Tag Archives: A Genealogist’s Diary

The world’s a stage

Mrs. E. B. Alsop and partner by White Studio.

I recently bought a striking pair of photographs by White Studio of New York. The first was sold as showing an attractive couple dancing, but when I received it I could see that one partner was identified: Mrs. E. B. Alsop, who was preparing to go in to vaudeville. I then bought the second one, where, again, Mrs. Alsop’s partner – a rather ghostly fellow – went unnamed.

My curiosity piqued, I went looking for Mrs. Alsop, and soon found her: the former Effie Pope Hill, a lovely girl of 19 or so who had gained notoriety in 1912 when she married Edward Brown Alsop (1835–1922), a widower more than three times her age. Little in Mr. Alsop’s background suggested he would take such a step – he seems a sober tycoon, long-married to his first wife – and the marriage soon soured.

In the autumn of 1914, when these photos were taken, the lives of Mrs. E. B. Alsop and her dance partner took several further steps toward disintegration. Continue reading The world’s a stage

‘The salvation of the country’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s diary[1] continues, with the results of the 1864 presidential election:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 9 November 1864: The great election-day passed off without disorder or disturbance – and, Thank God, Lincoln is re-elected by splendid majorities. Every New Eng. state, Penna. & New York state have gone for him. New Y. city went McClellan[2] by 30,000 majority – but that was expected; & he has New Jersey & Kentucky – all the others are Lincoln.

Kansas did not even have an opposition ticket, so heartily Republican was the whole state. The long anxiety, suspense, & dread are over – a good God has overruled the madness of home traitors for their own ruin, and the salvation of the country; that accursed Chicago platform, the offspring of foul treason, cowardice, and political corruption, happily trampled McClellan’s hopes to nothingness. He might have had some chance but for that. Continue reading ‘The salvation of the country’

A twinkling star

Illustration from “The Patriarchs’ Dance,” 11 December 1894. Courtesy of The New York Times

Americans tend to reject the notion of operating within a “social class” structure, although it is sometimes easier to see ourselves as “better than” one person as opposed to “lesser than” another. At the same time, we consume (and relish) the higher gossip associated with European royal families and Hollywood movie stars, and Cleveland Amory – one among a number of authors on the subject – devoted a whole book to the question “Who Killed Society?”[1]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans treated “Society” as a kind of blood sport. Continue reading A twinkling star

‘All honour & respect’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
By the fall of 1864, hints of the ultimate outcome of the American Civil War could be discerned. For Regina Shober Gray,[1] the period was also marked by worry about her family members’ health; she looked for consolation to the minister of King’s Chapel,[2] and did not always find it.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 23 October 1864: A splendid autumn day – Mary & Frank [Gray][3] are at church and the younger boys[4] I have just sent off for a walk – they are none of them right well. It is distressing to see the healths run down, as soon as school begins; and yet we do not let them over work there; and if we keep them away from school the time hangs so very heavy on their hands… Continue reading ‘All honour & respect’

‘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!’

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

‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

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

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Florence D. Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Julia Overing Boit to the Museum of Fine Arts, 1919. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As in 1860, the Gray family[1] planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards].[2] The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! Continue reading ‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

‘What can Charles St. do?’

[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
While she was not as prosperous as her brother John Shober or her brothers-in-law William and Horace Gray, Regina Shober Gray[1] moved in a fashionable set of people, whether in Philadelphia, Boston, or New York. Her reference here to Mrs. Ronalds, a notably “fast” Bostonian who went on to international fame for the beauty of her voice, captures a mixture of worldly values (Fanny is “absolutely infuriating to men”) and more prosaic ones (she is “recklessly extravagant, but tasteful in dress”). When Mrs. Gray quotes her friend Amelia Jackson Holmes, she is practical about the likely outcome of a “Loyal Woman’s League,” noting the limitations of a boycott on luxury goods.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 1 May 1864: Tuesday we had our “sewing Circle” tea, at Mrs. Chadwick’s[2] – 24 of us there – a very pleasant gathering – sumptuous tea – a tiny bouquet laid on each plate, and splendid flowers in vases on the tables. Continue reading ‘What can Charles St. do?’

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

‘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’