Category Archives: News

The Other Half

Courtesy of ABC Inc.

On October 27, NEHGS hosted a Family History Benefit Dinner featuring Bill Griffeth and Cokie Roberts, both accomplished news commentators and authors. Whereas Bill has written of his experiences with unexpected DNA results concerning his paternal side, Cokie has made a career of highlighting the lives of women in American history.

In honor of her accomplishments, the Society presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History and Biography and a beautifully hand-bound book of her ancestors. As I compiled her robust genealogy, I worked to include the kinds of stories that would interest an author of female biographies. Continue reading The Other Half


Alicia Crane WilliamsI was just given the honor of being elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. So exactly what do those initials after my name mean?

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was conceived in 1940 by three giants in the field: Dr. Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Merdeith B. Colket, Jr. When it was incorporated in 1946, the first directors were Adams, Colket, Harry Wright Newman, Milton Rubincam, and Herbert F. Seversmith. Milton once confided to me over drinks at a genealogical conference that it all began as a bunch of guys getting together for drinks! The purpose was to associate themselves and others for their mutual benefit and for the advancement of genealogy (see Continue reading Honors

Let’s put on a show!

Mitzi posterFor the last few months I have been working with Judi Garner of the Jewish Heritage Center, here at NEHGS, on an exhibit of twentieth-century Jewish photographers and their subjects, and we are finally finished. The photos are framed and hung; the labels have been written, proofed, and attached to boards; a short show catalogue has been created; and my lecture has, largely, been written…

Tonight I will speak here in Boston on the show and its subject: Mitzi Hajos (pron. Hoy-uss), a Broadway chorine who became a one-name star along the lines of Cher or Madonna. Through photos of Mitzi, and the images taken by contemporary photographers of Broadway and Hollywood stars, we can trace the changing aesthetics of theatrical portraiture and the growing influence of the flickers – the photoplay – the movies that were, increasingly, produced in California. Continue reading Let’s put on a show!

Remember the ladies

Gertrude Janeway
Courtesy of

Over the years I have had the honor of corresponding with veterans from the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. But I must admit that corresponding and talking with some of the last widows of the Civil War was a highlight as a historian. It is hard for some now to comprehend that a widow of the Civil War could be living nearly 150 years after the start of the war, early in the twenty-first century. However there have been other widows who married very young to older veterans from previous wars with quite similar stories. Continue reading Remember the ladies

A mappa mundi

A_Mappi Mundi _Hereford_Cathedral_at_NEHGS
The Society’s copy of the Mappa Mundi. Photo by Dani Torres

The Society has, hanging on its walls, a reproduction of the famous thirteenth-century Hereford Mappa Mundi, the original of which is in the collection of Hereford Cathedral in the west of England. A mappa mundi – from Medieval Latin mappa (cloth or chart) and mundi (of the world) – is any medieval European map of the world.  Approximately 1,100 of these maps are known to exist today, of which the Hereford Cathedral version is the largest. In fact, it’s the largest medieval map in the world. Continue reading A mappa mundi

A Midwestern femme fatale

Belle Gunness article
Image courtesy of the Kokomo Tribune.

We have a tendency to envision our ancestors as upstanding members of society.  In some cases, they were. In others, they were anything but. I first stumbled across Belle Gunness while researching the Midwestern ancestry of a client, and I’ve been disgusted and oddly intrigued by her ever since.

Belle Poulsdatter was born circa 1860 in Norway. She emigrated to America and settled in Chicago, Illinois, where she married Mads Anton Sorenson in 1884. The couple had several children, two of whom died under unusual circumstances.[1] Then, Mads Sorenson died suddenly on 30 July 1900. Continue reading A Midwestern femme fatale

Maine’s lost colony

St George's Fort Popham
Courtesy of Other variations of this map exist, and may be found online.

Recently a patron asked me why he was unable to find information on his ancestors who arrived before the Mayflower. I explained that Plymouth Colony was the first permanently settled colony in New England. What I told him was technically true, but I later discovered that an earlier colony had been established in Maine. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, England, France, and Spain all had their eyes on the New World, hoping to take advantage its great wealth of resources. Continue reading Maine’s lost colony

A vote of confidence

vita_brevis_bannerYesterday afternoon, sometime after 2 p.m., Vita Brevis marked a major milestone in the life of a blog with its one-millionth page view. Since it officially launched on 10 January 2014, with Robert Charles Anderson’s Deep Puritan Roots post, Vita Brevis has published almost 650 installments[1] by 73 bloggers, with categories ranging from American History (there are 258 blog posts in this area) to Genealogical Writing (89) to Technology (30). Continue reading A vote of confidence

ICYMI: Double-dating

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 5 January 2015.]

Charles I death warrant
The Death Warrant of King Charles I,

Millions of British citizens and their colonial counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean went to sleep on 2 September 1752 and woke up on 14 September. This shift in dates was due to an Act of Parliament passed in 1750, known as Chesterfield’s Act, which put into motion a series of changes that fundamentally altered the way that many measured time. Continue reading ICYMI: Double-dating

Some super-centenarians

Little girls playing, ca. 1900. Image courtesy of

Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died in Brooklyn, New York on 12 May 2016 at the advanced age of 116 years and 311 days, was (at her death) the oldest verified living person in the world. Susannah was born at Lowndes County, Alabama, on 6 July 1899, a daughter of Callie and Mary Mushatt. Her parents were African-American sharecroppers and her grandmother was an ex-slave. There have been many Americans over the years who were super-centenarians (living past their 110th birthdays), but with Susannah’s death a door in American history now closes. Continue reading Some super-centenarians