Monthly Archives: July 2017

A family celebration

My mother, in the process of reorganizing her office, recently gave me a stack of family pictures and documents. I had already seen many of these photos of her parents and grandparents, but there was one that was unfamiliar and amazing: a large photo of my grandfather’s Bar Mitzvah dinner held on 16 November 1913.

I didn’t even know that my grandfather had a Bar Mitzvah, but Herman Oscar Bornstein, born 12 November 1900, was celebrating at what looked like a very fancy dinner. Continue reading A family celebration

The long way home

A few years ago, when I first began to make quiet rumblings about selling My Old House and moving closer to my son, most people reacted with horror, surprise, and objections: “You wouldn’t really!” “Would you really sell it?” “What would your father, mother, grandparents say?” “Good Grief, sell your Old House?!”

I would. I will! (Cash and certified checks accepted!) Continue reading The long way home

‘Every thing the world can offer’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Early in the new year of 1865, Regina Shober Gray[1] had news to report on her son in Philadelphia and on sad situations closer to home:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 8 January 1865: A bitter cold day – thermom. at 6 this a.m. A warm profuse rain all Friday night turned into a storm of hail, snow, & sleet yesterday – and a clear, cold winter moon was shining out when we retired for the night last evg. Sam [Gray][2] and I have been housed for some days with severe colds – and I have been busy sewing with the dressmaker &c. all the week.

We hear good accounts from dear Regie [Gray].[3] His cough scarcely troubles him at all – and he is very happy. They are doing tout leur possible to make him contented. A gymnasium and workroom are fitted up in the attic for him, the yard is flooded nightly for his slides. Continue reading ‘Every thing the world can offer’

Forgotten lines

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot

My love of family history came from my grandmother. Growing up, I recall asking a lot of genealogical questions that most of my family couldn’t even begin to answer – except, of course, for Grandma Record. She had the gift of recall, and could summon a second cousin’s birth date as easily as she recalled (by rote) the names of the streets in the small town where she grew up – sixty years later. Indeed it was my grandmother who kept what records we “Records” did keep – when we kept any at all. Continue reading Forgotten lines

ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation. Courtesy of

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 February 2016.]

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

Online teaching

I think I survived my first foray into online teaching Wednesday night when I gave my lecture on “Working in and Understanding Original Records” as the third presentation in the NEHGS Online Course “Researching New England,” a fee-based program open to NEHGS members.[1] The course began on July 5, with David Dearborn’s class on “Settlement of New England”; then, on July 12, Lindsay Fulton gave the second class on “Seventeenth-century Published Resources.” The two classes after me are by David Lambert, “Researching Colonial and Revolutionary War Soldiers” on July 26, and Chris Child, “Thinking Outside the Box: Breaking Down Brick Walls in Early New England” on August 2. Continue reading Online teaching

The Church of the Presidents

This July marks the 250th birthday of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States and an original member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Born on 11 July 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams was a passionate orator and ardent champion of learning, whose lamentable presidency was just a short interlude in his lifelong dedication to public service.

This month also marks the fiftieth annual presidential wreath-laying ceremony for John Quincy Adams at the United First Parish Church in Quincy. The tradition was initiated by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, establishing that on the birthday of each deceased president the current sitting president would send a wreath to be laid on his tomb. Continue reading The Church of the Presidents

Circumstantial evidence

Courtesy of

As a researcher at NEHGS, I have learned a great deal about genealogy and have gradually implemented various research strategies as I encountered them, typically by asking my extremely intelligent coworkers what they would do with any given case. However, I tend to learn from doing rather than simply from having someone tell me what to do or how to do it. Which leads me to one case in particular that has really stuck with me as a learning experience, the ancestry of Laura (Smith) Kingsley.

When the records are not there for a certain individual you are researching, one suggestion is to look into other people in the family including siblings, aunts and uncles, in-laws, etc. I admit that when I began doing genealogy I did not fully comprehend how looking at someone other than the research subject would help with my research efforts. However, the case of Laura Smith Kingsley lit up the imaginary light bulb over my head and helped to illustrate situations such as these. Continue reading Circumstantial evidence

Testamentary ambiguities

Courtesy of

While editing an article in Mayflower Descendant, a question came up about the way the testator referred to one of his children in his will. Along these same lines, a grandchild was included in the will who seemed to break the pattern of the way the testator identified everyone else in the family.[1]

The will in question was Nathaniel Brown (1735–1818) of Williston, Vermont. Born in Killingly, Connecticut, he was in Douglas, Massachusetts, in 1778, before moving to Vermont by 1802. Nathaniel and his wife Abi had twelve children, six of whom survived childhood and were identified in some context in the 1818 will of their father. Continue reading Testamentary ambiguities

A circus family

George and Nora

As researchers, we all hit brick walls when doing genealogy. In my search, there’s a part of my family that just doesn’t want to be found! It can be very discouraging – and, if you’re like me, you become obsessed with uncovering the hidden family members and all the secrets they possess.

My grandmother was born Ada Angel Seguin in 1915 in Rhode Island to George Seguin and Nora Caron. Ada’s father, George, had a well-documented life and his family search was a breeze. But George’s wife Nora Caron is where my research started to unravel. Nora has always been a bit of a mystery for my family. The stories that have been passed down from my aunt say that Nora read tea leaves and had an ‘open-door policy’ in Rhode Island for all that were “lost or needed a place to stay overnight. What a wonderful individual to have in your family! Continue reading A circus family