A Victorian genealogist

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

One of the mysteries of the Regina Shober Gray diary is why it came to be part of the NEHGS collection. It is an account of daily (or weekly) life, written between January 1860 and December 1884, and for many of the volumes Mrs. Gray is observant about the relationships of her friends and acquaintances, but far less interested, evidently, in the genealogy of the Shober, Gray, and Clay families.

That all changes, however, in March 1874, at tea with one of her nieces: Continue reading A Victorian genealogist

Something to love in Civil War pensions

Child 2
First page from David Franklin’s 1863 letter to his sister, from his Civil War pension file, application #236373.

Following up on my post last month regarding Revolutionary War pensions that can have troves of information, I remembered another subsection within Civil War pensions that are almost always filled with immense amounts of genealogical and biographical data. These are the “Parents’ Pensions.”

While most of us are probably familiar with veterans’ and widows’ pensions, the parents’ pension was claimed by one or both of the parents of a deceased Civil War soldier. The pension act of 27 July 1868 stated: Continue reading Something to love in Civil War pensions

A garden of red, white, and blue

Photo by Walt Doyle
Photo by Walt Doyle

On this Memorial Day Weekend every city, town, and village in America will have its commemoration. At NEHGS and AmericanAncestors.org, we are continually inspired by the annual Memorial Day installation that takes place on the nearby Boston Common, just blocks from our headquarters in Back Bay.

On a slope of the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, more than 37,000 flags are waving in a garden of red, white, and blue in tribute to the active duty military casualties from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recorded since the start of the Revolutionary War. It’s a dramatic reminder that here in the U.S. we’re privileged to be living in “the home of the free – because of the brave.”

Whether in Massachusetts or throughout the nation, undoubtedly there’s someone on your family tree who will be remembered in gratitude on this Memorial Day. Continue reading A garden of red, white, and blue

Public genealogists

Fairbanks house by Meaghan Siekman
The Fairbanks House in 2012.

I was recently a guest lecturer for a graduate museum studies class as part of the American Indian Studies program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. When I agreed to speak to the class I assumed I would be focusing on my academic work: my work as a public historian, work outside of genealogy. I was surprised to find that the students were most interested in discussing my genealogical work in the context of public history. Continue reading Public genealogists

Surname maps for genealogical research

Hampe surname distribution
German surname images courtesy of Verwandt.de. Click on the images to expand them.

My nineteenth century immigrant ancestors have caused me a lot of headaches. With the exception of my Muir ancestor, Robert, who listed his specific birthplace, my immigrant ancestors were very vague in listing their birthplaces on records in the U.S.

Though most of my ancestry is Irish, I have a German line that has always interested me. My great-great-grandfather, John Henry Hampe, came to the New York in 1872, and eventually moved to Boston. Though he claimed to have been naturalized in later census records, I was never able to locate a naturalization record for him, which I hoped would list his birthplace. Continue reading Surname maps for genealogical research

Verify what?

Alicia Crane WilliamsThere appears to be a bit of trepidation among new researchers about what is meant by “verifying” sources. It probably sounds horrendously difficult, time consuming, and redundant, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as some would think – and any time spent spent “auditing” sources can return great benefits. Here are a few pointers.

When assessing whether a source, or part of a source, needs verifying, consider the following: Continue reading Verify what?

Multimedia sources for family research

Seabiscuit_Red_Pollard
Seabiscuit with Red Pollard, from the private collection of Col. Michael Howard, U.S. Marines (ret.). Courtesy Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation

When the movie Seabiscuit (2003) was released in theaters, my family and I decided to throw our own version of a Hollywood movie premiere party. Seabiscuit was a well-known racehorse during years of the Depression. My mother’s paternal aunt, Agnes Conlon, was the wife of John “Red” Pollard, a jockey who rode Seabiscuit in a number of races. I saw the movie with fifteen of my relatives, followed by a get-together at my aunt and uncle’s home. Although my great-aunt Agnes was not included in the storyline of this movie, it was fun to watch Tobey Maguire portray my great-uncle Red.

Red Pollard and Seabiscuit were viewed by many as underdogs. Pollard suffered various injuries throughout his racing career, including an injury which resulted in blindness in his right eye. He kept that a secret, out of fear that he would not be allowed to ride. Continue reading Multimedia sources for family research

Accidental geography

Mercantile Exchange bank postcard for VB
The Mercantile Exchange Bank (1902). Courtesy State Archives of Florida

During my recent sabbatical, I made a visit to Jacksonville, Florida, to see one of my great-grandfather’s earliest commissions, the 1902 Mercantile Exchange Bank (today the Old Florida National – or Marble – Bank). I reached Jacksonville during a torrential downpour, although the skies cleared (briefly), allowing me to take photos of the building as it stands today. Continue reading Accidental geography

“If the shoe fits”

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 “If the shoe fits”