Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

The Hastings connection

Click on the image to expand it.

As Gary Boyd Roberts indicated in his press release, “Meghan Markle is related to Prince Harry hundreds of times over,” with the closest kinship being that of seventeenth cousins.

This chart shows three more kinships between Meghan Markle and her future husband, two through Prince Harry’s mother, and one through his father. The closest ancestors are Sir Robert Hildyard (who died in 1501) and Elizabeth Hastings. Continue reading The Hastings connection

The three-legged horse

Thanks to everyone who joined in the discussion after my last post and suggested future topics. I should have plenty of inspiration, but please feel free to add new ideas at any time.

Overwhelmingly, everyone wants some kind of aid – a master list, a database – that will provide a one-stop source for researchers to assess bad resources, false claims, mistaken identities, and anything else that is not right about genealogy. Continue reading The three-legged horse

A missing Merrill

Gravestone of David Merrill (1768-1859). Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Alicia Crane Williams’s post earlier this week – about when an incorrect item was “published in a book” – is quite fresh in my mind as I contemplate a current genealogical problem. Last week I wrote about Gary Boyd Roberts’s research on a distant kinship between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales. There are several parts of Markle’s American ancestry that a group of us (including Gary and several genealogical colleagues) has been looking into, but the one that keeps coming up regards Meghan Markle’s great-great-great-great-grandfather David Merrill (1768–1859) of Holderness, New Hampshire.[1]

Numerous online trees claim that David Merrill was the son of Jacob Merrill and Elizabeth Wyatt, and this claim is even “published in a book”: The Makers of the Sacred Harp (Champaign, Ill., 2010): Continue reading A missing Merrill

“But it was published in a book!”

Vita Brevis has posted more than one thousand essays in the last four years, of which I’ve done a few,[1] but I am having a really hard time lately coming up with appropriate and interesting topics for a Vita Brevis post, so I am throwing it out to you readers. What do you want me to write? Questions? Comments?

In the meantime, I recently read a quote from Isaiah Thomas – the eighteenth-century printer, not the basketball player – that I thought was worth thinking about: “But, to my great disappointment, I soon found that people were not to be reasoned out of measures, that they never reasoned themselves into.” Continue reading “But it was published in a book!”

‘There is no try’

Currier and Ives’ “The Road, Winter.”

As a family historian, you can’t help but love the holiday season. It’s a time for reconnecting with extended family, and an excellent opportunity to share everything that you have learned about your ancestral past. With a bit of tact, you can engage your relatives in genealogical discussions, coaxing out anecdotes that flesh out your research. To that end, I have assembled a list of some of my favorite holiday genealogy dos and don’ts. Continue reading ‘There is no try’

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

Dower vs. inheritance

After my previous post, the question came up about whether a widow’s dower right in her husband’s property is an “inheritance,” since, as we traditionally see the term being used in seventeenth-century New England, it is held only for the widow’s lifetime and reverts to her children on her death.

However, I found the following on Wikipedia: “Usually, the wife was free from kin limitations to use (and bequeath) her dower to whatever and whomever she pleased. It may have become the property of her next marriage, been given to an ecclesiastical institution, or been inherited by her children from other relationships than that from which she received it.” Continue reading Dower vs. inheritance

Oh! Susanna!

The graves of Stephen and Rebecca Andrews, who held the bond for Susanna’s sons Thomas, John, and George. Courtesy of findagrave.com contributor Judith Richards No. 47139138.

“Oh! Susanna…” No, thankfully, not Mr. Foster’s “Susanna”![1] Rather, this particular “Susanna” is one who has been bound up in the ‘primordial soup’ of my Chesapeake Bay ancestry for (at least) the last six generations. The identity of my Susanna has only come to light within the last several years. No one had ever heard of her before. She had been all but forgotten – since her death in 1863.[2]

Oddly, the most evident clue that Susanna ever lived at all was hidden in plain sight. Her son, my great-great-grandfather John Henry Record,[3] completed his pension application stating that his father had died when he was four years old – an event which coincided with his being “bound out.”[4] He wrote these statements in the 1890s, and reading his words through the years it was generally assumed (given these terrible circumstances for a four-year-old boy) that his mother must have also been deceased at that date. In fact she was not. Continue reading Oh! Susanna!

Listen and learn

November is National Podcast Month, so this is the perfect month to share some favorite podcasts. Typically, a podcast is an episodic audio (sometimes video) program that can be downloaded online. Think of these as a form of talk radio in which you can choose when to tune in. The topics of the programming varies widely, so there are many that are useful and interesting to us as family historians.

Continue reading Listen and learn

Longevity

It is a situation nearly everyone who has done any degree of genealogical research has encountered before. Upon locating information on one of your ancestors and doing some simple subtraction, the result just seems too unlikely.

“There is NO WAY he was 138 when he died!”

Most astute researchers will dismiss these claims and move on to finding some proof of birth or death to debunk this incredibly unlikely scenario. For now, the oldest verified person who ever lived was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122.[1] Continue reading Longevity