All posts by Penny Stratton

About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.

What’s in a (family) name?

My grandmother Sylvia Mae (Turnbull) Rohrbach.

I have always enjoyed musing on names and their origins. The dictionary we had in my childhood home had a back-of-the-book listing of “common English names.” I read it voraciously and repeatedly, making lists of potential names for my future children.

As it turned out, my husband and I chose family names for our children, so all that dictionary research was unnecessary. My daughter, Emma, was named for her great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother, and my son, Samuel, for my father and great-grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather. (See “The Name Game.”) Continue reading What’s in a (family) name?

Richard Brunton’s family registers

BRUNTON_OL_32_Goodnow_Fig.3.10-VBPOST
Courtesy of Tracy Goodnow

Over the centuries, families have kept their own records of their history – by writing it in family Bibles; by sewing it into samplers and other needlework; by having it engraved onto objects; and sometimes by writing it into preprinted family registers. NEHGS has launched a new database of family registers that have one thing in common: all were originally engraved by English-born Richard Brunton, who lived in New England in the years during and after the Revolution. Continue reading Richard Brunton’s family registers

A good index guides the reader

Penny at podium_croppedYesterday, Alicia Crane Williams wrote about the steps she takes when indexing the Early New England Families Study Project, showing the extensive work that makes it possible for us to find ancestors in database searches. But what if you’re not creating a database, but writing a book instead?

In the course of your research, have you ever picked up a family history and, to your dismay, found no index? With this experience in mind, if you are writing a family history, you must have an index for your work—at the very least an every-name index. Continue reading A good index guides the reader

Loving Register style

isaacson christmas
Register style would help clarify family groups among descendants of my grandmother (seated, center).

I simply love Register style as a way of presenting descendants of a particular ancestor. Chris Child’s recent post made me realize just how much I love it. It is such an elegant and efficient way of presenting genealogical information that I wish I had invented it. Continue reading Loving Register style

ICYMI: The Name Game

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 4 February 2015.]

Bonus note: Vita Brevis blogger Penny Stratton is retiring from NEHGS today after ten years on the Publications team. In honor of her departure, I asked her to pick a post to run again. The finalists involved one about apostrophes; one about changes in technology during her career; one about her late father; and the one here—about family names. Penny will continue to do occasional work for NEHGS and promises to contribute more posts to Vita Brevis, and to continue to correct grammar and punctuation in whatever publication she is handed.

The first Emma, Emma (Byrt) Powell.
The first Emma, Emma (Byrt) Powell.

When my daughter was born, we chose the name Emma for her. Like many first-time parents, we considered and discarded many names. But we kept circling back to Emma because it’s a family name, and it follows an interesting pattern:

Emma Powell, born 1836 in Bristol, England

Ella Byrt, born 1860 in Chicopee, Massachusetts

Emma Ladd, born 1886 in New York

Ella Clark, born 1915 in Richmond Hill, New York Continue reading ICYMI: The Name Game

ICYMI: Planning an ancestral trip

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 October 2014.]

Penny at podium_croppedLast week, I was happily recalling my 2012 trip to Finland, specifically a visit to my ancestral village, Teuva. I had the great good luck to meet cousins there and see the land that my ancestors farmed – and even the foundation of the tiny house where my grandmother grew up.

When first planning that trip, I had no idea how to proceed. I could look at a map and find Teuva – and the nearest train station with a rental car facility – but I had no idea how to go about identifying living relatives. Continue reading ICYMI: Planning an ancestral trip

Proofing your family history

Penny at podium_croppedThe Grammarly blog (Grammarly.com) recently had a post on proofreading your own writing. Among the suggestions it makes are two that I’ve made myself over the years:

  • Read it multiple times.
  • Read it tomorrow.

These recommendations are particularly apt for family histories, which are chock full of names, dates, place names, abbreviations, and special formatting that just cry out for at least several thorough reads. When I am editing or proofing a family history – mine or someone else’s – I often read through it once for sense and grammar, and then skim through once each for the following: Continue reading Proofing your family history

Writing family history from A to Z

Penny at podium_croppedWhen writing your family history, it’s important to decide what to omit. This almost sounds like perverse advice, doesn’t it? And yet, when I read a recent New Yorker article on that topic by John McPhee,[1] I realized that omission is an essential part of the process of all writing: whether it’s a letter, a memo, an essay . . . or a family history.

McPhee describes the process of writing as selection. You begin, he says, by choosing “one word and only one from more than a million in the language,” and then you choose the next. Continue reading Writing family history from A to Z

What’s in a photo?

Ella 1
Click on the images to expand them.

I have been looking at lots and lots of photos lately – mostly of my mother-in-law, Ella Mabel Corke. Her recent death at 99 – almost 100 – prompted a sifting of hundreds of photos. Ella’s family always seemed to have a camera at the ready, so her long, full life is well documented pictorially. I found myself studying two particular photos closely. Continue reading What’s in a photo?

Objects and their history

Penny at podium_croppedRecently a colleague mentioned a web-based series of interactive discussions called “Windows to the Past: Discovering History Through Tangible Things,” in which “participants will assess fascinating objects . . . to see how any material thing, when examined closely, can be a link between the present and past.”

Reading this description made me think about how often such items turn up in the family histories we hear and read: the piece of jewelry, the silver, the diary, the clock, the clothing. . . Continue reading Objects and their history