Monthly Archives: January 2017

Yalta, 1945

Courtesy of

The seventy-second anniversary of the Yalta Conference, 4–11 February 1945, also marks the anniversary of my uncle’s death in Operation Argonaut, the Allied support mission that provided safe escort to the conference for President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in their historic meeting with Joseph Stalin of Russia. The goal of the conference was to decide how post-war Europe would be governed, even though there was still heavy fighting in France (the Battle of the Bulge had just ended on 25 January). Hindsight reveals that many of the agreements and concessions made during the conference led to the Soviet Union’s domination of eastern Europe for forty years. Continue reading Yalta, 1945

The language of totem poles

The term ‘family history’ has long been associated with the written word and is most often found recorded in books, bibles, and public documents. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, however, have been using another method for more than 125 years: totem poles.

The word ‘totem’ is derived from the Ojibwe ‘odoodem,’ meaning “his kinship.”[1] The earliest record believed to depict a totem pole is from the Pacific coast voyages of Captain James Cook in 1778, when his ship’s artist, John Webber, sketched ceremonial interior poles depicting faces.[2] While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.[3] That totem poles did not appear frequently prior to this period probably reflects a lack of efficient carving tools and wealth, and the leisure time required for their construction.[4]
Continue reading The language of totem poles

A variety of faiths

Arms of Cornette. Courtesy of The American Heraldry Society,

I was very excited about our recent announcement that is digitizing the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston. I had viewed some of these records in the past at their offices in Braintree. Some of the volumes had been in quite fragile shape, and having them digitized, and ultimately indexed, is going to provide greater access to an under-utilized record source.

When the records went online, I decided to browse some of the early volumes. While people with Catholic ancestors in other areas such as Quebec and Latin America can often find mothers’ full maiden names on baptismal records, and mothers’ maiden names for both parties on marriage records, I knew that this is not always the case for New England Catholic records: often the wife/mother is listed only with her husband’s name, without a reference to her maiden name. Continue reading A variety of faiths

‘The prudence of staying at home’

[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
As her children grew up, from time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] offered pen portraits on their emerging characters: here, she reflects on her older children Frank, Mary, and Sam Gray.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 4 March 1864: Frank [Gray][2] got home on Tuesday at 9½ p.m. after 3 weeks in Philad[elphia] and 1 in New York. He had a good time, and has grown decidedly; but brought home a heavy cold, by wh[ich] he is quite sick, and wh. he considers a decidedly ignoble termination to his festivities. He is now at Cambridge, though I strenuously urged the prudence of staying at home to be nursed up, [until] Monday next. He brought me from Horace [Gray][3] a copy of “Chron’s. of Schönberg-Cotta Family”[4] wh. I was delighted to get – three people having recommended it to me within a week as a most charming book – one to own &c. Continue reading ‘The prudence of staying at home’

Wrongful death

For the past three years I have been laboring on a Microsoft Word document that details every mention of James O’Neil and his family in the historical record. Now it is more a labor of love, but when it was created, it came from a place of frustration. I knew so little.

James is my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter, Annie, died when my great-grandfather was just eight years old, and little information was passed down in the family. Continue reading Wrongful death

Lazarus Hollister’s probate records

Click on the images to expand them.

In my previous post on Connecticut probate records, I described how it is now possible to access digitized images from original probate files, and that I am busy comparing published transcriptions for the John Hollister family to the images of the originals. So far they differ mostly in such things as whether or not the original spellings were kept, although I am still making my way through the records.

In the case of Lazarus Hollister, however, I came across an interesting corollary to the point I was making – that published transcripts may be less reliable than original images, but in this case, a published transcript looked like it might provide “correct” information that cannot be read on the original image. Continue reading Lazarus Hollister’s probate records

Researching family heirlooms

Fig. 1: Side chair, De Young Museum: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco, California) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Services team at NEHGS is occasionally approached with questions relating to the history of ownership (i.e. provenance) of a particular family heirloom. These questions are usually supplemented with stories about the heirloom’s first owner and how the object was acquired. Genealogists are uniquely qualified to carry out provenance research due to their familiarity with and frequent use of two sources commonly used in provenance research: wills and estate inventories. However, before consulting any of these sources, a serious study of an heirloom’s provenance should begin by studying the object itself.

To illustrate how the study of an object is crucial to provenance research, consider the following hypothetical scenario: An individual is interested in documenting the ownership of a piece of heirloom furniture (a side chair) that has been in the family for multiple generations. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that the chair is similar in form to the image in Fig. 1, and that the chair is not a reproduction. Continue reading Researching family heirlooms

Remembering Rosella

Since childhood I have loved flea markets and genealogy. As a genealogist, I have often discovered the lost treasures of other families and purchased them. When I was about twelve years old, I attended a barn sale near Campton, New Hampshire. As the adult collectors pored over the antique farm equipment, I looked through trunks with old photographs and papers. Sitting out on a table was a small metal plaque; at first glance, it appeared to be a silver serving dish. When I picked it up and saw a name and a death date, though, I got curious. I purchased this item for $3.00 and brought it home that summer. Continue reading Remembering Rosella

A block buster

blocks-1 blocks-2

Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”

In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster

Connecticut probate records

lazarus-hollister-cover-pageIn my youth I used to make trips to the Connecticut State Archives in Hartford, Connecticut, to access their great collection, particularly the microfilmed probates and deeds. More recently, I have had to settle for Charles William Manwaring’s book, A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, so I am delighted that the Connecticut probate files are now available on “Connecticut, Wills and Probate Records, 1609–1999.” (Don’t ask me what the 1609 refers to!) Since Manwaring’s book only contains brief abstracts from the records, it is good to be able to compare them to the original files – particularly since Manwaring’s abstracts seem to have been made from the copy book versions, rather than the original files, which in some cases contain more than the books. Continue reading Connecticut probate records