Category Archives: Collections

‘Meetings and greetings’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
After less than a week in Philadelphia, Regina Shober Gray[1] was back in Boston and deep in domestic duties. In the following entries the diarist manages to refer to two of her husband’s relatives, both of them named (or married to a man named) Horace Gray. In the first paragraph of her 4 June entry, Mrs. Gray names her four sons:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 4 June 1865: We left Philad[elphia] on Friday morning and came through by Stonington boat. Horace Gray[2] kindly secured our double stateroom and met us in N. York. We had good weather; but the journey is very fatiguing to me – and I feel quite used up to day. Morris too does not get over the fatigue. I think the warm weather in Philad. did not agree with him. Regie is in high spirits, and the meetings and greetings, with the few of his friends now in town, are very hilarious! Dear little warm hearted fellow, every one is glad to welcome him back. Frank & Sam came up from Manchester yest’y p.m. Continue reading ‘Meetings and greetings’

ICYMI: Another day at the beach

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 9 June 2016.]

I am fortunate in having photographs of many of my relatives, and more fortunate still in that I can identify so many of them. Often the work has been done for me, as to names; sometimes my work is cut out for me in terms of fitting them into the family tree. I have photos of all four of my grandparents as children, in the early years of the twentieth century, so I’m also lucky that my great-grandparents (or other relatives) took the trouble to take them to a professional photographer to be recorded.

My paternal grandfather, Gilbert Livingston Steward (1898–1991), was photographed by Scheur of New York – I think! It is one of the photos in my paternal grandmother’s album, and I like to think it was a present from my great-grandmother[1] at the time of my grandparents’ engagement in 1927. The photo shows GLS at about the time he went off to St. George’s School in Rhode Island. Continue reading ICYMI: Another day at the beach

‘A very isolated family’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
By the end of May 1865, Regina Shober Gray’s son Reginald had been staying with his aunts for six months; his visit was meant to help the Shober sisters as they mourned their brother John. Mrs. Gray[1] took her youngest son with her to collect Regie Gray and visit with her sisters:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, 30 May 1865: We came here on Saturday, Morris and I, and are going home next Sat.y. Taking Regie, who is wonderfully grown & improved for his six months’ stay here with the beloved Aunties. I have but once heard him scrape his throat – at home it was incessant – and will be I fear again in our harsher air. This is a real summer day – and I am glad I decided to come on now, instead of three weeks later, as the girls think the warm weather has already pulled Regie down somewhat. I find my sisters looking pretty well – but it is very sad for them in their home without John – they do not get used to the loss, and now that Aunt Regina is gone they feel very desolate. Continue reading ‘A very isolated family’

Revolutionary women

Needlework (including black silk, silk and gilt thread, beads) attributed to Sally Cobb Paine, circa 1760-65. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society online collections

March is women’s history month, which makes me think of my favorite women’s history topic, women in the American Revolution. Specifically, I enjoy learning about the social history of the time. Working as a family history researcher, these themes generally take a back seat to primary source documentation like vital, church, and probate records. But diaries and letters between family and friends remains one of my favorite sources to examine. What was the time period like for women? What were society’s expectations of them and how did they fulfill them? While women still held tight to traditional female roles, the American Revolution provided extraordinary circumstances for women and their daily lives.

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds papers for the Paine family of Taunton, Massachusetts. These family letters and diaries are full of details about life at the time and demonstrate themes of politics, marriage, and wartime separations. Continue reading Revolutionary women

Artistic imposture

Belva Kibler and Dorothy Dow by Carl Van Vechten.

The recent acquisition of a 1947 photograph of the mezzo-soprano Dorothy Dow playing Susan B. Anthony[1] made me think about how historic figures have been represented on stage and in film – and, thus, in the still photographs that capture moments in these productions. In most cases, inevitably, the production choices reflect the date of the production as much as the purported date of the action. This example, by Carl Van Vechten, tells us as much about Van Vechten as it does Susan B. Anthony. While the setting is presumably the stage set for a scene in the opera, the lighting and even the backdrop belong in the photographer’s own studio. Continue reading Artistic imposture

‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

Figure 1

Originating in an Italian proverb in 1603 and popularized by Voltaire in 1770, we have all heard the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” This phrase is very well-suited to the topic of searching genealogical databases, and particularly for

Over the last year, the NEHGS web team has been researching a wide variety of things that we can do to improve the search experience for our 250,000 members. Along the way it has become clear that one of the bigger problems our members face is the dreaded “0 records returned” message (Figure 1). You just know that the record you are looking for is out there, but you can’t seem to find it when you fill out the search form. Continue reading ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

‘No sin in being tempted’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In these entries from the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary, we find her analysis of a sermon at King’s Chapel as well as reflections on a yearned-for musical performance of the Handel & Haydn Society, the latter foregone as she was in mourning for two members of her family back in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 10 May 1865: Poor Lottie Hemingway [sic] was buried at noon yesterday. [It] was a pouring rain, and I suppose no one dared to go to the house – the disease is so fearfully malignant. If sympathy could comfort, her poor mother might be consoled, for all our hearts ache for her. And she must be so anxious for the other children. It seems Lottie did not sicken till Wednesday and [her sister] Amy[2] slept with her as usual till that time – spotted fever with violent spinal inflammation.

Our precious daughter[3] comes home tomorrow from her week’s visit to Annie Dixwell.[4] We shall be glad to get her back – she leaves an awful blank in her absence. Continue reading ‘No sin in being tempted’

‘May sunshine ever stream’

My great-aunt Anna. Click on the images to expand them.

Among the family photos, letters, and other memorabilia that my mother passed on to me are a group of Valentine’s Day cards sent to my great-aunt, Anna E. Johnson (1896–1990), who received them from her classmates at Hopewell School in Scott County, Iowa, in the early 1900s. When she sent them to my mother she said that she was sending these among others in her collection because “I thought these were the lacy ones.” Indeed, my mother and I found them so special that they remain family treasures today. Continue reading ‘May sunshine ever stream’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

At left: The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, 1863. Standing: The Crown Princess of Prussia, Prince Louis of Hesse, the bridegroom, and Princess Helena. Seated or kneeling: Princess Louise, the Queen, Princess Beatrice, the bride (holding a photo of the late Prince Consort), and Prince Arthur.[1]

The daughters-in-law of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort entered a household in mourning; what Princess Alexandra found in 1863 Grand Duchess Marie encountered in 1874, and as late as 1882 the young Duchess of Albany knew it, too, although time had somewhat muffled the early excesses of the Queen’s grief. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

‘The glory and the gloom’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While the obsequies associated with President Lincoln’s death and burial continued into May 1865, Regina Shober Gray’s[1] thoughts turned to other subjects as well. It would also seem that the Shober gift for descriptive writing was present in at least one of the diarist’s sisters.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 4 May 1865: This day no doubt the weary, restless, and unparalleled funeral march for our beloved President ends in the sealed silence of the tomb, and mortal eyes have looked their last of earth upon the martyred statesman & patriot. At last he rests in peace forevermore, emphatically alone in the glory and the gloom of his immortal story. For where in all history shall we find a man risen from the very people, untrained in the “learning of the schools,” unpolished by the habitude of cultivated society, who could have so nobly acquitted himself in the high station to which God, and the people God-guided, called this true patriot and humbleminded Christian, this far seeing, cautious, yet tenacious statesman, this genial-hearted and merciful man? Continue reading ‘The glory and the gloom’