Category Archives: Collections

‘Broad, high foreheads’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The month of January 1865 brought further deaths to Mrs. Gray’s[1] circle, but also allowed her a welcome respite in visits to local galleries to see the latest paintings.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 January 1865: …Dr. Gray has just come in (noon, Jan. 15) with news of a great public loss – the death of Mr. Edward Everett[2] this morning. We have not heard what his illness was – but probably apoplexy. He spoke at the Savannah relief meeting this week, and has been arguing his own case against the Mystic Water Works – seemingly well as usual. We have no such orator left as he. A man of wonderful eloquence and as wonderful erudition; with a celebrity not merely local, but national, and world wide. He held among other high public offices that of Minister at the Court of St. James. Last week died in Philad[elphia] Mr. George M. Dallas[3] who also held that office.

Thursday, 19 January 1865:To-day (Jan 19th) was Mr. Everett’s burial-day. His death is felt a great public loss. We have no such golden mouthed orator left – no one in any way competent to fill his place. Continue reading ‘Broad, high foreheads’

Arranging your family papers

While my article about arranging your family papers in the winter edition of American Ancestors was meant to provide readers with the sense that they could preserve their collections on their own, I thought it would be helpful to go back and provide information that had to be removed from earlier drafts, beginning with defining some of the archival terms that I used.

The first word that I use is “record/s.” As genealogists, we are used to identifying a record by the purpose for which it was created, such as vital records or census records. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) lists multiple definitions of what an archival record is, but the basic definition that applies to family papers is: Continue reading Arranging your family papers

ICYMI: Middlesex County court records

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 March 2016.]

Some of Roger Touthaker’s testimony.

When researching a family, one can quickly become focused on names, birthdates, and death dates. It is easy to get caught up on going as far back as possible until reaching the metaphorical brick wall, and being left with a “well, what do I do now?” mentality. Seventeenth-century immigrants can be incredibly difficult to trace and track, but learning about them in public records can help add meaning to and information about their lives. Continue reading ICYMI: Middlesex County court records

The long way home

A few years ago, when I first began to make quiet rumblings about selling My Old House and moving closer to my son, most people reacted with horror, surprise, and objections: “You wouldn’t really!” “Would you really sell it?” “What would your father, mother, grandparents say?” “Good Grief, sell your Old House?!”

I would. I will! (Cash and certified checks accepted!) Continue reading The long way home

‘Every thing the world can offer’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Early in the new year of 1865, Regina Shober Gray[1] had news to report on her son in Philadelphia and on sad situations closer to home:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 8 January 1865: A bitter cold day – thermom. at 6 this a.m. A warm profuse rain all Friday night turned into a storm of hail, snow, & sleet yesterday – and a clear, cold winter moon was shining out when we retired for the night last evg. Sam [Gray][2] and I have been housed for some days with severe colds – and I have been busy sewing with the dressmaker &c. all the week.

We hear good accounts from dear Regie [Gray].[3] His cough scarcely troubles him at all – and he is very happy. They are doing tout leur possible to make him contented. A gymnasium and workroom are fitted up in the attic for him, the yard is flooded nightly for his slides. Continue reading ‘Every thing the world can offer’

ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 February 2016.]

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

Acts of genealogical kindness

I have tried to make it a point in my blogs to give heartfelt thanks to indexing efforts of the New England Historic Genealogy Society (NEHGS) volunteers whenever we bring a new or updated collection online. Several people have asked me exactly how volunteers fit in the indexing process. Answering this question requires a little perspective on what is involved in creating one of our databases.

Typically, the first step is scanning images from the original source materials. The volunteers come to the library here in Boston. Then, using a flatbed scanner or 35mm camera-based book scanner, the volunteer captures every page in the book. A critical part of this phase is to take care that the images are clear and that no pages have been inadvertently skipped. This seems straightforward, but when you are processing a few hundred pages extra vigilance is required. Continue reading Acts of genealogical kindness

‘Hand over hand’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] often used her final diary entries for a year to review the previous twelve months. At the end of the year 1864, death was much on her mind, with the recent loss of her brother John; another close friend, generally noted in the diary as Miss Jones, had died the previous winter.

 61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 25 December 1864: A splendid Christmas day – but oh – how sad such days become to us, as life wears on, and our paths are more and more strewn with wrecks of lost hopes and “loves where death hath set his seal.” It is all I can do to keep back the tears to-day – to seem cheerful for the children’s sake. The past year has carried away 2 most precious friends, and all future life is shadowed with a sense of “retrieveless loss.”

My darling brother[2] – the playmate of childhood and the faithful friend of mature life. Continue reading ‘Hand over hand’

ICYMI: A thousand words

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2016.]

Alice Selig Harris and friends

Coming from a family of active amateur photographers, the (still) new digital age of photography has significantly changed the way I look at and convey my world, its events, my life, and my family. Gone are the days of, “Oh, no, I just got to the end of a 36-exposure roll and missed the perfect picture I’ll never get again.” With three expensive cameras sitting in my closet collecting dust, like many of us I now use my smart phone for most of my photographic pursuits. This is not such a bad thing: it’s always in my pocket ready to get, as DeWitt Jones says, “not just a good frame, but a great frame.” Continue reading ICYMI: A thousand words

ICYMI: On with the dance

“What a joy it is to dance and sing”

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 8 December 2015.]

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as remote to our descendants as 1750 does to us, and it behooves us to focus some attention on twentieth century research before that century, like the ones before it, vanishes from shared (and contemporary) memory. Continue reading ICYMI: On with the dance