Monthly Archives: October 2017

Things that go bump in the night

Finding Disneyland

As genealogists and family history researchers, we deal with what our ancestors have left behind. But what about the ancestors who stayed behind? We all know that when we blissfully, stoically, and persistently work at finding and understanding our forebears, they will look over our shoulders, tweak our brains, and sometimes yank on our chains to get their stories told. Mine serve up apple pie and coffee!! Continue reading Things that go bump in the night

A place at the table

C. R. Dixon and two of his second wife’s grandchildren.

He was never spoken of at his grandfather’s table, and no place setting ever arranged for him. Even so, he moved about our 1965 holiday home as if an ‘essential presence.’ I pictured him watching the Thanksgiving turkey being carved as the sweet potatoes were passed, and I saw him sympathize as “we the kids” cringed (and cried foul!) at my mother’s edict to enjoy all of my grandmother’s green Jell-O holiday concoction.

In his mind’s eye he must have watched us move about at Christmas, unwrapping the coveted “I wants” and the gifts of a childhood he should have had, but must have only wondered about. For you see, his place at his grandfather’s table had been given away – to me. Continue reading A place at the table


It is a situation nearly everyone who has done any degree of genealogical research has encountered before. Upon locating information on one of your ancestors and doing some simple subtraction, the result just seems too unlikely.

“There is NO WAY he was 138 when he died!”

Most astute researchers will dismiss these claims and move on to finding some proof of birth or death to debunk this incredibly unlikely scenario. For now, the oldest verified person who ever lived was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122.[1] Continue reading Longevity

‘Out of reach’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
It must have seemed to Regina Shober Gray[1] that the Civil War would never end, although there were signs, as here, of a looming resolution. In the second paragraph of this entry Mrs. Gray refers to all of her sons: the first and third were in Philadelphia, while the second and fourth were at home in Boston.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 19 February 1865: It is reported to-day that Sherman[2] has taken Columbia, S.C., and that the rebels are evacuating Charleston. It would really seem that the days of armed rebellion are nearly numbered – that this long war, big with fate as it is, to millions yet unborn of both races, white and black, must be at last drawing to a close. God grant it, in the fullness of His own time, which will not be till His work accomplished – till this great nation is redeemed from the sin and curse of slavery. Continue reading ‘Out of reach’

The Phippen chart

John Symonds, “Genealogical Register with Coat-of-Arms of the Phippen and the Smith families of Salem, Massachusetts,” 1808, detail. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Anna Augusta Chapin Fund

When I compiled the Early New England Families Study Project sketch on Joseph Phippen a couple of years ago, I briefly mentioned that the identification of the maiden name of his wife Dorothy/Dorcas/Darcus as “Wood” depended on an “incomplete Phippen pedigree chart attributed to Joseph, which [Clarence Almon] Torrey noted was doubted; see description of the Chart [by Robert Charles Anderson in his sketch on David Phippen] in GM2, V:455-56 [who did not incorporate information from the chart, deeming it too far removed from the early generations]).” Not having the opportunity to see the chart in question, myself, I followed Bob Anderson’s caution and did not include any maiden name for Joseph’s wife. Continue reading The Phippen chart

Hotel California

The extended Hawley family.

Early in my genealogical research, I noticed that one of my great-great-grandfathers, Cicero Hawley,[1] was enumerated in 1870 on the same page as the family of his future wife. That piqued my curiosity. Checking out the census form more carefully, I saw that he and his brother James were staying at a Marshalltown, Iowa, hotel run by Ephraim[2] and Emeline Shaw.[3] The Shaws had a 23-year-old daughter[4] (the same age as Cicero) who was an artist, but it was their 17-year-old daughter Belle[5] (a school teacher) who captured his heart. Continue reading Hotel California

Gender determined later

1850 U.S. Census, Windham, Connecticut

I found a rather curious census entry that was definitely not as it appeared. The above 1850 census in Windham, Connecticut listed Anna C. Tingley, age 56, Merchant; Ann M. Tingley, age 60, no occupation; Anna N. Tingley, 27, Clerk; and Ann M. Tingley, 23, no occupation. This quartet would appear to be an all-female household, with two women named Anna and two women named Ann. The women named Anna have occupations, while the women named Ann do not. Does this seem peculiar? It is! Continue reading Gender determined later

Account books

A current research project has led me to peruse dozens upon dozens of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Connecticut River Valley account books. Used to maintain records of business transactions, account books have been an important component of the store owner and merchants’ trade throughout much of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in America. While account books tend to be more frequently consulted for the items that were retailed by store owners, the inclusion of names and other data also make account books an invaluable genealogical source. Continue reading Account books

Returning Elijah

Elijah Burson (1807-1886)

A year ago last summer I was contacted by a gentleman from Zeeland, Michigan. While out weekend bargain hunting, he had come across an antique photograph for sale at a local flea market. The gentleman wrote with empathy about family history, and he seemed to have at least a hobbyist’s eye for old pictures. His curiosity was piqued by this one particular picture, so he purchased it, no doubt saving it from the fate of some Michigan land fill.  He said that the only identifier as to who the person in the photo might be were the words “Grandpa Burson” written on its back.

From what I could gather, the man from Zeeland enjoys following where the clues in any old pictures might take him. Continue reading Returning Elijah

Of books and alligator lizards

In my capacity as college and career coordinator at my local high school, I recently attended a breakfast hosted by CalTech, Pomona, Yale, and MIT. I got lots of great information for my students, but I especially enjoyed it because I have connections (however slight) to each of these institutions.

Not long after I arrived in England following my own college graduation, a handsome young man and I exchanged glances on a train between Bath and London. We weren’t able to actually speak until we disembarked from the train, when I discovered that Hugh (the only name I learned) was going to begin doctoral studies at CalTech in two weeks. Who knows? If not for his imminent departure, he might have become my husband and the father of my children. Continue reading Of books and alligator lizards