New voices at Vita Brevis

The Apprentices
Giuseppe Sarni with some of his apprentices.

A number of new bloggers made their début on Vita Brevis during the first half of 2015. Tricia Labbe, of the Society’s Membership Services team, wrote in February about breaking through a brick wall on her father’s mother’s family, the Dionnes:

“When I began working at NEHGS in 2014, I realized that staff experts might help me uncover questions relating to my Dionne family line. On a staff research night in October, I gathered what information I could from my father – mainly the names of his grandparents Francis Dionne and Ethel “Mary” Paradis and their place of residence, Stockholm, Maine. With this little bit of information, Chief Genealogist David Allen Lambert showed me how to track down their 1916 marriage license. From that document, as well-seasoned genealogists know, I was able to find the names of Francis’s parents, Louis Dionne and Celina Beaulieu.”

Like Tricia, Jean Powers (of the American Ancestors, Weekly Genealogist, and Great Migration Newsletter staffs) was a novice researcher when she wrote for Vita Brevis in March:

“Finally it was a series of questions from my six-year-old daughter that made me [begin my research]. At dinner last month, she began asking about our family. ‘Where were your parents from? What about their parents?’ I answered as best I could, distracted by my two-year-old, who likes to surprise us with flying food when we least expect it. ‘My parents were both from Massachusetts. My father’s parents are also from Massachusetts, and my mother’s parents are from Prince Edward Island.’ ‘But what about their parents? Where are they from? Are we Irish? What am I?’ I noticed her voice rising and saw she was genuinely upset not to know the answers. And suddenly I remembered that feeling, when I was her age, of yearning to be part of something bigger than myself, of anchoring myself in a network of ancestors, of ethnic tradition and identity.”

In April, Alyssa True of the Society’s Library staff wrote on joining lineage societies: “For example, I’m interested in witchcraft hysteria, and I enjoy being a member of Associated Daughters of Early American Witches with others who have an interest in and a connection to those events. If a particular aspect of history bores you to tears, you’re better off not joining a society that celebrates it.”

May marked the début of two staff bloggers. Ginevra Morse, NEHGS Director of Education and Online Programs, traced a tradition of cordwaining (or shoemaking) on both sides of her family, focusing on the Morses, Legaults, Sayerses/Seguins, and Sarnis/Sarneys:  “It is interesting to think that my family’s past profession – representing hundreds of years and several locations and traditions – is now just that, a thing of the past. While I may not follow in my ancestors’ professional footsteps, I will say my love for shoes is undeniable. Hey, if the shoe fits!”

Suzanne Stewart, the Society’s Director of Research Services, was intrigued by the history of the two statues in the private garden on Louisburg Square on Boston’s Beacon Hill: “In 1846, ship-owner Joseph Iasigi paid $19,000 for a new brick house at 3 Louisburg Square. Four years later, he purchased a statue of Aristides the Just (530-468 B.C.) for the neighboring park. Aristides was known to be so fair and honest in all that he did that men said, ‘There is not in all Athens a man so worthy or so just as he.’ When the marble statue arrived in Boston, Iasigi announced his intentions to his neighbors. The neighbors hemmed and hawed about placing a Greek statue in … Louisburg Square and appointed a committee of three to think it over. When Joseph added that he would also import a statue of Christopher Columbus, they wholeheartedly agreed to both.”

Finally, in June, Valerie Beaudrault (of The Weekly Genealogist) explored the history of two revered objects in her mother’s family: her great-great-grandfather’s violin and the impressive loving cup he won at the Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest in Bellows Falls, Vermont, in February 1926:

“According to the local newspaper, about 10 inches of snow fell that day, but it did not keep the crowd of 800 or more people away. There were eight contestants from Vermont and New Hampshire. The previous year’s winner’s presence generated lots of attention, even though he did not compete. He was John Wilder, President Calvin Coolidge’s uncle. Each contestant played three tunes, one required of all and two personal favorites. Mortimer [Valerie’s great-great-grandfather Mortimer Wilson Brooks (1847–1931)] played Turkey in the Straw, Green Fields of America, and Pop Goes the Weasel.”

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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