Monthly Archives: July 2017

Acts of genealogical kindness

I have tried to make it a point in my blogs to give heartfelt thanks to indexing efforts of the New England Historic Genealogy Society (NEHGS) volunteers whenever we bring a new or updated collection online. Several people have asked me exactly how volunteers fit in the indexing process. Answering this question requires a little perspective on what is involved in creating one of our databases.

Typically, the first step is scanning images from the original source materials. The volunteers come to the library here in Boston. Then, using a flatbed scanner or 35mm camera-based book scanner, the volunteer captures every page in the book. A critical part of this phase is to take care that the images are clear and that no pages have been inadvertently skipped. This seems straightforward, but when you are processing a few hundred pages extra vigilance is required. Continue reading Acts of genealogical kindness

‘A note unsaid’

“Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” – William Ralph Inge

Mary Peak Schooley (1820-1898?)

In family history, a blissful and naive notion often occurs when we begin to think we have learned all there is to know about any given ancestor. From records of birth and marriage, to census images and cemetery stones, and even through the occasional “copy and pasted” family tree, how could we not have? It’s tempting to give into the idea that it all the “evidence is in.” Yet despite all of our best research or garnered facts there is still much out there that is only revealed in time.

I experienced this when I looked at what was known about my paternal great-great-great-grandmother Mary Peak Schooley (1820–1898?). I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Mary Schooley. I’d been to the cemetery at Leanna, Kansas several times, but the research on Mary had been done before – by her great-granddaughter, my cousin Barbara Andruss Irwin.[i] Continue reading ‘A note unsaid’

‘Hand over hand’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] often used her final diary entries for a year to review the previous twelve months. At the end of the year 1864, death was much on her mind, with the recent loss of her brother John; another close friend, generally noted in the diary as Miss Jones, had died the previous winter.

 61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 25 December 1864: A splendid Christmas day – but oh – how sad such days become to us, as life wears on, and our paths are more and more strewn with wrecks of lost hopes and “loves where death hath set his seal.” It is all I can do to keep back the tears to-day – to seem cheerful for the children’s sake. The past year has carried away 2 most precious friends, and all future life is shadowed with a sense of “retrieveless loss.”

My darling brother[2] – the playmate of childhood and the faithful friend of mature life. Continue reading ‘Hand over hand’

ICYMI: A thousand words

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2016.]

Alice Selig Harris and friends

Coming from a family of active amateur photographers, the (still) new digital age of photography has significantly changed the way I look at and convey my world, its events, my life, and my family. Gone are the days of, “Oh, no, I just got to the end of a 36-exposure roll and missed the perfect picture I’ll never get again.” With three expensive cameras sitting in my closet collecting dust, like many of us I now use my smart phone for most of my photographic pursuits. This is not such a bad thing: it’s always in my pocket ready to get, as DeWitt Jones says, “not just a good frame, but a great frame.” Continue reading ICYMI: A thousand words

Shared DNA through both parents

Recently I gave a webinar about choosing a DNA test and breaking down the differences between AncestryDNA, 23andme, and FamilyTreeDNA. When it came to autosomal DNA, I included the fact that 23andme and FamilyTreeDNA provide a chromosome view of how you share DNA with your matches while AncestryDNA does not, giving you just the summary of how much CentiMorgans are shared and along how many segments. For these reasons I do recommend people who test with AncestryDNA to also upload their DNA onto Gedmatch so they can better visualize some of their matches. A question I get concerns why does this matter? I now have an ideal example to share. Continue reading Shared DNA through both parents


I just spent a nice afternoon with Tom, a fellow Alden descendant and historian, talking about the Alden legacy. He is gathering information on what he’s calling his “Aldens-engaging-with-Aldenness” project that may become a book.

He wanted to know how I was first introduced to the Aldens (my grandmother discovered our line when I was about three and had my picture taken sitting next to Priscilla’s gravestone), how I got involved with the Alden Kindred (they needed a genealogist and I needed the cachet for my professional resume), and such things as my opinions on hereditary societies and attitude towards our Pilgrim ancestors. Continue reading Legacy

Once an heiress

The R.M.S. Pannonia, the ship Anna Barkassy would arrive on and her point of departure for the rest of America. Courtesy of

One of my perennial and poignant brick walls is the story behind my wife Nancy’s maternal grandmother Anna Barkassy Pouget (1883–1921). Annie, as she is often called, arrived from Hungary with her father Andràs, an attorney, and passed through Ellis Island on 30 January 1906.[i] Annie’s story is like that of many other turn-of-the-twentieth-century Ellis Island immigrants in that her family name offers only a limited sense of her identity.[ii] Annie and her father traveled together; the passenger manifest reflects scant clues as to who or what they might be leaving behind in the old country – and negligible information regarding their business here on arrival. Continue reading Once an heiress

ICYMI: On with the dance

“What a joy it is to dance and sing”

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 December 2015.]

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as remote to our descendants as 1750 does to us, and it behooves us to focus some attention on twentieth century research before that century, like the ones before it, vanishes from shared (and contemporary) memory. Continue reading ICYMI: On with the dance

Three words

A screenshot showing a range of open tabs along the way to becoming organized.

Enjoyable, rewarding, and complex – three words that come to mind when I describe my work at NEHGS. As researchers and writers, we have the pleasure of making discoveries and documenting them for current and future generations. However, that comes with many responsibilities requiring juggling multiple projects. How can we keep track of so many research and writing projects while still giving our best efforts to each?

In answer, I offer three more words – conceptualize, organize, and prioritize. These are the actions that guide my work flow in order to maintain momentum on various projects – and they should be applicable to genealogical projects on any scale! Continue reading Three words

A badge of mystery

My squirrel bins, those containers of Distractions of All Things Family, frequently offer up mysteries, usually in the form of memorabilia that make me wonder why they were kept, and why I have them.

The small, 2.5” brass-toned badge marked Augusta Emergency Unit 83 is one item I thought would be easy to identify and attach to a more recent relative.

How many ways can I be wrong? All of them, apparently.

No one in my earlier generations has been a firefighter, police officer, paramedic, or any kind of auxiliary, and although my father was honored for pulling neighbors out of their burning homes, he was just a good Samaritan who did what he could. Continue reading A badge of mystery