today’s version for the rest of the nineteenth century. The major differences in the game are accentuated in the diary of Harvard College graduate Edward Herbert Atherton of Worcester, Massachusetts, a work available in NEHGS’s R. Stanton Avery Special Collections (Mss A 1665). Continue reading The evolving game of football

The Governor’s chair

Hancock chair 1
Figure 1. The Hancock easy chair with its replaced yellow worsted damask upholstery. The chair is currently on display at the NEHGS Library. Photo by Greg Anthony

In addition to its vast collection of genealogical materials, the New England Historic Genealogical Society houses a fine collection of early American furniture and decorative arts. Scattered throughout the Society’s Newbury Street headquarters are superb examples of eighteenth-century tall case clocks, high chests, and desks. Some of these pieces possess quite interesting provenances, including an easy chair believed to have been owned by eighteenth-century Boston merchant and Massachusetts governor John Hancock (Fig. 1).

According to NEHGS records, the Hancock easy chair originally stood in Hancock’s Beacon Hill home, which he had inherited from his uncle Thomas’ wife, Lydia Henchman, sometime after Thomas’ death in 1764.[i] It is believed that the chair is the “Yellow Damask Easy Chair” listed in John Hancock’s 1793 estate inventory (Fig. 2).[ii] Continue reading The Governor’s chair

Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation
The Old Plantation. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

Québec notarial records

Doerfler photo 1
Marriage contract between Joshua Chambers and Elisabeth Stickney, 20 December 1799. Notarial Records of Léon Lalanne

If you descend from French-Canadians, or your ancestors spent some time in Québec, notarial records will be an important source to examine in your research. In Québec, notaries recorded wills, property transactions, inventories, guardianship records, business contracts, and more. Some early notarial records even include marriage contracts. These records will undoubtedly aid your research and provide a wealth of information regarding your ancestors.

First and foremost, you have to establish which notaries practiced in the judicial district where your ancestor lived. To do so, you can consult finding aids. Here at NEHGS, we have finding aids located on the 4th floor, which list notaries alphabetically by surname and by judicial district. The years that each notary practiced are also listed. In our collection, we also have Robert J. Quintin’s The Notaries of French Canada, 1626-1900, a very helpful published finding aid. Each of these finding aids also lists the area that each notary served within a judicial district, like Champlain or Chambly. Continue reading Québec notarial records

The name’s the same

Edward and Julia Deane- 1940s
My Nana’s parents, Edward and Julia Deane, in Holyoke ca. 1940.

When I first began working on my genealogy, I quickly had aunts and uncles setting me to work on brick walls that had stumped them for decades. Overwhelmed by distant dates and unfamiliar names, I instead began with what seemed to me the simplest place to start: my maternal grandparents, Mary Deane and Walter Griffin.

I lived just a short bike-ride away from my Nana and Papa’s house, so I spent many afternoons seated at their kitchen table with a bowl of Jell-O as they sipped coffee and told me about their childhoods. I was fascinated by their stories of being raised by Irish immigrants in the tenements of Holyoke, Massachusetts, in the 1910s and ‘20s. Continue reading The name’s the same

Bible studies

Doerr 1One of the resources every family historian hopes to find and treasure is a family Bible full of handwritten notations of births, marriages, and deaths. These Bibles are often beautiful in themselves for their illuminated pages, or for the well-worn leather covers molded by devoted hands. Not to be overlooked, however, are the enclosures some owners pressed between those pages, enclosures which might yield some of the basic data always sought, and which might also give insight into the owners’ personalities and the events of their daily lives. Continue reading Bible studies


Alicia Crane WilliamsYikes! Just as I was starting to write this post following-up on the discussion engendered by my penultimate post, I learned that I made an egregious (and embarrassing) mistake regarding Mayflower passengers in the sketch on Samuel Maverick – I made the mother of Rebecca Allerton, who married Sam’s brother Moses Maverick, her step-mother, Fear (Allerton) Brewster. This is the second time I’ve done something like this – the first was back in the beginning of the project when I made Samuel Fuller’s uncle his father. After forty years of working with Mayflower families, I used to know all of this like the back of my hand, but the backs of my hands these days are getting wrinkly and veiny, and clearly the back of my mind has had to shed some information to make room for all the new material coming in from the Early New England Families Study Project. I just have to remember to remember that. Continue reading Catch-22s

ICYMI: Why they came

[Editor’s note: The post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 15 May 2014.]

CharlestownCoverWhy most people went to Charlestown during the seventeenth century we can only guess. Individuals were usually far too occupied during preparation, emigration, and plantation to record their reasons for undertaking this life-threatening ordeal. We can only adduce possible factors from the heart-searchings of such (hardly typical) emigrants as Governor Winthrop, and from the prevailing conditions in emigrant areas of England.

Charlestown was settled by striving young Bristolians and Londoners driven to escape the frustrating economic conditions at home. Historians of early seventeenth-century London and Bristol emphasize the power of privileged corporate groups like the East India Company, the Levant Company, and the London and Bristol Merchant Adventurers over traditional links with the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Far East. Continue reading ICYMI: Why they came

ICYMI: Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 25 April 2014.]

garner-400As the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) has only recently formed a strategic partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), anyone interested in New England Jewish history or genealogy may want to know about several databases and collections that might be specifically useful for genealogical research. They include the following:

The Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston (HIAS). The Boston office of HIAS was chartered in 1904 and operated autonomously from the national office in New York, even after their merger in 1916. Continue reading ICYMI: Useful databases at AJHS-NEA