Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Generational spread

A (non-genealogical) post I read recently involved someone referring to a relative of an older generation as a “second cousin.” I asked further about the kinship, and this person was actually the author’s mother’s first cousin, and thus the author’s “first cousin once removed,” which is a common mistake in kinship assignment. However, it got me thinking about how much “generational spread” can occur even in a comparatively short period of time. Continue reading Generational spread

Finding Hattie

Recently, while leafing through an old album of my father’s family, I came across two large adjacent cabinet card photos of a couple I didn’t know labeled “Hattie Gordon” and “Lawrence Gordon.” There is only one Hattie Gordon (Harriett Frances Gordon Cony, 1849–1922) in my family tree, and this lady is not she; there is no Lawrence Gordon, either. Had I missed some cousins? An aunt or uncle, long-lost or abandoned? Maybe they were just good friends of the family. The questions began circling. No one I asked recognized these people or their names. Of course, I had to figure out who they were and why they were in this album (organizing materials can wait, right?). Continue reading Finding Hattie

JSTOR.org

In days of yore, when I was in college, locating published articles on historical topics required hours sifting through library stacks and individual journal indexes, then laboriously photocopying each page of each article. Thankfully, in today’s digital world, we have JSTOR.org, with instant access to full indexes of every journal in their collection (not limited to historical titles) and the ability to download PDF files of the articles to our desktop and print at home. Continue reading JSTOR.org

New Englanders in the South

Kimberlys of North Carolina

Earlier this month I went to the National Genealogical Society conference in Raleigh, North Carolina; it was my first time in the Tar Heel State. While I have many southern ancestors who started out in Virginia and Maryland before heading west, none of them – as far as I have found – lived in North Carolina or further south. However, through some of my New England ancestry in Connecticut, I have a brief connection to North Carolina in the late seventeenth century. While not necessarily the “normal” migration, there are several cases of New Englanders going south rather than west, many times settling there permanently. Continue reading New Englanders in the South

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

Writing family history

Hints for Success

I recently saw an interesting infographic about writing success. Although the focus is on writing novels, several of the hints apply to writing a family history:

  • read more
  • write, write, write
  • read your work aloud

Let’s look at each one of these in turn.

Read more. When you undertake a family history, you’ll be drawing information from various records and notes and documents. But how do you write? How do you put one word in front of the other as you collate all the facts with family lore and contextual information from other sources? Continue reading Writing family history

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

The language of colonial relationships

Typically, when researching family history, finding documents in which individuals state their relationship to each other is a source of excitement. These kinds of discoveries provide researchers with crucial information for genealogical research. However, during my time as a researcher here at NEHGS, I have come across some examples of direct statements of relationships that are not always what they appear to be. This insight specifically relates to colonial era documents, where relationships might be described differently than they are today. Continue reading The language of colonial relationships

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

A scrapbook love letter

My mother’s letter

I grew up in a normal home with two parents, one older brother, various dogs, cats (house and barn varieties), and a one-time parakeet. Like most people with that background, I thought I knew my parents and their individual backgrounds well, especially because my mother was careful to instill in me an appreciation of both lines of the family history.

In the early-mid 1930s, my mother was teaching and boarding with the principal of her school where My Father The Milkman delivered the semi-weekly bottles. It was a bottle of milk that began my parents’ relationship and a 1938 marriage lasting for more than 57 years, until my father’s death in 1995. Continue reading A scrapbook love letter