Category Archives: ICYMI

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

ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation. Courtesy of

[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

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

ICYMI: Consider the siblings

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 27 November 2015.]

For the last several months, I have been trying to determine the origins of each of my mother’s Irish ancestors. In a previous post, I mentioned my success in locating the origins of my Kenefick ancestors; however, I have been having trouble with some ancestors with much more common surnames.

The earliest record I have for my maternal great-great-grandparents Patrick Cassidy and Mary Hughes is their marriage record, dated in Boston 28 November 1888.  Continue reading ICYMI: Consider the siblings