Missing nails and black holes

Alicia Crane WilliamsMy “Devil’s advocate” pops up and waves red flags at me whenever something is not quite right based on “our” experience.  Our most often used flag is for “black holes” – too much missing information. The connection may be right, but it certainly hasn’t yet been proved, and skipping over these holes is like skipping two out of every three nails when you build your deck – it might hold for a while, but it isn’t safe. Continue reading

“Between the bark and the tree”: ‘The Winthrop Woman,’ 1629

A view of St. Bartholomew's Church, Groton, Suffolk
A view of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Groton, Suffolk.

As I delve further into the Winthrop Papers, I am finding interesting asides about the relationships within the Winthrop family. Like his father, Governor John1 Winthrop (1588–1649) remained close to his “brothers” and “sisters,” such as Thomas Fones (d. 1629), the widower of Winthrop’s sister Anne, and Thomas’ second wife, Priscilla (Burgess) (Sherman) (Fones) Paynter, the future governor’s “verye louinge sister Mrs.  Fones.” Continue reading

Navigating Connecticut probate and court records

Genealogist's HandbookMore than the other New England states, Connecticut has kept its records in a variety of jurisdictions. Probate records can be particularly difficult to navigate. For Connecticut Colony, after 1639, estates were in the jurisdiction of the Particular Court (sometimes called the “Quarterly Court”). The Particular Courts were abolished with the new colony charter in 1662 and replaced by the Court of Assistants. Continue reading

Organizing a family reunion: Part One

Pauline Boucher Glidden
Pauline Boucher Glidden in Venice, 1923. Author’s collection. (Click on the images to expand them.)

My mother used to say, wistfully, “You’re always writing about your father’s family; I wish you would write about mine.” Vita Brevis readers will remember the posts on my Great-Grandfather Glidden and the fruitful search for his photograph; with this post, I trust I will begin paying down the arrears on my mother’s mother’s mother’s family, the Bouchers.

My great-grandmother Pauline Boucher (1875–1964) was the sixteenth of the twenty-three children born in Baltimore to her father, William Esprit Boucher, Jr. (1822–1899), and the seventh of the fourteen born to her mother, Mary Frances (Giles) Boucher (1843–1923). While the size of the family is impressive, I should note that about half the children died young, and only one child of Boucher’s first marriage (to Mary Agnes O’Brien) lived to grow up and marry. This was Francis Xavier Boucher (1854–1927), who was thirty-three years older than the last-born child, Constance Marie (Boucher) Burch (1887–1977). Nine of the Boucher children married, but only five – Frank Boucher, Josephine Stone, Gertrude Donovan, Pauline Glidden, and Constance Burch – have living descendants. Continue reading

Blue prints, building codes, and inspections

Alicia Crane WilliamsOkay, so now we have a pile of bricks.  Are we ready to start building our genealogical house? No. We need to know what the house is supposed to look like (blue prints) and the regulations about how the house should be constructed (codes).  If we were really building a house, of course, this is where we’d hire an architect and a contractor, but the fun of genealogy is in doing-it-oneself, so we have to educate ourselves about construction. Continue reading

Returning to my ancestral home in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia coastlineMy actual hometown is seventeen miles south of Boston; I have called Stoughton my home since birth, and as a genealogist I can claim a variety of ancestral home towns or villages. Genealogically speaking, however, I feel most at home in Nova Scotia, Canada.

My paternal great-grandfather, James Albert George Lambert of Halifax (1846-1928), was for many years my genealogical brick wall.  Back in the 1980s and 1990s I spent countless hours writing letters and going online, but these searches never allowed me to leap over that brick wall.  Continue reading

A genealogical jigsaw puzzle

315 Dartmouth Street
315 Dartmouth Street, Boston. Courtesy of backbayhouses.org

If you are familiar with Boston’s Back Bay, you have probably wondered who lived in a given house when it was first built, or how it has changed and been used over the years. Do you have an ancestor or relative who lived in the Back Bay and wonder about where he or she lived? If so, there’s a website that might answer at least some of those questions. Continue reading

Ships of the Winthrop Migration, 1629-1630

The Winthrop Fleet1629

The Massachusetts Bay Company arranged for six vessels to sail for New England in 1629, only five of which reached their destination. The salient details for each of these sailings are summarized below:

George Bonaventure, Thomas Cox, master. She left the Isle of Wight 4 May 1629, and probably reached Salem during the first half of July. Samuel Sharp and the Rev. Samuel Skelton were two of the passengers. Continue reading

Learning from our mistakes

We often learn from our mistakes. A promise that “I won’t do that again” can be a valuable tool. And, if repeated enough times, it becomes known as experience.

A decade ago I had a luncheon talk entitled “My Ten Worst Mistakes in Genealogy.” When the title appeared, Robert Charles Anderson commented, “and he updates it frequently!” In fact, I do update it, but now I separate the mistakes that did not appear in print or in a lecture from those that did. And I’m glad to say the former far outweigh the latter. Continue reading

Genealogical building blocks

Alicia Crane WilliamsA master mason can “butter” a brick and add it to a straight and true wall in a matter of seconds. He learns to do this through repeated practice, laying thousands of bricks in hundreds of walls.

In genealogy we deal with bricks that we call primary, secondary, and circumstantial evidence.  A house made entirely of primary bricks is the strongest, but those bricks are often hard to find and expensive. Most of us have houses made from primary and secondary bricks that are perfectly sound. A house of only secondary bricks is substandard to modern building code. Circumstantial bricks are kept for building flying buttresses to hold up wobbly walls. Continue reading