Phantoms and red herrings

Alicia Crane WilliamsBob Anderson has a “Phantom File” at the end of his Great Migration Begins series (3: 2097–2104), with names that have been misread or misconstrued (e.g., John Allen for John Alden), meaning that no real person by the mistaken name existed.

An example of a phantom in my own family is the reference to “Samuel Crane” on page 1 of Records of the Town of Braintree 1640 to 1793, where he is included in a list of men deputized for town affairs in 1640. Continue reading Phantoms and red herrings

History of a Cosmopolite

Lorenzo Dow preaching by Lossing Barrett. Courtesy of

Some years ago I researched my husband’s ancestor Jerreb Kendall (1804–1839) of Passumpsic, Caledonia County, Vermont, and took pleasure in the interesting names given to many of Jerreb’s eleven siblings by their parents Jerreb and Lucy (Woods) Kendall.

I liked the thoughtfulness and weightiness behind given names like George Washington, William Wallace, Alonzo Ransom, James Eaton, Larnard Lamb, and Lorenzo Dow. (And I could almost sense the rejoicing that accompanied the selection of the name Lucy Celestia, which was given to the twelfth child – and the first and only daughter!) Continue reading History of a Cosmopolite

‘Of course nobody stopped talking’

[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
These entries, from 1860–61, focus less on Regina Shober Gray’s[1] reading than on the successive deaths from diphtheria of members of the Gardner and Adams families during the winter of 1861; they also include a walk-on part for future Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935), who must have narrowly escaped being infected.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 23 December 1860: The dinner party at Mr. Adams’[2] was a very pleasant one. Mr. & Mrs. Ed. Blake,[3] Miss Jones,[4] and ourselves. It was disagreeably startled by a grand crash of crockery! the falling of a moveable shelf, which was no doubt too heavily piled. It must have made sad havoc in that beautiful dinner set of French china. Of course nobody stopped talking or took any notice, though there [was] noise enough for the crack of doom. I don’t know if I could have taken it so quietly as Emily [Adams][5] and her father did – I am very sure my husband could not. Continue reading ‘Of course nobody stopped talking’

ICYMI: Family papers

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 August 2015.]

John Steward boxMy grandfather died almost 25 years ago, and sometime before that he gave me a box of “family papers.” The box itself is rather striking: a metal strong box, easily portable, with my great-great-grandfather John Steward’s name stenciled on top in fading paint. Inside the box are not just family papers, but intriguing (and, of course, unidentified) daguerreotypes and examples of other early photographic processes, along with materials treating the family of my great-grandmother, Margaret Atherton (Beeckman) Steward (1861–1951). Continue reading ICYMI: Family papers

‘More than worth the money’

[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
Regina Shober Gray’s[1] diary shows her as part of a wide network of families: in the following entries, from summer and fall in 1860, we see her entertaining her sister in Manchester; receiving visits from her husband’s uncle and her own stepmother in Boston; sending her son off to visit his uncle and aunt in Brookline; and wiling away a day in some of Boston’s many bookstores.

Manchester, Massachusetts, Saturday, 11 August 1860: A rainy day – we all sat in Mrs. Gordon’s[2] rooms till after luncheon. Then Lizzie [Shober][3] and I read aloud in my room – “Leslie’s Autobiography,”[4] which we found very pleasant reading. We had neither bath[e] nor walk to-day. Dr. Gordon came down this p.m. bringing letters from Rebecca [Wainwright],[5] Dr. G., & Mary S[hober].[6] Morris [Gray][7] went off fishing with the girls, and caught a rock-cod, which he pulled up bravely to the level wharf, and then in his tremulous excitement let slip back into the water!! Continue reading ‘More than worth the money’

Remembering the Alamo

martin-monumentEarly in 1836, nearly two hundred American men lost their lives defending the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, over the course of a thirteen-day siege. While this event is largely viewed through the lens of Texas and southern American history, several men from New England were involved in the defense and indispensable in the battle. The following men were New Englanders who played a key role in the defense of the Alamo: Continue reading Remembering the Alamo

An unexpected discovery

Children and staff at the Chateau de Mehoncourt near Le Mans (detail).

Recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society participated in “Free Fun Friday,” a yearly summer event sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation for no-cost admission to cultural venues in Massachusetts.  A couple who attended the event at NEHGS on August 19 sat down at the “Archivist for a Day” table that I was manning with co-workers and asked if they could quickly write some notes before their consultation with Research Services. The husband inquired about my department, the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) at NEHGS, and mentioned that his family was Jewish and that his uncle had actually been a rabbi. Continue reading An unexpected discovery

Turning green

Alicia Crane WilliamsI have been diddling with the sketch for Samuel Green of Boston for over a year and I’m still confused. Samuel2 Green, son of Bartholomew1 Green, was of the famous family of printers who operated the only printing press in the English colonies until 1665, and over Samuel’s fifty-year career his press printed 190 imprints, including the John Eliot “Indian” Bible. Samuel became the progenitor of a dynasty of printers that lasted 190 years and six generations. One would think the records for this family would be plentiful and accurate, right?

Not so much. Continue reading Turning green

‘By dint of much skipping’

[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
In May 1860, Regina Shober Gray[1] was visiting her family in Philadelphia.

245 South Eighteenth Street, Wednesday, 9 May 1860: Shopping with [her sisters] Sue & Liz [Shober][2] all the morning – a call from my old school mate Sallie Newbold[3] p.m. – and quite a pleasant party … in the evening, 12 or 15 ladies to 2 gentlemen – a lack of beaux which gave much merriment. [Her younger sons] Reginald & Morris [Gray][4] grow too independent here – trotted off after breakfast to Aunt Annie [Shober]’s[5] to play with Baby John – and Uncle John [Shober][6] keeps them too abundantly supplied with cash. [They] buy the most abominable trash – I must keep possession of their purses myself.

Thursday, 10 May 1860: Another dull day – which gave us a long quiet morning for reading about [Eliot’s] “The Mill on the Floss.”[7] Poor little Mary [Gray][8] suffering with tooth ache, and could not screw herself up to going to the dentist, notwithstanding I offered the brightest gold dollar if she would – but she scorned being bribed into it! Continue reading ‘By dint of much skipping’

ICYMI: Researching famous people

Garceau Ruth 1
The first page of George Herman Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]

Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching famous people