Tag Archives: Serendipity

Closed doors

Georgia Lee Young and Katheryn Elizabeth Ogle, ca. 1917.

Adoption records can be one of the most frustrating aspects of genealogical research. Still somewhat taboo in nature, the information they contain can be invaluable. These types of records are usually preceded by thick brick walls both factual and emotional. The process of looking for these records may also lead the researcher to confront many statutes reflecting closed door policies.

In the spring of 1915, my grandmother was placed for adoption by the Kansas Children’s Home. When my grandmother became of age, she located her biological mother and was able to build a brief bond.[i] By 1939, this bond had expired. My grandmother lived out her life with many questions about her natural parents, and never knew the name of her biological father. After my grandmother passed away, it became my quest to understand and learn everything I could about her adoption – before and after. Continue reading Closed doors

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

Common walls

Vintage Long Beach travel poster. Image courtesy of the MuscleHeaded Blog

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

Serendipity

The author with the late Mary O’Mahony, Dreenauliff, Sneem, Kerry, Ireland, in August 2001.

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

Revolutionary privateering

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection

In attempting to prove Revolutionary War service for a man from Norwich, Connecticut, who did not show up in any militia lists, pension records, war memorials, etc., I turned to the subject of privateering. According to the DAR Genealogy Guidelines, “privateers were privately owned, armed trading vessels, commissioned or issued letters of marque from either the Continental Congress or from individual provisional government[s] (sometimes by both) to capture enemy ships and goods. The bounty or prize was divided by the officers and seamen and the governing body that authorized the privateering. Bounties made privateering very profitable and provided much needed supplies to the American forces. The Continental Congress officially authorized privateering for the war on 23 March 1776, although some states had already initiated privateering prior to that date.”

Norwich, located at the head of the Thames River, was a center for ship-building; the largest shipping firm in Norwich was Howland & Coit. Vessels traveled down the river and then sailed from New London harbor. Continue reading Revolutionary privateering

New places

Courtesy of williamhaskellhouse.com

To me, one of the best things about genealogy is learning that you have shared a place with an ancestor. Perhaps you passed through the town where they once lived, or maybe your commute to work takes you by their former home. Discoveries like this make genealogy that much more personal.

Recently, when I was learning more about Mabel Winters, my great-grandmother, and her family in Nova Scotia, I ran into a name that was very familiar to me – Lufkin. Continue reading New places

‘If space allows’

chipman-to-gray-postcardThanks to a timely message alerting me to a collection of letters for sale at eBay, I recently acquired one side of the genealogical correspondence between Regina Shober Gray[1] and the Rev. Richard Manning Chipman, author of The Chipman Lineage (1872). Mrs. Gray, so expansive in some areas of her diary, is comparatively terse with regard to the beginning of the correspondence: Continue reading ‘If space allows’

2016: the year in review concluded

At the beginning of 2017, Vita Brevis can boast 1,177,549 page views: while individual readers have surely read multiple articles on a given visit, that million+ reader count is still impressive!

vita_brevis_bannerVita Brevis reached its one-millionth page view on 7 July, some two-and-a-half years after the blog’s launch on 10 January 2014:

“And what do [its contributing authors] write about?

“We write about what interests us, as researchers, as professional genealogists, as editors, as archivists. Sometimes the topic is our own research interests; sometimes we offer tips from our experience as a beginning, an intermediate, or an expert researcher; and sometimes we describe an aspect of our work, here in Boston or elsewhere as part of an NEHGS education program. Continue reading 2016: the year in review concluded

Connecting cousins

William Clapp House ca 1870I noted in a previous blog post that my husband Paul and I are live-in caretakers at the William Clapp House in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This house was built in 1806 and serves as the headquarters of the Dorchester Historical Society. Paul and I assist the Society with special events, and we give tours of the house and grounds. The Clap name can be found in Dorchester records dating back to the 1630s – the surname is often spelled with one “p” for earlier generations of this family. Continue reading Connecting cousins

Lucky clues

During the war_2
My maternal grandparents with my mother.

On the face of it, my mother’s immediate family was Southern: her father was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and her mother in Baltimore, Maryland. Things quickly get complicated, though, as my grandfather’s mother and my grandmother’s father were both born in Ohio; it was their spouses’ respective families who had the Virginia and Maryland connections. A generation further back, and my great-great-grandfather William Boucher Jr. (1822–1899) is my most recent immigrant forebear, arriving from Mannheim in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1845. It will not be surprising, perhaps, that some other nineteenth-century ancestors hailed from elsewhere in the United States, or that both of my maternal grandparents had a lot of New England ancestry. Continue reading Lucky clues