Tag Archives: Family stories

A twinkling star

Illustration from “The Patriarchs’ Dance,” 11 December 1894. Courtesy of The New York Times

Americans tend to reject the notion of operating within a “social class” structure, although it is sometimes easier to see ourselves as “better than” one person as opposed to “lesser than” another. At the same time, we consume (and relish) the higher gossip associated with European royal families and Hollywood movie stars, and Cleveland Amory – one among a number of authors on the subject – devoted a whole book to the question “Who Killed Society?”[1]

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans treated “Society” as a kind of blood sport. Continue reading A twinkling star

Earthly remains

Of all the things we leave behind when our time is done, the most important, of course, is ourselves, the least and the most of our lives. While cultures vary in the veneration of ancestors, my staunch Puritan ancestors held to the rites of our New England traditions.

Yet one of the most fascinating yet unsettling museums I’ve experienced is the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato,[1] the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico. And what better time to visit that museum than on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? We walked with local families up the hill to the cemetery next to the museum where it is customary to picnic, decorate the family grave site, and pay homage to one’s ancestors. Continue reading Earthly remains

Divided We Stand

Getting back to our Roger Thompson book club, the next title on my shelf is Divided We Stand, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1630-1680.[1] Here Thompson presents a holistic view of what it was like living in Watertown by studying five areas – I. New World from Old (The Lie of the Land, The Peopling of Early Watertown, 1630–1640, and The View from the Stour), II. Foundations (Government, Land, and religion), III. Economy (Living with Livestock, and Livelihood: The Town’s Economy), IV. Care in the Community (Welfare, The Rising Generation, The Family), and V. Reinforcing Consensus (Invisible Indians, “Foreigners” and Community); followed by a conclusion, “Continuity and Change, Decline and Discord.” Continue reading Divided We Stand

Strong emotions

Several weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance of mine, a man I will describe only as a prominent African American personality. Let’s call him Alex. He emailed to say he had read my book, The Stranger in My Genes, and he wanted to discuss something with me. Privately.

My book, published by NEHGS, tells the story of a DNA test I took to help a cousin with his genealogical research. The results were shocking. They revealed that my father was not my father. Since it was released in September of 2016, I have heard from dozens of people – friends and strangers – who have had similar experiences. I assumed Alex was only the latest. Continue reading Strong emotions

Lost but not forgotten

A Kearny Cross, courtesy of Bob Velke.

“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Somewhere out on that big blue horizon, under a Rocky Mountains moon, there is a soldier’s grave – or at least so my family thinks. His name was John E. Lee, and he was attached to Company G in Michigan’s Fighting Fifth” during America’s Civil War. He enlisted in 1861, and served for the war’s duration. He fought at Chancellorsville and was awarded the Kearny Cross for bravery.[i] Wounded at Gettysburg, he was a prisoner of war in the overflow camps of Andersonville – from which he escaped.[ii] Continue reading Lost but not forgotten

Online mug books for Canada

While preparing for a consultation this week, I stumbled across a marvelous online site for digitized local history books: Ourroots.ca (http://www.ourroots.ca). The site is maintained by the University of Calgary and seeks to “preserve Canada’s unique identity for future generations through the use of digital technology.”

I was looking for information about the early settlers of the tiny community of Biddulph in Huron County, Ontario. Continue reading Online mug books for Canada

The Miller sisters

Hannah Miller’s headstone at Oak Hill Cemetery in Bradford, McKean Co., Pa. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Steven Weyand Folkers’ comment on a recent post – regarding a father and son both marrying women surnamed Miller, but from unrelated families – reminded me of a similar example in my own research several years ago with two Davis sisters who had married men named Miller.

This project started with trying to identify the children of Clark Davis (1803–1881) and his wife Philena Franklin (1811–1882) of Steuben County, New York. Continue reading The Miller sisters

Heroine of the Battle Road

Ruins of the central chimney of the Hartwell house in Lincoln. Photo by Jet Lowe. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While perusing the shelves at a local book sale several months ago, I came across a small volume that would ultimately help to broaden my understanding of a seminal event in American history. The title of the book – Heroine of the Battle Road, Mary Flint Hartwell – caught my attention and interest. As an enthusiast of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts history, I was familiar with the phrase “Battle Road”– likely a reference to the famous march of the British army from Boston through Lexington to seize powder and arms in Concord the night of 19 April 1775.

My suspicions were confirmed when I read the subtitle:  A Drama of One Woman’s Courage on the Night of Paul Revere’s Ride in April of 1775. Having read several books on the famous skirmishes at Lexington and Concord I was curious why I had never heard of Mary Flint Hartwell.  By purchasing the book, I hoped to find out more.

Continue reading Heroine of the Battle Road

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is located in the beautiful seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Jeremiah Lee – a merchant and ship owner, and one of the wealthiest men in the American colonies – built his mansion several years before the start of the American Revolution. This architectural and historic gem has survived largely unchanged from when it was built. A tour of the mansion offers visitors not only a glimpse into life in the mid-1770s, but also an understanding of what Lee, a true patriot, was willing to risk for the cause of freedom. Continue reading The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

Gone to California

Over the course of many years exploring the history of my family, one man has always eluded me. His name was Andrew Taylor Tompkins, and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the facts of Andrew’s early life are known with certainty. He was born 17 February 1808 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Uriah Tompkins and Mary Taylor.[1] Andrew married Harriet Arnold Dillingham, the daughter of Captain Edward Dillingham (a descendant of Edward Dillingham, one of the early founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts) and Susannah Sherman, on 20 August 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[2] Andrew and Harriet had five children, the first of whom was Ellen Hughes (Tompkins) Luther, my ancestor. Continue reading Gone to California