Category Archives: American History

‘The hurrier I go’

As the White Rabbit said in Alice in Wonderland, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” We’ve all been there. The good news is that two new Early New England Families Study Project sketches are being posted to Americanancestors.org this week: John Hollister of Wethersfield and Thomas Nichols of Hingham. In addition, two second-version treatments are also being posted: Samuel Jenney of Plymouth and Dartmouth, and Joseph Andrews of Hingham. Continue reading ‘The hurrier I go’

Plot lines

My great-grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Daniel S. Ogle of Paola, Kansas, about 1910.

In the summer of 1970 I was witness to a ritual that had eluded parts of my family for more than one hundred years. This ritual was the graveside service for my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886–1970) in a designated or an “ancestral” family burying ground.[i] By this late date, most of my family had revolted against the idea of “family plots,” preferring instead their own unique nomadic burials during the nineteenth-century westward expansion, or, perhaps later, in efforts to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Continue reading Plot lines

Updating an exhibit

Courtesy of Arlene Ovalle-Child

In 2010 I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. An exhibit that caught my eye was called Within these Walls, which told the stories of five families who lived in a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts for more than two centuries. The period covered ranges from the Choate family as American colonists in the 1750s to the Scott family during the Home Front of the 1940s. The second family covered, under the period of “Revolutionaries – 1777–1789,” was the Dodge family, under the heading “the Dodges and Chance.” The Dodge household included an African-American man named Chance, as noted in Abraham Dodge’s 1786 will, where Abraham left his wife Bethiah “all my Right to the Service of my Negro Man Chance.” At the time I saw this exhibit, that reference was essentially all the show’s curators knew about Chance. Continue reading Updating an exhibit

The lives of women

The beginning of summer and the influx of tourists to the city of Boston has me thinking about a fun activity I did last year: a historic tavern tour. This was an entertaining group outing where we went on a historical tour of the city, all the while stopping at historic bars and having a beer or two at each. I enjoyed this experience as it combined two of my favorite things, history and beer.

Shortly after the tour I came across a book in our library called, Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs, by Samuel Adams Drake. Continue reading The lives of women

Off by ten years

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

While I have written about reported birthdates ranging over several years, something else that happens from time to time is the reporting of death dates, especially gravestones, being off by a few years. Sometimes, when a gravestone date is off, it also creates an incorrect birthdate. Continue reading Off by ten years

Hope for the best

It is urban legend that I got my start doing human genealogy by tracing Thoroughbred horse pedigrees when I worked at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in the early 1970s. I was already familiar with the five-generation pedigree chart before I got there, which was a great help as I typed (pre-computer days) the pedigrees for every horse on a farm with more than 1,000 horses. My boss, “Bull” Hancock, had a ring binder that held two half-page sheets of five-generation charts. The stallions’ sheets were in the top half of the binder and the mares’ sheets in the bottom half. When the time came to plan a mating, Bull could flip the sheets matching mares to stallions. Continue reading Hope for the best

Warnings out

William Burgis, “Detail from a south east view of ye great town of Boston in New England in America,” ca. 1722-23. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

The practice of “warning out” individuals from New England communities can be traced to the mid-seventeenth century, and served as a method of pressuring (potentially troublesome) outsiders to leave town and settle elsewhere. In his Warnings Out in New England, Josiah Henry Benton explained that the roots of this practice could be found in English law. As he put it, New England settlers “necessarily brought with them the ancient and fundamental principles of the English law, one of which was that the inhabitants of a municipality were responsible for the conduct and support of each other, each for all and all for each.”[1] Continue reading Warnings out

Lost but not forgotten 2

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….”  – Paul and Linda McCartney

“Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of lostatseamemorials.com

In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”

I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.” Continue reading Lost but not forgotten 2

Famous namesakes

Malcolm Scott Carpenter (1925-2013)

Last month, I wrote about the tradition of given names. I postulated that given names were either chosen by parents because they honored a family member (both living and deceased) or because parents liked the way a name sounded, and subsequently named their child after “a stranger they met in a bar” (thank you to commenter Deane Taylor). In fact, when the blog posted to Vita Brevis, many of the commenters verified my theory: most were named for complete strangers or in loving memory of family and friends. However, a third group also emerged from the comment section: those who were named for a famous person, event, or cultural icon (thank you to commenters Carole and Carole).

And, when my colleagues read the blog, they shared similar stories of their given name’s cultural significance: Continue reading Famous namesakes

Multiple versions

In checking a source for an article in Mayflower Descendant, I was reminded of the need to check the various versions of early vital records. For many towns in Massachusetts, there are often three pre-1850 versions: 1) the published transcription (often called the “tan books”), 2) the Jay Mack Holbrook collection (on microfiche at NEHGS and digitized on Ancestry.com), and 3) the original vital records (often on microfilm and sometimes digitized on familysearch.org and/or Ancestry.com). Our handbook to New England genealogy is useful in determining which versions beyond the original records exist. Continue reading Multiple versions