Category Archives: ICYMI

ICYMI: Shorthand systems

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 October 2016.]

From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading ICYMI: Shorthand systems

ICYMI: Lost generations

John Henry Beeckman’s nephew, Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866-1935). Photo by George Grantham Bain

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

One of the trends in my ancestry is the curious one whereby, when given the choice between staying in a locale or moving on, my nineteenth-century forebears often remained behind as other relatives ventured further west. One of the sadder family stories is covered in the 1999 book Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California, by Albert L. Hurtado, and concerns my great-great-great-uncle John Henry Beeckman (1818–1850).

Uncle John was the eldest son of Henry Beeckman and Catherine McPhaedris Livingston, and the family was a prosperous one in the days before the Civil War. That they were socially acceptable to New Yorkers and Virginians alike is suggested by the fact that John H. Beeckman married Margaret Gardiner in 1848 at the Virginia plantation of the bride’s brother-in-law, former President John Tyler. Still, John Beeckman was a young man, fired up by the discovery of gold in California, and in 1849 he left bride and newborn son to travel west. Continue reading ICYMI: Lost generations

ICYMI: A Bronx tale

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 August 2016.]

Boys playing stick ball. Photo courtesy of formerdays.com

My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading ICYMI: A Bronx tale

ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2016.]

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

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

ICYMI: Family puzzles

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

My mother’s maternal grandparents Martin and Elizabeth (Heft) Schwindt and their family, including my grandmother Elizabeth standing second from right, in Nebraska ca. 1910.

When I was young, my mother mentioned that in her youth her parents would sometimes playfully argue whether Norka was better than Balzer. When asked what that meant she explained to me that these were the names of villages in Russia. That confused me because I knew that she was of German descent. She explained that her German ancestors moved to Russia but eventually life became hard for them there, and after several generations they emigrated to the United States.

I wanted to know more about why they left their homeland to make such a long and difficult journey, especially after learning that the conditions they found in Russia were little better and in some cases worse than in Germany. Continue reading ICYMI: Family puzzles

ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 April 2016.]

Engraving of the town of Lenox, Massachusetts, by John Warner Barber. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Genealogists and historians of Massachusetts are indebted to the works of nineteenth-century antiquarians: that is, compilers or collectors of historical information and antiquities. The works of several antiquarians – including John Warner Barber, Samuel Gardner Drake, and John Haven Dexter – have become crucial reference works in the study of Massachusetts genealogy. Knowing what these sources contain, along with their respective shortcomings, can be helpful when researching your Massachusetts ancestors. Continue reading ICYMI: Thank an antiquarian

2017: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about some of the most widely-read Vita Brevis posts of 2017. To mark the beginning of the next year, here are six more popular posts showcasing the range of subjects covered in a blog that publishes about 250 posts a year. (In fact, Vita Brevis marks its fourth birthday on January 10, and the blog’s one-thousandth post was published in November.)

In July, Michelle Doherty laid out a genealogical case usingCircumstantial evidence”: Continue reading 2017: the year in review concluded

2017: the year in review

As the old year winds down over the next few days, I hope that dedicated Vita Brevis readers will spare a few moments to (re)read some of the most popular posts of 2017. (The second part of this omnibus post will run on New Year’s Day 2018.) The following twelve posts have some of the highest page view counts of the year, but in fact Christopher C. Child should appear four times on this list – that is, one-third of the year’s most popular Vita Brevis posts belong to him. To mix things up a little, I have included other posts, so as to spread the authorial wealth: Chris, Michelle Doherty, and Jeff Record each have two posts here, one appearing today and the other on Monday. Continue reading 2017: the year in review

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