Monthly Archives: June 2018

I left my ship in San Francisco

My lovely step-mother, Joanne Athearn, checking out the diorama of the Niantic in her beached state.

In my last post for Vita Brevis, I shared a picture of “Cleaveland House” on Martha’s Vineyard, which is currently owned and inhabited by a direct descendant of James Athearn, the man who built it. One reader asked, “How did ‘Cleaveland House’ get its name? Is there any association with the descendants of Massachusetts Colonist Moses1 Cleveland?”

The house is named for Athearn’s great-great-grandson, Capt. James Cleaveland, who bought the house about a century after its construction and substantially renovated it. Its next major renovation came about a century after that, when it finally acquired modern amenities such as indoor plumbing! Continue reading I left my ship in San Francisco

One and the same

A post I had written awhile back on twins in my father’s family included my conclusion that my ancestor Sarah Johnson, who married Nathaniel Eaton in Ashford, Connecticut in 1755, was the daughter of Maverick and Bathsheba (Janes) Johnson of nearby Lebanon, Connecticut, which gave her a different set of parents than had been stated in family histories and papers.[1] My reasoning for this conclusion was largely ruling other possibilities out, and the interesting situation of several examples of twins in both Sarah’s proposed ancestral family and among her descendants. Still, at this point, I had no direct proof that Sarah was the daughter of Maverick and Bathsheba. Could I find any? Continue reading One and the same

A hint of Rosemary

She was just a little tyke, picture perfect really, her arms draped around a sheepish grandpa’s neck and shoulders. The only clue I had as to who she might be was in her name, Rosemary, penned out along with that of “Grandpa” in stylish ink beneath the old photograph. She and Grandpa (or rather a grainy picture of the same …) arrived in my mail box all the way from Alexandria a few weeks ago.

I didn’t start out looking for Rosemary, and I really wasn’t too sure who “Grandpa” was, either, but the more I looked at their picture, the more they seemed to be calling out to me. I was pretty sure I’d never “met” Rosemary before in the family tree – and I definitely needed to back track a bit on figuring out just who “Grandpa” was. However, like most of us who do family history, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to let it go. There seemed a reason for Rosemary to be looking at me from that old picture – and it was going to bug me until I found out just who she was. Continue reading A hint of Rosemary

A-hunting we will go

For the most part, my ancestors travelled very little, inclined to stay on home ground, at home or on the farm. I’ve discovered, however, that as recreational travel became easier, some of my ancestors “went up country.”

Out of my squirrel bins came a large album clearly entitled “Illustrated Postcards.” At first I assumed it was nothing more than a collection of vintage postcards. Indeed it is that, but it is also a travel history, a list of friends and relatives, and at the very least an indication that my family members were all literate. Continue reading A-hunting we will go

‘Friends in adversity’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Marital entanglements gave Regina Shober Gray[1] grist for the mill: Georgie Blake’s summer romance at Marion had played out to the extent that Miss Blake’s fiancé swore “he could not marry her, would die rather, kill himself, abscond…” By contrast, Clara Morgan’s engagement to her cousin and brother-in-law seems rather tame.

As my mother would have said, the Gray and Shober families “enjoyed poor health,” although there was nothing funny about it – Dr. Gray’s nieces were frequently ill, while Lizzie Shober was in a fatal decline.

Finally, an ancient Shober family connection became, for a brief moment in the mid-1860s, a source of generous recognition: Mrs. Gray’s mention of the Princess Iturbide’s father’s deposition and execution prefigures the fate of the new Emperor of Mexico. Continue reading ‘Friends in adversity’

A desirable residence

“Cleaveland House,” built for James Athearn and inhabited by George and Hepsibah (Hussey) Athearn.

Don’t you love how certain themes seem to pop up and swirl around all at one time? The very definition of serendipity! A couple of days ago, while reading an article online about a completely different topic, my eye spied an article titled “Slave trader’s home, slum, des res: the stories of one house raise restless ghosts.”[1]

I’ll bet that most family historians would be interested in this article – as well as the television mini-series it describes, which is sadly not generally available to American viewers. For me personally, the title immediately put me in mind of my ancestor George Athearn, although in this particular case the “slave trader” turned out to have been a Victorian trader of cotton produced by slaves. Continue reading A desirable residence

Long Island puzzles

I have been struggling with the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Thomas Cornish of Gloucester, Mass.; Exeter, N.H.; and Newtown, Long Island. While there are half a dozen published accounts on the family, or various parts of it, they disagree on almost everything.

Some accounts claim that Thomas had children who remained in New England; others point to evidence the Cornishes were in New York and New Jersey. Some accounts include a daughter Martha who married consecutively to Francis Swain and Caleb Leverich. Continue reading Long Island puzzles

Hiding in plain sight

Courtesy of belfastforum.co.uk.

I have been working on various genealogical projects since boyhood, with – as I hope – increasing research ability. Happily, there are times when a lucky Google search cuts through years of dead ends: as yesterday, when I went looking for my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Getty of Belfast, who died in Baltimore, Maryland 11 February 1839.[1]

Both Elizabeth and her husband, Dr. John Campbell White (1757–1847), have tantalizing if mysterious backgrounds: both came from Belfast, and Dr. White had professional credentials. As I’ve mentioned, he was the son of an esteemed minister in Templepatrick, not far from Belfast – but who were Elizabeth’s parents? Continue reading Hiding in plain sight

Unforgettable

Yvonne Guerry at Huntington Beach, California, in October 2016.

Her gaze, somewhere between curious and indifferent, held me. Almost unable to breathe, I crisscrossed her Great Room, hoping against hope for the slightest glimpse of my once-alert mother. I had hurried to see her, and then as now, I believed there must be some sort of a magic spell that would bring her back to us, back from the prison of Alzheimer’s, and from the world of all things forgotten. Why hadn’t she taught me that spell? (Or had she?)

She’d always glowed whenever I discovered even the slightest bit of our family’s history, saying to me, “Oh, my, look at all you have learned…” So I had to believe that the cure for this, the cure to return all things unforgettable, had to be hidden away, recorded in an old family history book and just waiting to be discovered. You know, as if from a perfect Book of Spells, the cure called out to me, as if to say… Continue reading Unforgettable

Irish name variations

Recently Mary Ellen Grogan at NEHGS shared a great resource with me. It is called the Special report on surnames in Ireland [together with] varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names in Ireland by Robert E. Matheson. It is available in the NEHGS library. Copies of the “special report on surnames” and the separate “varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names” are also available digitally on HathiTrust. Continue reading Irish name variations