Monthly Archives: April 2018

A decade of growth: content

With Judy Lucey on Free Fun Friday in 2013, working in a space that is now shared with the Society’s Jewish Heritage Center.

In addition to laying foundations for progress, over the past ten years NEHGS has greatly increased an already-impressive collection. Better still, we now find it much easier to access vast quantities of content.

When I first volunteered at NEHGS in 2006, its new leader, D. Brenton Simons, reached out to NEHGS members. “In my new role as president, I ask for your help in expanding our collections and increasing donor support in order to preserve our invaluable holdings. Together we can move our remarkable institution forward while still valuing our great traditions.”[1] Within the year, NEHGS launched Preserving New England’s Records: An Initiative for Family and Local History, and its goal has been to gather additional and varied materials for the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.[2] We still have a vibrant collecting program, and you can learn more about donating here. Continue reading A decade of growth: content

A decade of growth: foundations

The author in 2009.

As genealogists spending time researching our ancestors’ lives, we often overlook our personal histories. Having this tendency myself, I now make a point of celebrating significant anniversaries by reflecting on the relevant years. This month marks my tenth anniversary as a full-time employee at NEHGS. Over the past decade, I have experienced first-hand the great march of progress here at NEHGS, but until I spoke with D. Brenton Simons, President and CEO, I had not realized just how closely our institution’s evolutionary waves coincided with my personal growth here. Continue reading A decade of growth: foundations

‘More American’

Click on images to expand them.

A common story among Americans is that their immigrant ancestors changed their names (or had their names changed) upon arrival to the United States in order to make their names sound more “American.” This can make researching immigrant ancestors difficult, especially if you aren’t sure under what name to look for your ancestor. This challenge is prevalent in Irish research, as surname and given name spellings can vary widely from record to record, making it difficult to determine if you’ve located the right person. Continue reading ‘More American’

The diary in question

The Rev. Thomas Cary posed for this portrait by John Singleton Copley around 1770, shortly after he came into his inheritance. He is wearing a blue silk banyan, an “at home” garment popular with eighteenth-century gentlemen. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

When I attended a workshop in Seattle put on by NEHGS, Lindsay Fulton told attendees that one can often find useful genealogical tidbits in old diaries, especially those written by public figures in a community. She recommended searching for diaries of anyone who lived in locations your ancestors did, even if they’re apparently unrelated to your family. You might get lucky and read about births, weddings, and deaths – and perhaps even some juicy gossip – that can flesh out your family history.

If diaries belonging to total strangers can be useful, imagine the thrill I felt when I read in the “Weekly Genealogist” of 28 March that the diary of my (half) first cousin six times removed is now available online – digitally and in transcription – through AmericanAncestors.org![1] Of course I had to dive right in, even though I had taxes to do and a belated birthday present to sew for my husband.

The diary in question is actually many volumes stretching from 1762 to 1806, excepting the year 1777. Continue reading The diary in question

Belated recognition

In the Summer 2017 issue of Mayflower Descendant,  we published an interesting article by NEHGS member Gregory J. Weinig entitled “Elisha Freeman of Provincetown, Massachusetts (ca. 1758/9-1825).”[1] The article clarified his age and parentage (establishing his mother but not his father), and his descent from Mayflower passenger William Brewster.

The article also clarified Elisha’s military service, and provided data that he served several tours from 1775 until 1778, including an eight-month stint in Rhode Island, which prior researchers had assumed to be different men of the same name. Continue reading Belated recognition

‘A stranger to us’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Grays’ summer was flying by in Marion, and Regina Shober Gray[1] faced new social responsibilities as her daughter Mary[2] ventured into society:

Sunday, 6 August 1865: A week ago last Wed’y, I went up to Boston to make my deserted husband a visit, intending to return early on Friday; but some deeds were sent on for the girls[3] to sign before a commissioner – so they had to come up on Friday morning and I waited, of course, to return with them p.m.

Frank [Gray][4] went to Worcester that mg. for the [rowing] regatta – he was so excited about it that he hardly slept for 2 nights previous. If he took it so hard, what must have been the excitement of the fellows actually competing in the race; and alas! for all their hopes and efforts, the Yale men bore the palm, in both races – and Harvard was only second best. Continue reading ‘A stranger to us’

ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2016.]

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

A rose for Susan

A photo of my great-grandfather labeled “Fred Athearn, brother of Mary Goodrich.” Shared by Eric Anderson of Houston

Next week’s fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing is sure to bring back strong emotions for many NEHGS members and staff. While I was removed from the drama by an entire continent, I remember feeling a certain newfound closeness due to genealogical work I’d just begun. I had previously never heard of Watertown, and all of a sudden I was reading about a shootout in that town where ancestors had settled in the 1630s. The strongest connection I felt, though, was when law enforcement announced that “persons of interest” had been identified through photographs … because I also had identified a “person of interest” that week in the same manner.

Like many orphans, my great-grandfather longed to know about the family he’d lost at an early age. Fred Goodrich Athearn had little trouble tracing his father’s family back to seventeenth-century Massachusetts, but all he knew about his mother was that she was named Susan or Susanna Goodrich; that she had been a friend of the Polish actress Helena Modjeska in Anaheim, California; and that she was probably an actress herself. Continue reading A rose for Susan

Pulling it all together: Part Two

Continuing with my assessment of The Phelps Family of America:

Scope: The work traces Phelps-named males through the ninth generation as well as some female descendants born with the Phelps surname to their children, and occasionally further through a grandchild with a non-Phelps surname. An effort was made to trace the Phelps family in Europe, presented in the form of 70 pages of transcribed, but not analyzed, correspondence with parish rectors and individuals named Phelps. The methodology was limited, but the scope deserves a score of 7. Continue reading Pulling it all together: Part Two