All posts by Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

‘No sin in being tempted’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In these entries from the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary, we find her analysis of a sermon at King’s Chapel as well as reflections on a yearned-for musical performance of the Handel & Haydn Society, the latter foregone as she was in mourning for two members of her family back in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 10 May 1865: Poor Lottie Hemingway [sic] was buried at noon yesterday. [It] was a pouring rain, and I suppose no one dared to go to the house – the disease is so fearfully malignant. If sympathy could comfort, her poor mother might be consoled, for all our hearts ache for her. And she must be so anxious for the other children. It seems Lottie did not sicken till Wednesday and [her sister] Amy[2] slept with her as usual till that time – spotted fever with violent spinal inflammation.

Our precious daughter[3] comes home tomorrow from her week’s visit to Annie Dixwell.[4] We shall be glad to get her back – she leaves an awful blank in her absence. Continue reading ‘No sin in being tempted’

‘Neutral ground’

Frederick Ayer

Many of us have bunches of old family letters set aside to review – preferably with the sender and the recipient already noted on the envelope. Years ago, as I was researching my first family history (The Sarsaparilla Kings[1]), I was fortunate enough to have some published (as well as unpublished) sources available to consider the relationship between my great-great-grandfather Frederick Ayer (1822–1918) – one of the two Sarsaparilla Kings – and his son-in-law George Smith Patton Jr. (1885–1945).

Frederick Ayer made two distinct fortunes – in patent medicines with his elder brother, Dr. J. C. Ayer, and in textiles and other investments later in life – and by the turn of the twentieth century he was a wealthy man. His second wife, Ellen Barrows Banning (1853–1918), was a member of a sprawling family with connections in Delaware, Minnesota, and California, among them to the family of George and Ruth Patton of San Gabriel, California. Continue reading ‘Neutral ground’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

At left: The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, 1863. Standing: The Crown Princess of Prussia, Prince Louis of Hesse, the bridegroom, and Princess Helena. Seated or kneeling: Princess Louise, the Queen, Princess Beatrice, the bride (holding a photo of the late Prince Consort), and Prince Arthur.[1]

The daughters-in-law of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort entered a household in mourning; what Princess Alexandra found in 1863 Grand Duchess Marie encountered in 1874, and as late as 1882 the young Duchess of Albany knew it, too, although time had somewhat muffled the early excesses of the Queen’s grief. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

‘The glory and the gloom’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While the obsequies associated with President Lincoln’s death and burial continued into May 1865, Regina Shober Gray’s[1] thoughts turned to other subjects as well. It would also seem that the Shober gift for descriptive writing was present in at least one of the diarist’s sisters.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 4 May 1865: This day no doubt the weary, restless, and unparalleled funeral march for our beloved President ends in the sealed silence of the tomb, and mortal eyes have looked their last of earth upon the martyred statesman & patriot. At last he rests in peace forevermore, emphatically alone in the glory and the gloom of his immortal story. For where in all history shall we find a man risen from the very people, untrained in the “learning of the schools,” unpolished by the habitude of cultivated society, who could have so nobly acquitted himself in the high station to which God, and the people God-guided, called this true patriot and humbleminded Christian, this far seeing, cautious, yet tenacious statesman, this genial-hearted and merciful man? Continue reading ‘The glory and the gloom’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Three

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, with his sister Princess Alice. Carte de visite by Mayall Studio

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewed Prussia as their ideal among the multitude of German kingdoms, principalities, and duchies. Early on in their marriage, they hoped that the son of their friends the Prince and Princess of Prussia – the former the heir presumptive to the kingdom – might someday marry their eldest daughter, Vicky, as Prince Frederick William duly did, in 1858, when the bride was just seventeen.

Fritz and Vicky were happy as a couple, but the friendly alliance of Great Britain and Prussia (from 1871 the nucleus of the German Empire) did not play out quite as the bride’s parents had expected. Instead of a liberal Germany presiding over the restless nations in eastern Europe, the British court watched in surprise as the comparatively progressive Prince of Prussia became the conservative Kaiser Wilhelm I and the once-obscure Prussian diplomat Otto von Bismarck became all-powerful at the courts of Wilhelm I (1871–88), Friedrich III (1888), and then Wilhelm II (1888–1918). Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Three

Patterns

My grandfather, at right, receives the Bronze Star from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. My grandmother stands between them.

John Tyler’s recent blog post on Elizabeth Knapp of Groton has a personal element for me, as I am descended through my maternal grandfather from Elizabeth (Knapp or Knopp) Scripture. According to my notes, both of my mother’s parents were descendants of the Warren family of Watertown, but it was Elizabeth Knopp – the daughter of Elizabeth (Warren) Knopp – who was my grandfather’s ancestress.

In fact, this group of families makes up part of my grandfather’s matrilineal line, one that ends in a mystery. Elizabeth’s son John Scripture married Abigail Utley; their daughter Elizabeth, named for Elizabeth Knopp, married Isaac Heath of Framingham, Massachusetts, and then Tolland, Connecticut. Continue reading Patterns

‘Something to remember’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While to us the Civil War ended suddenly, over a period of days early in April 1865, for Regina Shober Gray[1] it still dragged on at the end of the month:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 30 April 1865: We had a thoroughly fine discourse to-day from James Freeman Clarke,[2] and he made an admirable prayer for us & our country – not too long, but comprising all our need. It has been a sad solemn week. The slow march of the martyred President’s funeral train has shaken earth with the heavy tramp of this mighty army of mourners; for hundreds of miles across our wide country, hundreds of thousands of men & women have stood with bowed, bared heads & burdened hearts in the funeral train of this good great man, revered in life, sainted in death. Had ever mortal man such grand burial pageant before?

This day week we were all distressed & anxious at hearing of Sherman’s[3] armistice & peace treaty with Johnston,[4] granting the rebels such terms as the loyal people would never have consented to yield them, when they were strongest – far less now, when rebeldom is in a state of collapse. Continue reading ‘Something to remember’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Two

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

Princess Beatrice by Mayall Studio.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created Prince Consort in 1857, the year his youngest child – Princess Beatrice – was born. When the Prince Consort died in 1861, his eldest child (the Crown Princess of Prussia) was just 21, while Beatrice (shown here in 1860) was four years old.

For the younger children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, their father receded from life and into legend. The mercurial Beatrice, an enchanting child, became a stately matron in her mother’s mold; her elder brother Arthur achieved distinction in the Army, while Leopold – who inherited his mother’s family’s strain of hemophilia – died young; Helena and Louise, so similar as young women, grew up to take different paths. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Two

2017: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about some of the most widely-read Vita Brevis posts of 2017. To mark the beginning of the next year, here are six more popular posts showcasing the range of subjects covered in a blog that publishes about 250 posts a year. (In fact, Vita Brevis marks its fourth birthday on January 10, and the blog’s one-thousandth post was published in November.)

In July, Michelle Doherty laid out a genealogical case usingCircumstantial evidence”: Continue reading 2017: the year in review concluded

2017: the year in review

As the old year winds down over the next few days, I hope that dedicated Vita Brevis readers will spare a few moments to (re)read some of the most popular posts of 2017. (The second part of this omnibus post will run on New Year’s Day 2018.) The following twelve posts have some of the highest page view counts of the year, but in fact Christopher C. Child should appear four times on this list – that is, one-third of the year’s most popular Vita Brevis posts belong to him. To mix things up a little, I have included other posts, so as to spread the authorial wealth: Chris, Michelle Doherty, and Jeff Record each have two posts here, one appearing today and the other on Monday. Continue reading 2017: the year in review