All posts by Zachary Garceau

About Zachary Garceau

Zack Garceau is a Researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Masters Degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a BA in history from the University of Rhode Island. He specializes in French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History.

Longevity

It is a situation nearly everyone who has done any degree of genealogical research has encountered before. Upon locating information on one of your ancestors and doing some simple subtraction, the result just seems too unlikely.

“There is NO WAY he was 138 when he died!”

Most astute researchers will dismiss these claims and move on to finding some proof of birth or death to debunk this incredibly unlikely scenario. For now, the oldest verified person who ever lived was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122.[1] Continue reading Longevity

A man of information

The forged baptismal record for John Shipway in Charfield.

On 31 May 1619 John Shipway, the son of John Shipway, was baptized in Charfield in  Gloucestershire.[1] Or so it the record shows. However, in 1897, this record was found to be part of an elaborate fraud which ultimately resulted in the desecration of several historical relics, one unfortunate death, and a three-year prison sentence for its perpetrator. Continue reading A man of information

‘His last Strike-Out’

Andy Leonard. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

On 5 May 1871, Andy Leonard stepped up to home plate at Olympics Grounds in Washington, D.C. Few realized it at the time, but the second baseman of the Washington Olympics was about to make history.

Andrew Jackson “Andy” Leonard was born on 1 June 1846 in County Cavan, Ireland, to Andrew and Ann (Leddy) Leonard.[1] At the age of 2, Andy traveled to America with his parents to escape the Potato Famine.[2] The family settled in Newark, New Jersey, where, from a young age, Leonard began exhibiting a talent for baseball. Beginning in 1864, Andy began a five-year stint playing amateur baseball for teams in the New York metropolitan area before moving to Cincinnati.[3] In 1869, Leonard made history for the first time by joining the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first fully professional baseball team.[4] Leonard was paid $800 for his first season, which lasted from 15 March to 15 November.[5] He remained with the Red Stockings through the 1870 season. Continue reading ‘His last Strike-Out’

Gone to California

Over the course of many years exploring the history of my family, one man has always eluded me. His name was Andrew Taylor Tompkins, and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the facts of Andrew’s early life are known with certainty. He was born 17 February 1808 in Little Compton, Rhode Island, to Uriah Tompkins and Mary Taylor.[1] Andrew married Harriet Arnold Dillingham, the daughter of Captain Edward Dillingham (a descendant of Edward Dillingham, one of the early founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts) and Susannah Sherman, on 20 August 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts.[2] Andrew and Harriet had five children, the first of whom was Ellen Hughes (Tompkins) Luther, my ancestor. Continue reading Gone to California

The language of totem poles

The term ‘family history’ has long been associated with the written word and is most often found recorded in books, bibles, and public documents. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, however, have been using another method for more than 125 years: totem poles.

The word ‘totem’ is derived from the Ojibwe ‘odoodem,’ meaning “his kinship.”[1] The earliest record believed to depict a totem pole is from the Pacific coast voyages of Captain James Cook in 1778, when his ship’s artist, John Webber, sketched ceremonial interior poles depicting faces.[2] While they were first identified in 1778, most known totem poles can be dated no earlier than the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.[3] That totem poles did not appear frequently prior to this period probably reflects a lack of efficient carving tools and wealth, and the leisure time required for their construction.[4]
Continue reading The language of totem poles

No ‘notorious scandals’

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What remains of Hanton City. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

In a small section of the town of Smithfield, Rhode Island, all that remains of a once thriving village are a few stone foundations and three legible gravestones. For nearly two centuries, many have speculated about the fate of the residents of Hanton City, an abandoned village named after the Hanton family who once resided there.[1] The settlement is a considerable distance from all the other settlements in Smithfield which were occupied at the time of its existence, leading many to wonder about its purpose, as well as the reason it was eventually abandoned.[2] Continue reading No ‘notorious scandals’

Shorthand systems

alfred-janes
From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading Shorthand systems

Remembering the Alamo

martin-monumentEarly in 1836, nearly two hundred American men lost their lives defending the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, over the course of a thirteen-day siege. While this event is largely viewed through the lens of Texas and southern American history, several men from New England were involved in the defense and indispensable in the battle. The following men were New Englanders who played a key role in the defense of the Alamo: Continue reading Remembering the Alamo

ICYMI: Researching famous people

Garceau Ruth 1
The first page of George Herman Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]

Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching famous people

Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

Westerly image
Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town