Daughtered out

In a patronymic culture we put emphasis on surnames that are passed from son to grandson. This is mostly a matter of habit, because tracing a genealogy of descendants by their surname is usually much easier than tracing descendants through female lines where the family names keep changing every generation.

I’ve never been politically active – Women’s Lib came along a few years too late for me; I was already out of college and missed the movement, although I embraced “most” of the ideas – but lately I’ve been thinking more about how we all still, out of habit, approach genealogical research and publication mostly by surnames. Continue reading Daughtered out

ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 October 2015.]

Riffing on something Chris Child wrote about collecting photos of family members in July, I thought I might do something similar with information about family burial plots. Such an exercise leans heavily on Findagrave.com (where some of the images may be found), although in my case I also have the notes compiled by my great-aunt Margaret Steward in 1966 as a resource for my research.

My grandparents are easy: my father’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Hamilton Cemetery in Massachusetts, while my mother’s parents (and stepmother) are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. I was present for my paternal grandfather’s memorial service in 1991, my maternal grandfather’s burial in 1994, and for my paternal step-grandmother’s memorial service in 1996. Continue reading ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

A pair of firsts

Bessie Coleman in 1922. Courtesy of Wikispaces.com

Recently, as I was browsing Google, I noticed their doodle for the day.[1] It was honoring Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, who was born 26 January 1892. She was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to receive her pilot’s license, and she was also the first person of African American and Native American descent to receive an international pilot’s license. Continue reading A pair of firsts

Remembering William Monroe Trotter

William Monroe Trotter

The documentary “Birth of a Movement” – which premiered on 30 January at the Somerville Theatre outside Boston, and airs nationally on PBS on Monday 6 February during African-American History Month – explores D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) through a modern lens. What caught my attention about the film is the documentary’s protagonist, famed civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934). Trotter lived nearly his entire life in Boston and founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper. He also established the Niagara Movement, in 1915, with fellow Massachusetts native W.E.B. DuBois, and participated in numerous other causes for civil rights until his death in 1934. Continue reading Remembering William Monroe Trotter

‘In cold blood’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

Thomas Ball’s statue of George Washington, in Boston’s Public Garden. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

In her diary, Regina Shober Gray[1] notes occasional instances where (usually at the behest of a friend) she assumed a more public profile. Her literary efforts were prized by her contemporaries; one set of her verses was published both in Boston and in Philadelphia in 1862. That Mrs. Gray could feel competitive about her work, even with her friend Mrs. W. B. Richards, may be seen in the diary.

This first entry also refers to the diarist’s friend Emily Adams, newly-wed to Caleb Agry Curtis, whose father had died in late March, drawing them back to Boston from a European honeymoon.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 10 April 1864: A wet afternoon; I joined Emily Adams[2] after church and walked home with her, glad of the chance to see her for a few minutes without feeling myself an intruder in her mother-in-law’s house of mourning.[3] Three weeks ago, to-day, they were in Venice, preparing for a trip to Sorrento, with the Gordons[4] next day – when the sad news came to hurry them home. Continue reading ‘In cold blood’

Yalta, 1945

Courtesy of Wikimedia.org.

The seventy-second anniversary of the Yalta Conference, 4–11 February 1945, also marks the anniversary of my uncle’s death in Operation Argonaut, the Allied support mission that provided safe escort to the conference for President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in their historic meeting with Joseph Stalin of Russia. The goal of the conference was to decide how post-war Europe would be governed, even though there was still heavy fighting in France (the Battle of the Bulge had just ended on 25 January). Hindsight reveals that many of the agreements and concessions made during the conference led to the Soviet Union’s domination of eastern Europe for forty years. Continue reading Yalta, 1945

The language of totem poles

The term ‘family history’ has long been associated with the written word and is most often found recorded in books, bibles, and public documents. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, however, have been using another method for more than 125 years: totem poles.

The word ‘totem’ is derived from the Ojibwe ‘odoodem,’ meaning “his kinship.”[1] The earliest record believed to depict a totem pole is from the Pacific coast voyages of Captain James Cook in 1778, when his ship’s artist, John Webber, sketched ceremonial interior poles depicting faces.[2] While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.[3] That totem poles did not appear frequently prior to this period probably reflects a lack of efficient carving tools and wealth, and the leisure time required for their construction.[4]
Continue reading The language of totem poles

A variety of faiths

Arms of Cornette. Courtesy of The American Heraldry Society, https://www.americanheraldry.org/heraldry-in-the-usa/roll-of-early-american-arms/P2080

I was very excited about our recent announcement that AmericanAncestors.org is digitizing the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston. I had viewed some of these records in the past at their offices in Braintree. Some of the volumes had been in quite fragile shape, and having them digitized, and ultimately indexed, is going to provide greater access to an under-utilized record source.

When the records went online, I decided to browse some of the early volumes. While people with Catholic ancestors in other areas such as Quebec and Latin America can often find mothers’ full maiden names on baptismal records, and mothers’ maiden names for both parties on marriage records, I knew that this is not always the case for New England Catholic records: often the wife/mother is listed only with her husband’s name, without a reference to her maiden name. Continue reading A variety of faiths

‘The prudence of staying at home’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
As her children grew up, from time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] offered pen portraits on their emerging characters: here, she reflects on her older children Frank, Mary, and Sam Gray.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 4 March 1864: Frank [Gray][2] got home on Tuesday at 9½ p.m. after 3 weeks in Philad[elphia] and 1 in New York. He had a good time, and has grown decidedly; but brought home a heavy cold, by wh[ich] he is quite sick, and wh. he considers a decidedly ignoble termination to his festivities. He is now at Cambridge, though I strenuously urged the prudence of staying at home to be nursed up, [until] Monday next. He brought me from Horace [Gray][3] a copy of “Chron’s. of Schönberg-Cotta Family”[4] wh. I was delighted to get – three people having recommended it to me within a week as a most charming book – one to own &c. Continue reading ‘The prudence of staying at home’

Wrongful death

For the past three years I have been laboring on a Microsoft Word document that details every mention of James O’Neil and his family in the historical record. Now it is more a labor of love, but when it was created, it came from a place of frustration. I knew so little.

James is my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter, Annie, died when my great-grandfather was just eight years old, and little information was passed down in the family. Continue reading Wrongful death