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→
[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→
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→
Over the holidays, my mother gave me the very nice present of a family register that began with my great-great-great-grandparents – Robert and Emma (Russell) Thompson of Industry, Maine. This framed register used to hang on a wall at my grandparents’ home in Kansas, and I had taken notes from it when I got interested in family history. My mother got it after her mother’s death in 2008, and she decided I was the best relative to receive it. This register was produced by D. Needham, 12 Exchange St, Buffalo, and years ago I recognized a copy of the same style register for sale in our own bookstore. Continue reading A family register→
When I catalog new books received by the NEHGS library, my normal focus is, naturally, on the contents of the books themselves: the families and places described, the authors, the titles and publication information, and so on. But every now and then, the books we receive contain little “surprises” that go beyond the published words on the page. Over the years, we have found all kinds of objects left in books, from hand-drawn family trees to photographs and calling cards. Some of these items were clearly meant to supplement the books they were left in, and have definite genealogical import; others are only tangentially related to the book’s content. Still others are complete mysteries: we don’t know why they were left in the book, or if they were even left there on purpose. Continue reading Ex libris→
For some, the holidays are a time of heightened crafting – making wreaths, designing centerpieces, stringing popcorn garlands, knitting warm to-be-gifted hats and scarves, and building elaborate gingerbread wonderlands. For everyone, the holidays are a time to be with and celebrate family – present and past.
Since 2013, staff at NEHGS have combined spirited crafting and a passion for genealogy by creating special ornaments using (facsimiles of) family photographs. The ornaments adorn the tree at the Society and are taken home just before Christmas. Even among unrelated crafters, we can’t help but share the “who,” “what,” and “when” of our photos with each other. Some staff have even chosen to represent lines of descent within a single ornament (see below) – a family tree in 3D! Continue reading Deck the halls→
By several accounts, John Oldham was a trouble-maker. He was argumentative, hot-tempered, and known to quickly fly into rages. However, his adventurous spirit led him to be take risks, including becoming the first European to travel what would later be called the Boston Post Road. Continue reading The trouble-maker→
The heat of summer was making for a lot of shady dealings in Telluride, Colorado. In June 1905, Kenny went to a nearby town to collect a miner who had left “without going through the formality of liquidating” bills he owed; the man was jailed for eighty days for refusing to pay. There was also a story about a self-described “big, wealthy sheep man” who was writing bad checks to unsuspecting townspeople. Marshal McLean threw the man in jail “just as though he were a common sheep herder instead of a sheep owner.”
There was one wholesome event that July in which Kenny took part, however: a baseball game between employees of the Smuggler-Union and the Liberty Bell mines. Continue reading ‘Hard to go’→
Because of the dedication of our many volunteers, we at the New England Historic Genealogy Society have the opportunity to continually expand the range of databases we provide to family researchers. Recently we have made a lot of progress indexing cemetery transcriptions from NEHGS manuscripts, creating a database complete with accompanying images. You may wonder why we are bothering to index these old manuscripts when there are so many other sources of cemetery information widely available on the Internet today. Continue reading Ancient burying grounds→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
Of particular interest in these entries is Regina Shober Gray’s depiction of being photographed in September 1861: “I hope [the resulting pictures] will be reasonably good, but one’s vanity does penance always in these cartes de visite likenesses. Gentlemen look well in them, but they almost always give a harsh, stern unnatural look to a woman’s face.” Mrs. Gray noted that her own standards were relatively flexible, reporting that her friend Rebecca Wainwright “does not think my photographs very successful – but I feel that I ought to be satisfied with them – they are quite as good of me as other peoples are of them. Hard and rigid looking.”
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 5 September 1861: Frank [Gray]’s birth-day – 15 years old. I can hardly realize it. He had presents from myself, “Barrington’s Heraldry,” from Aunt Liz [Shober] a dollar, from Mary C. [Gray] 3 engraved Shirt Studs. His eyes are decidedly better. Continue reading ‘One’s vanity does penance always’→