Monthly Archives: June 2017

The lives of women

The beginning of summer and the influx of tourists to the city of Boston has me thinking about a fun activity I did last year: a historic tavern tour. This was an entertaining group outing where we went on a historical tour of the city, all the while stopping at historic bars and having a beer or two at each. I enjoyed this experience as it combined two of my favorite things, history and beer.

Shortly after the tour I came across a book in our library called, Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs, by Samuel Adams Drake. Continue reading The lives of women

Conserving Catholic records volumes

Sample page from a Saint Patrick volume of marriage records.

If you have heard about our Historic Catholic Records Online project, in which NEHGS is digitizing and making accessible the sacramental records of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, you might be wondering what has been happening over the past few months with the volumes that contain the records.

There is a regular supply of record volumes coming in and going out, and for those volumes in need of conservation, a lot can happen as they are prepared for scanning. Our Conservation Lab has received many volumes in seriously poor condition. Take, for example, this volume from Saint Patrick’s in Lowell, Massachusetts. It contains marriage records from 1836 to 1872. Continue reading Conserving Catholic records volumes

Off by ten years

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

While I have written about reported birthdates ranging over several years, something else that happens from time to time is the reporting of death dates, especially gravestones, being off by a few years. Sometimes, when a gravestone date is off, it also creates an incorrect birthdate. Continue reading Off by ten years

Hope for the best

It is urban legend that I got my start doing human genealogy by tracing Thoroughbred horse pedigrees when I worked at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in the early 1970s. I was already familiar with the five-generation pedigree chart before I got there, which was a great help as I typed (pre-computer days) the pedigrees for every horse on a farm with more than 1,000 horses. My boss, “Bull” Hancock, had a ring binder that held two half-page sheets of five-generation charts. The stallions’ sheets were in the top half of the binder and the mares’ sheets in the bottom half. When the time came to plan a mating, Bull could flip the sheets matching mares to stallions. Continue reading Hope for the best

Warnings out

William Burgis, “Detail from a south east view of ye great town of Boston in New England in America,” ca. 1722-23. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

The practice of “warning out” individuals from New England communities can be traced to the mid-seventeenth century, and served as a method of pressuring (potentially troublesome) outsiders to leave town and settle elsewhere. In his Warnings Out in New England, Josiah Henry Benton explained that the roots of this practice could be found in English law. As he put it, New England settlers “necessarily brought with them the ancient and fundamental principles of the English law, one of which was that the inhabitants of a municipality were responsible for the conduct and support of each other, each for all and all for each.”[1] Continue reading Warnings out

Lost but not forgotten 2

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….”  – Paul and Linda McCartney

“Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of lostatseamemorials.com

In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”

I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.” Continue reading Lost but not forgotten 2

Famous namesakes

Malcolm Scott Carpenter (1925-2013)

Last month, I wrote about the tradition of given names. I postulated that given names were either chosen by parents because they honored a family member (both living and deceased) or because parents liked the way a name sounded, and subsequently named their child after “a stranger they met in a bar” (thank you to commenter Deane Taylor). In fact, when the blog posted to Vita Brevis, many of the commenters verified my theory: most were named for complete strangers or in loving memory of family and friends. However, a third group also emerged from the comment section: those who were named for a famous person, event, or cultural icon (thank you to commenters Carole and Carole).

And, when my colleagues read the blog, they shared similar stories of their given name’s cultural significance: Continue reading Famous namesakes

Obituaries

The last thing, literally, any of us wants to think about is writing obituaries.

Even if we have very elderly or very sick loved ones and know that the time is near, it seems eerie and sacrilegious to think about preparing an obituary while they are still living, perhaps even tempting fate and hastening death!

None of us, hopefully, will have to write a lot of obituaries. I’ve written them for my parents, but they or their siblings wrote them for my grandparents, and the rest of my relatives have nearer loved ones to whom that task will fall. Continue reading Obituaries

Multiple versions

In checking a source for an article in Mayflower Descendant, I was reminded of the need to check the various versions of early vital records. For many towns in Massachusetts, there are often three pre-1850 versions: 1) the published transcription (often called the “tan books”), 2) the Jay Mack Holbrook collection (on microfiche at NEHGS and digitized on Ancestry.com), and 3) the original vital records (often on microfilm and sometimes digitized on familysearch.org and/or Ancestry.com). Our handbook to New England genealogy is useful in determining which versions beyond the original records exist. Continue reading Multiple versions

De-lovely

R. Livingston Beeckman by George Grantham Bain.

My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Beeckman – not the more fashionable Beekman,[1] as in Beekman Place – a name which enjoyed something of a vogue around the turn of the last century, in the person of my great-great-uncle Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866–1935). Uncle Livy had couple of claims to fame in his lifetime – he was a nationally-ranked tennis player during the 1880s, and he served as Governor of Rhode Island (with some touting him for the presidency in 1920) – but for me the more intriguing connection comes later: his first wife was Eleanor Thomas, whose brother married the future Mrs. Cole Porter. Continue reading De-lovely