Category Archives: Collections

ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 October 2015.]

Riffing on something Chris Child wrote about collecting photos of family members in July, I thought I might do something similar with information about family burial plots. Such an exercise leans heavily on Findagrave.com (where some of the images may be found), although in my case I also have the notes compiled by my great-aunt Margaret Steward in 1966 as a resource for my research.

My grandparents are easy: my father’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Hamilton Cemetery in Massachusetts, while my mother’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. I was present for my paternal grandfather’s memorial service in 1991, my maternal grandfather’s burial in 1994, and for my paternal step-grandmother’s memorial service in 1996. Continue reading ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

‘In cold blood’

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

Thomas Ball’s statue of George Washington, in Boston’s Public Garden. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

In her diary, Regina Shober Gray[1] notes occasional instances where (usually at the behest of a friend) she assumed a more public profile. Her literary efforts were prized by her contemporaries; one set of her verses was published both in Boston and in Philadelphia in 1862. That Mrs. Gray could feel competitive about her work, even with her friend Mrs. W. B. Richards, may be seen in the diary.

This first entry also refers to the diarist’s friend Emily Adams, newly-wed to Caleb Agry Curtis, whose father had died in late March, drawing them back to Boston from a European honeymoon.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 10 April 1864: A wet afternoon; I joined Emily Adams[2] after church and walked home with her, glad of the chance to see her for a few minutes without feeling myself an intruder in her mother-in-law’s house of mourning.[3] Three weeks ago, to-day, they were in Venice, preparing for a trip to Sorrento, with the Gordons[4] next day – when the sad news came to hurry them home. Continue reading ‘In cold blood’

A variety of faiths

Arms of Cornette. Courtesy of The American Heraldry Society, https://www.americanheraldry.org/heraldry-in-the-usa/roll-of-early-american-arms/P2080

I was very excited about our recent announcement that AmericanAncestors.org is digitizing the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston. I had viewed some of these records in the past at their offices in Braintree. Some of the volumes had been in quite fragile shape, and having them digitized, and ultimately indexed, is going to provide greater access to an under-utilized record source.

When the records went online, I decided to browse some of the early volumes. While people with Catholic ancestors in other areas such as Quebec and Latin America can often find mothers’ full maiden names on baptismal records, and mothers’ maiden names for both parties on marriage records, I knew that this is not always the case for New England Catholic records: often the wife/mother is listed only with her husband’s name, without a reference to her maiden name. Continue reading A variety of faiths

‘The prudence of staying at home’

[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
As her children grew up, from time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] offered pen portraits on their emerging characters: here, she reflects on her older children Frank, Mary, and Sam Gray.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 4 March 1864: Frank [Gray][2] got home on Tuesday at 9½ p.m. after 3 weeks in Philad[elphia] and 1 in New York. He had a good time, and has grown decidedly; but brought home a heavy cold, by wh[ich] he is quite sick, and wh. he considers a decidedly ignoble termination to his festivities. He is now at Cambridge, though I strenuously urged the prudence of staying at home to be nursed up, [until] Monday next. He brought me from Horace [Gray][3] a copy of “Chron’s. of Schönberg-Cotta Family”[4] wh. I was delighted to get – three people having recommended it to me within a week as a most charming book – one to own &c. Continue reading ‘The prudence of staying at home’

Researching family heirlooms

Fig. 1: Side chair, De Young Museum: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco, California) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Services team at NEHGS is occasionally approached with questions relating to the history of ownership (i.e. provenance) of a particular family heirloom. These questions are usually supplemented with stories about the heirloom’s first owner and how the object was acquired. Genealogists are uniquely qualified to carry out provenance research due to their familiarity with and frequent use of two sources commonly used in provenance research: wills and estate inventories. However, before consulting any of these sources, a serious study of an heirloom’s provenance should begin by studying the object itself.

To illustrate how the study of an object is crucial to provenance research, consider the following hypothetical scenario: An individual is interested in documenting the ownership of a piece of heirloom furniture (a side chair) that has been in the family for multiple generations. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that the chair is similar in form to the image in Fig. 1, and that the chair is not a reproduction. Continue reading Researching family heirlooms

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’