Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.
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The truth is, I’ve rewritten this post about five times. Who really wants to lead with an image of a German royal in official Nazi dress? What could a guy like this possibly have to say? Lately, though, I have been looking for something bigger in the “unusual connections” department. I’ve been wanting one of those Paul Harvey moments, in which a family connection leads you to a broader perspective on the world—something that reveals “the rest of the story.”1
Recently, while watching a randomly stumbled-upon TV program, I learned about diamonds stolen during World War II. These particular diamonds were purloined by American service personnel from members of German royalty with Nazi connections. The story piqued my interest, and I had to wonder—could I have any genealogical connection to this fairly recent history of stolen diamonds, some “likely Nazis,” and the German royal family? Continue reading A Kingdom of No Ends→
Perhaps you can relate: the other day, when Google flashed up their daily doodle with an homage to a lady by the name of Barbara May Cameron, I was prepared to ignore it completely. I don’t usually pay much attention to the headlines of the day—for me, today’s “news cycle” just has a way of making everything way too complicated. However, perhaps it was the artwork, or what’s left of this old curmudgeon’s curiosity, but I decided to go back and take a second look. Just who was Barbara May Cameron, and why did I need to know about her?
I admit, I was surprised to learn about the life of a rather incredible person, who clearly made a great impact on the communities she championed during the course of her short life. Barbara May (Lind) Cameron (22 May 1954—12 February 2002) was a writer, artist, and activist. A Hunkpapa Lakota from the Fort Yates band of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she worked at the intersection of her Native American and lesbian identities. She advocated for LGBTQ+ acceptance in Native American communities, and spoke out against racism within LGBTQ+ spaces.1 It’s easy to see why she deserved the respect she garnered. However, I wanted to know more about her than what might have appeared in the media—and as you may be able to predict, I found myself curious about her ancestry. Continue reading Crossing Barriers: Barbara May Cameron→
The other day, I was confronted by an unexpected “hint” in my online family tree based on a DNA match. It outlined genetic ties between myself, an individual I had never heard of before named Samuel Morey, and the descendants of two of his children, Joseph Morey and Lucinda (Morey) Waterbury.1 It also alleged a possible additional Morey daughter, who was possibly the mother of my great-great-great grandmother Melinda (Adams) (Nestle) Dewey.2 I was immediately intrigued—I’ve been researching “Grandma Melinda” for years, but chasing her ancestry had always led me to a brick wall.
I must have stared at this hint for hours. Did I really want to go down that rabbit hole again? But looking more closely at Samuel Morey, I realized that he might just be the guy who could provide me with a Mayflower line for my mother.(Okay, I know that might make me seem like a snob, but I’ve been looking for one for years.) It appears thatSamuel Morey has a well-documented ancestry to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. 3 I decided that the best thing I could do was to mull through the facts, and come up with some genealogical arguments both for and against my relationship with Samuel Morey and his ties to the Mayflower.Continue reading Chasing Grandma→
As a student of family history, I’ve learned that “old white guys” like me generally know next to nothing about African American ancestry. This isn’t to say that we can’t follow a census record, collect a newspaper clipping, or attempt to extrapolate the identities behind the well-hidden faces in the 1850 Slave Schedules. But let’s face it: that’s about where it stops. White researchers often fail to grasp a true understanding of the Black American experience (or of any people of color). In terms of genealogical research, this becomes especially relevant with the addition of oral histories and the role they play in uncovering historical truth.
The importance of oral histories and the truths they contain became very clear to me recently, when I was asked to delve into a friend and co-worker’s very unknown family tree. My co-worker (we’ll call her Colette for privacy’s sake) is of mixed race, and knew little abouther ancestry on any side. She made it clear to me, however, that she wasn’t really all that curious about her white ancestry. Rather, Colette wanted me to focus on her enslaved ancestors and find any possible connections to free persons of color. Enter one Old White Guy trying to figure things out. Continue reading Truth in Oral Histories→
Sometimes it starts with that picture in the attic. It falls out of its black corners and yellow cellophane as if to say, look at me, I’m here for a reason—challenging you to rediscover its past, to make the voice of its subject heard.
I think it must have happened this way for my sister, as she explored the small attic of our mother’s house a few months ago. Here among the musty bric-a-brac and old pictures, a single photograph shook itself free. Mrs. Grace Dixon: a woman none of us in the family had laid eyes on before, waiting buried deep within our archives for one of us to uncover her story.
