Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Starbuck in Seattle

A monument memorializing the arrival of the ship EXACT in Seattle.

This past June, I was excited to attend the first workshop ever offered by NEHGS in Seattle. It was a bit of a drive from my home in Salem, Oregon, but definitely worth it, and the most useful thing I learned was that many older Massachusetts deeds can be browsed free of charge through

I’d hoped one day to revisit the Massachusetts island of Nantucket – where a branch of my family lived for the first two centuries of European settlement – largely to do additional investigation at their Registry of Deeds. The staff there was incredibly helpful when I visited in 2013, but even in the off-season, staying on the island is not exactly cheap, especially with a cross-country flight thrown in. Imagine my joy to discover that I could now do this work from home 24/7! Continue reading A Starbuck in Seattle

Fraternally yours

Fraternal organizations are not as commonplace for most people today as they were back in the mid-1800s on through the twentieth century. Our ancestors joined these groups for camaraderie, financial support regarding burials, insurance, and more. There were hundreds of such organizations, some of which popped up for just a brief few years. Continue reading Fraternally yours

Getting the most out of a library visit

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends when I learned that one of them did not know what microfilm was. This conversation then turned to talking about why only some of us had heard of and used microfilm and others had never heard of it. As a new archivist (at the time), but a relatively seasoned researcher, I was shocked. It is conversations like that that remind me that not everyone knows why archives and libraries do the things that they do, which can seem intimidating. For someone visiting a repository for the first time, there are a few things that you should expect and can do ahead of time to maximize the amount of time you have available to look through material. Continue reading Getting the most out of a library visit

Fluid genealogy

By now followers of my Vita Brevis posts are well aware that no genealogy is perfect. Period. No matter who wrote it.

The old mindset that a work published in a book or an article is automatically complete and completely accurate should be dead by now. The problem has always been that, once a book is in print, there is no practical way of updating and correcting information without reprinting the entire book.

On the other hand, modern electronic publication (in theory) offers endless opportunity to keep a genealogy “live.” Continue reading Fluid genealogy

‘The difference it makes’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Even as she followed the last weeks of the Civil War in the press during the winter of 1865, Mrs. Gray[1] found time to contribute to her daughter’s happiness:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Mary [Gray][2] is in a state of very happy excitement because her father has withdrawn his prohibition against round-dancing.[3] It is very inconsistent I suppose and all that, but I have long felt a question about it; whether the old fashioned prejudices of her parents ought to enforce themselves to her exclusion from a pleasure all her young friends were allowed, and enjoyed so highly.

She enjoys dancing the “German” as much as any one – but has never remonstrated against our decision, and gave it up 2 or 3 years ago without complaint. Then several other girls of her set said they were not to dance it – and it seemed as if she would have plenty of companionship in abstaining, but one after another they have all concluded to dance it and she was left almost alone – and it does make a great difference in a young lady’s enjoyment of society: it sets her completely apart from the dancing and makes a wall-flower of her at once, for there are never more than two or three square dances of an evening. Continue reading ‘The difference it makes’

Genealogical connections to Spain

Statue of King Fernando I of Castile outside the Royal Palace of Madrid.

Last month, my wife and I took a vacation to Madrid. While Spanish is my wife’s largest “pre-1492” ethnic background (the others being African and Native-American), I have yet to trace an ancestor who was actually born anywhere besides the Dominican Republic. The furthest I’ve gone is to an ancestor born about 1713, who appears on an 1812 census in her father’s hometown of San Francisco de Macoris. (See this post for information on some of my wife’s Dominican Republic ancestry.)

However, through a few of my own documented “royal” lines, I end up with a few cases of Spanish ancestry through my colonial British forebears. On our trip to Madrid, we walked through the Buen Retiro Park and outside the Royal Palace of Madrid, both of which have numerous statues of rulers of various Spanish kingdoms (Castile, Aragon, Leon, Barcelona, etc.), as well as monarchs after unification with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. Continue reading Genealogical connections to Spain

A knock at the door

Grace Brickley (1904-2004). Click on the images to expand them.

She was not pleased to see me – this paternal first cousin of my (biological) great-grandmother, Opal Young.[1] Her name was Grace,[2] and we had arranged our meeting through the mails, never having spoken to each other by telephone. Before, as I had stood on her stoop waiting for her to answer my knock, it was hard for me to believe that I would be meeting with a blood relative of my grandmother’s – one outside the small circle of my grandmother’s own descendants. I wondered how she might appear to me (part of me thought surely on a broomstick?) and I wondered what of “her family” she might recognize in me, too.

In some ways I am not sure why Grace agreed to see me at all. She was, after all, a 91-year-old spinster living alone in the hills above Glendale, California. While I had done my best to answer her many questions in advance, the prospect of meeting a strange relation at the door that day must have both daunted and intrigued her. Continue reading A knock at the door

Arranging your family papers, part 3

[Editor’s note: This series began here and continued here.]

The last topic that I originally wanted to discuss in my article on organizing and preserving your family papers was digitization. For someone who wants to digitize their material there are a few things that you can do to have archival quality digital images.

The first of thing to do is make sure that you have the necessary equipment for a digitization project. This would likely involve a flatbed scanner (your printer may have one) or a digital camera to photograph larger items. The disadvantage of using a camera is that if the item is large, you may not obtain a focused image and if you try to take the photograph by hand you may end up with a blurry picture. If you are photographing material, a tripod will help stabilize the camera. Continue reading Arranging your family papers, part 3

What do you know?

Margaret Steward (1888-1975) in Tours during the First World War.

In a recent meeting here at NEHGS, the conversation turned to the ease with which visitors to our Newbury Street building could fill out a three-, four-, or five-generation family chart, listing themselves, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. I suspect that for many members of the NEHGS staff, such a chart would be easy to create – the vital record sources for that chart, of course, would take longer to fill in, and it’s unlikely that any one of us could make up that list from memory.

I thought it would be interesting to see if my siblings could do it: Could they go beyond our grandparents, three of whom they might have known, to list great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents?

The answer, based on a response rate of 75%, is … No. Continue reading What do you know?

Desktop publishing woes

Desktop publishing refers to computer programs that allow you to create works with both text and graphics in the same file. I never got into the Mac and Apple world, so my experience is only with PC programs such as Microsoft Word, which has always done well with text, but is limited when incorporating graphics. Programs such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe InDesign pick up the gap between programs that specialize in words and those that specialize in pictures.

My go-to program in the past has been Microsoft Publisher. When it originally came out thirty years ago, it emphasized the ability to take large Word files and merge them into larger book-length files and then convert them to formats that were used by commercial printers, such as PDFs. Today one can create a PDF file directly from within the Microsoft Word program. If one does not need sophisticated graphics for a book, therefore, one does not necessarily need a desktop publishing program. Continue reading Desktop publishing woes