All posts by Zachary Garceau

About Zachary Garceau

Zachary J. Garceau is a former researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Master's degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a B.A. in history from the University of Rhode Island. He was a member of the Research Services team from 2014 to 2018, and now works as a technical writer. Zachary also works as a freelance writer, specializing in Rhode Island history, sports history, and French Canadian genealogy.

Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

A broken column forms a monument to Adeline Wilhelmina Howell, indicating her early death at the age of 18.

Gravestones have long served as the cornerstone of genealogical research. While the words they bear can be crucial sources of information about our ancestors, don’t forget to look at the symbols, too. Gravestone symbolism can point to information about your ancestors’ religious beliefs, group affiliations, life experiences, and more. Below are just a few noteworthy examples of common gravestone symbols and what they can reveal. Continue reading Beyond the Letters: What We Can Learn from Gravestone Symbolism

Hall of Famer

On 24 July 2022, the National Baseball Hall of Fame celebrated the induction of the newest class headlined by Boston Red Sox great David Ortiz. In honor of one of baseball’s more cherished events, we will be looking back at the family history of one of the sport’s greatest players, who broke ground and paved the way for so many who came after him, Jackie Robinson.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in the small town of Cairo in Grady County, Georgia on 31 January 1919 to Jerry and Mallie (McGriff) Robinson; he was the youngest of the couple’s five children. Continue reading Hall of Famer

A president’s origins

Chester Alan Arthur. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given the growth and proliferation of twenty-four-hour news networks offering instantaneous political commentary, nearly every American adult is likely aware of the (demonstrably false) allegation that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As many also know, President Obama was easily able to provide records which thoroughly debunked the baseless narrative. This was not, however, the first time a United States president was faced with questions about his origin which were dispelled by supporting records.

Beginning in late 1880, then Vice President-elect Chester A. Arthur was alleged to be a native of Canada, and, therefore, ineligible to hold the office to which he had been elected. Continue reading A president’s origins

Ghost towns

In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns

Who were the Huguenots?

Courtesy of Findagrave

As any genealogical researcher with French ancestry knows, if you ever bring up those French forebears, the first question you’ll inevitably be asked is “Were they Huguenots?” But who exactly were the Huguenots? Where did they come from? And most importantly, why did so many migrate to America in the first place?

Quite simply, the Huguenots were French Protestants who observed the reformed (also known as Calvinist) form of Protestantism.[1] Continue reading Who were the Huguenots?

The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part Two

Governor Joseph Wanton (1705-1780), by an unknown artist.

For much of the eighteenth century, the political landscape of Rhode Island was shaped by a single family. Between 1732 and 1775, four descendants of Edward Wanton served as the governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and another would act as deputy governor. The run of Wantons serving as the chief executive of the colony began when two of Edward’s sons, William and John, served consecutive tenures between 1732 and 1740; it came to an end when William’s son, Joseph, was removed from office at the start of the Revolutionary War after he opposed the formation of an army out of loyalty to the crown. While there have been many fathers, sons, and brothers who have held the same office at different times throughout American history, the story of the Wanton family is interesting for the number of individuals connected to the family who held prominent positions.

Gideon Wanton (1693-1767)

Five years after the death of his uncle, Governor John Wanton (1672-1740), Gideon Wanton became the next member of his illustrious family to serve in the same position. Continue reading The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part Two

The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part One

Governor William Wanton (1670-1733), by an unidentified artist.

For much of the eighteenth century, the political landscape of Rhode Island was shaped by a single family. Between 1732 and 1775, four descendants of Edward Wanton served as the governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and another would act as deputy governor. The run of Wantons serving as the chief executive of the colony began when two of Edward’s sons, William and John, served consecutive tenures between 1732 and 1740; it came to an end when William’s son, Joseph, was removed from office at the start of the Revolutionary War after he opposed the formation of an army out of loyalty to the crown. While there have been many fathers, sons, and brothers who have held the same office at different times throughout American history, the story of the Wanton family is interesting for the number of individuals connected to the family who held prominent positions. Continue reading The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part One

Scrope v. Grosvenor

In July 1385, King Richard II of England led an army on an ultimately unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. While the invasion itself would play a role in British history, it was a chance meeting – beginning on the battlefield – that resulted in one of the first known trials involving heraldic law. In the end, the case of Scrope v. Grosvenor would result in major changes in how heraldry was interpreted. Continue reading Scrope v. Grosvenor

Mayflower musicians

While perusing the lists of notable descendants recently published in Gary Boyd Roberts’ Mayflower 500: Five Hundred Notable Descendants of the Founding Fathers on the Mayflower, one name, James Vernon Taylor, immediately caught my eye. The music of James Taylor has always been special to me, which is why my wife and I chose “Sweet Baby James” as our first dance at our wedding three years ago. Perhaps my fondest memory, however, came when James was in the broadcast booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy during the Boston Red Sox game promoting his newest song “Angels of Fenway.” In the middle of answering one of Don’s questions, James stopped mid-sentence to allow the audience at home to focus on the upcoming pitch, showing his dedication and knowledge as a baseball fan. Continue reading Mayflower musicians

Naming patterns

A map of Huron County, Ohio. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sometimes, our ancestors were not the most creative people. This is particularly true when it came to naming new settlements. Throughout the history of the United States, many towns have been named after one of the following: a founder or influential early settler, a figure from American history (i.e., Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, etc.), or a famous foreign leader (Guilford, Vermont, and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire). There are other methods for community-naming, including one which can be extremely helpful to genealogical researchers: reusing the name of a town in another state where many early settlers originated. Continue reading Naming patterns