[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 October 2016.]
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.
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→
William Clark began keeping a journal in 1759 at the age of eighteen. He wrote an entry for almost every day until he died in 1815 at the age of seventy-five. The entire journal – fifty-six volumes and almost five thousand pages – is now held by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Clark carefully recorded his neighbors’ births, marriages, and deaths, providing rich pickings for family history researchers, but the author of the journal is himself a fascinating character: a convert, a loyalist, and a refugee.
Clark was an Anglican clergyman by the time of the American Revolution, but – like many New England Anglicans – he had first joined the Church of England as a convert. His father, the Rev. Peter Clark, was a Congregationalist minister in Danvers, Massachusetts, and a leading “old light” defender of the colony’s Congregationalist establishment. Continue reading ‘Indifferent to the world’→
Over a year ago I wrote aVita 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→
On the list of books of which you have probably never heard is Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England…, originally published in 1702. Roughly translated as The Glorious Works of Christ in America, it might not sound all that interesting and certainly doesn’t sound like a genealogical resource, but it really is a rich treasure of biographical information for early New England ministers.
The Rev. John Ward (1606–1693) of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who was in New England by 1639, was the son of Great Migration immigant Rev. Nathaniel Ward, who arrived with some of his family in New England in 1634.Continue reading A treasure indeed→
This entry from the Regina Shober Gray diary touches on many of the themes in the larger work: births and deaths, worrying illnesses – including a threatened repeat of an earlier cholera epidemic – the aftermath of the Civil War, homely efforts to entice her ailing sister to eat, and, as ever, tedious sewing work to make “one groan – the white flounce was sent home fluted upside down – and when sent back, came home done inside, out; and inside out it is now on the dress!”
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 29 October 1865: Caleb Curtis came round to-day to announce the birth of a little girl there, born yesterday afternoon – Emily is wonderfully well, and well content with her “wee woman,” though she did resolve all along it should be a boy! Continue reading ‘Outward unity’→
When the money Fred had earned on the tanker Gulf Kingran out, he started hanging around the hiring hall in Port Arthur, Texas, to find another ship that was sailing to someplace more exotic than Jacksonville, Florida. In the spring of 1923, however, jobs on board the Texas and Gulf Oil Companies’ ships were scarce. Fred met another out-of-work seamen named Jim who was headed back home to Denver. This piqued Fred’s interest, since Fred was born in Colorado, so he decided to tag along. Jim explained that with no money, the way to go was to hitch a ride on a freight train. Continue reading ‘That beacon’→
Over the holiday weekend I have been going through my mother’s calendar diaries. The earliest I have (right now; I’m sure there are more hidden in boxes, although earlier years may not be in calendar books) begin with 1967 and end in 1992. That was when she was first diagnosed with “mild Alzheimer’s Disease.” It is sad to watch her entries in the late 1980s become confused and tail off, but it is heart-warming for me to read her earlier entries, when the voice of the mother I knew was strong.
One thing that popped out was her referring to me as “Lish.” This was my parents’ nickname for me, pronounced “Leesh” and taken from the family pronunciation of “Aleesha.” (The one person who gets away with calling me “Alisha” is Gary Boyd Roberts.) Continue reading My mother’s voice→
Lately, it seems like I can’t catch a break! You see, I’ve been trying to put some good old-fashioned humor back into my life – without much success. Finding humor (or laughter) these days seems to take a whole lot of effort – and an even bigger dose of understanding. It’s as if the world has become filled with folks who are afraid to, you know … smile. I just don’t get it, as I’m pretty sure we were all schooled that facing the world each day with a smile makes the world a better place, right? Because of this, I’ve started to wonder about the ancestral origins of my own tomfoolery – and if any sense of humor isn’t “relative” after all.
Now, I can’t pretend to know the history or psychology behind humor or laughter. But it sure does function differently for each of us. Take the other day, for example. Continue reading Humoresque→
NEHGS president Brenton Simons recently proposed an “Ancestral Gallery” – a series of paired portraits of staff members with their ancestors and relatives, to hang in the building’s staircase. Jean Powers coordinated the effort with staff members who could contribute pictures for the first exhibit. The gallery debuted before our recent annual meeting. I was one of the staff who contributed a picture of an ancestor, and so for these last few weeks I have seen a large picture of myself next to my ancestor, followed by several colleagues, on my way up the stairs! The exercise was also another great example of reaching out to local organizations and distant relatives for material. Continue reading Contact those cousins!→
A couple of weeks ago, as I was talking with a young woman at the school where I work, she mentioned that she had lived on the Big Island of Hawaii until last year. In fact, her home was in Leilani Estates, where Kilauea volcano is now pumping out fountains of molten lava! I have relatives who currently live on the island (many miles to the north), but the family member I most connect with Kilauea is my great-great-uncle, Oscar McBride: my mother’s father’s mother’s brother.
During the First World War, Uncle Oscar traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. I knew that somewhere I had a postcard toasted by him at Kilauea – toasting postcards over volcanoes evidently being a popular pastime in those days. Continue reading Kilauea days→