Sis called me right away, and indeed, I was impressed with her find. I’d first heard of Mrs. Grace Dixon1 years ago, not through any family member, but rather via a brief biographical sketch in Phillip Judd and his descendants.2 At that time, I’d attempted to explore some of the facets of Grace’s life, and I admit that I’d given into genealogy’s worst enemy: assumption. Seeing her there in that old photo with her children, I winced at some of my previous speculations. My sister’s discovery became my opportunity to revisit Grace, and reevaluate what I thought I knew. Continue reading Saving Grace→
Few cinematic icons have endured in our collective consciousness as well as James Dean. Nearly seventy years after his death, his short and quixotic life has caused many to study not only his life and legacy, but also the possibilities of his ancestry. Indeed, with over fourteen hundred James Dean family trees on Ancestry.com, it seems that interest in this proverbial 1950s bad boy isn’t going away anytime soon.1
For me, there’s still an unabated curiosity revolving around the possibility of Dean having Mayflower ancestry. A quick look at several biographies and a myriad of trees reveals all the “old names” (Dean included) that might lead back to our cousins at Plymouth Rock. Yet nowhere among them could I find anything definitive, beyond the most tepid of answers or the vaguest research. I kept expecting someone to say that Dean had descended from the irascible Doty or the pious Brewster, or perhaps simply confirm that all possible Mayflower connections had been unequivocally disproved. Thus far, I’ve only found oneresearcher who was willing to make a definitive statement: “no such descent has been found.” That conclusion was drawn in a mid-1990s article by author Richard E. Brenneman.2
Even the smallest bit of nostalgia can set me off down a new genealogical rabbit hole. The other day, when I heard Cass Elliot singing Make Your Own Kind of Music1 in a car commercial on television, I knew right away that I was in trouble. Wouldn’t it be incredible to discover a genealogical connection with that legendary 1960s chanteuse? Okay—maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but for this aging flower-child, the thought of it was uber-cool. Curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to dig deeper.
Almost immediately, I saw that Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941, was Jewish by way of both her parents.2 Let’s face it—unless I’m ever able to find a 14th-century synagogue on the Orkney Islands , I have little chance of finding any similar lines here. This was disappointing, but I figured there had to be more to the story. I began to wonder who Cass had married, and if she had any children to whom I could establish a connection. Continue reading California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot→
The myths and stories in any family history are tenuous things. Often self-serving, they mesmerize us—trapping us in visions of the past filtered through glossy hindsight and half-baked truths. The tales in my own family’s history are certainly no exception. However, even these spurious and specious tales may be lost and forgotten, ravaged by time, and become yet another casualty of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, or memory loss. I believe that “true or not,” we as family historians are obligated to protect, explore, and secure these stories. It’s what makes our pursuit somehow different from more academic fields: the preservation of the personal.
My step-mother was the source of many family tales of dubious origin, particularly when she was suffering through the early pains of dementia. Her best story will always be the one about her evening with Elvis Presley, and how that famous crooner sang a song for her one night. In light of the cruelties of her dementia (and my skepticism of her other tall tales), I wondered—how I could ever possibly know if it was true? Was there any way to trace back her shadowy tale of Elvis to see if what she said might ever have happened? Continue reading Tracing a tall tale: was Elvis really in the building?→
Groucho Marx:”Well, whaddya say girls? Are we all gonna get married?”
Woman: “All of us? But that’s bigamy!”
Groucho: “Yes, and it’s big-a-me, too.“
Researching the collateral relatives of my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record has brought a host of complicated characters. From “liars, whores, and thieves” and murdering wives, to throat-slashing cousins and snake oil salesmen alongside lawyers for the KKK, to the accompanying tragedies of kidnapping and allegations of rape, it’s no wonder that some of them ran off to join a traveling theater, or, oddly enough (and contrary to all other indications), the police force. Yes, my folks from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Del Marva peninsula were a colorful bunch to say the least. Continue reading An alter-ego’s tale→
Every time when I look in the mirror/All these lines on my face getting clearer. ~ Aerosmith, 1973
Like a thief in the night, old age has claimed me. I’m not sure when that ignoble laird decided to vandalize me, but it’s certain I wasn’t paying very close attention. I expect it happened in the usual way, though I never expected to be harpooned by fishy-sounding Beta-blockers or riddled with Star Wars-like statins. And while I can’t see “the sunset” just yet, I can tell you that some of those evening stars have indeed arrived. Continue reading All these lines→