Over the course of many years exploring the history of my family, one man has always eluded me. His name was Andrew Taylor Tompkins, and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the facts of Andrew’s early life are known with certainty. He was born 17 February 1808 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Uriah Tompkins and Mary Taylor. Andrew married Harriet Arnold Dillingham, the daughter of Captain Edward Dillingham (a descendant of Edward Dillingham, one of the early founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts) and Susannah Sherman, on 20 August 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Andrew and Harriet had five children, the first of whom was Ellen Hughes (Tompkins) Luther, my ancestor. Continue reading Gone to California
The term ‘family history’ has long been associated with the written word and is most often found recorded in books, bibles, and public documents. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, however, have been using another method for more than 125 years: totem poles.
The word ‘totem’ is derived from the Ojibwe ‘odoodem,’ meaning “his kinship.” The earliest record believed to depict a totem pole is from the Pacific coast voyages of Captain James Cook in 1778, when his ship’s artist, John Webber, sketched ceremonial interior poles depicting faces. While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. That totem poles did not appear frequently prior to this period probably reflects a lack of efficient carving tools and wealth, and the leisure time required for their construction.
Continue reading The language of totem poles
In a small section of the town of Smithfield, Rhode Island, all that remains of a once thriving village are a few stone foundations and three legible gravestones. For nearly two centuries, many have speculated about the fate of the residents of Hanton City, an abandoned village named after the Hanton family who once resided there. The settlement is a considerable distance from all the other settlements in Smithfield which were occupied at the time of its existence, leading many to wonder about its purpose, as well as the reason it was eventually abandoned. Continue reading No ‘notorious scandals’
One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.
Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading Shorthand systems
Early in 1836, nearly two hundred American men lost their lives defending the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, over the course of a thirteen-day siege. While this event is largely viewed through the lens of Texas and southern American history, several men from New England were involved in the defense and indispensable in the battle. The following men were New Englanders who played a key role in the defense of the Alamo: Continue reading Remembering the Alamo
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]
Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching famous people
Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture. To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.) Continue reading Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 5 January 2015.]
Millions of British citizens and their colonial counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean went to sleep on 2 September 1752 and woke up on 14 September. This shift in dates was due to an Act of Parliament passed in 1750, known as Chesterfield’s Act, which put into motion a series of changes that fundamentally altered the way that many measured time. Continue reading ICYMI: Double-dating
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 12 November 2014.]
While writing my blog focusing on archaic medical terms a few months ago, I began thinking about other aspects of everyday life that appeared in records used by genealogists. One element of an individual’s life which appeared on everything from wills to land deeds to town records was occupation. While some of the occupations listed on records throughout the last four hundred years still exist today (farmers, blacksmiths, and wood workers, to name a few), many of these jobs either are known by a different name or are entirely obsolete in modern society. Continue reading ICYMI: Historic occupations
In lineage societies, the frequently-used term ‘gateway ancestor’ refers to an ancestor who has a known lineage which can be traced back to a person of prominence. Proven lines to gateway ancestors can result in descendants being accepted into many hereditary societies. In the following piece, I will be using my own ancestor, Robert Abell, as an example. Born about 1605 in Stapenhill, Derbyshire, Abell came to Massachusetts in 1630. Through Robert Abell, I was able to trace my ancestry back to individuals such as Eystein Glumra (born c. 805), Amadeus of Oscheret (born c. 790), and Fulcois, Count of Perche, a tenth-century French nobleman.
I began my research by first confirming my connection to Robert Abell through my great-great-grandmother, Jennie Luther, daughter of Edwin Sanford and Jennie H. (Connolly) Luther. Using works including The Luther Family in America and The Luther Genealogy, as well as vital records, probate records, and other widely available resources, I was able to confirm the following ancestry of Jennie Luther: Continue reading Finding royal roots