Tag Archives: Object Lessons

‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Florence D. Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Julia Overing Boit to the Museum of Fine Arts, 1919. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As in 1860, the Gray family[1] planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards].[2] The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! Continue reading ‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

ICYMI: Family plots: Part Two

[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 language of totem poles

The term ‘family history’ has long been associated with the written word and is most often found recorded in books, bibles, and public documents. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, however, have been using another method for more than 125 years: totem poles.

The word ‘totem’ is derived from the Ojibwe ‘odoodem,’ meaning “his kinship.”[1] The earliest record believed to depict a totem pole is from the Pacific coast voyages of Captain James Cook in 1778, when his ship’s artist, John Webber, sketched ceremonial interior poles depicting faces.[2] While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.[3] That totem poles did not appear frequently prior to this period probably reflects a lack of efficient carving tools and wealth, and the leisure time required for their construction.[4]
Continue reading The language of totem poles

A variety of faiths

Arms of Cornette. Courtesy of The American Heraldry Society, https://www.americanheraldry.org/heraldry-in-the-usa/roll-of-early-american-arms/P2080

I was very excited about our recent announcement that AmericanAncestors.org is digitizing the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston. I had viewed some of these records in the past at their offices in Braintree. Some of the volumes had been in quite fragile shape, and having them digitized, and ultimately indexed, is going to provide greater access to an under-utilized record source.

When the records went online, I decided to browse some of the early volumes. While people with Catholic ancestors in other areas such as Quebec and Latin America can often find mothers’ full maiden names on baptismal records, and mothers’ maiden names for both parties on marriage records, I knew that this is not always the case for New England Catholic records: often the wife/mother is listed only with her husband’s name, without a reference to her maiden name. Continue reading A variety of faiths

‘The prudence of staying at home’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
As her children grew up, from time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] offered pen portraits on their emerging characters: here, she reflects on her older children Frank, Mary, and Sam Gray.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 4 March 1864: Frank [Gray][2] got home on Tuesday at 9½ p.m. after 3 weeks in Philad[elphia] and 1 in New York. He had a good time, and has grown decidedly; but brought home a heavy cold, by wh[ich] he is quite sick, and wh. he considers a decidedly ignoble termination to his festivities. He is now at Cambridge, though I strenuously urged the prudence of staying at home to be nursed up, [until] Monday next. He brought me from Horace [Gray][3] a copy of “Chron’s. of Schönberg-Cotta Family”[4] wh. I was delighted to get – three people having recommended it to me within a week as a most charming book – one to own &c. Continue reading ‘The prudence of staying at home’

Lazarus Hollister’s probate records

Click on the images to expand them.

In my previous post on Connecticut probate records, I described how it is now possible to access digitized images from original probate files, and that I am busy comparing published transcriptions for the John Hollister family to the images of the originals. So far they differ mostly in such things as whether or not the original spellings were kept, although I am still making my way through the records.

In the case of Lazarus Hollister, however, I came across an interesting corollary to the point I was making – that published transcripts may be less reliable than original images, but in this case, a published transcript looked like it might provide “correct” information that cannot be read on the original image. Continue reading Lazarus Hollister’s probate records

Researching family heirlooms

Fig. 1: Side chair, De Young Museum: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco, California) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Services team at NEHGS is occasionally approached with questions relating to the history of ownership (i.e. provenance) of a particular family heirloom. These questions are usually supplemented with stories about the heirloom’s first owner and how the object was acquired. Genealogists are uniquely qualified to carry out provenance research due to their familiarity with and frequent use of two sources commonly used in provenance research: wills and estate inventories. However, before consulting any of these sources, a serious study of an heirloom’s provenance should begin by studying the object itself.

To illustrate how the study of an object is crucial to provenance research, consider the following hypothetical scenario: An individual is interested in documenting the ownership of a piece of heirloom furniture (a side chair) that has been in the family for multiple generations. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that the chair is similar in form to the image in Fig. 1, and that the chair is not a reproduction. Continue reading Researching family heirlooms

Remembering Rosella

Since childhood I have loved flea markets and genealogy. As a genealogist, I have often discovered the lost treasures of other families and purchased them. When I was about twelve years old, I attended a barn sale near Campton, New Hampshire. As the adult collectors pored over the antique farm equipment, I looked through trunks with old photographs and papers. Sitting out on a table was a small metal plaque; at first glance, it appeared to be a silver serving dish. When I picked it up and saw a name and a death date, though, I got curious. I purchased this item for $3.00 and brought it home that summer. Continue reading Remembering Rosella

A block buster

blocks-1 blocks-2

Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”

In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster

Fascinating rhythm

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The “fascinating but demoralizing” waltz was a comparatively recent addition to Boston social gatherings, and Regina Shober Gray’s daughter Mary[1] was one young débutante who worried that waltzing (or “dancing the German,” as it was also known) might lead her astray – which would be de-moralizing, in Mrs. Gray’s parlance.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 26 February 1864: …At Mrs. Hemenway’s,[2] we talked wholly about our young daughters, Amy H.[3]  and my Mary and their friends. We think they are going to make a very nice sensible, high-toned set of girls; and it is a real comfort to feel so. Mary used to think she should be quite isolated in her set, from not dancing the round dances,[4] but as one and another of her young friends comes out with her protest against them, it quite pleases Mary to find that many of the nicest girls unite with her in the resolution to eschew the fascinating but demoralizing “German.” Continue reading Fascinating rhythm