Tag Archives: Brick Walls

Off by ten years

Courtesy of Findagrave.com

While I have written about reported birthdates ranging over several years, something else that happens from time to time is the reporting of death dates, especially gravestones, being off by a few years. Sometimes, when a gravestone date is off, it also creates an incorrect birthdate. Continue reading Off by ten years

Lost but not forgotten 2

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….”  – Paul and Linda McCartney

“Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of lostatseamemorials.com

In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”

I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.” Continue reading Lost but not forgotten 2

Multiple versions

In checking a source for an article in Mayflower Descendant, I was reminded of the need to check the various versions of early vital records. For many towns in Massachusetts, there are often three pre-1850 versions: 1) the published transcription (often called the “tan books”), 2) the Jay Mack Holbrook collection (on microfiche at NEHGS and digitized on Ancestry.com), and 3) the original vital records (often on microfilm and sometimes digitized on familysearch.org and/or Ancestry.com). Our handbook to New England genealogy is useful in determining which versions beyond the original records exist. Continue reading Multiple versions

Quaint societies

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Amherst College Class of 1852 restored daguerreotypes. All images courtesy of consecratedeminence.wordpress.com

As family historians, each one of us has taken a few trips down the Google highway in search of something in particular – only to be sidelined by happenstance. These occurrences serve as a twofold check, punctuating brick walls while allowing us to flex our genealogical muscles. For the most part these diversions are informative and entertaining, serving to supplement our knowledge of people or subjects. The beautiful part of being “side tracked” is that for the most part, all roads lead back home and to New England.

This was the case for me as I started out (once again) on the trail of my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather Amherst Hoyt (1785/89–1851). I’ve been trying to piece together his westward migration from New Hampshire to Iowa – and in the Google archetype, all things ‘Amherst or Hoyt.’ Continue reading Quaint societies

Finding Hattie

Recently, while leafing through an old album of my father’s family, I came across two large adjacent cabinet card photos of a couple I didn’t know labeled “Hattie Gordon” and “Lawrence Gordon.” There is only one Hattie Gordon (Harriett Frances Gordon Cony, 1849–1922) in my family tree, and this lady is not she; there is no Lawrence Gordon, either. Had I missed some cousins? An aunt or uncle, long-lost or abandoned? Maybe they were just good friends of the family. The questions began circling. No one I asked recognized these people or their names. Of course, I had to figure out who they were and why they were in this album (organizing materials can wait, right?). Continue reading Finding Hattie

Who was Magaretha Schmitt?

When I first started researching my family I found an antique cross-stitch sampler that was passed down through my maternal grandmother’s family. I was eager to discover which of my ancestors had made it and I thought it should be easy to figure out. After all, it spelled out the stitcher’s name and age.

First, I examined the sampler. It was faded but still legible and was sewn with Roman and Gothic alphabets, as well as floral and animal motifs. It also contained the words “Magaretha Schmitt 16 Jahre alt 1855.” The German “Jahre alt” translated to “years old.” This would make Magaretha 16 years old when she finished the sampler in 1855. I concluded she was probably born about 1839 and likely of German descent because of the German language and alphabets. Continue reading Who was Magaretha Schmitt?

White lies

“She tells white lies to ice a wedding cake.”  – Margot Asquith

My grandmother Alta Sage Lee with her second husband, Clifford Dixon.

As students of family history, we spend our time and curiosity trying to discover the reasons why our ancestors kept so many secrets! Often the brick walls we encounter are based on a clandestine confidence or an unsteady truth, or on those things that simply refuse to be told. In light of this, I thought I’d take a look at some of my family’s inadvertently pernicious ways and in particular one of their better-intentioned “white lies.” Continue reading White lies

Also known as

Cecil Calvert Taliaferro

Many of the vernacular photos I’ve bought in the last few months have no information about the sitter – sometimes the subject is identified by a nickname, such as “Stinky.” I recently bought an intriguing image of a man (apparently) dancing, and I was delighted to find his full name and date of birth on the reverse: Cecil Calvert Taliaferro, born 24 January 1922.

A glance at Ancestry.com for Cecil suggested a complex identity: he appears in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index as Cecil Calvert Taliaferro (born 24 January 1923), also known as Chet Tolliver, also known as Chet Toliver. It is as Cecil Taliaferro that he is buried at Melvin Cemetery in Melvin, McCulloch County, Texas, but Ancestry links Cecil and Chet at the Social Security Death Index. Continue reading Also known as

Indians in the basement

Frank White Lee

My mother’s dad Frank White Lee (1908–1988) was a quiet man. He worked hard, and his silence was a mode we were taught to give all due consideration. Once, when my sisters and I were a bit too raucous, my grandfather told us that we needed to be quiet, or the “Indians in the basement” would hear us – and come after us for misbehaving. Because Grandpa rarely spoke, we weren’t sure what to believe. (P.S. – Grandpa did not mean to be politically incorrect – it was 1965.)

Grandpa was born in Wyoming, but said little about his family. His mother Dora Ono Wilcox (1880–1916) had died from complications in childbirth, and his father died when he was sixteen. Continue reading Indians in the basement

Correcting an error

Recently, I’ve started visiting the cemeteries of my ancestors. Fortunately, most of my maternal ancestors stayed in the Boston area after immigrating, so it hasn’t been too difficult.

A few months ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury in search of the headstone of my great-great-grandparents, John Henry and Anna K. (Ulrich) Hampe. After searching for some time, I finally came to the Hampe plot. Listed on the headstone are John and Anna, as well as their children Joseph M., Bernard J., Anna M., and B. Ernestine Hampe. Though I was happy to take a few pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a flicker of disappointment. With the exception of Joseph, the other Hampes buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery only list their birth and death year, rather than the full dates of those events. Continue reading Correcting an error