Category Archives: Technology

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

James O’Neil revisited

Note that Patrick J. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, appears two lines above James O’Neil’s entry; both men are listed at 23 Border Street.

Over a year ago I wrote a Vita Brevis post about my great-great-great-grandfather, James O’Neil, who successfully sued the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for the wrongful death of his daughter, Emily O’Neil. I had only recently learned that James had three children in Vermont before moving to Boston in the early 1870s: Mary Ellen (1864), Arthur Michael (1866), and Emily Ann (1867). Continue reading James O’Neil revisited

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

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

‘Undoubtedly the same family’

My great-uncles with my great-grandfather. Left to right: John F. Forry Jr., Joseph Forry, John F. Forry Sr., and Edward Forry, ca. 1972.

A common rule for genealogists is that spelling does not count: usually, entering an alternate spelling of a surname into a search engine will point you to records for the ancestor you seek, as long as you know his or her parent(s), an approximate birth year, and a birthplace. However, while doing my own research, I have been hindered by the issue of variant spellings.

My grandmother Eleanor (Forry) McManus was a granddaughter of Patrick J. Forry and Hannah M. Crotty, both of whom emigrated to Boston in the 1880s from Ireland, from County Sligo and County Waterford respectively. The Crotty branch has not been hard to fill in, as I contacted an Englishman who is married to a granddaughter of Hannah’s niece. He has already made a family tree, from which I obtained information. The Forry branch, though, has been a different story, since the surname can be spelled so many ways when recorded phonetically. Continue reading ‘Undoubtedly the same family’

DNA and a brick wall

Click on the image to expand it.

Recently I’ve been playing around with DNA Painter. It is a colorful, easy-to-use tool for understanding the chromosome segments you received from an ancestor. This free program lets you map DNA segments and assign or “paint” them various colors on your different chromosomes.

I created the chromosome map above by first determining a common ancestral couple between myself and a match. Then I download our shared segments and added them to DNA Painter. You can do this for any results found on 23AndMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDMatch. For each match I assigned them a color based on our most recent common ancestors. Continue reading DNA and a brick wall

Three Eatons of Watertown

Dr. John Eliot Eaton (1756-1812) of the Reading Eatons.

After my recent post on my Eaton ancestors, my aunt e-mailed me, curious to know if “those Eatons” were related to our “other Eatons”? The quick answer is yes, but I don’t know how! Let me explain.

Through my great-grandfather, I descend (in two unique ways, including via the Eaton family of the last post), from the immigrant John Eaton (ca. 1605–1659) of Dedham, Massachusetts. Through my great-grandmother, I descend from Jonas Eaton (ca. 1618–1674) of Reading, Massachusetts (see chart below).

Here is what we know on each Eaton man. Continue reading Three Eatons of Watertown

El Dorado 1914

Jeff Record’s post on Monday, and the comments on it, have nudged me into summarizing how I was able to use his father’s DNA results to determine Jeff’s grandmother’s biological father. Jeff has written two articles in Mayflower Descendant, one on the Young family from whom his grandmother descends, so with that, as well as his past blogposts, I’ve been aware of the general chronology on this family. Jeff also shared with me his ahnentafel with all of his known ancestors, as we both have connections to Kansas. His grandmother, Georgia Lee Young, later Katheryn Elizabeth Ogle, was born in 1914 in Newton, Kansas, which is the same place of birth as my mother. Continue reading El Dorado 1914

‘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 hidden face

“Katheryn,” ca. 1920.

My questions about him had been endless. He was, after all, the phantom in my ancestry, a great and impervious vapor, a Wizard of Oz if you will. He was my fleeting great-grandfather, the drawn curtain of my pedigree chart, his family lines going, well … nowhere. I don’t know that I ever really expected to find him, or to see his face. I certainly did not expect any DNA results to fall from the sky, making a picture of his smile even possible. Yet those DNA results did pull back the curtain (coming in just last week) and therein I was able to find his face, albeit grainy in brown and white, and sheepishly grinning down and away, as if to say he knew I’d been looking for him for a very, very long time. Indeed, I had been. Continue reading The hidden face