Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Other Half

Courtesy of ABC Inc.

On October 27, NEHGS hosted a Family History Benefit Dinner featuring Bill Griffeth and Cokie Roberts, both accomplished news commentators and authors. Whereas Bill has written of his experiences with unexpected DNA results concerning his paternal side, Cokie has made a career of highlighting the lives of women in American history.

In honor of her accomplishments, the Society presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History and Biography and a beautifully hand-bound book of her ancestors. As I compiled her robust genealogy, I worked to include the kinds of stories that would interest an author of female biographies. Continue reading The Other Half

‘If this house could talk’

Eunice's fireplace
Eunice Williams’s fireplace

My grandfather’s childhood wooden alphabet letters stand on my kitchen fireplace mantel, designating the four families in my “family thicket” who have lived in this house since its construction in 1789: Williams, Saunders, Church, and Doerr. Researching our ancestors is one thing, researching house histories is another, but often they are irrevocably intertwined.

Researching the life and family of Asa Williams, the cordwainer, tanner, blacksmith, and farmer who built My Old House, means that I also research the house itself. Through vital records, census records, and local histories combined with deeds and probate records, I have tried to find the stories, from Asa’s purchase of the land in 1777 to the shoe last which fell out of my ceiling. Continue reading ‘If this house could talk’

‘Privileges of sex and rank’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
This selection of Regina Shober Gray’s[1] reading includes current novels (John Brent and The Earl’s Heirs) as well as a response to a controversial proclamation by the Military Governor in New Orleans. Mrs. Gray tells a story on herself in daring to read from the Bible in front of a visiting minister.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 12 February 1862: Cutting out Frank [Gray]’s[2] shirts this morning. Sat up till’ 1 o’clock last night to read John Brent[3] – began it at 10½ after … Fred [Gray][4] went home, and F. C. had finished his acct. of the “Negro Minstrels”[5] he and Lawrence Sprague[6] went to hear and see. It is a brilliant book…

Sunday, 16 March 1862: A continuation of yest’ys storm; hail, rain, sleet, and a raw north east gale. Tomorrow Miss Choate[7] comes to work for the boys – a busy week we shall have. I have found time this past week to run through Bulwer’s “Strange Story”[8] and “The Earl’s Heirs,”[9] both quite entrainant in their way. Continue reading ‘Privileges of sex and rank’

Death by lightning

union-congregational-church-1910I recently re-read “Deaths by Lightning in Early New England,” an article written by former NEHGS staff member Julie Helen Otto for New England Ancestors, the predecessor publication to American Ancestors. My interest was spurred by my great-grandmother’s “Genealogical Journal.” In it was a tragic story of death by lightning of one of her ancestors.

My great-grandmother, Maude Bell Plowman, was an inveterate diarist and journal-keeper. Her diaries cover everyday life, while her journal captures material she copied from family bibles, county histories, or that she learned from corresponding with relatives. Unfortunately, almost none of her copious materials include citations or indication of provenance. Continue reading Death by lightning

Frog Alley

east-tisburyRecently, I traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to conduct some research at the Dukes County Registry of Deeds. There, as I was learning about property located in Tisbury, I came across some familiar folks – my great-great-great-grandparents! In another genealogical coincidence, I learned that the gentleman I was researching bought my great-great-great-grandparents’ home in Tisbury. Continue reading Frog Alley

When everything changed

Griffeth-cover-FINAL-webThe rustic handmade sign above the door said “Ye ol’ Genealogical Research Center Library and Museum.” The letters were in Old English style. They were painted yellow over a green background, and they perfectly captured the upbeat, cheery nature of my friend Tom.

“Step in,” he urged me. I walked through the door and into his study. This was where he had spent the first fifteen years of his retirement researching his family’s history. Even before I entered the room, I knew what I would see, and I didn’t like it. Continue reading When everything changed

Visiting cemeteries

vb-nehgs-on-vacation-for-vbOne of my favorite activities on vacation is visiting a local cemetery. Not just to view the ornate memorials and beautiful architecture, but to learn about the people that a particular region/state appreciates and associates with its national pride.

On my last trip to Puerto Rico, I visited the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, founded in 1863 outside of the walls of the city’s most famous landmark, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (known by locals as “el Morro”). The cemetery has a gorgeous view over the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the final resting place of many famous and influential Puerto Ricans:[1] Continue reading Visiting cemeteries

Turbulent times

Telluride’s Cosmopolitan Saloon; Kenny McLean appears at right.

In the first year of Kenny and Alice McLean’s daughter’s life, labor strife at the Telluride mines was affecting the community.  

On 1 September 1903, difficult and scary times came to Telluride. Union members demanding an eight-hour rather than a twelve-hour workday walked out of Telluride’s ore processing mills. This shutdown caused the closing of area gold and silver mines. When the Tomboy gold mine tried to reopen with nonunion workers (strikebreakers or “scabs”), the union posted armed picketers to prevent the new workers from entering. Continue reading Turbulent times

‘How can I make a call there?’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Letters as well as books constituted Regina Shober Gray’s[1] reading. First, though, a note on the configuration of the Grays’ house at the corner of Bowdoin Street and Beacon Hill Place. This group of buildings was later taken down to make way for the East Wing of the Massachusetts State House, but in 1861 the Grays faced the William Fletcher Welds at 65 Bowdoin Street across Beacon Hill Place, which was itself a continuation of Mount Vernon Street. (In those days, Mount Vernon Street started at the corner of Beacon Street and turned 90° at the State House, and Beacon Hill Place, to continue down Beacon Hill.) Confusingly, the Grays lived at 1 Beacon Hill Place, too; Joseph B. Carter was their neighbor at 3 Beacon Hill Place:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Saturday, 16 November 1861: Wrote as polite a note as I knew how to our neighbour Mrs. Weld[2] this week au sujet de their end window on Beacon Hill [Place], which they have no right to keep open, and which they do, to my great inconvenience. Continue reading ‘How can I make a call there?’

A cautionary tale

Alicia Crane WilliamsOkay, time to get my feet back on the ground. Reader David Cummings recently brought to my attention an error in the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Samuel Jenney – that the second wife of Samuel’s son, John3 Jenney, was Mary (Mitchell) Shaw, not Phebe (Watson) Shaw. In the pursuant investigation I discovered that I also had the wrong information about John Jenney’s first wife – who was definitely not Margaret Hicks.

So how did that happen? Clearly, I was distracted. Continue reading A cautionary tale