Patriots’ Day, a holiday unique to the State of Massachusetts, commemorates the famous skirmishes between local colonial militia and the British army in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on 19 April 1775. In Lexington, the day is typically celebrated with an early morning reenactment of the skirmish on the town’s green. As an avid watcher of the reenactment, my favorite part of the event comes just prior to the skirmish. Before the fighting ensues, members of the Lexington minutemen—each representing a particular individual who was present on the green that morning—gather on the common for a roll call and commence calling their names in succession. As the roll is taken, one cannot help but notice the frequency at which similar surnames are repeated. Hearing this serves as a reminder that the men who stood on the green that April morning were not only committed to defending their town, their property, and their rights, but they were also related. Continue reading A family reunion
Americans tend to reject the notion of operating within a “social class” structure, although it is sometimes easier to see ourselves as “better than” one person as opposed to “lesser than” another. At the same time, we consume (and relish) the higher gossip associated with European royal families and Hollywood movie stars, and Cleveland Amory – one among a number of authors on the subject – devoted a whole book to the question “Who Killed Society?”
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Americans treated “Society” as a kind of blood sport. Continue reading A twinkling star
Of all the things we leave behind when our time is done, the most important, of course, is ourselves, the least and the most of our lives. While cultures vary in the veneration of ancestors, my staunch Puritan ancestors held to the rites of our New England traditions.
Yet one of the most fascinating yet unsettling museums I’ve experienced is the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato, the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico. And what better time to visit that museum than on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? We walked with local families up the hill to the cemetery next to the museum where it is customary to picnic, decorate the family grave site, and pay homage to one’s ancestors. Continue reading Earthly remains
My grandfather (Walter Robert “Bob” Heisinger, a.k.a. Poppa) was notorious for carrying around a gigantic wallet bursting at the seams with photographs, business cards, and other little mementos he picked up over the years. He would often pull bits and pieces out at social gatherings as props to his stories and jokes. I remember harassing him as a teenager that the thickness of the wallet was contributing to his hip problems and I made a box for him to store some of its contents, though I am sure the box remained empty for the rest of his life. Continue reading Poppa’s wallet
Finding two gravestones for the same person – particularly a widowed person who marries again, or perhaps moves further west – is something not uncommon in genealogical research. A gravestone may be inscribed with both parties’ names with the death date of the living party left empty for when their time comes. However, even when that year is filled in, don’t necessarily think both people are under the same earth. Continue reading Two gravestones, one body
The diarist Regina Shober Gray began the Civil War with mixed feelings about the new American president; by late 1864 she had no doubts about his integrity or his importance to the nation.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 6 November 1864: Mr. Foote gave us a good discourse on the distinction to be held between religious form & religious formalism, and illustrated his meaning by an eloquent allusion the love for our country’s flag – which is after all naught in itself but a piece of coloured bunting, our love for which in times of peace and prosperity is but a form of words, a mode of thought, used to sound the periods of a fourth of July nation. But when war and peril assail its sacred folds, it becomes to us the emblem of all man holds most dear on earth – the holy emblem of all the great ideas for which true men are ready to suffer & die now, as were the martyrs of old. Continue reading ‘True as the needle to the pole’
Getting back to our Roger Thompson book club, the next title on my shelf is Divided We Stand, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1630-1680. Here Thompson presents a holistic view of what it was like living in Watertown by studying five areas – I. New World from Old (The Lie of the Land, The Peopling of Early Watertown, 1630–1640, and The View from the Stour), II. Foundations (Government, Land, and religion), III. Economy (Living with Livestock, and Livelihood: The Town’s Economy), IV. Care in the Community (Welfare, The Rising Generation, The Family), and V. Reinforcing Consensus (Invisible Indians, “Foreigners” and Community); followed by a conclusion, “Continuity and Change, Decline and Discord.” Continue reading Divided We Stand
Several weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance of mine, a man I will describe only as a prominent African American personality. Let’s call him Alex. He emailed to say he had read my book, The Stranger in My Genes, and he wanted to discuss something with me. Privately.
My book, published by NEHGS, tells the story of a DNA test I took to help a cousin with his genealogical research. The results were shocking. They revealed that my father was not my father. Since it was released in September of 2016, I have heard from dozens of people – friends and strangers – who have had similar experiences. I assumed Alex was only the latest. Continue reading Strong emotions
An example of how a final spouse might be overlooked occurred when I was researching a “double Lippitt” spouse, Zurial Potter Arnold (1795–1865) of Eastford, Connecticut. Zurial was married to two daughters of Moses and Anstress (Holden) Lippitt of Killingly, Connecticut. He first married Ann Lippitt in 1816; she died in 1823. He then married Ann’s sister Hannah in 1824. I found a reference to Zurial’s 1865 death on findagrave, which showed he was buried near a total of four wives, as also shown below in the Charles R. Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions. Continue reading One more!
On 5 May 1871, Andy Leonard stepped up to home plate at Olympics Grounds in Washington, D.C. Few realized it at the time, but the second baseman of the Washington Olympics was about to make history.
Andrew Jackson “Andy” Leonard was born on 1 June 1846 in County Cavan, Ireland, to Andrew and Ann (Leddy) Leonard. At the age of 2, Andy traveled to America with his parents to escape the Potato Famine. The family settled in Newark, New Jersey, where, from a young age, Leonard began exhibiting a talent for baseball. Beginning in 1864, Andy began a five-year stint playing amateur baseball for teams in the New York metropolitan area before moving to Cincinnati. In 1869, Leonard made history for the first time by joining the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first fully professional baseball team. Leonard was paid $800 for his first season, which lasted from 15 March to 15 November. He remained with the Red Stockings through the 1870 season. Continue reading ‘His last Strike-Out’