It was late one summer, sometime toward the end of the last century, when I received the call. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Barbara, and she was pleading with me to “come and get these things.”[i]
Now Barbara wasn’t just anybody to me. She was our “go-to” family historian from the 1960s well into the early 1990s. Cousin Barbara (my grandfather’s paternal first cousin) was the one to call when some question about the family’s facts or folklore arose. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “I don’t know the answer. You need to call Barbara…” To this day I still rely heavily on Barbara’s original and painstakingly completed research. Continue reading That which we inherit→
Adoption records can be one of the most frustrating aspects of genealogical research. Still somewhat taboo in nature, the information they contain can be invaluable. These types of records are usually preceded by thick brick walls both factual and emotional. The process of looking for these records may also lead the researcher to confront many statutes reflecting closed door policies.
In the spring of 1915, my grandmother was placed for adoption by the Kansas Children’s Home. When my grandmother became of age, she located her biological mother and was able to build a brief bond.[i] By 1939, this bond had expired. My grandmother lived out her life with many questions about her natural parents, and never knew the name of her biological father. After my grandmother passed away, it became my quest to understand and learn everything I could about her adoption – before and after. Continue reading Closed doors→
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→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays 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” tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober] 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!’→
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→
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→
[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→
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→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
In her diary, Regina Shober Gray 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 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. Three weeks ago, to-day, they were in Venice, preparing for a trip to Sorrento, with the Gordons next day – when the sad news came to hurry them home. Continue reading ‘In cold blood’→
In an earlier blog post about former ancestors, I noted some instances where my modern-day research turned ancestors into “former ancestors,” some quite recently. This one involves a correction I discovered several years ago; while valid, I should really have reviewed these charts more recently, for confirmation. Continue reading A “wasted” correction→