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.

Royal cartes de visite

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, from 1876 Empress of India (1819–1901), and Albert, Prince Consort of Great Britain (1819–1861).

As a collector of photographs, I am drawn to faces: the hints of personality in an unflinching gaze or a sidelong glance. Periodically I find myself haring off in a new direction, and this latest detour is perhaps unsurprising: I’ve started collecting royal cartes de visite, with a focus on the family of Queen Victoria and her -in-laws. (Just in time for the royal engagement, in fact!)

There is something pleasing about Queen Victoria and her family: it is large enough, complex enough, and far-flung enough to be a challenge. (I am still working on some of the sons- and daughters-in-law – I only just reached the full complement of Victoria’s nine children.) In these images, one can see the distinctive Hanoverian and Coburger physiognomies, as divided up between the offspring of Victoria and Albert. In the following images there is even the hint of the modern royal look, in Princess Louis of Hesse’s infant daughter, Victoria, later Princess of Battenberg and then Marchioness of Milford Haven – and the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite

‘Nothing from the Boston Courier’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s diary entry[1] for Easter Sunday 1865 continues.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, 16 April 1865: Vice President Johnson[2] was sworn into office yester’y morning in place of our beloved President Lincoln. He is said to be a man of great natural ability but very uneducated. Has been very influential among the loyalists of Tennessee & the West. He was so disgracefully drunk on the 4th of March as to mortify and alarm us all very much. But we hear since that that was an accident – he is habitually a thoroughly temperate man, and was overcome then by what would have affected most men not at all, owing to his being so entirely unaccustomed to the use of stimulants. If he will but keep good advisers about him! And we will hope so. It is said his wife taught him to read and write after their marriage! Continue reading ‘Nothing from the Boston Courier’

‘The noble pilot’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s Easter Sunday entry[1] for 1865 is one of the longest in the diary. In it, she grapples with the sharp shock of President Lincoln’s assassination at the moment of the Civil War’s end. Her 15 April diary concludes “A horror of darkness & gloom has settled over all. This awful calamity shuts out every thought but of itself…”

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Saturday, 15 April 1865: Oh, dark, dark day! Our great, good, wise President, is dead – assassinated in Ford’s theatre, in Washington City at about 20 minutes past nine last evg. Shot through the head, and lay insensible till about 22 minutes past seven this morning when he breathed his last. The assassin is supposed to be J. Wilkes Booth,[2] the actor, and brother to the great tragedian Edwin Booth.[3]

…At about the same hour another desperado made his way past the servants, into Secretary Seward’s[4] sick chamber, leaped upon his bed and stabbed him three times about the head and neck – stabbed Major Seward[5] in the arm & head – mortally wounded the nurse, a man, who leaped on the bed behind him and tried to pinion his arms – and also injured a state messenger, who was in the room – thus disabling entirely the four unarmed & astounded men who opposed him he too made his escape. Continue reading ‘The noble pilot’

A royal engagement

R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Today’s announcement of the engagement of Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Ms. Rachel Meghan Markle reminds me of an interesting genealogical tree that recently entered the Society’s collection. Bought by D. Brenton Simons from an antiquarian book dealer in the United Kingdom, it is a print from the 1900 edition of Mrs. Oliphant’s Queen Victoria: A Personal Sketch.[1]

A simpler version of the royal family tree published for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the print treats the Queen (but not her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died as long ago as 1861) as the trunk of the tree, with her eldest children as the most established branches. Continue reading A royal engagement

The thousandth post

Today marks the one-thousandth Vita Brevis post since the blog launched in January 2014. The blog’s pages have been accessed more than one-and-a-half million times, and by my (not very scientific) count the following eighteen posts have led the field, read by more than one hundred thousand readers.

By far and away the most-read post at Vita Brevis is Chris Child’s August 2014 account of Robin Williams’s maternal ancestry. The circumstances of Williams’s death, and the affection he had inspired in millions of Americans, made the post a place to stop and reflect about what he had meant to members of the genealogical community. Continue reading The thousandth post

‘To the light at last’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Confederate army was in full flight, with repercussions as far north as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet even in triumph there were intimations of some fresh disaster; reading the penultimate paragraph in the diarist’s[1] 10 April entry sends chills:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 4 April 1865: Frank [Gray][2] has just come in – all lectures and recitations are suspended to day at Harvard in honor of the taking of Richmond. The students had a great excitement yesterday on receiving the news and were allowed to cut recitations for the rest of the day. This morning after prayers, President Hill[3] made a short address and dismissed them as he said to “meditate for the day” on this great blessing – whereupon they all adjourned to the green, sang Old Hundred[4] with vim, and after some cheering, scattered. The public schools yesterday were dismissed at once on reception of the news. To-day there will be a great meeting in Faneuil Hall[5] – ah! how the great “golden-mouthed” orator Ed. Everett[6] will be missed there. How he would have thrilled all hearts to-day; and my poor brother John,[7] how this news would have gladdened his heart! Continue reading ‘To the light at last’

‘These heart stirring times’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
At last the war’s end was in sight. In her homely way, Regina Shober Gray[1] manages to weave the domestic (“stooping over the old carpet on the backstairs”) with the martial (“though the trump of war be even then sounding the doom of many a brave heart”) in a single entry, with room to notice her son’s jump in height and the latest engagement in Boston society.

A day later, Richmond is relieved, and the Confederate army is on the run.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 2 April 1865: How insignificant amid all the tremendous interests of these heart stirring times seem all the small daily cares & petty duties that fill up a woman’s home life. Continue reading ‘These heart stirring times’

‘Out of reach’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
It must have seemed to Regina Shober Gray[1] that the Civil War would never end, although there were signs, as here, of a looming resolution. In the second paragraph of this entry Mrs. Gray refers to all of her sons: the first and third were in Philadelphia, while the second and fourth were at home in Boston.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 19 February 1865: It is reported to-day that Sherman[2] has taken Columbia, S.C., and that the rebels are evacuating Charleston. It would really seem that the days of armed rebellion are nearly numbered – that this long war, big with fate as it is, to millions yet unborn of both races, white and black, must be at last drawing to a close. God grant it, in the fullness of His own time, which will not be till His work accomplished – till this great nation is redeemed from the sin and curse of slavery. Continue reading ‘Out of reach’

Banned in Boston

As genealogists, we can become quite proprietary about our research – there can be a sense that our work on the far-flung branches of our family trees gives us a kind of ownership of the past. Recently, I’ve experienced another sort of ownership, that claimed by the family being studied. I should add that this dynamic – I own the past, not you – is not a new one, but it never fails to surprise me. Continue reading Banned in Boston

‘In the dead of night’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
We tend to think of a bright line dividing North and South during the Civil War, but in families like the Grays of Boston there were a number of living connections between the two regions. Mrs. William Rufus Gray, the diarist’s[1] mother-in-law, was a member of the Clay family of Savannah, and during the war her younger sister and other family members resided in Georgia, near the South Carolina line.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 3 February 1865: We have had news of the destruction of Aunt Eliza’s[2] plantation and the burning of the homestead by [Major General William Tecumseh] Sherman’s army. We cannot but feel sorry for her – but as a military measure it was perfectly justifiable. The place had a powerful rebel battery planted on a bluff commanding the river – 4 miles below was Fort McAllister, on Matilda Clay’s brother’s[3] place; when that was taken by assault, all the places on the Ogeechee [River] up and down were burned and destroyed. Continue reading ‘In the dead of night’