Tag Archives: Smack Down!

“Socially, she is not received”

Oscar Wilde by Sarony
Oscar Wilde by Sarony. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

A frequent theater-goer and enthusiastic pedestrian in the 1860s, by the early 1880s – following the death of her husband – Regina Shober Gray was going out rarely, and only to the houses of relatives and close friends. This does not mean that she lost her interest in the goings-on around Boston or, indeed, among the celebrated and notorious people of her day.[1]

1 Beacon Hill Place, Boston, Wednesday, 8 February 1882: Laura Howe[2] has sent Mary[3] a most humorous parody ‘After Oscar Wilde.’[4] She says she and Harry [Richards] agreed that the only thing to be done with his book of poems was to burn it, that there were some pretty things amid the filth! The ‘Swinburne’[5] School of poetry is certainly open to reprobation in the matter of good taste & pure morals! Continue reading “Socially, she is not received”

The evolving game of football

Walter Camp of Yale
Walter Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 6 November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Rutgers Queensmen[1] defeated the College of New Jersey[2] Tigers by a score of 6 to 4 in what is regarded as the first college football game ever played.[3] College football would remain a vastly different game from today’s version for the rest of the nineteenth century. The major differences in the game are accentuated in the diary of Harvard College graduate Edward Herbert Atherton of Worcester, Massachusetts, a work available in NEHGS’s R. Stanton Avery Special Collections (Mss A 1665). Continue reading The evolving game of football

The Red and White Schoolhouses

Red schoolhouse 1
The Red Schoolhouse in 1932. (My aunt Pauline Church is on the right in the back row.)

When I was perhaps three years old and lively, my mother returned to teaching grades K–8 in a one-room schoolhouse just north of our house in Augusta, Maine, known as the White Schoolhouse. Lacking daycare at the time, she took me with her most days, and I learned the Palmer method of cursive handwriting long before I learned to sit still. I didn’t realize until much later that the school had been a point of contention between my great-great-great-great-grandfather Read and the City’s school board. Continue reading The Red and White Schoolhouses

Identity and Family Life in 16th Century France

A contemporary account of the Martin Guerre case. Courtesy of Bibliorare, French Vernacular Books, 2007, No. 14290

The problem of identity theft is one which has increased significantly over the last several decades; for obvious reasons, it was quite rare in centuries past. This fact makes the story of Martin Guerre all the more remarkable.

Martin Guerre was the son of a man named Sanxi Daguerre (the family later shortened their surname to Guerre), born in the French Basque country in 1525. In 1527, Martin and his parents relocated to the village of Artigat in the County of Foix, less than thirty miles from the border of Spain.[1] Martin’s early years were unremarkable, as he lived a peasant’s life and would have surely faded into obscurity as so many others had if not for a well-documented incident which shaped his adult life. Continue reading Identity and Family Life in 16th Century France

Something to love in Civil War pensions

Child 2
First page from David Franklin’s 1863 letter to his sister, from his Civil War pension file, application #236373.

Following up on my post last month regarding Revolutionary War pensions that can have troves of information, I remembered another subsection within Civil War pensions that are almost always filled with immense amounts of genealogical and biographical data. These are the “Parents’ Pensions.”

While most of us are probably familiar with veterans’ and widows’ pensions, the parents’ pension was claimed by one or both of the parents of a deceased Civil War soldier. The pension act of 27 July 1868 stated: Continue reading Something to love in Civil War pensions

“Pomps and vanities”

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Two of Dr. Francis H. Gray’s uncles married Gardners, so the Grays’ web of family connections included Mr. and Mrs. John L. Gardner Jr. – better known to contemporaries as Mr. and Mrs. Jack Gardner. I was interested to see that Mrs. Gray did not mention Isabella Stewart Gardner (“Mrs. Jack”) in her diary until February 1869, following the grand ball the Grays had given for their debutante daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923) in December 1868.

The Grays were invited to two of Mrs. Jack Gardner’s receptions in February and March 1869, but owing to a friend’s illness they only attended the second one. The next mention of Mrs. Gardner comes in February 1872, and it is notably positive: Continue reading “Pomps and vanities”

A code of ethics

Happ naturalization formDisclaimer: If you are a member of the Happ family of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, please read no further.

I think I’ve done something bad. I may never be invited to another Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll never be allowed to see my family again.

I think I just discovered that my family has ties to New York City. Continue reading A code of ethics

One hundred posts on Vita Brevis


In a few days, Vita Brevis will have published one hundred blog posts. Thinking back to about a year ago, when the subject of the blog was first broached, I can say that I only thought through the mechanics of preparing and posting the first half-dozen; everything after that seemed quite remote!

What can one say about the blog, circa May 2014? After a little more than five months in existence, it has played host to thirty-four bloggers, writing on topics as disparate as RootsTech 2014, the love troubles of William Norton in 1649, the antics of the Puddingstone Club in the early twentieth century, how best to use the NEHGS catalogue from home, an historical image Smack Down! between Google and Bing, and a list of the ships in the Winthrop Fleet in 1629–30. Continue reading One hundred posts on Vita Brevis

Clear cutting in the genealogical forest

Alicia Crane WilliamsWhen I was in school thirty plus years ago, there was a lot of discussion about the differences between history and genealogy – usually with genealogy getting the short end of the stick. The gap between historians and genealogists narrowed once we realized that we all use many of the same sources for similar ends. The differences are in our goals. The historian is trying to interpret the life of communities and does not really need to deal with the details of individuals. The genealogist is dealing with individuals on a fact-by-fact basis and may not feel the need to understand the larger community. To an historian a genealogist might appear to “not see the forest for the trees,” and to a genealogist an historian might “clear cut” the trees they have been nurturing in hopes of finding the forest! Continue reading Clear cutting in the genealogical forest