What’s left behind

Facts can be so unsatisfying. Colorless (but critical) records of lives, people, places, and events, when facts are viewed in the context of heirlooms, memorabilia, or artifacts, things left behind by our ancestors, our past is better illuminated and gives us insight into older generations, providing a foundation for family stories. Readers of my posts on Vita Brevis will recognize my pursuit of and passion for those stories. Whether the facts give rise to the stories, or whether the stories begin by seeking the underlying facts, is something of a chicken-or-the-egg question, a fractal of genealogical research, repeating and replicating patterns of family interactions and history. Continue reading What’s left behind

‘A very serious thing indeed!’

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

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays[1] were back in Boston. The engagement of a family friend reminded Mrs. Gray of some of the undercurrents which must have swirled unnoticed about her own engagement in 1844:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 11 September 1864: A dull lowering day has settled into a steady rain – so we shall probably not get out to “The Pines”[2] tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober][3] to see the place & house. I hear it is handsome and commodious enough within, to amply compensate its outward unsightliness – which is saying a good word for its accommodations certainly, as externally the house does not satisfy the eye at all. Continue reading ‘A very serious thing indeed!’

Mobility and migration

The Great Migration to New England from 1620 through 1640 is the focal point of the Great Migration Study Project by Robert Charles Anderson that NEHGS has been publishing for more than twenty years, but there are also a number of lesser-known academic studies of interest to Great Migration descendants.

Roger Thompson, “a retired university reader in American history at the University of East Anglia,” has written several very interesting books that I highly recommend. The first one that I picked up off the shelf today is his Mobility & Migration, East Anglian Founders of New England, 1629–1640,[1] which is a statistical examination of conditions behind the families that came from East Anglia during the Great Migration. Continue reading Mobility and migration

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

‘Unbroken primogeniture’

Margaret Tudor by Daniel Mytens. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

An entertaining story about an American man claiming to be the rightful “King of Wales,” and a claimant as well to the throne of Great Britain, made the rounds last week after Allan V. Evans of Colorado posted a lengthy claim to the Welsh throne, noting the “injustice of history” that kept him from the British throne, to which he is heir by an “unbroken primogeniture line…”

Agnatic primogeniture dates back to early France and is known as Salic Law, where succession is obtained through kinship through the male line only. On a few occasions in France the king was succeeded by a distant male-line cousin, even when the deceased king had surviving daughters or sisters who had male children. Continue reading ‘Unbroken primogeniture’

‘You must be from Minnesota’

Before I began working at NEHGS in November 2015, I had a job where I interacted with between thirty and fifty different people every day. One of those people was a linguist, who, upon hearing me speak, said, “You aren’t from here.” She was right. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in northern New Hampshire and moved to Massachusetts in 2011.

I said to her, “No, I’m not from Massachusetts. I’m a transplant.”

Her answer, oddly enough, was, “You must be from Minnesota.” Continue reading ‘You must be from Minnesota’

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

Identifying a family bible

The McKenna bible after restoration.

Growing up, I remember having two huge old family bibles in the house. They were in terrible condition with detached covers, loose pages, and other damage. My mother said they had been that way since she was a teenager. The bibles had been missing for some time but finally resurfaced a couple of years ago. I was able to find a book restorer who did an amazing job repairing the family heirlooms.

Both bibles were published in the late 1800s and had been kept by my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, who died when I was in college. One bible was clearly owned by Helen’s in-laws, John and Carrie (Luke) Dickinson. It contains birth, marriage and death records of both the Dickinsons and the Lukes. Continue reading Identifying a family bible

A Boston blueprint

Photo courtesy of Diserio.com

I was recently enlisted to help my boyfriend clean out his mother’s basement; while not the most exciting of tasks, it actually led to an interesting historical discovery. Throughout this process we came across the usual repertoire of items that eventually made their way into a long-term storage area: unused kitchen appliances, tools and craft supplies, as well as old toys and keepsakes. However, in moving things around, one object in particular caught my attention. It was a large framed photo of a building. Continue reading A Boston blueprint

“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?”