Category Archives: American History

Boston riches

Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Certain diaries, and their authors, become short-hand for a time and place: Samuel Pepys’s diary of seventeenth-century London, for example, or Anne Frank’s diary of wartime Amsterdam. The diaries of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are often invoked to cover the first half of the nineteenth century in New York; for the Civil War years, readers turn to Mary Boykin (Miller) Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie (1905). Although rich in literary resources, Boston lacks such a diary for the mid-Victorian period. Boston men and women of the period wrote enduring works of fiction and non-fiction, but for this generation no Boston diarist has emerged to capture the tone of the times. Continue reading Boston riches

Abandoning America

Sir Richard Saltonstall came to New England with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. He left in 1631. His oldest son, Richard Saltonstall, also returned to England in 1631, where he got married in 1633 and then brought his wife and their nine-month-old daughter back to New England. The younger Saltonstall was active, sometimes controversially, in the Massachusetts government and travelled back and forth between the colonies and old England over the next six decades. In 1643 he took his wife, Muriel, and all of his daughters home to England for the benefit of her health (which apparently was affected by a deep distaste for the New World), leaving only his youngest son Nathaniel to settle permanently in Massachusetts. After more trips back and forth, Richard returned to England for good in 1688. “Richard never really became a New Englander.” Continue reading Abandoning America

‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Florence D. Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Julia Overing Boit to the Museum of Fine Arts, 1919. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As in 1860, the Gray family[1] planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards].[2] The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! Continue reading ‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

Revolutionary privateering

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection

In attempting to prove Revolutionary War service for a man from Norwich, Connecticut, who did not show up in any militia lists, pension records, war memorials, etc., I turned to the subject of privateering. According to the DAR Genealogy Guidelines, “privateers were privately owned, armed trading vessels, commissioned or issued letters of marque from either the Continental Congress or from individual provisional government[s] (sometimes by both) to capture enemy ships and goods. The bounty or prize was divided by the officers and seamen and the governing body that authorized the privateering. Bounties made privateering very profitable and provided much needed supplies to the American forces. The Continental Congress officially authorized privateering for the war on 23 March 1776, although some states had already initiated privateering prior to that date.”

Norwich, located at the head of the Thames River, was a center for ship-building; the largest shipping firm in Norwich was Howland & Coit. Vessels traveled down the river and then sailed from New London harbor. Continue reading Revolutionary privateering

New places

Courtesy of williamhaskellhouse.com

To me, one of the best things about genealogy is learning that you have shared a place with an ancestor. Perhaps you passed through the town where they once lived, or maybe your commute to work takes you by their former home. Discoveries like this make genealogy that much more personal.

Recently, when I was learning more about Mabel Winters, my great-grandmother, and her family in Nova Scotia, I ran into a name that was very familiar to me – Lufkin. Continue reading New places

Fudging facts

Click on the image to expand it.

Alternate dates of birth for our ancestors, perhaps ranging over several years, are common for many of us, and the reasons can vary considerably. A recent example in my own research came in the form of a deliberate change of birth date, with the sole intention to make the subject appear younger than her husband. Continue reading Fudging facts

ICYMI: Consider the siblings

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 27 November 2015.]

For the last several months, I have been trying to determine the origins of each of my mother’s Irish ancestors. In a previous post, I mentioned my success in locating the origins of my Kenefick ancestors; however, I have been having trouble with some ancestors with much more common surnames.

The earliest record I have for my maternal great-great-grandparents Patrick Cassidy and Mary Hughes is their marriage record, dated in Boston 28 November 1888.  Continue reading ICYMI: Consider the siblings

‘What can Charles St. do?’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While she was not as prosperous as her brother John Shober or her brothers-in-law William and Horace Gray, Regina Shober Gray[1] moved in a fashionable set of people, whether in Philadelphia, Boston, or New York. Her reference here to Mrs. Ronalds, a notably “fast” Bostonian who went on to international fame for the beauty of her voice, captures a mixture of worldly values (Fanny is “absolutely infuriating to men”) and more prosaic ones (she is “recklessly extravagant, but tasteful in dress”). When Mrs. Gray quotes her friend Amelia Jackson Holmes, she is practical about the likely outcome of a “Loyal Woman’s League,” noting the limitations of a boycott on luxury goods.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 1 May 1864: Tuesday we had our “sewing Circle” tea, at Mrs. Chadwick’s[2] – 24 of us there – a very pleasant gathering – sumptuous tea – a tiny bouquet laid on each plate, and splendid flowers in vases on the tables. Continue reading ‘What can Charles St. do?’

ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 October 2015.]

Riffing on something Chris Child wrote about collecting photos of family members in July, I thought I might do something similar with information about family burial plots. Such an exercise leans heavily on Findagrave.com (where some of the images may be found), although in my case I also have the notes compiled by my great-aunt Margaret Steward in 1966 as a resource for my research.

My grandparents are easy: my father’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Hamilton Cemetery in Massachusetts, while my mother’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. I was present for my paternal grandfather’s memorial service in 1991, my maternal grandfather’s burial in 1994, and for my paternal step-grandmother’s memorial service in 1996. Continue reading ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

A pair of firsts

Bessie Coleman in 1922. Courtesy of Wikispaces.com

Recently, as I was browsing Google, I noticed their doodle for the day.[1] It was honoring Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, who was born 26 January 1892. She was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to receive her pilot’s license, and she was also the first person of African American and Native American descent to receive an international pilot’s license. Continue reading A pair of firsts