Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

Westerly image
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

Overseas military naturalizations

Bernard 1For a recent research case, I was trying to locate a naturalization record which had been listed in an index to the Declarations of Intention, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York 1917-1950, at However, when searching through the actual records, I found that the file number for this record was attached to a record with another person’s name. Continue reading Overseas military naturalizations

Beautiful boxes

Rossi 1
Drawing of Clam Shell box.

When you stop to think about it, boxes make for very special enclosures. I’m sitting here, typing this blog and thinking of the many ways boxes are utilized on a daily basis. For example, there are mail boxes, tool boxes, boxes made for chocolates, shipping boxes, bread boxes, hat boxes, and shoe boxes. The list is long and impressive. Continue reading Beautiful boxes

Maine’s lost colony

St George's Fort Popham
Courtesy of Other variations of this map exist, and may be found online.

Recently a patron asked me why he was unable to find information on his ancestors who arrived before the Mayflower. I explained that Plymouth Colony was the first permanently settled colony in New England. What I told him was technically true, but I later discovered that an earlier colony had been established in Maine. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, England, France, and Spain all had their eyes on the New World, hoping to take advantage its great wealth of resources. Continue reading Maine’s lost colony

Road trips

PA 1984 mapIt is summer time and the siren call of the road echoes through my mind: “Come explore! Leave your desk and your clutter. Forget the phone, pack your car and come explore!” When we were children, summer meant road trips to far off and “exotic” places such as Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. One memorable summer we took a four-week camping trip across the country from Washington, D.C., to the Colorado Rockies to explore the old Moffat Railroad over the Continental Divide. Four squirming children and two adults crammed into a Dodge Sedan towing a trailer with the tent and other camping gear (no pop-up camper for our family). Continue reading Road trips

ICYMI: “If the shoe fits”

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 13 May 2015.]

Sarney Shoe Factory
The Sarney Shoe Repairing Factory in Newport, Rhode Island.

David Allen Lambert’s April post on livelihoods inspired me to consider my own “family’s business.” In looking at my ancestry, one occupation pops up again and again and again: shoemaker. From Great Migration immigrants to Italian calzolai to French-Canadian shoe factory workers, my ancestors knew shoes.

The earliest shoemakers or cordwainers to New England arrived in 1629.[1] My ancestor (on my father’s side) Anthony Morse (abt. 1607–1686) arrived in Newbury aboard the James in 1635 with his brother William. Both appear on a passenger list as shoemakers.[2] Continue reading ICYMI: “If the shoe fits”

Massachusetts towns

Mass Towns001There are any number of reference books with information about when and how the towns of Massachusetts were incorporated. One is Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities, and Towns in Massachusetts, by Paul Guzzi, Secretary of the Commonwealth, published in 1975. My copy is well worn and loved, but at the moment it is hiding from me (I know that all the books come out at night and move themselves around). Since I am trying to compose an article about the settlement of Cape Cod and really need the resource, I turned to the Internet to find an online copy. The 1975 book is not available as an ebook, but the earlier edition, published in 1920, is available for download.[1] Continue reading Massachusetts towns

‘At what a terrible cost’

[Author’s note: This series of excerpts from Regina Shober Gray’s diary 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
While in Zurich, the Grays[1] met some friends from home and had some Philadelphia news:

Hotel Baus-au Lac, Zurich, Sunday, 14 July 1878: The sweet clangor of changing bells fills the air, curiously crossed, to our New England ears, by waltz music from a band near by! The day is overcast & it is no use to go to see an Alpine view under cloudy skies!

Our ride here from Ragaz on Thursday P.M. would have been lonely but for the “rain, that raineth every day” and persecutes us! We skirted the beautiful Wallensee,[2] with its high mountains, exquisite cascades, ruined farms, villas, &c., all wh[ich] we could see & enjoy from our nice 1st class [train] car, wh. we had to ourselves – but the more distant views of opening valley & lovely vistas were shut out; and for part of the ride on [the] borders of Zurich Lake we might as well been looking out over an open, fog-ridden ocean. Continue reading ‘At what a terrible cost’

ICYMI: King Richard III’s Matrilineal Kin

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 1 April 2015.]

Barbara (Spooner) Wilberforce, wife of William, and the actual matrilineal descendant of Richard III’s sister.
Barbara (Spooner) Wilberforce, wife of William, and the actual matrilineal descendant of Richard III’s sister.

News of King Richard III’s reburial last week was interesting, especially the stories regarding descendants of the King’s sister, who each placed a white rose (the House of York’s emblem) on his coffin. These four living relatives (Canadian siblings Michael, Jeff, and Leslie Ibsen, and Australian-born Wendy Duldig) have been called Richard’s “closest descendants” in various news articles. Let’s examine this claim.

Millions of living people—including both the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge—share about this same degree of kinship to Richard III: descent from one of his siblings. (The Queen and Kate both descend from Richard’s brother Edward IV.) The Ibsens and Wendy share matrilineal (all-female) descent from Richard’s sister Anne of York (d. 1476). Continue reading ICYMI: King Richard III’s Matrilineal Kin

Loving Register style

isaacson christmas
Register style would help clarify family groups among descendants of my grandmother (seated, center).

I simply love Register style as a way of presenting descendants of a particular ancestor. Chris Child’s recent post made me realize just how much I love it. It is such an elegant and efficient way of presenting genealogical information that I wish I had invented it. Continue reading Loving Register style