Tag Archives: Serendipity

Family marks

My family spent a mostly rainy Memorial Day weekend at my family’s summer home in the Catskills. The house that has been called simply “the Farm” for at least four generations holds a special place in my heart and some serendipitous discoveries around the property over the course of the weekend reminded me that I am not the first in my family to feel a strong connection to the place.

As one of my son’s first trips up for the season, we were sure to measure him against the growth chart on the pantry door that recorded my development and that of all my cousins. It was a fun to see that my 19-month-old is almost as tall as I was at 2 years old, which hopefully means he will be taller than me! Beyond that, seeing all the markings on the wall brought back memories of childhood. The door is now a document of how many of us were raised under the Farm’s roof. Continue reading Family marks

White lies

“She tells white lies to ice a wedding cake.”  – Margot Asquith

My grandmother Alta Sage Lee with her second husband, Clifford Dixon.

As students of family history, we spend our time and curiosity trying to discover the reasons why our ancestors kept so many secrets! Often the brick walls we encounter are based on a clandestine confidence or an unsteady truth, or on those things that simply refuse to be told. In light of this, I thought I’d take a look at some of my family’s inadvertently pernicious ways and in particular one of their better-intentioned “white lies.” Continue reading White lies

The name game

My cousin with his parents.

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

Indians in the basement

Frank White Lee

My mother’s dad Frank White Lee (1908–1988) was a quiet man. He worked hard, and his silence was a mode we were taught to give all due consideration. Once, when my sisters and I were a bit too raucous, my grandfather told us that we needed to be quiet, or the “Indians in the basement” would hear us – and come after us for misbehaving. Because Grandpa rarely spoke, we weren’t sure what to believe. (P.S. – Grandpa did not mean to be politically incorrect – it was 1965.)

Grandpa was born in Wyoming, but said little about his family. His mother Dora Ono Wilcox (1880–1916) had died from complications in childbirth, and his father died when he was sixteen. Continue reading Indians in the basement

Correcting an error

Recently, I’ve started visiting the cemeteries of my ancestors. Fortunately, most of my maternal ancestors stayed in the Boston area after immigrating, so it hasn’t been too difficult.

A few months ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury in search of the headstone of my great-great-grandparents, John Henry and Anna K. (Ulrich) Hampe. After searching for some time, I finally came to the Hampe plot. Listed on the headstone are John and Anna, as well as their children Joseph M., Bernard J., Anna M., and B. Ernestine Hampe. Though I was happy to take a few pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a flicker of disappointment. With the exception of Joseph, the other Hampes buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery only list their birth and death year, rather than the full dates of those events. Continue reading Correcting an error

A hint of personality

Behind the scenes, the NEHGS web team is hard at work preparing the searchable version of our Roman Catholic Archdiocese records. As part of that process, our volunteers create spreadsheets that associate information with a specific image file. I proofread these spreadsheets as part of our quality control process.

I’ve recently encountered some confirmation records and was intrigued by their potential value to genealogists. Most confirmation records do not contain parents’ names – they usually just consist of a last name, first name, date, and maybe a sponsor. Continue reading A hint of personality

Through the wringer

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

Birth marks

Proud Americans: The family of Anthony and Clara Davis Martell courtesy of the Lehman family tree on Ancestry.com.

We family historians can never get enough of a good thing, right? So in the fall of 2012 when my son and his fiancée tied the knot I was thrilled for two very different reasons: a) my new daughter in-law was going to be an awesome addition to the family, and b) with it she was bringing an entirely new family history for exploring – a welcome relief after staring at my own brick walls for too long.

Before long, I was in the thick of researching her family tree, especially those lines that would lead (where else but?) to New England. Soon enough I could see a possible Mayflower line in her grandmother’s Martell family. There seemed to be a clear path to Mayflower passenger Henry Samson. And while I wasn’t intent on signing up my new daughter-in-law for the GSMD, I knew I had to be able to prove this for my own benefit – and for any future grandchildren (wink). Continue reading Birth marks

Another place

“It is good people who make good places.” – Anna Sewell

Courtesy of DigitalCommonweatlth.org, Massachusetts Collections online.

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

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