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 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”

Genealogy 101: the librarians’ view

Alice KaneRecently, I had the pleasure of attending this year’s annual conference of the Massachusetts Library Association as a panelist for its Genealogy 101 discussion session. The goal of the session is to inform public librarians about how the staffs of genealogically-oriented libraries and organizations work with patrons to answer their reference questions. Assisting patrons with genealogical questions is increasingly frequent for public librarians, given the popularity of prime time shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots. My fellow panelists were Joy Hennig, Worcester Public Library; Susan Aprill, Kingston Public Library; Barbara Burg, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston; and Marie Lamoureaux, American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. Continue reading Genealogy 101: the librarians’ view

Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers


Michael Burke
Michael Burke, charged with wandering pig, 1861, as found on findmypast.co.uk.

The Petty Sessions Court Registers are an invaluable source for Irish ancestral research. These court records are chock-full of fantastic information, and can offer a depiction of your ancestor that traditional Irish sources will not. Continue reading Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers