Category Archives: American History

Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

With Mother’s Day last Sunday and the wedding tomorrow of Miss Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales, I thought I would write a post on some of her maternal ancestors. Often on Mother’s Day, genealogists consider their matrilineal ancestry as a way to honor their female ancestors.

The chronology of Meghan’s maternal grandmother was a challenging one. Reflecting modern life, over the course of a few generations women were married multiple times; sometimes their daughters’ surnames changed to those of their stepfather (sometimes much later in life!), and mothers’ maiden surnames were sometimes listed under their mothers’ later husbands’ names. I have summarized the line below with the relevant facts and sources. All ancestors are listed as black on the records when asked. The earliest generations of this family would have been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. Continue reading Meghan Markle’s maternal family

A guy named Guido

Before getting too far into a new Early New England Families Study Project sketch, I do some preliminary investigation. For example, if the family has already been treated in a sourced and reliable publication – such as a recent article in the Register – then there is no need to duplicate it. Also, if the couple did not have children, or did not have surviving children, then they fall outside the parameters of the project.

Other considerations include whether or not there are accessible (to me) records, and whether there are any major complications, such as identifying spouses and children, that warrant deeper investigation. With 30,000 marriages to be done, priority has to go to those with the best possible chance of getting published in my lifetime. Continue reading A guy named Guido

Wild honey

Burlington County Hospital for the Insane, Pemberton Township, Community of New Lisbon, New Jersey. Courtesy of westjerseyhistory.org

His name, Asa Schooley, seemed to jump out at me. It was a name I hadn’t been searching for, but there he was in black and white newsprint, clinging to his little spot on the back page of time.[1] The details of how I got to Asa in the first place probably aren’t all that important, but suffice it to say I’d started out looking for someone else’s obituary – that of another Mr. Schooley.[2] But like the rest of us I’d found myself stumbling upon a “rabbit hole,” this particular one belonging to Asa. (I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I never did find the obit. I had been looking for.) Asa’s sad life, lacerated with circumstance, caught me off guard, prompting me to look further for facts and answers – a search with still much left to uncover. Continue reading Wild honey

Finding my Connecticut roots

Eleazer Merrill Wells. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

I recently passed my first anniversary here at NEHGS, a year during which I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own ancestry as I researched the forebears of people with deep colonial roots in the United States. My mother emigrated from Ireland in the ‘80s and my father’s ancestors are almost entirely nineteenth-century immigrants. The Gaggiolis and Mordinis from Italy, the Beires and Umdenstocks from Germany, and the Sages from England all made their way to the Midwest, and by the beginning of the twentieth century they had coalesced in Libertyville, Illinois, where my grandparents, Richard Gaggioli and Anita Sage, married. These immigrant ancestors shaped my life: the food I eat, the religion I practice, the countries where I travel. The colonists were people I only studied in school; they weren’t my ancestors. Continue reading Finding my Connecticut roots

‘Shivered into atoms’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The aftermath of the Civil War continued to affect Regina Shober Gray[1] and her family, sometimes in surprising ways. The question in October 1865 was how to provide for the family of the diarist’s mother-in-law’s Southern family, represented by her sister Eliza and sister-in-law Matilda Clay. Amid the worries about Lizzie Shober’s health and a neighbor’s accident, Mrs. Gray found solace in the “little stranger” expected by her friend Emily Curtis.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 October 1865: Aunt Eliza Clay[2] has accepted an invitation from Cousin Ann Wallace to spend the winter with them in Newark. Mrs. Clay[3] and her children will pass it in Savannah – Joe [Clay][4] will be married this fall and join his housekeeping to his mother, but what under the sun he has to be married on, is a puzzle. Their negroes are gone – the plantation they will probably recover, but the house and outbuildings are burned to the ground. Continue reading ‘Shivered into atoms’

Effectively stateless

Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

Josef Izsack’s case in the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) collection only spans one year, but it highlights an interesting tale spanning a longer period than twelve months. Deported after entering Boston as a stowaway in 1946, Izsack came to the United States again the following year, working as an engineer on  the Norwegian liner S.S. Fernglen. He was denied the ability to come ashore, though, owing to that previous attempt at entering the United States. An old shrapnel wound became infected and Josef Izsack was forced to spend several months at a marine hospital on Ellis Island. Continue reading Effectively stateless

ICYMI: A Bronx tale

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 August 2016.]

Boys playing stick ball. Photo courtesy of formerdays.com

My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading ICYMI: A Bronx tale

‘A most affecting scene’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
An episode from early in the Civil War had a sequel in October 1865, and Regina Shober Gray[1] wrote about it as she reviewed other news from her family in Philadelphia. The earlier entry, dated 13 January 1862, read:

“Our papers too give an acct. of the arrest of the Rev.d. Mr. Wilmer[2] (formerly I suppose of St. Mark’s church Philad., and obliged to resign there, on acct. of his secession sentiments). [He] was arrested in an attempt to pass into the rebel lines, with quantities of supplies and despatches – some interlining his clothes, some in his cravat &c &c.”

In a later entry, Mrs. Gray reflects on the changed circumstances of Southern life at the end of the war.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 6 October 1865: Discouraging letters from Philad. Lizzie is more sick, though not with the symptoms she had here – but it does seem as if one blow after another had come on her this summer – and she so utterly unused to sickness! It makes me feel very anxious about her. Continue reading ‘A most affecting scene’

Hill country back roads

Hugo Cemetery

My grandmother, Marvalee, was born and raised on a South Texas dairy farm. Spending my summers with her growing up, she told me family stories of the hardships her family and ancestors endured while farming in the dry and hot Texas hill country.

In one tragic story, my great-great-grandparents, Thomas and Wilhelmina (Sachtleben) Black, faced the loss of two children consecutively. First, they lost 10-year-old Freddie to a rattlesnake bite in 1914 and, then, 14-year-old James to a ruptured appendix the following year. Thomas Black blamed himself for the death of his two sons and carried the guilt with him for the rest of his life. Continue reading Hill country back roads

‘All of our set’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Even on holiday the diarist Regina Shober Gray[1] could not escape anxieties about the health of family members – indeed, her sister Lizzie was beginning a fatal decline, and would die later in the year.

Marion, Massachusetts, Thursday, 24 August 1865: A clear cold autumn day, which makes us bundle up in shawls enough for an Arab Sheik! I came back from Boston, in the rain storm of Tuesday – and did not bring Ella G[ray].[2] Her cough is troublesome again and her mother[3] is afraid of the dampness here – which has certainly been very chill and penetrating for the last two weeks; a very different air from the soft, balmy, almost oppressive warmth of the earlier part of our visit.

Lizzie Shober[4] is better – but I think she and Mary [Shober][5] will be glad to get away from here. They are engaged this morning making a cross and triangle of white flower and evergreens for the funeral of a young sea-captain, who died a few weeks since of dysentery in some West Indian port – he leaves a young wife not 20 years old and a babe. Continue reading ‘All of our set’