Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he edits Vermont Genealogy. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, The American Genealogist, The Maine Genealogist, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. He heads the English Department of Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, Vermont. The Vermont Department of Education named him 2004’s Vermont Teacher of the Year.
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Among the emotions experienced at the conclusion of a genealogical investigation – surprise, satisfaction, pride, shock, joy, bewilderment – healing ranks high on my list. Almost 20 years ago, my friend Nancy Parsons Crandall asked me to prepare a family genealogy as a wedding gift to her son.
Nancy grew up with little family information of any kind. Three of her grandparents – two in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and one in Rutland, Vermont – died within a month of one another during the flu epidemic of 1918. Continue reading Genealogical healing→
My grandfather and his cousin Emily (Morse) (Rees) Wetherbee (1906–1964), lovingly known as “Sunshine,” remained close throughout her life. Their fondness for one another is already evident in this family photo, taken in July 1909.
“Sunshine,” given the name Emily for her paternal grandmother, Emily Clapp (Waters) Morse (1855–1896), became the conduit through which remembered ties to Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony passed to me. Continue reading Inheriting Mayflower lines→
I grew up with few pictures from my mother’s side of the family. Her parents, Emory Morse and Lois Rhodes, had been near-neighbors as children in Wareham, Massachusetts. They divorced when my mother was eight. Mother had no further contact with her father until she was 40.
After my mother’s college graduation, her mother and step-father, a teacher working for the U.S. State Department, announced they had accepted a three-year-assignment in Ethiopia. Mother declined the opportunity to go with them. Instead, she accepted her first job as a clinical instructor and moved into a small apartment. Her family home in Maywood, New Jersey, was rented, with all contents of the house placed in a storage warehouse. Three months later, the warehouse burned – a total loss. Continue reading Boomerang photos→
Although the term PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) did not come into widespread use until a century after the Civil War, the aberrant and antisocial behavior of Irving Brewster Delano (1840–1905) of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, seems to fit some of its symptoms. He served in the United States Navy from October 1862 until October 1863 aboard the U.S.S. North Carolina, Dacotah, and Alleghany. Irving’s family entry in the prodigious genealogy, The American House of Delano, gives details on his marriage and the births of his three children but neglects to mention his divorce.
From the evidence of the Delano family gravestone in Riverside Cemetery in Fairhaven, with full dates for birth and death, Irving would seem to be tucked in the family plot among his parents and three of his siblings. In fact, though, he died far from home in Haskell, Polk County, Florida, where he had lived as a lone Yankee for the last twenty years of his life. Continue reading A case of Civil War PTSD→
Before the internet and the digitization of some Irish records, one needed patience, persistence, and problem-solving skills to connect the lives of Irish immigrants here in America to the world they left behind. Guessing someone’s true age and their birth order within their parents’ household amounted to a shot in the dark.
In January 1941, the death certificate of my great-grandmother, Catherine (Dwyer) Dwyer, recorded her age as 76 years and ten months. She had lived in Newport, Rhode Island, for sixty years, and in that time knowledge of her specific birthplace had vanished from her children’s memory. One of her sons, who acted as informant, also misremembered his mother’s maiden name! Catherine’s obituary mentioned no siblings.
Persistent family genealogists will eventually encounter a relative who died in a state hospital, city shelter, or mental institution. In many instances, that fact may have been hidden, disguised, or made more palatable for public perception. The death of my grandmother’s only brother, John P. Cassidy (1887–1934), presented me with my first “alternative version” of a vital statistic. After Pott’s Disease crippled him and terminated his career as a pharmacist, John spent the last years of his life in the tuberculosis ward of Fall River’s City Hospital. There he dabbled in trick photography and tinkered with his superhetrodyne radio. Continue reading Institutional stigma→
Inspired by the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, Horace Walpole gave us the word serendipity. The following three tales shine among my past treasures as extraordinary encounters that would have been lost to history had I not been in the right place at the right time.
In the fall of 1983, I drove to West Wareham, Massachusetts on a mission to find my great-grandfather’s grave. As I searched in vain for the stone, an elderly man who lived across the road from the cemetery spied my Vermont license plate and asked for whom I was searching. “Millard Morse, father of Emory,” I said. He retorted, “Who ARE you?” Continue reading Serendipity→