Category Archives: American History

A woman’s nationality

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Between 2 March 1907 and 22 September 1922, the Expatriation Act of 1907 required a woman who married a foreigner to take the nationality of her husband, and therefore she lost her own citizenship. The Cable Act (also known as the “Married Women’s Independent Nationality Act” or the “Married Women’s Act”) passed on 22 September 1922; it repealed the 1907 law and thus severed a woman’s marital status from her husband’s nationality. Continue reading A woman’s nationality

Birth marks

Proud Americans: The family of Anthony and Clara Davis Martell courtesy of the Lehman family tree on Ancestry.com.

We family historians can never get enough of a good thing, right? So in the fall of 2012 when my son and his fiancée tied the knot I was thrilled for two very different reasons: a) my new daughter in-law was going to be an awesome addition to the family, and b) with it she was bringing an entirely new family history for exploring – a welcome relief after staring at my own brick walls for too long.

Before long, I was in the thick of researching her family tree, especially those lines that would lead (where else but?) to New England. Soon enough I could see a possible Mayflower line in her grandmother’s Martell family. There seemed to be a clear path to Mayflower passenger Henry Samson. And while I wasn’t intent on signing up my new daughter-in-law for the GSMD, I knew I had to be able to prove this for my own benefit – and for any future grandchildren (wink). Continue reading Birth marks

Cambridge Cameos

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth century New Englanders. Continue reading Cambridge Cameos

Book marks

Courtesy of Historic Oregon Newspapers.

With the addition of so many newspapers to online databases, it’s been illuminating to page back through time to see so much of our ancestors’ everyday lives. For me, one of the more curious people encountered ‘in the news’ has been my maternal great-great-grandfather Jacob Ginder (1837–1901). Jacob’s roots are unusual in my standard array of westward migrating New Englanders. Jacob’s origins are from mid-Atlantic Quaker stock, the kind you can follow backwards from Iowa to Virginia in the 1700s.

While it isn’t in the newspapers, I know that Jacob Ginder wasn’t one to sit still. Continue reading Book marks

Local landmarks and genealogy

What do every day landmarks within your community and genealogy have in common? Everything! Yes, that is correct, everything. Regional genealogy is all around you. The names of everyday landmarks are useful clues connecting local surnames to specific geographical regions. Some of the oldest family names within a region can be found in the names of streets, buildings, and some of popular destinations within a community. Continue reading Local landmarks and genealogy

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?

Deference to defiance

The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge,[1] and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623. Continue reading Deference to defiance

What generation am I?

Catedral Santa Ana, San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic (where I have found records on my father-in-law’s ancestors back to 1822). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Following up on a post by David Allen Lambert on the question of identity, a semi-related topic involves the generation in the United States to which someone belongs. In my experience, this might mean something different for a genealogist belonging to a family long resident in America, as opposed to the child or grandchild of a recent immigrant.

My most recent immigrant ancestors were my great-great-great-grandparents Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, who came over from Ireland to Philadelphia in the 1840s and married there in 1850. Through that part of my ancestry, I would call myself sixth generation. I count Joseph and Rebecca as the first generation, and would describe it in a genealogy as follows: Continue reading What generation am I?

Another place

“It is good people who make good places.” – Anna Sewell

Courtesy of DigitalCommonweatlth.org, Massachusetts Collections online.

Like most of us discovering our family history, I rely heavily on census records. Often we come across numerous variations in the spelling of names of people, places, and things as we review those records. Recently, in looking through a few extended branches of my tree in differing U.S. Federal Census records, I discovered that a place can mean many different things.

I found an example of this with my great-great-grandfather, John Henry Record (1840–1915). John Record was from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and (for the most part) records reflecting his origins, and those of his parents, are generally consistent with that area. However, with the arrival of the U.S. Federal Census for 1900 my progenitor states that his mother was born in Sweden. Sweden? Continue reading Another place

Crowdsourcing

Implementing crowdsourcing as the chief means of gathering information has had success from Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary to Planters Peanuts. In fact, I would be so bold as to put Vita Brevis on this list – as comments from our readers have led to many breakthroughs in our bloggers’ brick walls.

Case in point: On 20 April 2015, I wrote a blog post (Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?) in which I lamented the problems facing genealogists, especially when asked to locate a person with a very common name in a very large place. Continue reading Crowdsourcing