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
Shortly after I began work at NEHGS about ten years ago, we went into all-hands-on-deck mode. The occasion was the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, which was in Boston that year and bringing many visitors to the building. A newbie, I was assigned the non-genealogical task of welcoming people at the door. The first person arrived, pulling a wheelie bag behind her. “Hello!” I said. “May I store your bag?” Everyone froze. A hushed silence fell. Finally someone clued me in: “Penny. That’s her research!” Oh. Continue reading The genealogist’s friend
As the New England Regional Genealogical Conference was held recently in Springfield, Massachusetts, I am reminded of my brief genealogical connection to that city and the incredible value of city directories. Springfield is the birthplace of my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Peltz Helman, who was born there 9 September 1914 at 20 Converse Street. However the family only lived there two years before moving on. Her father, Gilbert Wayne Helman (1882–1945), was a travelling salesman who for the better part of twenty-plus years never lived in the same city for long. City directories (along with a few other records) allow me get a nearly complete timeline of someone who was constantly “on the move.”
Gilbert was born in Philadelphia 12 March 1882, the elder of the two sons of Herbert Heath and Mary Rosella (Through) Helman. Continue reading Follow that salesman
I recently bought a striking pair of photographs by White Studio of New York. The first was sold as showing an attractive couple dancing, but when I received it I could see that one partner was identified: Mrs. E. B. Alsop, who was preparing to go in to vaudeville. I then bought the second one, where, again, Mrs. Alsop’s partner – a rather ghostly fellow – went unnamed.
My curiosity piqued, I went looking for Mrs. Alsop, and soon found her: the former Effie Pope Hill, a lovely girl of 19 or so who had gained notoriety in 1912 when she married Edward Brown Alsop (1835–1922), a widower more than three times her age. Little in Mr. Alsop’s background suggested he would take such a step – he seems a sober tycoon, long-married to his first wife – and the marriage soon soured.
In the autumn of 1914, when these photos were taken, the lives of Mrs. E. B. Alsop and her dance partner took several further steps toward disintegration. Continue reading The world’s a stage
In sorting out a DNA match recently, I uncovered a rather puzzling family story. On 23andme, my father’s closest “stranger match” was a person I will call “J.O.H.” She and my father shared 0.83% DNA along 5 DNA segments, for a total of 62 centimorgans, with a predicted kinship of third cousins. The only people my father had more DNA in common with were myself, my daughter, and one known second cousin once removed though his paternal grandfather. Another known second cousin once removed, also through my father’s paternal grandfather, had less DNA in common with my father than my father had with J.O.H. Both of these known cousins were not related to this stranger match, leading me to conclude this match should be through my father’s paternal grandmother [from Massachusetts], or through my father’s mother [from Pennsylvania]. Continue reading Through the wringer
Between 2 March 1907 and 22 September 1922, the Expatriation Act of 1907 required a woman who married a foreigner to take the nationality of her husband, and therefore she lost her own citizenship. The Cable Act (also known as the “Married Women’s Independent Nationality Act” or the “Married Women’s Act”) passed on 22 September 1922; it repealed the 1907 law and thus severed a woman’s marital status from her husband’s nationality. Continue reading A woman’s nationality
Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth century New Englanders. Continue reading Cambridge Cameos
What do every day landmarks within your community and genealogy have in common? Everything! Yes, that is correct, everything. Regional genealogy is all around you. The names of everyday landmarks are useful clues connecting local surnames to specific geographical regions. Some of the oldest family names within a region can be found in the names of streets, buildings, and some of popular destinations within a community. Continue reading Local landmarks and genealogy
The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge, and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623. Continue reading Deference to defiance
“It is good people who make good places.” – Anna Sewell
Like most of us discovering our family history, I rely heavily on census records. Often we come across numerous variations in the spelling of names of people, places, and things as we review those records. Recently, in looking through a few extended branches of my tree in differing U.S. Federal Census records, I discovered that a place can mean many different things.
I found an example of this with my great-great-grandfather, John Henry Record (1840–1915). John Record was from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and (for the most part) records reflecting his origins, and those of his parents, are generally consistent with that area. However, with the arrival of the U.S. Federal Census for 1900 my progenitor states that his mother was born in Sweden. Sweden? Continue reading Another place