All posts by Scott C. Steward

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.

‘Hand over hand’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] often used her final diary entries for a year to review the previous twelve months. At the end of the year 1864, death was much on her mind, with the recent loss of her brother John; another close friend, generally noted in the diary as Miss Jones, had died the previous winter.

 61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 25 December 1864: A splendid Christmas day – but oh – how sad such days become to us, as life wears on, and our paths are more and more strewn with wrecks of lost hopes and “loves where death hath set his seal.” It is all I can do to keep back the tears to-day – to seem cheerful for the children’s sake. The past year has carried away 2 most precious friends, and all future life is shadowed with a sense of “retrieveless loss.”

My darling brother[2] – the playmate of childhood and the faithful friend of mature life. Continue reading ‘Hand over hand’

ICYMI: On with the dance

“What a joy it is to dance and sing”

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 December 2015.]

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as remote to our descendants as 1750 does to us, and it behooves us to focus some attention on twentieth century research before that century, like the ones before it, vanishes from shared (and contemporary) memory. Continue reading ICYMI: On with the dance

‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this diary entry Mrs. Gray[1] depicts some of the economic forces on an upper-class Boston family, one dependent on the largesse of wealthier family members. Her brother John Bedford Shober had died in November, survived by Mrs. Gray, several unmarried sisters, and a younger brother:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 December 1864: The business firm will go on at present under the old title – “Shober & Co.” – though Antony Kimber being the elder of the surviving partners has the right to insist on the appearance of his name, if he choose to – more especially as he is the more experienced business man, and largest capitalist of the two.

Dear John’s will was just what we all knew beforehand – all the property but $10,000 left to his devoted sister Mary,[2] expressly left in trust for the use of his unmarried sisters,[3] to keep up an affluent home for them; this has been for years the darling object of his life. Continue reading ‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

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

‘Business without change’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
As it happened, Mrs. Gray[1] was too late to reach her brother’s deathbed:

Philadelphia, Sunday, 4 December 1864: One week to-day since our precious brother[2] died – died to earth with all its torturing pain, its long drawn weariness and waked to peace and rest – “the rest that remaineth to them that love the Lord” in Heaven.

He was seized with convulsions on Friday p.m. about 6 o’c. and they lasted with intervals of two or three breathings – and once of 2 hours, till about 3 p.m. on Sunday, when he sank, with a few sobbing breaths, ever fainter and fainter into the everlasting stillness … Continue reading ‘Business without change’

Also known as

Cecil Calvert Taliaferro

Many of the vernacular photos I’ve bought in the last few months have no information about the sitter – sometimes the subject is identified by a nickname, such as “Stinky.” I recently bought an intriguing image of a man (apparently) dancing, and I was delighted to find his full name and date of birth on the reverse: Cecil Calvert Taliaferro, born 24 January 1922.

A glance at Ancestry.com for Cecil suggested a complex identity: he appears in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index as Cecil Calvert Taliaferro (born 24 January 1923), also known as Chet Tolliver, also known as Chet Toliver. It is as Cecil Taliaferro that he is buried at Melvin Cemetery in Melvin, McCulloch County, Texas, but Ancestry links Cecil and Chet at the Social Security Death Index. Continue reading Also known as

‘The last was wonderfully effective’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The last months of 1864 marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War, as well as the final illness of Mrs. Gray’s[1] beloved brother John Shober. An effort at economy – by giving up a resident seamstress – left the diarist feeling uneasy as she prepared to go to her brother’s bedside in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 20 November 1864: …Friday evg. I took the children to the “Sailor’s Fair,” where they met a crowd of young friends, and had a good time, though they had but little money to spend. Their Aunt Sallie Gray[2] presented them with the entrance tickets, very kindly. The whole theatre was a glare of heat & light & blazing colour, very gorgeous, but very wearying; and after walking round with Morris [Gray][3] for 2 hours I was glad to come home, leaving the older boys to stay as long as they liked. I made but 2 purchases – one of Barnum’s Self-sewers for my machine – it seemed to me a very good thing; and some shells for Morris’s Christmas gift. Continue reading ‘The last was wonderfully effective’

The world’s a stage

Mrs. E. B. Alsop and partner by White Studio.

I recently bought a striking pair of photographs by White Studio of New York. The first was sold as showing an attractive couple dancing, but when I received it I could see that one partner was identified: Mrs. E. B. Alsop, who was preparing to go in to vaudeville. I then bought the second one, where, again, Mrs. Alsop’s partner – a rather ghostly fellow – went unnamed.

My curiosity piqued, I went looking for Mrs. Alsop, and soon found her: the former Effie Pope Hill, a lovely girl of 19 or so who had gained notoriety in 1912 when she married Edward Brown Alsop (1835–1922), a widower more than three times her age. Little in Mr. Alsop’s background suggested he would take such a step – he seems a sober tycoon, long-married to his first wife – and the marriage soon soured.

In the autumn of 1914, when these photos were taken, the lives of Mrs. E. B. Alsop and her dance partner took several further steps toward disintegration. Continue reading The world’s a stage

‘The salvation of the country’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s diary[1] continues, with the results of the 1864 presidential election:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 9 November 1864: The great election-day passed off without disorder or disturbance – and, Thank God, Lincoln is re-elected by splendid majorities. Every New Eng. state, Penna. & New York state have gone for him. New Y. city went McClellan[2] by 30,000 majority – but that was expected; & he has New Jersey & Kentucky – all the others are Lincoln.

Kansas did not even have an opposition ticket, so heartily Republican was the whole state. The long anxiety, suspense, & dread are over – a good God has overruled the madness of home traitors for their own ruin, and the salvation of the country; that accursed Chicago platform, the offspring of foul treason, cowardice, and political corruption, happily trampled McClellan’s hopes to nothingness. He might have had some chance but for that. Continue reading ‘The salvation of the country’

A twinkling star

Illustration from “The Patriarchs’ Dance,” 11 December 1894. Courtesy of The New York Times

Americans tend to reject the notion of operating within a “social class” structure, although it is sometimes easier to see ourselves as “better than” one person as opposed to “lesser than” another. At the same time, we consume (and relish) the higher gossip associated with European royal families and Hollywood movie stars, and Cleveland Amory – one among a number of authors on the subject – devoted a whole book to the question “Who Killed Society?”[1]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans treated “Society” as a kind of blood sport. Continue reading A twinkling star