It was late one summer, sometime toward the end of the last century, when I received the call. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Barbara, and she was pleading with me to “come and get these things.”[i]
Now Barbara wasn’t just anybody to me. She was our “go-to” family historian from the 1960s well into the early 1990s. Cousin Barbara (my grandfather’s paternal first cousin) was the one to call when some question about the family’s facts or folklore arose. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “I don’t know the answer. You need to call Barbara…” To this day I still rely heavily on Barbara’s original and painstakingly completed research. Continue reading That which we inherit→
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→
Facts can be so unsatisfying. Colorless (but critical) records of lives, people, places, and events, when facts are viewed in the context of heirlooms, memorabilia, or artifacts, things left behind by our ancestors, our past is better illuminated and gives us insight into older generations, providing a foundation for family stories. Readers of my posts on Vita Brevis will recognize my pursuit of and passion for those stories. Whether the facts give rise to the stories, or whether the stories begin by seeking the underlying facts, is something of a chicken-or-the-egg question, a fractal of genealogical research, repeating and replicating patterns of family interactions and history. Continue reading What’s left behind→
More often than not our work in genealogy and family history leads us to more than one proverbial brick wall. No matter how hard we try, or with what tenacity we might pursue that much needed fact, vital record, or even secondary source material, it all seems to no avail. While there is no panacea to cover all the brick walls we encounter, there just might be a way to refocus attention on the task at hand, i.e., research, by looking at unrelated people, places, or things – in a familiar place. Continue reading Common walls→
Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.
In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity→
Growing up, I remember having two huge old family bibles in the house. They were in terrible condition with detached covers, loose pages, and other damage. My mother said they had been that way since she was a teenager. The bibles had been missing for some time but finally resurfaced a couple of years ago. I was able to find a book restorer who did an amazing job repairing the family heirlooms.
Both bibles were published in the late 1800s and had been kept by my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, who died when I was in college. One bible was clearly owned by Helen’s in-laws, John and Carrie (Luke) Dickinson. It contains birth, marriage and death records of both the Dickinsons and the Lukes. Continue reading Identifying a family bible→
I was recently enlisted to help my boyfriend clean out his mother’s basement; while not the most exciting of tasks, it actually led to an interesting historical discovery. Throughout this process we came across the usual repertoire of items that eventually made their way into a long-term storage area: unused kitchen appliances, tools and craft supplies, as well as old toys and keepsakes. However, in moving things around, one object in particular caught my attention. It was a large framed photo of a building. Continue reading A Boston blueprint→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
As in 1860, the Gray family 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]. 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’→
[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 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.” 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. While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. 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. Continue reading The language of totem poles→