Category Archives: American History

Finding the Amadons

The first round of cleaning.

Back in April I attended the biennial conference of the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) in Springfield, Massachusetts. Knowing that I had ancestors who lived in Springfield, I was excited about what I might find at the local repositories. I was not disappointed.

My first order of business was to find the graves of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Titus and Sabra (Gilbert) Amadon. Continue reading Finding the Amadons

Trouble with Speedwell

Author’s photograph

Over the next few years, you’ll hear more and more about the 400th anniversary of the Puritans and Separatists who sailed on Mayflower in 1620. We know them as “The Pilgrims.” In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay, where they found harsh weather, an unfamiliar land, and where they were responsible for the care of (initially) 102 people in their new Colony.

William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, is one of the few individuals who documented his life in the early years of the settlement. Governor Bradford was the longest-serving governor of the colony and is well known for his book, Of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630 and 1651. Continue reading Trouble with Speedwell

A missing Merrill

Gravestone of David Merrill (1768-1859). Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Alicia Crane Williams’s post earlier this week – about when an incorrect item was “published in a book” – is quite fresh in my mind as I contemplate a current genealogical problem. Last week I wrote about Gary Boyd Roberts’s research on a distant kinship between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales. There are several parts of Markle’s American ancestry that a group of us (including Gary and several genealogical colleagues) has been looking into, but the one that keeps coming up regards Meghan Markle’s great-great-great-great-grandfather David Merrill (1768–1859) of Holderness, New Hampshire.[1]

Numerous online trees claim that David Merrill was the son of Jacob Merrill and Elizabeth Wyatt, and this claim is even “published in a book”: The Makers of the Sacred Harp (Champaign, Ill., 2010): Continue reading A missing Merrill

‘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’

A special relationship

Do you have a special attachment to one ancestor? I do, and she was a source of curiosity and amusement even before I started investigating my family history in earnest.

During a move ten years ago, I uncovered a (mostly correct) pedigree chart for my father’s side of the family. It sat for a while on my dresser, and in flipping through it with my husband one evening, the name “Hephzibah” caught our eyes. This Hephzibah[1] (also spelled Hepsibah or even Hepsibeth in her later years) was a granddaughter of two other Hephzibahs, each born in Massachusetts by 1700. Continue reading A special relationship

The grafting trunk

The clickety-clack of my great-grandmother’s ‘old lady shoes’[1] resonated as I toddled after her down the narrow hallway to the old trunk. There, in that back bedroom she and I would sit in the dark brilliance of polished woods, with the old trunk somehow beckoning us as if the face of some minor deity or oracle. Indeed, my great-grandmother treated the old trunk as if it held all the wonders of the world, which, in many ways, it certainly did (and still does…). Continue reading The grafting trunk

The Wentworth connection

Click on the image to expand it.

As Gary Boyd Roberts announced yesterday, Meghan Markle has a distant kinship to Prince Harry through their shared descent from Sir Philip Wentworth (died 1464) and his wife Mary Clifford. While Gary continues to work on much of American ancestry, especially her forebears in colonial New England, I’ve composed the chart at left from his notes. This outlines the three closest kinships between Meghan and Harry that have so far been identified – two through Harry’s mother and one through his father. As Gary has noted, there are hundreds of other ways they would be distantly related.

I’ve also been working on Meghan Markle’s American ancestors, so stay tuned! Continue reading The Wentworth connection

Bunching pensions

I wrote two years ago about the incredible value of Civil War pensions, but a recent example reminded me that occasionally just getting a valuable pension may be challenging as well. Whenever I realize a Civil War pension exists, whether for a book project or an article, I almost always request it, on the strong likelihood that it will provide further genealogical information, as well as substantial biographical data on the veteran’s life, his widow, and sometimes other family members. Continue reading Bunching pensions

‘To have his family around him’

George H. Folger joins the holiday mix.

As a genealogist, I have so much to give thanks for. Soon after I started my genealogical quest, I discovered that the Nantucket Historical Association had correspondence from my great-great-great-grandfather[1] in their collections. Of course I was anxious to read it and asked for copies … not knowing that there were more than eighty letters, many of them comprising multiple pages!

It took a while to accustom myself to my ancestor’s writing, since he adopted a sort of modified scripto continua, with virtually no punctuation or capital letters at the start of sentences. Much of the correspondence was dry, relating to business transactions, but there were also many droll comments and insights into the character and activities of the extended family. Continue reading ‘To have his family around him’

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