Monthly Archives: June 2017

Plot lines

My great-grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Daniel S. Ogle of Paola, Kansas, about 1910.

In the summer of 1970 I was witness to a ritual that had eluded parts of my family for more than one hundred years. This ritual was the graveside service for my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886–1970) in a designated or an “ancestral” family burying ground.[i] By this late date, most of my family had revolted against the idea of “family plots,” preferring instead their own unique nomadic burials during the nineteenth-century westward expansion, or, perhaps later, in efforts to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Continue reading Plot lines

‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this diary entry Mrs. Gray[1] depicts some of the economic forces on an upper-class Boston family, one dependent on the largesse of wealthier family members. Her brother John Bedford Shober had died in November, survived by Mrs. Gray, several unmarried sisters, and a younger brother:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 December 1864: The business firm will go on at present under the old title – “Shober & Co.” – though Antony Kimber being the elder of the surviving partners has the right to insist on the appearance of his name, if he choose to – more especially as he is the more experienced business man, and largest capitalist of the two.

Dear John’s will was just what we all knew beforehand – all the property but $10,000 left to his devoted sister Mary,[2] expressly left in trust for the use of his unmarried sisters,[3] to keep up an affluent home for them; this has been for years the darling object of his life. Continue reading ‘Generosity and magnanimity of character’

Updating an exhibit

Courtesy of Arlene Ovalle-Child

In 2010 I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. An exhibit that caught my eye was called Within these Walls, which told the stories of five families who lived in a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts for more than two centuries. The period covered ranges from the Choate family as American colonists in the 1750s to the Scott family during the Home Front of the 1940s. The second family covered, under the period of “Revolutionaries – 1777–1789,” was the Dodge family, under the heading “the Dodges and Chance.” The Dodge household included an African-American man named Chance, as noted in Abraham Dodge’s 1786 will, where Abraham left his wife Bethiah “all my Right to the Service of my Negro Man Chance.” At the time I saw this exhibit, that reference was essentially all the show’s curators knew about Chance. Continue reading Updating an exhibit

Weeding by another name

Figure 1. Click on images to expand them

Whenever I am working in records or sites from another country – and thus not in the English language – I do my best to leave them in that language, especially if my only option for translation is that which is built into the browser software. A recent consultation request brought this issue front and center.

The request for the consultation was confirmation that the two families the researcher had found in the 1910 census were indeed the same family. Continue reading Weeding by another name

The lives of women

The beginning of summer and the influx of tourists to the city of Boston has me thinking about a fun activity I did last year: a historic tavern tour. This was an entertaining group outing where we went on a historical tour of the city, all the while stopping at historic bars and having a beer or two at each. I enjoyed this experience as it combined two of my favorite things, history and beer.

Shortly after the tour I came across a book in our library called, Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs, by Samuel Adams Drake. Continue reading The lives of women

Conserving Catholic records volumes

Sample page from a Saint Patrick volume of marriage records.

If you have heard about our Historic Catholic Records Online project, in which NEHGS is digitizing and making accessible the sacramental records of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, you might be wondering what has been happening over the past few months with the volumes that contain the records.

There is a regular supply of record volumes coming in and going out, and for those volumes in need of conservation, a lot can happen as they are prepared for scanning. Our Conservation Lab has received many volumes in seriously poor condition. Take, for example, this volume from Saint Patrick’s in Lowell, Massachusetts. It contains marriage records from 1836 to 1872. Continue reading Conserving Catholic records volumes

Off by ten years

Courtesy of

While I have written about reported birthdates ranging over several years, something else that happens from time to time is the reporting of death dates, especially gravestones, being off by a few years. Sometimes, when a gravestone date is off, it also creates an incorrect birthdate. Continue reading Off by ten years

Hope for the best

It is urban legend that I got my start doing human genealogy by tracing Thoroughbred horse pedigrees when I worked at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in the early 1970s. I was already familiar with the five-generation pedigree chart before I got there, which was a great help as I typed (pre-computer days) the pedigrees for every horse on a farm with more than 1,000 horses. My boss, “Bull” Hancock, had a ring binder that held two half-page sheets of five-generation charts. The stallions’ sheets were in the top half of the binder and the mares’ sheets in the bottom half. When the time came to plan a mating, Bull could flip the sheets matching mares to stallions. Continue reading Hope for the best

Warnings out

William Burgis, “Detail from a south east view of ye great town of Boston in New England in America,” ca. 1722-23. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

The practice of “warning out” individuals from New England communities can be traced to the mid-seventeenth century, and served as a method of pressuring (potentially troublesome) outsiders to leave town and settle elsewhere. In his Warnings Out in New England, Josiah Henry Benton explained that the roots of this practice could be found in English law. As he put it, New England settlers “necessarily brought with them the ancient and fundamental principles of the English law, one of which was that the inhabitants of a municipality were responsible for the conduct and support of each other, each for all and all for each.”[1] Continue reading Warnings out

Lost but not forgotten 2

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert ….”  – Paul and Linda McCartney

“Tablets of the Missing” at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines. Courtesy of

In the fall of 1978, shortly after our marriage, I was introduced to various members of my bride’s family. While our families were different in many ways, they were inherently the same, causing the young family historian in me to take note about who was who with regard to my wife’s relatives. One of the relatives to whom I was introduced was “Uncle Albert.”

I should mention that have I never actually met Uncle Albert. I never shook his hand or spoke with him. However, Uncle Albert was to become one of my most poignant and memorable “brick walls.” Continue reading Lost but not forgotten 2