Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Local landmarks and genealogy

What do every day landmarks within your community and genealogy have in common? Everything! Yes, that is correct, everything. Regional genealogy is all around you. The names of everyday landmarks are useful clues connecting local surnames to specific geographical regions. Some of the oldest family names within a region can be found in the names of streets, buildings, and some of popular destinations within a community. Continue reading Local landmarks and genealogy

Deference to defiance

The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge,[1] and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623. Continue reading Deference to defiance

A family reunion

The Lexington minuteman statue, in Lexington, Massachusetts. The statue stands on the southern point of the town green. Photograph by Leon H. Abdalian. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Patriots’ Day, a holiday unique to the State of Massachusetts, commemorates the famous skirmishes between local colonial militia and the British army in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775. In Lexington, the day is typically celebrated with an early morning reenactment of the skirmish on the town’s green. As an avid watcher of the reenactment, my favorite part of the event comes just prior to the skirmish. Before the fighting ensues, members of the Lexington minutemen—each representing a particular individual who was present on the green that morning—gather on the common for a roll call and commence calling their names in succession. As the roll is taken, one cannot help but notice the frequency at which similar surnames are repeated. Hearing this serves as a reminder that the men who stood on the green that April morning were not only committed to defending their town, their property, and their rights, but they were also related. Continue reading A family reunion

Earthly remains

Of all the things we leave behind when our time is done, the most important, of course, is ourselves, the least and the most of our lives. While cultures vary in the veneration of ancestors, my staunch Puritan ancestors held to the rites of our New England traditions.

Yet one of the most fascinating yet unsettling museums I’ve experienced is the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato,[1] the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico. And what better time to visit that museum than on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? We walked with local families up the hill to the cemetery next to the museum where it is customary to picnic, decorate the family grave site, and pay homage to one’s ancestors. Continue reading Earthly remains

Two gravestones, one body

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Finding two gravestones for the same person – particularly a widowed person who marries again, or perhaps moves further west – is something not uncommon in genealogical research. A gravestone may be inscribed with both parties’ names with the death date of the living party left empty for when their time comes. However, even when that year is filled in, don’t necessarily think both people are under the same earth. Continue reading Two gravestones, one body

Divided We Stand

Getting back to our Roger Thompson book club, the next title on my shelf is Divided We Stand, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1630-1680.[1] Here Thompson presents a holistic view of what it was like living in Watertown by studying five areas – I. New World from Old (The Lie of the Land, The Peopling of Early Watertown, 1630–1640, and The View from the Stour), II. Foundations (Government, Land, and religion), III. Economy (Living with Livestock, and Livelihood: The Town’s Economy), IV. Care in the Community (Welfare, The Rising Generation, The Family), and V. Reinforcing Consensus (Invisible Indians, “Foreigners” and Community); followed by a conclusion, “Continuity and Change, Decline and Discord.” Continue reading Divided We Stand

Strong emotions

Several weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance of mine, a man I will describe only as a prominent African American personality. Let’s call him Alex. He emailed to say he had read my book, The Stranger in My Genes, and he wanted to discuss something with me. Privately.

My book, published by NEHGS, tells the story of a DNA test I took to help a cousin with his genealogical research. The results were shocking. They revealed that my father was not my father. Since it was released in September of 2016, I have heard from dozens of people – friends and strangers – who have had similar experiences. I assumed Alex was only the latest. Continue reading Strong emotions

One more!

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

An example of how a final spouse might be overlooked occurred when I was researching a “double Lippitt” spouse, Zurial Potter Arnold (1795–1865) of Eastford, Connecticut.[1] Zurial was married to two daughters of Moses and Anstress (Holden) Lippitt of Killingly, Connecticut. He first married Ann Lippitt in 1816; she died in 1823. He then married Ann’s sister Hannah in 1824. I found a reference to Zurial’s 1865 death on findagrave, which showed he was buried near a total of four wives, as also shown below in the Charles R. Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions. Continue reading One more!

Still looking

In a previous post, I mentioned that my mother had received several pictures and other items that belonged to my grandparents. In addition to the certificate that belonged to my great-grandfather, which I mentioned in my last blog post, I came across a book entitled The Muir Family Heritage Book.

According to one of the first pages of the book, The Muir Family Heritage Book was purchased by my grandfather in 1984. This surprised me; my mother had told me stories of her grandparents (my great-parents), but didn’t seem to know much about her family beyond them, and none of my aunts and uncles appeared to have an outward interest in genealogy. Continue reading Still looking

The Miller sisters

Hannah Miller’s headstone at Oak Hill Cemetery in Bradford, McKean Co., Pa. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Steven Weyand Folkers’ comment on a recent post – regarding a father and son both marrying women surnamed Miller, but from unrelated families – reminded me of a similar example in my own research several years ago with two Davis sisters who had married men named Miller.

This project started with trying to identify the children of Clark Davis (1803–1881) and his wife Philena Franklin (1811–1882) of Steuben County, New York. Continue reading The Miller sisters