Category Archives: Collections

I left my ship in San Francisco

My lovely step-mother, Joanne Athearn, checking out the diorama of the Niantic in her beached state.

In my last post for Vita Brevis, I shared a picture of “Cleaveland House” on Martha’s Vineyard, which is currently owned and inhabited by a direct descendant of James Athearn, the man who built it. One reader asked, “How did ‘Cleaveland House’ get its name? Is there any association with the descendants of Massachusetts Colonist Moses1 Cleveland?”

The house is named for Athearn’s great-great-grandson, Capt. James Cleaveland, who bought the house about a century after its construction and substantially renovated it. Its next major renovation came about a century after that, when it finally acquired modern amenities such as indoor plumbing! Continue reading I left my ship in San Francisco

‘Friends in adversity’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Marital entanglements gave Regina Shober Gray[1] grist for the mill: Georgie Blake’s summer romance at Marion had played out to the extent that Miss Blake’s fiancé swore “he could not marry her, would die rather, kill himself, abscond…” By contrast, Clara Morgan’s engagement to her cousin and brother-in-law seems rather tame.

As my mother would have said, the Gray and Shober families “enjoyed poor health,” although there was nothing funny about it – Dr. Gray’s nieces were frequently ill, while Lizzie Shober was in a fatal decline.

Finally, an ancient Shober family connection became, for a brief moment in the mid-1860s, a source of generous recognition: Mrs. Gray’s mention of the Princess Iturbide’s father’s deposition and execution prefigures the fate of the new Emperor of Mexico. Continue reading ‘Friends in adversity’

‘Indifferent to the world’

The Rev. Samuel Fayerweather (1725-1781), in the Society’s Fine Art Collection. Gift of Miss Elizabeth Harris of Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 16, 1924.

William Clark began keeping a journal in 1759 at the age of eighteen. He wrote an entry for almost every day until he died in 1815 at the age of seventy-five. The entire journal – fifty-six volumes and almost five thousand pages – is now held by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Clark carefully recorded his neighbors’ births, marriages, and deaths, providing rich pickings for family history researchers, but the author of the journal is himself a fascinating character: a convert, a loyalist, and a refugee.

Clark was an Anglican clergyman by the time of the American Revolution, but – like many New England Anglicans – he had first joined the Church of England as a convert. His father, the Rev. Peter Clark, was a Congregationalist minister in Danvers, Massachusetts, and a leading “old light” defender of the colony’s Congregationalist establishment. Continue reading ‘Indifferent to the world’

‘Outward unity’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
This entry from the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary touches on many of the themes in the larger work: births and deaths, worrying illnesses – including a threatened repeat of an earlier cholera epidemic – the aftermath of the Civil War, homely efforts to entice her ailing sister to eat, and, as ever, tedious sewing work to make “one groan – the white flounce was sent home fluted upside down – and when sent back, came home done inside, out; and inside out it is now on the dress!”

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 29 October 1865: Caleb Curtis[2] came round to-day to announce the birth of a little girl there, born yesterday afternoon[3] – Emily is wonderfully well, and well content with her “wee woman,” though she did resolve all along it should be a boy! Continue reading ‘Outward unity’

Contact those cousins!

NEHGS president Brenton Simons recently proposed an “Ancestral Gallery” – a series of paired portraits of staff members with their ancestors and relatives, to hang in the building’s staircase. Jean Powers coordinated the effort with staff members who could contribute pictures for the first exhibit. The gallery debuted before our recent annual meeting. I was one of the staff who contributed a picture of an ancestor, and so for these last few weeks I have seen a large picture of myself next to my ancestor, followed by several colleagues, on my way up the stairs! The exercise was also another great example of reaching out to local organizations and distant relatives for material. Continue reading Contact those cousins!

‘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’

‘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’

‘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’

A decade of growth: content

With Judy Lucey on Free Fun Friday in 2013, working in a space that is now shared with the Society’s Jewish Heritage Center.

In addition to laying foundations for progress, over the past ten years NEHGS has greatly increased an already-impressive collection. Better still, we now find it much easier to access vast quantities of content.

When I first volunteered at NEHGS in 2006, its new leader, D. Brenton Simons, reached out to NEHGS members. “In my new role as president, I ask for your help in expanding our collections and increasing donor support in order to preserve our invaluable holdings. Together we can move our remarkable institution forward while still valuing our great traditions.”[1] Within the year, NEHGS launched Preserving New England’s Records: An Initiative for Family and Local History, and its goal has been to gather additional and varied materials for the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.[2] We still have a vibrant collecting program, and you can learn more about donating here. Continue reading A decade of growth: content

A decade of growth: foundations

The author in 2009.

As genealogists spending time researching our ancestors’ lives, we often overlook our personal histories. Having this tendency myself, I now make a point of celebrating significant anniversaries by reflecting on the relevant years. This month marks my tenth anniversary as a full-time employee at NEHGS. Over the past decade, I have experienced first-hand the great march of progress here at NEHGS, but until I spoke with D. Brenton Simons, President and CEO, I had not realized just how closely our institution’s evolutionary waves coincided with my personal growth here. Continue reading A decade of growth: foundations