Category Archives: Collections

That which we inherit

The John Record family in 1907.

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

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

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

‘A very serious thing indeed!’

[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
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays[1] 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”[2] tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober][3] 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!’

Identifying a family bible

The McKenna bible after restoration.

Growing up, I remember having two huge old family bibles in the house. They were in terrible condition with detached covers, loose pages, and other damage. My mother said they had been that way since she was a teenager. The bibles had been missing for some time but finally resurfaced a couple of years ago. I was able to find a book restorer who did an amazing job repairing the family heirlooms.

Both bibles were published in the late 1800s and had been kept by my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, who died when I was in college. One bible was clearly owned by Helen’s in-laws, John and Carrie (Luke) Dickinson. It contains birth, marriage and death records of both the Dickinsons and the Lukes. Continue reading Identifying a family bible

A Boston blueprint

Photo courtesy of Diserio.com

I was recently enlisted to help my boyfriend clean out his mother’s basement; while not the most exciting of tasks, it actually led to an interesting historical discovery. Throughout this process we came across the usual repertoire of items that eventually made their way into a long-term storage area: unused kitchen appliances, tools and craft supplies, as well as old toys and keepsakes. However, in moving things around, one object in particular caught my attention. It was a large framed photo of a building. Continue reading A Boston blueprint

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

‘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

As is

Genealogists spend a lot of time correcting published genealogical works, which is especially ironic when it comes to Clarence Almon Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700, published by NEHGS and the work upon which the Early New England Families Study Project is based.

We have constant inquiries about, and requests to fix, typographical mistakes and transcription errors in the Torrey database on AmericanAncestors.org, which is not really a “database” but an index to the images from the three-volume print publication, also published by NEHGS. Continue reading As is

‘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?’