Tag Archives: Family stories

A sense of place

William Dunn with his sisters Helen and Hope in the background, ca. 1922. Photos courtesy of Kathleen Kaldis

The town of  Lee, Massachusetts holds special meaning to my maternal side of the family. My grandmother, Hope Elizabeth Dunn, was the daughter of William Jordan Dunn and Helen Veronica Maloney. She was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1911, the oldest of three children. Her siblings, Helen and William Dunn, were also born in Bristol County, Massachusetts during the 1910s.

When their father died in 1918, Helen Veronica Dunn was left to raise three young children on her own. Continue reading A sense of place

The name game

My cousin with his parents.

I recently traveled to Michigan to watch my cousin, Scott, graduate from Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) with a law degree. And like any good family member/genealogist, while I sat with my family waiting for the commencement to commence, I examined the program for Scott’s name. After a few moments, I located my cousin’s first and middle name: Scott Harrison. Excited, I asked my aunt and uncle whether Harrison was a family name. “Nope,” my uncle explained, “when your aunt was eight months pregnant, we got the name Harrison from a billboard that we passed while driving home. It sounded presidential, so we went with it.” Now, because my family is beyond sarcastic, I didn’t believe them at first; however, after a few minutes of my uncle insisting this was the case, I relented – I guess they got the name from a billboard. Continue reading The name game

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

‘The last was wonderfully effective’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The last months of 1864 marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War, as well as the final illness of Mrs. Gray’s[1] beloved brother John Shober. An effort at economy – by giving up a resident seamstress – left the diarist feeling uneasy as she prepared to go to her brother’s bedside in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 20 November 1864: …Friday evg. I took the children to the “Sailor’s Fair,” where they met a crowd of young friends, and had a good time, though they had but little money to spend. Their Aunt Sallie Gray[2] presented them with the entrance tickets, very kindly. The whole theatre was a glare of heat & light & blazing colour, very gorgeous, but very wearying; and after walking round with Morris [Gray][3] for 2 hours I was glad to come home, leaving the older boys to stay as long as they liked. I made but 2 purchases – one of Barnum’s Self-sewers for my machine – it seemed to me a very good thing; and some shells for Morris’s Christmas gift. Continue reading ‘The last was wonderfully effective’

Writing family history

Hints for Success

I recently saw an interesting infographic about writing success. Although the focus is on writing novels, several of the hints apply to writing a family history:

  • read more
  • write, write, write
  • read your work aloud

Let’s look at each one of these in turn.

Read more. When you undertake a family history, you’ll be drawing information from various records and notes and documents. But how do you write? How do you put one word in front of the other as you collate all the facts with family lore and contextual information from other sources? Continue reading Writing family history

The man from nowhere

Warren Reed Buzzell, 1927-2013

When I first started working at NEHGS in November 2015 and was introduced to Gary Boyd Roberts, he shook my hand and said, “Tell me about your family.” I told him my mother was half Cape Breton Scottish and Yorkshire English, and half Croatian (see my previous posts). His eyes glazed over. When I said my maiden name was Buzzell and my paternal grandmother was an Ordway from Medford, I could tell that little wheels started turning in Gary’s head: Yankees!

When my father was alive, I often asked him where his family was from. His response was usually “nowhere,” but sometimes he filled this void of information with a romantic genealogical fantasy: perhaps they were Huguenots banished from France? Continue reading The man from nowhere

A scrapbook love letter

My mother’s letter

I grew up in a normal home with two parents, one older brother, various dogs, cats (house and barn varieties), and a one-time parakeet. Like most people with that background, I thought I knew my parents and their individual backgrounds well, especially because my mother was careful to instill in me an appreciation of both lines of the family history.

In the early-mid 1930s, my mother was teaching and boarding with the principal of her school where My Father The Milkman delivered the semi-weekly bottles. It was a bottle of milk that began my parents’ relationship and a 1938 marriage lasting for more than 57 years, until my father’s death in 1995. Continue reading A scrapbook love letter

Cambridge Cameos

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth century New Englanders. Continue reading Cambridge Cameos

What’s in a (family) name?

My grandmother Sylvia Mae (Turnbull) Rohrbach.

I have always enjoyed musing on names and their origins. The dictionary we had in my childhood home had a back-of-the-book listing of “common English names.” I read it voraciously and repeatedly, making lists of potential names for my future children.

As it turned out, my husband and I chose family names for our children, so all that dictionary research was unnecessary. My daughter, Emma, was named for her great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother, and my son, Samuel, for my father and great-grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather. (See “The Name Game.”) Continue reading What’s in a (family) name?

What generation am I?

Catedral Santa Ana, San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic (where I have found records on my father-in-law’s ancestors back to 1822). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Following up on a post by David Allen Lambert on the question of identity, a semi-related topic involves the generation in the United States to which someone belongs. In my experience, this might mean something different for a genealogist belonging to a family long resident in America, as opposed to the child or grandchild of a recent immigrant.

My most recent immigrant ancestors were my great-great-great-grandparents Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, who came over from Ireland to Philadelphia in the 1840s and married there in 1850. Through that part of my ancestry, I would call myself sixth generation. I count Joseph and Rebecca as the first generation, and would describe it in a genealogy as follows: Continue reading What generation am I?