Category Archives: Collections

Remembering Rosella

Since childhood I have loved flea markets and genealogy. As a genealogist, I have often discovered the lost treasures of other families and purchased them. When I was about twelve years old, I attended a barn sale near Campton, New Hampshire. As the adult collectors pored over the antique farm equipment, I looked through trunks with old photographs and papers. Sitting out on a table was a small metal plaque; at first glance, it appeared to be a silver serving dish. When I picked it up and saw a name and a death date, though, I got curious. I purchased this item for $3.00 and brought it home that summer. Continue reading Remembering Rosella

A block buster

blocks-1 blocks-2

Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”

In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster

Fascinating rhythm

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

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The “fascinating but demoralizing” waltz was a comparatively recent addition to Boston social gatherings, and Regina Shober Gray’s daughter Mary[1] was one young débutante who worried that waltzing (or “dancing the German,” as it was also known) might lead her astray – which would be de-moralizing, in Mrs. Gray’s parlance.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 26 February 1864: …At Mrs. Hemenway’s,[2] we talked wholly about our young daughters, Amy H.[3]  and my Mary and their friends. We think they are going to make a very nice sensible, high-toned set of girls; and it is a real comfort to feel so. Mary used to think she should be quite isolated in her set, from not dancing the round dances,[4] but as one and another of her young friends comes out with her protest against them, it quite pleases Mary to find that many of the nicest girls unite with her in the resolution to eschew the fascinating but demoralizing “German.” Continue reading Fascinating rhythm

An historic collaboration

archdiocese-and-nehgs-project-branding-square-format-croppedOn Tuesday, NEHGS announced the first fruits of an historic collaboration with the Archdiocese of Boston, one where – over a period of years – Archdiocesan records will be digitized and made available on the NEHGS website, AmericanAncestors.org. In the fullness of time, this collaboration will preserve and make accessible unique records to tell the stories of some 10 million people from the earliest days of the Catholic community in Massachusetts through the twentieth century. These records are key because they often include events not captured in civil registrations. Whether because of a home birth or a conscious decision not to report an event to a civil authority, these documents might include the only written record for a birth or a death. Their importance and value cannot be overstated. Continue reading An historic collaboration

‘A morning at the public library’

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

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] continued to take an interest in her neighbors:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 5 February 1864: A lovely day which tempted me out to make a few long intended calls, on dear old Mrs. Davis[2] [and] Mrs. Wm. Lyman,[3] who [has] been shut up for sixteen weeks, but is as handsome and as fascinating as ever… Sam [Gray][4] & I spent an hour this p.m., at De Vries’[5] store, looking over [Gustave] Dore’s[6] Illustrations of Dante’s [Divine Comedy][7] – the most weird, wonderful, powerful things conceivable on the subject. I have ordered a set of card photographs from them – as part of Emily Adams’s[8] New Year present to me. She sent me $50, and this is the first thing I have decided on…

Last evening we all went to meet General Burnside and wife[9] at a family party at Wm. Gray’s[10] – a pleasant evg. He is a splendid looking man, tall, with a grand build, fine eyes, teeth, complexion, and a very taking smile. His wife quiet, ladylike, unpretending, not pretty but sensible & very pleasing… Continue reading ‘A morning at the public library’

‘There was a poor man in London’

Alicia Crane WilliamsI came across an interesting family story while working on the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Henry Lamprey of Hampton, New Hampshire, that claimed his wife received a dowry from her family equal to her weight in gold!

The story apparently first appeared in print in the 1893 History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire by Joseph Dow (p. 783). Dow may have been a descendant of Henry Lamprey through his daughter Elizabeth, who married Daniel Dow. His version reads: “A pretty story (of the truth of which there is little doubt) has been handed down for generation to generation, that this little wife received for her marriage dowry a scale, containing her weight (one hundred twelve pounds) in gold.” Continue reading ‘There was a poor man in London’

A family register

thompson-register-1Over the holidays, my mother gave me the very nice present of a family register that began with my great-great-great-grandparents – Robert and Emma (Russell) Thompson of Industry, Maine. This framed register used to hang on a wall at my grandparents’ home in Kansas, and I had taken notes from it when I got interested in family history. My mother got it after her mother’s death in 2008, and she decided I was the best relative to receive it. This register was produced by D. Needham, 12 Exchange St, Buffalo, and years ago I recognized a copy of the same style register for sale in our own bookstore. Continue reading A family register

‘If space allows’

chipman-to-gray-postcardThanks to a timely message alerting me to a collection of letters for sale at eBay, I recently acquired one side of the genealogical correspondence between Regina Shober Gray[1] and the Rev. Richard Manning Chipman, author of The Chipman Lineage (1872). Mrs. Gray, so expansive in some areas of her diary, is comparatively terse with regard to the beginning of the correspondence: Continue reading ‘If space allows’

Ex libris

ex-libris-1
A mysterious unnamed and undated photo, found in a book recently donated to NEHGS.

When I catalog new books received by the NEHGS library, my normal focus is, naturally, on the contents of the books themselves: the families and places described, the authors, the titles and publication information, and so on. But every now and then, the books we receive contain little “surprises” that go beyond the published words on the page. Over the years, we have found all kinds of objects left in books, from hand-drawn family trees to photographs and calling cards. Some of these items were clearly meant to supplement the books they were left in, and have definite genealogical import; others are only tangentially related to the book’s content. Still others are complete mysteries: we don’t know why they were left in the book, or if they were even left there on purpose. Continue reading Ex libris

2016: the year in review concluded

At the beginning of 2017, Vita Brevis can boast 1,177,549 page views: while individual readers have surely read multiple articles on a given visit, that million+ reader count is still impressive!

vita_brevis_bannerVita Brevis reached its one-millionth page view on 7 July, some two-and-a-half years after the blog’s launch on 10 January 2014:

“And what do [its contributing authors] write about?

“We write about what interests us, as researchers, as professional genealogists, as editors, as archivists. Sometimes the topic is our own research interests; sometimes we offer tips from our experience as a beginning, an intermediate, or an expert researcher; and sometimes we describe an aspect of our work, here in Boston or elsewhere as part of an NEHGS education program. Continue reading 2016: the year in review concluded