Jump starting your genealogical research

Newbury Street TodayThis post marks the 250th blog post at Vita Brevis. To mark the occasion, I have asked some of our peerless contributors for suggestions on the theme of  jump starting genealogical research (and publication) for the holidays – with an eye toward 2015!

Consider sending a holiday letter out via email to your relatives. Then print a copy for posterity. – David Allen Lambert

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Solving a “mystery of baseball”

Moses Walker
Moses Fleetwood Walker. Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

Ask any baseball fan who the first African-American major league player was, and nearly all will tell you it was Jackie Robinson. Ask anyone familiar with the game’s long and storied history before Robinson’s debut in 1947, and they’ll tell you it was Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Weldy, who broke into the game in 1884.[1] Very few, if any, would tell you that it was a man named William Edward White who became the first African-American to play in a major league baseball game in 1879. Had it not been for a few keen researchers, William Edward White’s name would have been lost to baseball history, perhaps forever. Continue reading

Reading other people’s mail: Part One

Hutchinson Jacket coverThomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) was the last crown-appointed civilian governor of Massachusetts. During his term of office, he dealt with the aftermath of both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts has recently published the first volume of his selected correspondence covering the years 1740–1766. It is most readily available through amazon.com. Here are a few thoughts about the process of documentary editing by John Tyler, one of the volumes’ two co-editors.

The effort to bring Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s letters into print has a long history, much longer than the twenty years that I have been working on them. In 1951 and 1954, the National Historical Publications Committee at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts urged their publication. Later in the decade, Malcolm Freiberg and Catherine Shaw Mayo began transcribing the nearly 1,800 letters contained in Hutchinson’s letter books at the Massachusetts Archives. These transcriptions were an invaluable aid to anyone researching the Boston politics of the fifteen years before the American Revolution. Continue reading

Fifty years on Newbury Street

Reading Room Ashburton Place
The Reading Room at 9 Ashburton Place. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS

On 14 December 1964, NEHGS opened its doors to members at 99–101 Newbury Street for the very first time. The building on Newbury Street is the Society’s seventh home since it was founded in 1845, and this location has served as our headquarters during the greatest period of growth in our history. In the fifty years since arriving in the Back Bay, our membership has increased from 3,000 to an active constituency of more than 70,000; our library print collections have grown from 30,000 volumes to more than 250,000 volumes; and our endowment has improved from approximately $1 million to more than $25 million.

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Heading north

pioneers me and nh-29386In my previous post, we took a look at some of the resources available for researching ancestors who moved beyond Massachusetts, with a focus on westward movement. Many also headed northward to current-day New Hampshire and Maine, although the area – as the frontier of English colonization and under threat of attack from the French and Indians – was not settled as quickly or densely as Massachusetts during the seventeenth century. According to NEHGS Trustee David Watson Kruger, Pioneers of Maine and New Hampshire, 1623–1660 by Charles Henry Pope is an “important primer on early Maine and New Hampshire families.” Continue reading

Uses for Civil War regimental histories

Doerfler Battle of Winchester
The Battle of Winchester

Regimental histories can provide a lot of information regarding our Civil War ancestors, and are often overlooked in research. Compiled by many Civil War veterans in the years after the war, these histories can provide new insight into their service, far beyond what might be found in military records. Continue reading

It’s a small world

Siekman family treasuresI come from a long line of family historians, and we are always brainstorming ideas to get other family members interested in our ancestors. My mission this year was to spark an interest in my four-year-old cousin (soon to be five, as she will tell me). She may be too young to understand charts or many of the details of our history, but I wanted to find a way to give her an idea of who we are – and where we came from – in a way that was exciting and approachable. I decided that we would give her a tour around the world of all the places her ancestors came from without ever having to leave her living room. Her gift is one that can be easily changed to fit your unique family background,  an easy and fun way to get kids interested in their family roots by introducing them to cultural elements from the places of their ancestry. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Y-DNA of Richard III

Richard IIII wrote in American Ancestors last year about the fascinating discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a Leicestershire parking lot, and the use of mtDNA via matrilineal relatives over many generations to get a positive match. Now, in another twist to this story, comes the publication of Richard III’s Y-DNA results, published in Nature on 2 December 2014 – a second and more detailed genealogical chart appears in the Telegraph.

The gist of the story regarding the Y-DNA is that Richard III [haplogroup G-P287] did not share the same Y-DNA as four of the five documented descendants of Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort [haplogroup R1b-U152], descended from Richard’s great-great-grandfather King Edward III (1312­–1377), with some commentary on how this could affect claims to the crown during the War of the Roses. Continue reading

Successive generations moving west

FirstSettlers-25377As the first settlements in seventeenth-century Massachusetts colonies became more established, and as various reasons for becoming restless or disenchanted within them developed, people began their forays beyond the known. In Genealogical Notes: First Settlers of Connecticut and Massachusetts, Nathaniel Goodwin covers families in such Massachusetts towns as Cambridge, Concord, Lynn, and Northampton and such early Connecticut towns as Windsor, Wethersfield, Simsbury, and Hartford. Continue reading