Tag Archives: A Genealogist’s Diary

Banned in Boston

As genealogists, we can become quite proprietary about our research – there can be a sense that our work on the far-flung branches of our family trees gives us a kind of ownership of the past. Recently, I’ve experienced another sort of ownership, that claimed by the family being studied. I should add that this dynamic – I own the past, not you – is not a new one, but it never fails to surprise me. Continue reading Banned in Boston

‘In the dead of night’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
We tend to think of a bright line dividing North and South during the Civil War, but in families like the Grays of Boston there were a number of living connections between the two regions. Mrs. William Rufus Gray, the diarist’s[1] mother-in-law, was a member of the Clay family of Savannah, and during the war her younger sister and other family members resided in Georgia, near the South Carolina line.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 3 February 1865: We have had news of the destruction of Aunt Eliza’s[2] plantation and the burning of the homestead by [Major General William Tecumseh] Sherman’s army. We cannot but feel sorry for her – but as a military measure it was perfectly justifiable. The place had a powerful rebel battery planted on a bluff commanding the river – 4 miles below was Fort McAllister, on Matilda Clay’s brother’s[3] place; when that was taken by assault, all the places on the Ogeechee [River] up and down were burned and destroyed. Continue reading ‘In the dead of night’

‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’

Courtesy Stadtarchiv Mannheim

[Author’s note: This series, on the German origin of the Boucher family of Baltimore, began here.]

With regard to my great-great-great-grandfather Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Esprit Boucher (bp. 1799), I feel on firm ground in ascribing some finds on Ancestry.com to him, although the fate of his second daughter and identity of his second wife remain tantalizing and elusive. Continue reading ‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’

‘The flower of our manhood’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Civil War was drawing to a close, but there remained much suffering in store for Regina Shober Gray[1] and her circle:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Tomorrow Huntington Wolcott[2] goes off, as Lieutenant, to join his regiment, and enter on his new career. He is only 19, and leaves an indulgent and affluent home, a life of the most sheltered & cultivated refinement, for the rude privations of camp life. God protect him, the brave lad, morally and bodily.

He is but 8 or 9 months older than my Frank;[3] how thankful I felt when the war broke out nearly 4 years ago that my boys were all too young to go – but now, it lingers on so wearily & yet so necessarily, that I often think I may yet have to send my treasures in faith & trust as so many brave hearted mothers have done ere now. Dr. Gray however says Frank’s college course must be finished first – then will be time enough for him to think of the army if needed – now, he has not the physique for it either – and is only 18 last fall too. Continue reading ‘The flower of our manhood’

The name is a mystery

Ralph Forbes (1904-1951) by Russell Ball. Click on the images to expand them.

Given the range of databases like Wikipedia and IMDb (more formally The Internet Movie Database), it can be surprising to find a scrap of biographical material that has not been covered. I encountered this paradox recently, when writing up notes on some photographs I’ve bought of the actors Ralph Forbes (1904–1951) and his mother Mary Forbes (1879–1974). Ralph Forbes Taylor was born 30 September 1904 and baptized in the parish of Streatham, Surrey – now part of the Borough of Lambeth in Greater London – the son of Ernest John Taylor and his wife Ethel Louise. The Taylors lived at 142 Gleneagle Road in Streatham (where Ralph was presumably born), and Ernest was a commercial traveler.[1]

But who was Ernest John Taylor? And who was his wife, Ethel Louise, who would in time become the character actress Mary Forbes?[2] Continue reading The name is a mystery

Boucher gleanings

W. Boucher Jr. stamp. Click on images to expand them.

Following up on my recent blog post about genealogical memory (“What do you know?”), I took a fresh look at some persistent brick walls in my mother’s family. The blog post – and a 5-generation fan chart template I got from two colleagues – led me to reflect on whether anything more could be gleaned about the background of my great-great-grandfather, William Boucher Jr. (1822–1899) of Baltimore, Maryland.

The answer, I’m happy to say, is “Yes”! Continue reading Boucher gleanings

‘The difference it makes’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Even as she followed the last weeks of the Civil War in the press during the winter of 1865, Mrs. Gray[1] found time to contribute to her daughter’s happiness:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Mary [Gray][2] is in a state of very happy excitement because her father has withdrawn his prohibition against round-dancing.[3] It is very inconsistent I suppose and all that, but I have long felt a question about it; whether the old fashioned prejudices of her parents ought to enforce themselves to her exclusion from a pleasure all her young friends were allowed, and enjoyed so highly.

She enjoys dancing the “German” as much as any one – but has never remonstrated against our decision, and gave it up 2 or 3 years ago without complaint. Then several other girls of her set said they were not to dance it – and it seemed as if she would have plenty of companionship in abstaining, but one after another they have all concluded to dance it and she was left almost alone – and it does make a great difference in a young lady’s enjoyment of society: it sets her completely apart from the dancing and makes a wall-flower of her at once, for there are never more than two or three square dances of an evening. Continue reading ‘The difference it makes’

What do you know?

Margaret Steward (1888-1975) in Tours during the First World War.

In a recent meeting here at NEHGS, the conversation turned to the ease with which visitors to our Newbury Street building could fill out a three-, four-, or five-generation family chart, listing themselves, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. I suspect that for many members of the NEHGS staff, such a chart would be easy to create – the vital record sources for that chart, of course, would take longer to fill in, and it’s unlikely that any one of us could make up that list from memory.

I thought it would be interesting to see if my siblings could do it: Could they go beyond our grandparents, three of whom they might have known, to list great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents?

The answer, based on a response rate of 75%, is … No. Continue reading What do you know?

‘Broad, high foreheads’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The month of January 1865 brought further deaths to Mrs. Gray’s[1] circle, but also allowed her a welcome respite in visits to local galleries to see the latest paintings.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 January 1865: …Dr. Gray has just come in (noon, Jan. 15) with news of a great public loss – the death of Mr. Edward Everett[2] this morning. We have not heard what his illness was – but probably apoplexy. He spoke at the Savannah relief meeting this week, and has been arguing his own case against the Mystic Water Works – seemingly well as usual. We have no such orator left as he. A man of wonderful eloquence and as wonderful erudition; with a celebrity not merely local, but national, and world wide. He held among other high public offices that of Minister at the Court of St. James. Last week died in Philad[elphia] Mr. George M. Dallas[3] who also held that office.

Thursday, 19 January 1865:To-day (Jan 19th) was Mr. Everett’s burial-day. His death is felt a great public loss. We have no such golden mouthed orator left – no one in any way competent to fill his place. Continue reading ‘Broad, high foreheads’

Hollywood is a small town

Carole Lombard, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Kathryn Crawford in SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1930).

I was recently reminded of just how small a town Hollywood is as I wrote up some notes on two photos featuring a (now) little-known actress named Kathryn Crawford. Born Kathryn Moran in Pennsylvania in 1908, as Kathryn Crawford she was one of a trio of chorus girls in Safety in Numbers (1930); the other girls were Josephine Dunn and, of greater interest to us today, Carole Lombard. The three “Follies girls” are meant to introduce an innocent young millionaire (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) to madcap Manhattan – but of course there are love complications, and hilarity ensues. Continue reading Hollywood is a small town