Tag Archives: Family stories

Family marks

My family spent a mostly rainy Memorial Day weekend at my family’s summer home in the Catskills. The house that has been called simply “the Farm” for at least four generations holds a special place in my heart and some serendipitous discoveries around the property over the course of the weekend reminded me that I am not the first in my family to feel a strong connection to the place.

As one of my son’s first trips up for the season, we were sure to measure him against the growth chart on the pantry door that recorded my development and that of all my cousins. It was a fun to see that my 19-month-old is almost as tall as I was at 2 years old, which hopefully means he will be taller than me! Beyond that, seeing all the markings on the wall brought back memories of childhood. The door is now a document of how many of us were raised under the Farm’s roof. Continue reading Family marks

Generational spread

A (non-genealogical) post I read recently involved someone referring to a relative of an older generation as a “second cousin.” I asked further about the kinship, and this person was actually the author’s mother’s first cousin, and thus the author’s “first cousin once removed,” which is a common mistake in kinship assignment. However, it got me thinking about how much “generational spread” can occur even in a comparatively short period of time. Continue reading Generational spread

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?

JFK’s birthplace

Photo courtesy of Sharon Inglis

One hundred years ago today, on 29 May 1917, Rose Kennedy gave birth to the future president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in a charming three-story Colonial on a lovely street in Brookline, Massachusetts. That same house was restored at the personal direction of Rose Kennedy, and today it evokes the happy memories of a busy young mother raising an ever-growing family. While unimaginable tragedies strike in the years to follow, life was good for the Kennedys of Beals Street in 1917. Continue reading JFK’s birthplace

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