In the summer of 1970 I was witness to a ritual that had eluded parts of my family for more than one hundred years. This ritual was the graveside service for my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886–1970) in a designated or an “ancestral” family burying ground.[i] By this late date, most of my family had revolted against the idea of “family plots,” preferring instead their own unique nomadic burials during the nineteenth-century westward expansion, or, perhaps later, in efforts to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Continue reading Plot lines
In 2010 I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. An exhibit that caught my eye was called Within these Walls, which told the stories of five families who lived in a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts for more than two centuries. The period covered ranges from the Choate family as American colonists in the 1750s to the Scott family during the Home Front of the 1940s. The second family covered, under the period of “Revolutionaries – 1777–1789,” was the Dodge family, under the heading “the Dodges and Chance.” The Dodge household included an African-American man named Chance, as noted in Abraham Dodge’s 1786 will, where Abraham left his wife Bethiah “all my Right to the Service of my Negro Man Chance.” At the time I saw this exhibit, that reference was essentially all the show’s curators knew about Chance. Continue reading Updating an exhibit
Whenever I am working in records or sites from another country – and thus not in the English language – I do my best to leave them in that language, especially if my only option for translation is that which is built into the browser software. A recent consultation request brought this issue front and center.
The request for the consultation was confirmation that the two families the researcher had found in the 1910 census were indeed the same family. Continue reading Weeding by another name
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
“We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….” – Paul and Linda McCartney
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
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
“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher
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
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
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?
“She tells white lies to ice a wedding cake.” – Margot Asquith
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