Tag Archives: Family stories

‘A note unsaid’

“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” – William Ralph Inge

Mary Peak Schooley (1820-1898?)

In family history, a blissful and naive notion often occurs when we begin to think we have learned all there is to know about any given ancestor. From records of birth and marriage, to census images and cemetery stones, and even through the occasional “copy and pasted” family tree, how could we not have? It’s tempting to give into the idea that it all the “evidence is in.” Yet despite all of our best research or garnered facts there is still much out there that is only revealed in time.

I experienced this when I looked at what was known about my paternal great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley (1820–1898?). I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Mary Schooley. I’d been to the cemetery at Leanna, Kansas several times, but the research on Mary had been done before – by her great-granddaughter, my cousin Barbara Andruss Irwin.[i] Continue reading ‘A note unsaid’

‘Hand over hand’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] often used her final diary entries for a year to review the previous twelve months. At the end of the year 1864, death was much on her mind, with the recent loss of her brother John; another close friend, generally noted in the diary as Miss Jones, had died the previous winter.

 61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 25 December 1864: A splendid Christmas day – but oh – how sad such days become to us, as life wears on, and our paths are more and more strewn with wrecks of lost hopes and “loves where death hath set his seal.” It is all I can do to keep back the tears to-day – to seem cheerful for the children’s sake. The past year has carried away 2 most precious friends, and all future life is shadowed with a sense of “retrieveless loss.”

My darling brother[2] – the playmate of childhood and the faithful friend of mature life. Continue reading ‘Hand over hand’

ICYMI: A thousand words

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2016.]

Alice Selig Harris and friends

Coming from a family of active amateur photographers, the (still) new digital age of photography has significantly changed the way I look at and convey my world, its events, my life, and my family. Gone are the days of, “Oh, no, I just got to the end of a 36-exposure roll and missed the perfect picture I’ll never get again.” With three expensive cameras sitting in my closet collecting dust, like many of us I now use my smart phone for most of my photographic pursuits. This is not such a bad thing: it’s always in my pocket ready to get, as DeWitt Jones says, “not just a good frame, but a great frame.” Continue reading ICYMI: A thousand words

Once an heiress

The R.M.S. Pannonia, the ship Anna Barkassy would arrive on and her point of departure for the rest of America. Courtesy of greatships.net

One of my perennial and poignant brick walls is the story behind my wife Nancy’s maternal grandmother Anna Barkassy Pouget (1883–1921). Annie, as she is often called, arrived from Hungary with her father Andràs, an attorney, and passed through Ellis Island on 30 January 1906.[i] Annie’s story is like that of many other turn-of-the-twentieth-century Ellis Island immigrants in that her family name offers only a limited sense of her identity.[ii] Annie and her father traveled together; the passenger manifest reflects scant clues as to who or what they might be leaving behind in the old country – and negligible information regarding their business here on arrival. Continue reading Once an heiress

ICYMI: On with the dance

“What a joy it is to dance and sing”

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 December 2015.]

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as remote to our descendants as 1750 does to us, and it behooves us to focus some attention on twentieth century research before that century, like the ones before it, vanishes from shared (and contemporary) memory. Continue reading ICYMI: On with the dance

‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this diary entry Mrs. Gray[1] depicts some of the economic forces on an upper-class Boston family, one dependent on the largesse of wealthier family members. Her brother John Bedford Shober had died in November, survived by Mrs. Gray, several unmarried sisters, and a younger brother:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 December 1864: The business firm will go on at present under the old title – “Shober & Co.” – though Antony Kimber being the elder of the surviving partners has the right to insist on the appearance of his name, if he choose to – more especially as he is the more experienced business man, and largest capitalist of the two.

Dear John’s will was just what we all knew beforehand – all the property but $10,000 left to his devoted sister Mary,[2] expressly left in trust for the use of his unmarried sisters,[3] to keep up an affluent home for them; this has been for years the darling object of his life. Continue reading ‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

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

Famous namesakes

Malcolm Scott Carpenter (1925-2013)

Last month, I wrote about the tradition of given names. I postulated that given names were either chosen by parents because they honored a family member (both living and deceased) or because parents liked the way a name sounded, and subsequently named their child after “a stranger they met in a bar” (thank you to commenter Deane Taylor). In fact, when the blog posted to Vita Brevis, many of the commenters verified my theory: most were named for complete strangers or in loving memory of family and friends. However, a third group also emerged from the comment section: those who were named for a famous person, event, or cultural icon (thank you to commenters Carole and Carole).

And, when my colleagues read the blog, they shared similar stories of their given name’s cultural significance: Continue reading Famous namesakes

Obituaries

The last thing, literally, any of us wants to think about is writing obituaries.

Even if we have very elderly or very sick loved ones and know that the time is near, it seems eerie and sacrilegious to think about preparing an obituary while they are still living, perhaps even tempting fate and hastening death!

None of us, hopefully, will have to write a lot of obituaries. I’ve written them for my parents, but they or their siblings wrote them for my grandparents, and the rest of my relatives have nearer loved ones to whom that task will fall. Continue reading Obituaries

De-lovely

R. Livingston Beeckman by George Grantham Bain.

My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Beeckman – not the more fashionable Beekman,[1] as in Beekman Place – a name which enjoyed something of a vogue around the turn of the last century, in the person of my great-great-uncle Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866–1935). Uncle Livy had couple of claims to fame in his lifetime – he was a nationally-ranked tennis player during the 1880s, and he served as Governor of Rhode Island (with some touting him for the presidency in 1920) – but for me the more intriguing connection comes later: his first wife was Eleanor Thomas, whose brother married the future Mrs. Cole Porter. Continue reading De-lovely