A legacy of witchcraft

John Hathorne
Engraving by S. S. Kilburn. From The Poetical Works of Longfellow (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1902).

The legacy of Salem-born author Nathaniel Hawthorne is that of a great American writer, one whose tales of New England life and Puritanism were a focal point of the Romantic literary movement. His 1835 short story “Young Goodman Brown” became one of his most well-known works. Inspiration for this work was derived from a family history that haunted Hawthorne throughout his life and resulted in a number of literary classics that dismiss or re-evaluate this legacy. Continue reading

Witches Brew: Part One

Witches Rakes and RoguesOvershadowed by the hysteria that gripped the townspeople of Salem in 1692, Boston’s considerable witchcraft record has received relatively little attention. From the late 1630s to the 1690s, the town intermittently fell into witch-hunting fervor as accusations coalesced around individual women. (Men in Boston were seldom the subject of witchcraft accusations.) In all, four local women were convicted and executed in Boston witchcraft trials. Their stories – and the stories of other accusations that did not end in execution – reveal aspects of long-forgotten Boston history and the perils of life in a puritanical society that believed in the possibility of such events. Continue reading

Tackling Hingham vital records

Alicia Crane WilliamsHaving lived in Hingham the majority of my life, and with ancestors who lived there three centuries ago, I ought to have a good grasp of the Hingham records – but not so much. The problem begins with the fact that the Hingham vital records have not been published. For 121 years researchers of Hingham families have relied on George Lincoln’s 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, as the “go to” source. Because his two-volume section on genealogies is impressive and the vital records are not in print, Lincoln’s work functions as a substitute “vital records.” I used to receive town certificates that referred to the book and page of Lincoln’s History as their source – I should note that I do not know whether that practice is still in use; I hope not. Continue reading

Family Ghosts

Bump Tavern 2
The Bump Tavern. Courtesy of The Farmers’ Museum

October is a magical month when the leaves turn brilliant colors and start decorating the ground as the nights get cooler and darker. No wonder it is a time filled with hearty food, hot cider, and spooky stories told around a fire. Perhaps one reason why people embrace the autumn so readily is the connection to family the season inspires. Throughout the years many fall activities have led me to new discoveries about my ancestors and the ways I can connect with them, particularly at historic places. Continue reading

Cinema royalty

Herbert Marshall by Bredell for VB
Herbert Marshall, who starred with Moyna Macgill in “As You Like It” (1920) and “Interference” (1927). Photograph by Elwood Bredell

I am currently helping to research the ancestry of Dame Angela Lansbury for an event NEHGS will hold in November, and part of my work is focused on the theatrical tradition in the family of Miss Lansbury’s mother, Moyna Macgill (1895–1975). Miss Macgill’s career spanned the almost fifty years between 1918 and 1965, but it’s worth noting that at least one of her great-uncles and several of her father’s first cousins preceded her on the London and New York stage, while two of Miss Macgill’s brothers, all four of her children, and assorted descendants and in-laws (including Sir Peter Ustinov and Ally Sheedy) continued in the field.

As I’ve mentioned in some of my blog posts, one of my research interests is old photographs, whether of my own family or as part of an aesthetic appreciation of the form. Continue reading

A night of staff research

Initial chart showing the frequency of NEHGS staff immigrant ancestors arriving in the U.S. by year, based on entries to the Immigrant Ancestors of NEHGS Staff database. Courtesy of Ginevra Morse, NEHGS Online Education Coordinator

Since coming to work at NEHGS, I’ve been surprised by how often people tell me about their own genealogical research when they learn where I work. They usually tell me I’m so lucky to be working here, and say how they would love to work at such a place. I expect part of this sentiment is due to the belief that we have plenty of time to take advantage of the tremendous resources we have access to, but as passionate as most staff are about genealogy, their own research has to wait until the end of the work day, at which point the demands of life may also prevent people from getting to their research. Continue reading

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black

Harry Potter 1
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

I’ll be blunt: J.K. Rowling is my favorite author. I’ve read (and reread) all of her books, watched her interviews (including an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?), and I follow her on Twitter and Facebook. She has entertained me for countless hours, allowing me to explore my imagination well beyond the socially acceptable limits for those in their adult years. I am always looking forward to the newest material from the mind of Ms. Rowling.

And while I love her creativity and passion for writing, I am often most impressed with her dedication to the authenticity of the story (even when it is a story about witches and wizards). Continue reading

One small pin

AWVS pinA little while back, my mother gave me several pins which had belonged to her mother. One of them was a badge for the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS), an organization established in 1940 that provided aid and assistance to the American armed forces and civilians. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, the AWVS had more than 18,000 members offering assistance ranging from food services to driving ambulances and administering first aid. [i] Continue reading

The Alden Homestead

Alden House with Landmark
The Alden Homestead

My regular trip from Plymouth up to Duxbury this week was a pleasant, sunny autumnal drive. I wasn’t exactly tracing my ancestors’ footsteps, since I went up Route 3. (If they had gone overland, their trail would be closer to what is now Route 3A, and more likely than not, they would have gone by boat.) The trip is always a “homecoming” for me, even though my own ancestors have not lived on the homestead since John and Priscilla Alden’s daughter, Ruth, married John Bass and moved to Braintree in 1657. Continue reading

“Saloon Man Routs Amateur Gunmen”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 4 August 1920
Click on images to expand them.

Some family stories are so fascinating and memorable that they are passed down through multiple generations, becoming a well-known piece of lore; others, while equally interesting, get lost in the shuffle. The latter truism might explain the story of Christopher Taylor.

My role in this story began when my girlfriend asked me to help her work on her genealogy. As is often the case, the first several generations proved easy to determine through personal knowledge and well-kept documentation. However, upon reaching her great-great-grandfather, a man by the name of Christopher Taylor, some creativity was required.

Knowing that his children were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, while he himself was born in Ireland, we were able to locate census records which provided us with some key information. Continue reading