Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016: the year in review

Each December I gather up a dozen blog posts from the year just ending, in hopes of giving new (and long-time) readers a sense of the breadth of content Vita Brevis offers.

San Francisco City HallOn 13 January, Zachary Garceau published a post on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, marking the death of the last known survivor, William A. “Bill” Del Monte (1906–2016):

“In addition to the tragic loss of human life, the effects of another significant loss have been felt in the 110 years since that disastrous day. As a result of ruptured gas mains and other structural issues, several massive fires erupted, including one which swept through the San Francisco City Hall and its adjoining Hall of Records. Continue reading 2016: the year in review

A letter home

A letter from Hannah (Brown) Libby.

The bins of my family memorabilia (my “squirrel bins”) occasionally allow a real gem or two to escape, those things I hope to find but which seldom surface: diaries, journals, or letters.

One such gem is a faded, handwritten letter dated Boise City, May 15, 1870. Written by Hannah (Brown) Libby to “Dear Mother Libby,” it is a poignant expression of homesickness while trying to maintain a positive outlook, an offer of more questions to be answered than answers given. I was intrigued, especially because this Hannah and “Mother Libby” are two faceless women in my long lineage. I have no photo of either woman, no other correspondence, writings, or stories. Continue reading A letter home

‘A kind faithful friend’

[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
The year 1864 would be marked by several important changes in Regina Shober Gray’s[1] circle. The first was the announcement of Mrs. Gray’s friend Emily Adams’s[2] unexpected engagement, which was soon followed by the death of an early Boston friend, Anna Powell Jones.[3]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 3 January 1864: Every one is much surprised to [learn] of Emily Adams’ engagement to Caleb Curtis Jr. They have known each other all their lives, near neighbours and playmates from childhood – and have just discovered this penchant when she is 36 or 7 [sic] and he about a year younger. They know each other so well that each must be thoroughly aware what to expect from each other, in temper, character, intellect, & culture. So there can be little disappointment in that way. Continue reading ‘A kind faithful friend’

Fireside chats, 2016

Alicia Crane WilliamsThis year’s holiday Open House at the NEHGS library on Saturday, December 10, included several Fireside Chats. In the morning Marie Daly and Judy Lucey discussed Irish genealogy.

In the afternoon Chris Child covered the different types of DNA testing – Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal. This last is the “hot” fad right now; it’s the type you see on TV, such as “I thought all my ancestors were [fill in the blank], but…” I am no expert on the complexity of DNA inheritance, so it was interesting to learn that European (including the British Isles) DNA is greatly affected by thousands of years of migrating groups that have mixed up the pool to the point of making specific interpretations difficult. On the other hand, test results are accumulating to the point where surnames will be identifiable! Continue reading Fireside chats, 2016

Christmas cookies

winifred-1 winifred-2

One early December a few years ago, my son asked if I would fill a cookie basket for his new landlord’s two little boys. I was making multiple dozens of cookies at the time, so I stuffed a green wooden Christmas basket for them and sent it off.

The following July when my son was visiting his landlord, the youngest boy approached carrying the basket as if to say “Please, Sir, may we have more?” Since then, the basket finds its way back to me in summer, and I overfill it for them every Christmas. It’s a new tradition of sorts, however short-lived it might be. Continue reading Christmas cookies

ICYMI: The Philadelphia box

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 December 2015.]

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

In 1860, when Regina Shober Gray began keeping her diary, gift-giving was spread between Christmas and New Year’s Day: indeed, the latter day was the more important of the two in the eyes of the Gray children. For at least the period of the Civil War, the Gray family of Boston impatiently awaited the arrival of “the Philadelphia box” – containing presents from Mrs. Gray’s siblings[1] – with shipment timed for the days around January 1. Continue reading ICYMI: The Philadelphia box

Solvang revisited

Courtesy of the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art

Back in 2002 or so, my mother and I took a trip to the small town of Solvang, California. Just north west of Santa Barbara, in the Santa Ynez Valley, this small town of 2.4 square miles is modelled on the traditions and cultural landscape of Denmark.

The land Solvang sits on was originally inhabited by the Chumash tribe. During the Spanish Mission Expansion in the 1770s, Father Estévan Tapis founded the Mission Santa Inés, around which the center of town grew up. Continue reading Solvang revisited

Czech surnames

krejci-1-1024x819While working on a research problem in preparation for a consultation, I wanted to determine how common the surname Kucera was in the Czech Republic. A name that seems fairly unusual here in the United States is often as common as Smith back in the old country. I found a web site, Czech Surnames, that gave a great deal of information about the origins of different Czech surnames, but also had a listing of the top 20 most popular surnames in the country for the years 1937, 1964, and 1996. I discovered that Kucera, which means “curly,” was and is the ninth most common surname in the country. For the research problem in the consultation this was not necessarily good news, but it substantiated the above premise. Continue reading Czech surnames

Piece work

maria-tavano-deathI have developed a soft spot for two of my great-great-grandparents, Domenico Caldarelli and Maria Tavano. They were born in Italy, Domenico in Naples and Maria in Villa Santa Maria, Chieti. They emigrated to New York with their four children around 1890.

I had my first glimpse of Domenico in New York in the 1900 Federal Census, when he was listed as a prisoner in Sing Sing. Was this my Domenico? The prisoner was older than I thought Domenico should be. Why was he in Sing Sing? What happened to his family? Continue reading Piece work