Since childhood I have loved flea markets and genealogy. As a genealogist, I have often discovered the lost treasures of other families and purchased them. When I was about twelve years old, I attended a barn sale near Campton, New Hampshire. As the adult collectors pored over the antique farm equipment, I looked through trunks with old photographs and papers. Sitting out on a table was a small metal plaque; at first glance, it appeared to be a silver serving dish. When I picked it up and saw a name and a death date, though, I got curious. I purchased this item for $3.00 and brought it home that summer. Continue reading Remembering Rosella
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 June 2015.]
Over the years I have had the chance to discuss the subject of ethnicity (and identity) with avid genealogists and those who are not all that interested in the field of genealogy. Many people will quickly share with you what their ethnicity is, with answers varying from “American” to a varied mix of ethnic origins. This answer, as you can imagine, can vary greatly with the knowledge each person has as to what was passed down to them by their parents about their own heritage. What I have noticed in these discussions is the depth in which these generational levels of ethnic origin will differ. Continue reading ICYMI: A question of identity
Over the years I have had the honor of corresponding with veterans from the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. But I must admit that corresponding and talking with some of the last widows of the Civil War was a highlight as a historian. It is hard for some now to comprehend that a widow of the Civil War could be living nearly 150 years after the start of the war, early in the twenty-first century. However there have been other widows who married very young to older veterans from previous wars with quite similar stories. Continue reading Remember the ladies
I have questioned published history my whole life, and have sought out the stories from the documents or in some cases the source. I was the obnoxious eight-year-old kid who went to Plimouth Plantation and posed my questions to the re-enactor John Alden. I did not ask standard questions like the rest of my class: “What do you do for work?” or “How do you survive without television?” I inquired of Mr. Alden who his parents were and where he was born exactly. The evil look I received back from the modern Mr. Alden was almost as bad as the glare from my second grade teacher before she grabbed me and led me out of the Alden home. Continue reading Re-enacting history
Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died in Brooklyn, New York on 12 May 2016 at the advanced age of 116 years and 311 days, was (at her death) the oldest verified living person in the world. Susannah was born at Lowndes County, Alabama, on 6 July 1899, a daughter of Callie and Mary Mushatt. Her parents were African-American sharecroppers and her grandmother was an ex-slave. There have been many Americans over the years who were super-centenarians (living past their 110th birthdays), but with Susannah’s death a door in American history now closes. Continue reading Some super-centenarians
In the virtual world of genealogy, one can easily go to www.findagrave.com or www.billiongraves.com and record a gravestone – or simply pay respects to an ancestor’s gravestone. This technology has made it possible for countless genealogists to virtually visit or search gravestones thousands of miles away. This technology can also be utilized by apps designed for your smartphone.
What about the gravestone no longer located in its original cemetery? When I first started working on my book A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries in 1987, I made inquiries into cemeteries throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Strange stories of abandoned gravestones located on stone walls or at historical societies became a database in their own right. Continue reading A final resting place
Next week I will be attending the Who Do You Think You Are? Live conference in Birmingham, England, where it is expected that more than 12,000 participants will be in attendance. The mustering of such a large body of genealogists and historians was only matched last year, in the United States, when the Federation of Genealogical Societies and RootsTech shared venues.
My ancestors are strong in New England on my mother’s maternal side, and I am very Canadian with mixed origins on my father’s side. However it is through my mother’s father John Samuel Lea (1901–1965) that I am most recently British. I was last in England nearly thirty years ago, as I was approaching my senior year in high school. At that point, veterans of the First World War were still alive in America, Canada, and throughout Europe. Continue reading “Over there”
As a child I always looked forward to the Christmas season: a time for family and friends, Christmas tree decorating, and candle light services at my church in Stoughton, Massachusetts. At the end of 1979, when I was ten years old, I was given a chance to write a report for extra credit for my fifth grade teacher. The topic, for our history/social studies class, was up to me. I had already been doing genealogy for a couple years at that point and wanted to solve mysteries. What about Santa Claus? Was he a myth? as I was beginning to suspect.
Warming to the subject, I canvassed my classmates. Some were disbelievers; others knew that Santa was real. My teacher overheard me and told me that a little girl named Virginia once wrote a letter to the newspaper with an inquiry like mine. I figured my teacher was pulling my leg, and that she made it up. Continue reading “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!”
Over the past thirty years I have examined thousands of old slate gravestones in the cemeteries of New England. This fascination led me to write A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries, which allowed me to determine the oldest cemeteries in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
When I started at NEHGS in 1993, I came across a curious artifact wrapped in butcher block paper in the Society’s archives. For some time NEHGS had been caretaker of the remaining fragments of the seventeenth-century Bernard/Barnard Capen gravestone. It is uncommon to locate fragments from broken gravestones in local historical societies. Continue reading A grave concern
In 2010, I visited the town of Rose in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, to meet the nieces and nephew of Ada Lophemia (Halliday) Clark. Ada was the second wife of my great-grandfather Thomas William Clark of Moncton, New Brunswick. Within the walls of their ancestral home in Rose I heard stories of a great-grandfather who died more than a quarter-century before I was born, a man that my own father only mentioned by name, and whose face is still unknown to me. No photograph is known to exist of my great-grandfather. Nonetheless, through genealogical research and family stories I have been able to draw a picture of what he was like, with a rough sense of his life story. Continue reading A price beyond rubies