It was late one summer, sometime toward the end of the last century, when I received the call. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Barbara, and she was pleading with me to “come and get these things.”[i]
Now Barbara wasn’t just anybody to me. She was our “go-to” family historian from the 1960s well into the early 1990s. Cousin Barbara (my grandfather’s paternal first cousin) was the one to call when some question about the family’s facts or folklore arose. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “I don’t know the answer. You need to call Barbara…” To this day I still rely heavily on Barbara’s original and painstakingly completed research. Continue reading That which we inherit→
While perusing the shelves at a local book sale several months ago, I came across a small volume that would ultimately help to broaden my understanding of a seminal event in American history. The title of the book – Heroine of the Battle Road, Mary Flint Hartwell – caught my attention and interest. As an enthusiast of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts history, I was familiar with the phrase “Battle Road”– likely a reference to the famous march of the British army from Boston through Lexington to seize powder and arms in Concord the night of 19 April 1775.
My suspicions were confirmed when I read the subtitle: A Drama of One Woman’s Courage on the Night of Paul Revere’s Ride in April of 1775. Having read several books on the famous skirmishes at Lexington and Concord I was curious why I had never heard of Mary Flint Hartwell. By purchasing the book, I hoped to find out more.
The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is located in the beautiful seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Jeremiah Lee – a merchant and ship owner, and one of the wealthiest men in the American colonies – built his mansion several years before the start of the American Revolution. This architectural and historic gem has survived largely unchanged from when it was built. A tour of the mansion offers visitors not only a glimpse into life in the mid-1770s, but also an understanding of what Lee, a true patriot, was willing to risk for the cause of freedom. Continue reading The Jeremiah Lee Mansion→
Following up on correcting the charts in my Seeing double blog post, the chart showing my ancestor Anna (Salisbury) Slade was a recent disappointment and involved removing some ancestors from my charts. The chart identified Anna’s parents as Daniel Salisbury and Anna Hale, and had Anna as the child of Rev. Moses Hale (Harvard 1699) and Mary Moody of Newbury, with several early Newbury ancestors including Henry and Jane (Dummer) Sewall, who were the parents of Judge Samuel Sewall (1652–1730), known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials. Continue reading Bye-bye-bye→
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→
Another example of correcting mistakes on my family charts came in the example of “seeing double,” where there appeared to be two generations with the exact same names, which can often, but not always, be a sign something is not quite right.
In this case my great-grandfather’s great-grandmother Abigail (Slade) Fitts (1777–1874) of Ashford, Connecticut, was identified as the daughter of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Their ancestors were continued on charts 12 and 13. However on chart 12, Jonathan Slade is also identified as a son of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Was this really true? In this case, no. Continue reading Seeing double→
Facts can be so unsatisfying. Colorless (but critical) records of lives, people, places, and events, when facts are viewed in the context of heirlooms, memorabilia, or artifacts, things left behind by our ancestors, our past is better illuminated and gives us insight into older generations, providing a foundation for family stories. Readers of my posts on Vita Brevis will recognize my pursuit of and passion for those stories. Whether the facts give rise to the stories, or whether the stories begin by seeking the underlying facts, is something of a chicken-or-the-egg question, a fractal of genealogical research, repeating and replicating patterns of family interactions and history. Continue reading What’s left behind→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays were back in Boston. The engagement of a family friend reminded Mrs. Gray of some of the undercurrents which must have swirled unnoticed about her own engagement in 1844:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 11 September 1864: A dull lowering day has settled into a steady rain – so we shall probably not get out to “The Pines” tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober] to see the place & house. I hear it is handsome and commodious enough within, to amply compensate its outward unsightliness – which is saying a good word for its accommodations certainly, as externally the house does not satisfy the eye at all. Continue reading ‘A very serious thing indeed!’→
The Great Migration to New England from 1620 through 1640 is the focal point of the Great Migration Study Project by Robert Charles Anderson that NEHGS has been publishing for more than twenty years, but there are also a number of lesser-known academic studies of interest to Great Migration descendants.
Roger Thompson, “a retired university reader in American history at the University of East Anglia,” has written several very interesting books that I highly recommend. The first one that I picked up off the shelf today is his Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629–1640, which is a statistical examination of conditions behind the families that came from East Anglia during the Great Migration. Continue reading Mobility and migration→
More often than not our work in genealogy and family history leads us to more than one proverbial brick wall. No matter how hard we try, or with what tenacity we might pursue that much needed fact, vital record, or even secondary source material, it all seems to no avail. While there is no panacea to cover all the brick walls we encounter, there just might be a way to refocus attention on the task at hand, i.e., research, by looking at unrelated people, places, or things – in a familiar place. Continue reading Common walls→