Category Archives: Collections

Royal cartes de visite

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, from 1876 Empress of India (1819–1901), and Albert, Prince Consort of Great Britain (1819–1861).

As a collector of photographs, I am drawn to faces: the hints of personality in an unflinching gaze or a sidelong glance. Periodically I find myself haring off in a new direction, and this latest detour is perhaps unsurprising: I’ve started collecting royal cartes de visite, with a focus on the family of Queen Victoria and her -in-laws. (Just in time for the royal engagement, in fact!)

There is something pleasing about Queen Victoria and her family: it is large enough, complex enough, and far-flung enough to be a challenge. (I am still working on some of the sons- and daughters-in-law – I only just reached the full complement of Victoria’s nine children.) In these images, one can see the distinctive Hanoverian and Coburger physiognomies, as divided up between the offspring of Victoria and Albert. In the following images there is even the hint of the modern royal look, in Princess Louis of Hesse’s infant daughter, Victoria, later Princess of Battenberg and then Marchioness of Milford Haven – and the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite

‘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’

‘The noble pilot’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Mrs. Gray’s Easter Sunday entry[1] for 1865 is one of the longest in the diary. In it, she grapples with the sharp shock of President Lincoln’s assassination at the moment of the Civil War’s end. Her 15 April diary concludes “A horror of darkness & gloom has settled over all. This awful calamity shuts out every thought but of itself…”

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Saturday, 15 April 1865: Oh, dark, dark day! Our great, good, wise President, is dead – assassinated in Ford’s theatre, in Washington City at about 20 minutes past nine last evg. Shot through the head, and lay insensible till about 22 minutes past seven this morning when he breathed his last. The assassin is supposed to be J. Wilkes Booth,[2] the actor, and brother to the great tragedian Edwin Booth.[3]

…At about the same hour another desperado made his way past the servants, into Secretary Seward’s[4] sick chamber, leaped upon his bed and stabbed him three times about the head and neck – stabbed Major Seward[5] in the arm & head – mortally wounded the nurse, a man, who leaped on the bed behind him and tried to pinion his arms – and also injured a state messenger, who was in the room – thus disabling entirely the four unarmed & astounded men who opposed him he too made his escape. Continue reading ‘The noble pilot’

A royal engagement

R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Today’s announcement of the engagement of Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Ms. Rachel Meghan Markle reminds me of an interesting genealogical tree that recently entered the Society’s collection. Bought by D. Brenton Simons from an antiquarian book dealer in the United Kingdom, it is a print from the 1900 edition of Mrs. Oliphant’s Queen Victoria: A Personal Sketch.[1]

A simpler version of the royal family tree published for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the print treats the Queen (but not her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died as long ago as 1861) as the trunk of the tree, with her eldest children as the most established branches. Continue reading A royal engagement

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

Things lost and found

As a member of my local historic preservation commission, as well as my family’s de facto family historian and custodian of All Things Family Memorabilia, I often encounter the decision of what to preserve, what to donate or sell, and what to demolish. Historic preservation of buildings is a complex and sometimes contentious topic best left for other writers. But what about all those smaller treasures our ancestors left for us, assuming that we would value them, cherish them, and preserve them as they had (even if we don’t know what or who they are)? Continue reading Things lost and found

‘To the light at last’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Confederate army was in full flight, with repercussions as far north as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet even in triumph there were intimations of some fresh disaster; reading the penultimate paragraph in the diarist’s[1] 10 April entry sends chills:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 4 April 1865: Frank [Gray][2] has just come in – all lectures and recitations are suspended to day at Harvard in honor of the taking of Richmond. The students had a great excitement yesterday on receiving the news and were allowed to cut recitations for the rest of the day. This morning after prayers, President Hill[3] made a short address and dismissed them as he said to “meditate for the day” on this great blessing – whereupon they all adjourned to the green, sang Old Hundred[4] with vim, and after some cheering, scattered. The public schools yesterday were dismissed at once on reception of the news. To-day there will be a great meeting in Faneuil Hall[5] – ah! how the great “golden-mouthed” orator Ed. Everett[6] will be missed there. How he would have thrilled all hearts to-day; and my poor brother John,[7] how this news would have gladdened his heart! Continue reading ‘To the light at last’

‘I was much amazed’

Elizabeth (____) Sturgis’s letter, in the Winthrop Family Papers, 1537-1990, at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Captain Daniel Patrick was a well-known and powerful figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 1640. He had been a “common soldier in the Prince’s guard” in Holland, and that experience was sufficient for him to be appointed Captain of Militia in Massachusetts Bay. He commanded 40 soldiers in the Pequot War, and he and his company were notable for executing the “fighting age” Pequot male prisoners captured near present-day Ledyard, Connecticut, on 5 July 1637. Captain Patrick was clearly a formidable character.

He was also a well-known philanderer and eventually departed the colony: “For though he had a wife of his own, a good Dutch woman and comely, yet he despised her and followed after other women and perceiving that he was discovered, and that such evil courses would not be endured here, and being of a vain and unsettled disposition, he went from us… ” Continue reading ‘I was much amazed’