Category Archives: Family Stories

A worthwhile pursuit

Descendants of David and Shaneh Vidomlansky, who married in 1790.

May is Jewish Heritage Month, so in its honor I decided to look into my own Jewish heritage.

Even though I work at a genealogical society, I always felt that it was a worthless pursuit to try to trace my genealogy back many generations. My great-grandparents and some of my great-great-grandparents were the ones who immigrated to the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. Due to language differences, various names, changing borders, and not even knowing exactly where they were from (“somewhere in Russia” or “maybe Bialystock,” my grandparents would say), I never really gave it a shot. Continue reading A worthwhile pursuit

Also known as

Cecil Calvert Taliaferro

Many of the vernacular photos I’ve bought in the last few months have no information about the sitter – sometimes the subject is identified by a nickname, such as “Stinky.” I recently bought an intriguing image of a man (apparently) dancing, and I was delighted to find his full name and date of birth on the reverse: Cecil Calvert Taliaferro, born 24 January 1922.

A glance at Ancestry.com for Cecil suggested a complex identity: he appears in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index as Cecil Calvert Taliaferro (born 24 January 1923), also known as Chet Tolliver, also known as Chet Toliver. It is as Cecil Taliaferro that he is buried at Melvin Cemetery in Melvin, McCulloch County, Texas, but Ancestry links Cecil and Chet at the Social Security Death Index. Continue reading Also known as

A sense of place

William Dunn with his sisters Helen and Hope in the background, ca. 1922. Photos courtesy of Kathleen Kaldis

The town of  Lee, Massachusetts holds special meaning to my maternal side of the family. My grandmother, Hope Elizabeth Dunn, was the daughter of William Jordan Dunn and Helen Veronica Maloney. She was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1911, the oldest of three children. Her siblings, Helen and William Dunn, were also born in Bristol County, Massachusetts during the 1910s.

When their father died in 1918, Helen Veronica Dunn was left to raise three young children on her own. Continue reading A sense of place

The name game

My cousin with his parents.

I recently traveled to Michigan to watch my cousin, Scott, graduate from Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) with a law degree. And like any good family member/genealogist, while I sat with my family waiting for the commencement to commence, I examined the program for Scott’s name. After a few moments, I located my cousin’s first and middle name: Scott Harrison. Excited, I asked my aunt and uncle whether Harrison was a family name. “Nope,” my uncle explained, “when your aunt was eight months pregnant, we got the name Harrison from a billboard that we passed while driving home. It sounded presidential, so we went with it.” Now, because my family is beyond sarcastic, I didn’t believe them at first; however, after a few minutes of my uncle insisting this was the case, I relented – I guess they got the name from a billboard. Continue reading The name game

Indians in the basement

Frank White Lee

My mother’s dad Frank White Lee (1908–1988) was a quiet man. He worked hard, and his silence was a mode we were taught to give all due consideration. Once, when my sisters and I were a bit too raucous, my grandfather told us that we needed to be quiet, or the “Indians in the basement” would hear us – and come after us for misbehaving. Because Grandpa rarely spoke, we weren’t sure what to believe. (P.S. – Grandpa did not mean to be politically incorrect – it was 1965.)

Grandpa was born in Wyoming, but said little about his family. His mother Dora Ono Wilcox (1880–1916) had died from complications in childbirth, and his father died when he was sixteen. Continue reading Indians in the basement

Correcting an error

Recently, I’ve started visiting the cemeteries of my ancestors. Fortunately, most of my maternal ancestors stayed in the Boston area after immigrating, so it hasn’t been too difficult.

A few months ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury in search of the headstone of my great-great-grandparents, John Henry and Anna K. (Ulrich) Hampe. After searching for some time, I finally came to the Hampe plot. Listed on the headstone are John and Anna, as well as their children Joseph M., Bernard J., Anna M., and B. Ernestine Hampe. Though I was happy to take a few pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a flicker of disappointment. With the exception of Joseph, the other Hampes buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery only list their birth and death year, rather than the full dates of those events. Continue reading Correcting an error

Follow that salesman

Gilbert Wayne Helman (1882-1945) and his wife Mazy Nelson Kelly (1883-1943).

As the New England Regional Genealogical Conference was held recently in Springfield, Massachusetts, I am reminded of my brief genealogical connection to that city and the incredible value of city directories. Springfield is the birthplace of my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Peltz Helman, who was born there 9 September 1914 at 20 Converse Street. However the family only lived there two years before moving on. Her father, Gilbert Wayne Helman (1882–1945), was a travelling salesman who for the better part of twenty-plus years never lived in the same city for long. City directories (along with a few other records) allow me get a nearly complete timeline of someone who was constantly “on the move.”

Gilbert was born in Philadelphia 12 March 1882, the elder of the two sons of Herbert Heath and Mary Rosella (Through) Helman. Continue reading Follow that salesman

Deadheading

At my great-grandmother’s desk with her daughter Katheryn Ogle Record’s clippings.

My grandmother Katheryn Ogle Record (1914–1993) was a dead head. No, surely not that kind of dead head, but one who collected those lifetime addenda we all hope someone will afford each of us someday. We call them obituaries, and at a very early age my grandmother began collecting them. In some ways my grandmother was the consummate family historian. While I never saw her record births or deaths in a family Bible, or transcribe items from a census, she did keep records – and actually very good ones. Continue reading Deadheading

The man from nowhere

Warren Reed Buzzell, 1927-2013

When I first started working at NEHGS in November 2015 and was introduced to Gary Boyd Roberts, he shook my hand and said, “Tell me about your family.” I told him my mother was half Cape Breton Scottish and Yorkshire English, and half Croatian (see my previous posts). His eyes glazed over. When I said my maiden name was Buzzell and my paternal grandmother was an Ordway from Medford, I could tell that little wheels started turning in Gary’s head: Yankees!

When my father was alive, I often asked him where his family was from. His response was usually “nowhere,” but sometimes he filled this void of information with a romantic genealogical fantasy: perhaps they were Huguenots banished from France? Continue reading The man from nowhere

Through the wringer

In sorting out a DNA match recently, I uncovered a rather puzzling family story. On 23andme, my father’s closest “stranger match” was a person I will call “J.O.H.” She and my father shared 0.83% DNA along 5 DNA segments, for a total of 62 centimorgans, with a predicted kinship of third cousins. The only people my father had more DNA in common with were myself, my daughter, and one known second cousin once removed though his paternal grandfather. Another known second cousin once removed, also through my father’s paternal grandfather, had less DNA in common with my father than my father had with J.O.H. Both of these known cousins were not related to this stranger match, leading me to conclude this match should be through my father’s paternal grandmother [from Massachusetts], or through my father’s mother [from Pennsylvania]. Continue reading Through the wringer