Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Sex in Middlesex

As one would imagine from the title, Roger Thompson’s most popular work (see my last post) is Sex in Middlesex, Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699.[1] First, a few words on the differences between academic historians and genealogists. Academic historians are concerned with the “why” of history. They gather large samples of statistical information but usually skim over individual people. Genealogists work from the individual, but usually we leave the bigger picture to the historians while we move on to another ancestor. Continue reading Sex in Middlesex

Seeing double

Another example of correcting mistakes on my family charts came in the example of “seeing double,” where there appeared to be two generations with the exact same names, which can often, but not always, be a sign something is not quite right.

In this case my great-grandfather’s great-grandmother Abigail (Slade) Fitts (1777–1874) of Ashford, Connecticut, was identified as the daughter of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Their ancestors were continued on charts 12 and 13. However on chart 12, Jonathan Slade is also identified as a son of Jonathan Slade and Anna Salisbury. Was this really true? In this case, no. Continue reading Seeing double

Common walls

Vintage Long Beach travel poster. Image courtesy of the MuscleHeaded Blog

More often than not our work in genealogy and family history leads us to more than one proverbial brick wall. No matter how hard we try, or with what tenacity we  might pursue that much needed fact, vital record, or even secondary source material, it all seems to no avail. While there is no panacea to cover all the brick walls we encounter, there just might be a way to refocus attention on the task at hand, i.e., research, by looking at unrelated people, places, or things – in a familiar place. Continue reading Common walls

Serendipity

The author with the late Mary O’Mahony, Dreenauliff, Sneem, Kerry, Ireland, in August 2001.

Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.

In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity

“Algonquinization?”

A friend from my hometown of Putnam, Connecticut posed a question on Facebook about what the word “Aspinock” literally means. Putnam was incorporated in 1855; in earlier years it had been known as Aspinock, but it was later named Putnam after General Israel Putnam of the Revolutionary War. Our local historical society remains the Aspinock Historical Society after this “original” town name. Continue reading “Algonquinization?”

The house by the side of the road

When my brother was little (long ago and not far away), he would lull himself to sleep by reciting the phrase on an antique cross-stitched sampler of a house which hung on the wall over his bed: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” This simple sampler makes me think about how many things change yet remain the same in my neighborhood.

I have come to understand that my family history is intrinsically linked to the houses my ancestors built as well as the area in which they built them, two inseparable elements which complement each other, and which provide fodder for my “family stories.” Continue reading The house by the side of the road

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

Abandoning America

Sir Richard Saltonstall came to New England with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. He left in 1631. His oldest son, Richard Saltonstall, also returned to England in 1631, where he got married in 1633 and then brought his wife and their nine-month-old daughter back to New England. The younger Saltonstall was active, sometimes controversially, in the Massachusetts government and travelled back and forth between the colonies and old England over the next six decades. In 1643 he took his wife, Muriel, and all of his daughters home to England for the benefit of her health (which apparently was affected by a deep distaste for the New World), leaving only his youngest son Nathaniel to settle permanently in Massachusetts. After more trips back and forth, Richard returned to England for good in 1688. “Richard never really became a New Englander.” Continue reading Abandoning America

Fudging facts

Click on the image to expand it.

Alternate dates of birth for our ancestors, perhaps ranging over several years, are common for many of us, and the reasons can vary considerably. A recent example in my own research came in the form of a deliberate change of birth date, with the sole intention to make the subject appear younger than her husband. Continue reading Fudging facts

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