Tag Archives: Serendipity

Lucky clues

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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

Take a guess

mabelle-3In gathering records on people – especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – I often find people listed with middle initials. Sometimes finding the full middle names can be challenging; sometimes it’s impossible! (In some cases, such as Harry S. Truman or J.R. “Johnny” Cash, the initials may not even actually stand for anything.) Continue reading Take a guess

Your questions answered

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The Asa Williams House, ca. 1912

Sometimes we all, like Tennessee Williams, depend on the kindness of strangers – whether we realize it or not. While I’ve always shared my family research and stories, it has been only recently that I’ve come to understand how initiative, serendipity, and luck work together.

Four families – all my cousins – have lived in My Old House for the last 227 years, fine New England families who undoubtedly followed the old axiom “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Continue reading Your questions answered

History of a Cosmopolite

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Lorenzo Dow preaching by Lossing Barrett. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Some years ago I researched my husband’s ancestor Jerreb Kendall (1804–1839) of Passumpsic, Caledonia County, Vermont, and took pleasure in the interesting names given to many of Jerreb’s eleven siblings by their parents Jerreb and Lucy (Woods) Kendall.

I liked the thoughtfulness and weightiness behind given names like George Washington, William Wallace, Alonzo Ransom, James Eaton, Larnard Lamb, and Lorenzo Dow. (And I could almost sense the rejoicing that accompanied the selection of the name Lucy Celestia, which was given to the twelfth child – and the first and only daughter!) Continue reading History of a Cosmopolite

An unexpected discovery

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Children and staff at the Chateau de Mehoncourt near Le Mans (detail).

Recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society participated in “Free Fun Friday,” a yearly summer event sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation for no-cost admission to cultural venues in Massachusetts.  A couple who attended the event at NEHGS on August 19 sat down at the “Archivist for a Day” table that I was manning with co-workers and asked if they could quickly write some notes before their consultation with Research Services. The husband inquired about my department, the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) at NEHGS, and mentioned that his family was Jewish and that his uncle had actually been a rabbi. Continue reading An unexpected discovery

The stranger in my genes

Griffeth-cover-FINAL-webWhen I was writing my new book, The Stranger in My Genes – about the DNA test I took that shockingly suggested my father wasn’t really my father – I thought my story was unusual, if not unique. Boy, was I wrong.

After the ebook version was released on August 23, I almost immediately heard from several friends who told me about people they knew with similar stories.

There was the one about the man who received a DNA testing kit for Christmas one year, and – long story short – discovered a daughter he didn’t know he had. Merry Christmas. Continue reading The stranger in my genes

Honoring a Civil War veteran

JDickinson1My great-great-great-grandfather, Elijah Dickinson, enlisted in Union Army in 1862. He was joined by both of his brothers, Atwood and James, as well as their sister’s husband, Nelson Cohaskey. The four of them served in Vermont’s 6th Infantry. Elijah died of disease during the war and is buried in Washington, D.C. Nelson also died while serving and is buried in Annapolis, Maryland. Atwood survived the war, moved from Vermont to Iowa, and is buried there. Continue reading Honoring a Civil War veteran

Serendipity

AbigailD Will clipMany discoveries in life are the result of serendipity – wandering around until one falls over something one wasn’t looking for.

I pulled an all-nighter this week while working on the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Jonas Clark of Cambridge. I had noted that his son Samuel Clark, baptized in 1659, was “living 1705,” but had not included any proof of the claim. Ruffling unsuccessfully through the stack of reference material at four a.m., which is my normal bed time, I still decided to take one more stab at the problem. Continue reading Serendipity

Once in a blue moon

Everyone who indulges in family history research understands the role that serendipity plays in successfully locating the ancestors we seek. I have recently come to understand what a confluence of serendipity and a blue moon can mean to my research, my focus on family stories, and a brick wall.

A blue moon occurred on Saturday, 21 May 2016, a day I had arranged a first meeting with a distant Saunders-Cummings cousin to share family stories and data. Her arrival was preceded by an totally unexpected visit by another distant cousin in the same Cummings line. The day was full of family stories and photos. My patient husband managed to endure, but later commented that he had no family stories to tell. (Never a prophet in my own house!) Continue reading Once in a blue moon