Category Archives: American History

Account books

A current research project has led me to peruse dozens upon dozens of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Connecticut River Valley account books. Used to maintain records of business transactions, account books have been an important component of the store owner and merchants’ trade throughout much of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in America. While account books tend to be more frequently consulted for the items that were retailed by store owners, the inclusion of names and other data also make account books an invaluable genealogical source. Continue reading Account books

Returning Elijah

Elijah Burson (1807-1886)

A year ago last summer I was contacted by a gentleman from Zeeland, Michigan. While out weekend bargain hunting, he had come across an antique photograph for sale at a local flea market. The gentleman wrote with empathy about family history, and he seemed to have at least a hobbyist’s eye for old pictures. His curiosity was piqued by this one particular picture, so he purchased it, no doubt saving it from the fate of some Michigan land fill.  He said that the only identifier as to who the person in the photo might be were the words “Grandpa Burson” written on its back.

From what I could gather, the man from Zeeland enjoys following where the clues in any old pictures might take him. Continue reading Returning Elijah

Of books and alligator lizards

In my capacity as college and career coordinator at my local high school, I recently attended a breakfast hosted by CalTech, Pomona, Yale, and MIT. I got lots of great information for my students, but I especially enjoyed it because I have connections (however slight) to each of these institutions.

Not long after I arrived in England following my own college graduation, a handsome young man and I exchanged glances on a train between Bath and London. We weren’t able to actually speak until we disembarked from the train, when I discovered that Hugh (the only name I learned) was going to begin doctoral studies at CalTech in two weeks. Who knows? If not for his imminent departure, he might have become my husband and the father of my children. Continue reading Of books and alligator lizards

A circus family, part two

The 1870 census, showing a Caron household in Connecticut.

The weekend after my blog post was published in July, I sat down at my kitchen table and knocked down that brick wall. Welcome to part two of my quest to uncover my ‘circus family.’

I joined a website called Genealogy Quebec (https://www.genealogiequebec.com/en) on the recommendation of a co-worker and dedicated a rainy Saturday to my search. I started with the information about which I was confident: my great-grandmother Nora Caron’s birth and death certificate listed her parents as “Alphonse Caron” and “Mathilda Gauthier.” Continue reading A circus family, part two

War stories

Jerry and Merry Athearn and their friends on board the S.S. President Grant.

A previous Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] went to sea after college and eventually became a station master for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. It concluded with my family dropped off in Gladstone, Australia, after being evacuated from Noumea, New Caledonia, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At least a couple of folks wondered what happened to them after that, so here’s the rest of the story, plus a contemporary epilogue. Continue reading War stories

Remarriage

The question came up after last week’s post about the length of mourning periods between remarriages in seventeenth-century New England. It has always been my (undocumented) impression that the traditional one-year mourning period was usually observed except for emergency situations, such as the need to care for infant and young children.

I looked around for some studies to see if I could back that up with statistics, but so far I have not found anything that particularly applies to early New England – a lot yet to track down, especially in books that are not available online. So I decided to start my own study using the Early New England Families sketches. Continue reading Remarriage

‘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’

A tale of two Ogles

Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886-1970)

There is a remote area in the study of family history. Some will call it a myth, or say it has no proper place in the field of study. It hides from anyone who would study it like a registrar, and rarely cloaks itself in any vital records. I’ve taken to calling it existential genealogy, and while hardly essential, I believe it is something all of us who study or experience family history encounter from time to time.[1]

As a young boy there was no one more revered in my family than my great-grandmother “Mrs. Ogle.” You may have heard me mention her before – with deference being given to her feelings concerning my grandmother’s adoption.[2] Continue reading A tale of two Ogles

Pandora’s box

I opened Pandora’s box. Traditionally, Daniel Fisher is credited with marrying Abigail Marrett/Marriot/Marrott, etc., daughter of Great Migration parents Thomas and Susan (Wolfenden) Marrett.[1]

This is supported by the record of marriage in Dedham of Daniell Fisher to Abigal Marriott on 17 November 1641, and by the will of Thomas Marrett dated 15 October 1663 naming his daughter Abigail [no surname given] and grandchildren “Lidea, Amos, John and Jeremiah Fisher.” Continue reading Pandora’s box

‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’

Courtesy Stadtarchiv Mannheim

[Author’s note: This series, on the German origin of the Boucher family of Baltimore, began here.]

With regard to my great-great-great-grandfather Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Esprit Boucher (bp. 1799), I feel on firm ground in ascribing some finds on Ancestry.com to him, although the fate of his second daughter and identity of his second wife remain tantalizing and elusive. Continue reading ‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’