Category Archives: News

Housekeeping

Beginning this past Monday, and for at least the next few weeks, Vita Brevis will be running three posts per work week instead of the usual five. The idea is to mark the summer, when many of the NEHGS staff contributors (and Vita Brevis readers) are on holiday, but it also reflects the reality that with one employee to edit – and, often, write – posts, Vita Brevis is a demanding publication. (Yes, even with just one post a day!)

Do the blog’s readers feel strongly about the dependable frequency of the usual publishing schedule? Or will they find that three posts per week, reliably published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, provide enough new content to keep them coming back to the blog?

Please let me know in the comments.

ETA: It seems that the consensus is for three posts per week during the summer, and perhaps even going forward. Many thanks for weighing in!

 

Misconceptions of an American

People always ask: What ethnicity are you? This is a difficult question for genealogists, as we can get quite detailed with our answers: “Well, on my mother’s maternal line we have Irish from County Leitrim and Monaghan, on my mother’s paternal line we have Italians and Irish, and my paternal line…” Well, you get the drift.

And while I’ve researched Italians, Germans, Irish, and Norwegians in my own ancestry, I’ve identified most with the Irish, given my closeness with my (likely mostly Irish) grandmother. Because of this, I’ve always thought that I knew something about the Irish, their culture, and their history. However, after two weeks in Ireland, and several guided bus tours, I found that of what I thought I knew, I actually knew very little. Here are some of the most embarrassing revelations: Continue reading Misconceptions of an American

ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

[Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 November 2016; its contents have been updated by Molly Rogers.]

The genealogy column in the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper has been one of the more heavily used resources at the NEHGS Library for the past century or more. The paper was published, under a few different titles, from 1830 to 1941. From 1906 through 1941, it featured a genealogy column in which readers would submit and respond to queries. During most of its run, the column appeared twice a week. According to an editors’ note which appeared in many issues, the newspaper was almost overwhelmed with submissions and had a backlog waiting to be published. The editors also claimed that they had “correspondents in every corner of the country.” By the time it ceased publication, the column had covered an estimated two million names. Continue reading ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

With Mother’s Day last Sunday and the wedding tomorrow of Miss Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales, I thought I would write a post on some of her maternal ancestors. Often on Mother’s Day, genealogists consider their matrilineal ancestry as a way to honor their female ancestors.

The chronology of Meghan’s maternal grandmother was a challenging one. Reflecting modern life, over the course of a few generations women were married multiple times; sometimes their daughters’ surnames changed to those of their stepfather (sometimes much later in life!), and mothers’ maiden surnames were sometimes listed under their mothers’ later husbands’ names. I have summarized the line below with the relevant facts and sources. All ancestors are listed as black on the records when asked. The earliest generations of this family would have been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. Continue reading Meghan Markle’s maternal family

A decade of growth: technology

In the seventh floor reading room in 2012.

When it comes to technology, change comes quickly. In one decade, devices can transform almost beyond prediction. Back in April 2008, I could not have foreseen how technological advances would transform NEHGS.

Many advances came before my time. As Brenton summarizes: “We’d had a website since ’96, but it was a billboard. And in 2000, we launched the first searchable website, which had the Register on it.” Continue reading A decade of growth: technology

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

‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

Figure 1

Originating in an Italian proverb in 1603 and popularized by Voltaire in 1770, we have all heard the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” This phrase is very well-suited to the topic of searching genealogical databases, and particularly for AmericanAncestors.org.

Over the last year, the NEHGS web team has been researching a wide variety of things that we can do to improve the search experience for our 250,000 members. Along the way it has become clear that one of the bigger problems our members face is the dreaded “0 records returned” message (Figure 1). You just know that the record you are looking for is out there, but you can’t seem to find it when you fill out the search form. Continue reading ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’

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

Trouble with Speedwell

Author’s photograph

Over the next few years, you’ll hear more and more about the 400th anniversary of the Puritans and Separatists who sailed on Mayflower in 1620. We know them as “The Pilgrims.” In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay, where they found harsh weather, an unfamiliar land, and where they were responsible for the care of (initially) 102 people in their new Colony.

William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, is one of the few individuals who documented his life in the early years of the settlement. Governor Bradford was the longest-serving governor of the colony and is well known for his book, Of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630 and 1651. Continue reading Trouble with Speedwell