Tag Archives: A Genealogist’s Diary

‘Meetings and greetings’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
After less than a week in Philadelphia, Regina Shober Gray[1] was back in Boston and deep in domestic duties. In the following entries the diarist manages to refer to two of her husband’s relatives, both of them named (or married to a man named) Horace Gray. In the first paragraph of her 4 June entry, Mrs. Gray names her four sons:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 4 June 1865: We left Philad[elphia] on Friday morning and came through by Stonington boat. Horace Gray[2] kindly secured our double stateroom and met us in N. York. We had good weather; but the journey is very fatiguing to me – and I feel quite used up to day. Morris too does not get over the fatigue. I think the warm weather in Philad. did not agree with him. Regie is in high spirits, and the meetings and greetings, with the few of his friends now in town, are very hilarious! Dear little warm hearted fellow, every one is glad to welcome him back. Frank & Sam came up from Manchester yest’y p.m. Continue reading ‘Meetings and greetings’

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

‘A very isolated family’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
By the end of May 1865, Regina Shober Gray’s son Reginald had been staying with his aunts for six months; his visit was meant to help the Shober sisters as they mourned their brother John. Mrs. Gray[1] took her youngest son with her to collect Regie Gray and visit with her sisters:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, 30 May 1865: We came here on Saturday, Morris and I, and are going home next Sat.y. Taking Regie, who is wonderfully grown & improved for his six months’ stay here with the beloved Aunties. I have but once heard him scrape his throat – at home it was incessant – and will be I fear again in our harsher air. This is a real summer day – and I am glad I decided to come on now, instead of three weeks later, as the girls think the warm weather has already pulled Regie down somewhat. I find my sisters looking pretty well – but it is very sad for them in their home without John – they do not get used to the loss, and now that Aunt Regina is gone they feel very desolate. Continue reading ‘A very isolated family’

Artistic imposture

Belva Kibler and Dorothy Dow by Carl Van Vechten.

The recent acquisition of a 1947 photograph of the mezzo-soprano Dorothy Dow playing Susan B. Anthony[1] made me think about how historic figures have been represented on stage and in film – and, thus, in the still photographs that capture moments in these productions. In most cases, inevitably, the production choices reflect the date of the production as much as the purported date of the action. This example, by Carl Van Vechten, tells us as much about Van Vechten as it does Susan B. Anthony. While the setting is presumably the stage set for a scene in the opera, the lighting and even the backdrop belong in the photographer’s own studio. Continue reading Artistic imposture

‘No sin in being tempted’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In these entries from the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary, we find her analysis of a sermon at King’s Chapel as well as reflections on a yearned-for musical performance of the Handel & Haydn Society, the latter foregone as she was in mourning for two members of her family back in Philadelphia.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 10 May 1865: Poor Lottie Hemingway [sic] was buried at noon yesterday. [It] was a pouring rain, and I suppose no one dared to go to the house – the disease is so fearfully malignant. If sympathy could comfort, her poor mother might be consoled, for all our hearts ache for her. And she must be so anxious for the other children. It seems Lottie did not sicken till Wednesday and [her sister] Amy[2] slept with her as usual till that time – spotted fever with violent spinal inflammation.

Our precious daughter[3] comes home tomorrow from her week’s visit to Annie Dixwell.[4] We shall be glad to get her back – she leaves an awful blank in her absence. Continue reading ‘No sin in being tempted’

‘Neutral ground’

Frederick Ayer

Many of us have bunches of old family letters set aside to review – preferably with the sender and the recipient already noted on the envelope. Years ago, as I was researching my first family history (The Sarsaparilla Kings[1]), I was fortunate enough to have some published (as well as unpublished) sources available to consider the relationship between my great-great-grandfather Frederick Ayer (1822–1918) – one of the two Sarsaparilla Kings – and his son-in-law George Smith Patton Jr. (1885–1945).

Frederick Ayer made two distinct fortunes – in patent medicines with his elder brother, Dr. J. C. Ayer, and in textiles and other investments later in life – and by the turn of the twentieth century he was a wealthy man. His second wife, Ellen Barrows Banning (1853–1918), was a member of a sprawling family with connections in Delaware, Minnesota, and California, among them to the family of George and Ruth Patton of San Gabriel, California. Continue reading ‘Neutral ground’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

At left: The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, 1863. Standing: The Crown Princess of Prussia, Prince Louis of Hesse, the bridegroom, and Princess Helena. Seated or kneeling: Princess Louise, the Queen, Princess Beatrice, the bride (holding a photo of the late Prince Consort), and Prince Arthur.[1]

The daughters-in-law of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort entered a household in mourning; what Princess Alexandra found in 1863 Grand Duchess Marie encountered in 1874, and as late as 1882 the young Duchess of Albany knew it, too, although time had somewhat muffled the early excesses of the Queen’s grief. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Four

‘The glory and the gloom’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While the obsequies associated with President Lincoln’s death and burial continued into May 1865, Regina Shober Gray’s[1] thoughts turned to other subjects as well. It would also seem that the Shober gift for descriptive writing was present in at least one of the diarist’s sisters.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 4 May 1865: This day no doubt the weary, restless, and unparalleled funeral march for our beloved President ends in the sealed silence of the tomb, and mortal eyes have looked their last of earth upon the martyred statesman & patriot. At last he rests in peace forevermore, emphatically alone in the glory and the gloom of his immortal story. For where in all history shall we find a man risen from the very people, untrained in the “learning of the schools,” unpolished by the habitude of cultivated society, who could have so nobly acquitted himself in the high station to which God, and the people God-guided, called this true patriot and humbleminded Christian, this far seeing, cautious, yet tenacious statesman, this genial-hearted and merciful man? Continue reading ‘The glory and the gloom’

Royal cartes de visite: Part Three

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, with his sister Princess Alice. Carte de visite by Mayall Studio

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewed Prussia as their ideal among the multitude of German kingdoms, principalities, and duchies. Early on in their marriage, they hoped that the son of their friends the Prince and Princess of Prussia – the former the heir presumptive to the kingdom – might someday marry their eldest daughter, Vicky, as Prince Frederick William duly did, in 1858, when the bride was just seventeen.

Fritz and Vicky were happy as a couple, but the friendly alliance of Great Britain and Prussia (from 1871 the nucleus of the German Empire) did not play out quite as the bride’s parents had expected. Instead of a liberal Germany presiding over the restless nations in eastern Europe, the British court watched in surprise as the comparatively progressive Prince of Prussia became the conservative Kaiser Wilhelm I and the once-obscure Prussian diplomat Otto von Bismarck became all-powerful at the courts of Wilhelm I (1871–88), Friedrich III (1888), and then Wilhelm II (1888–1918). Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Three


My grandfather, at right, receives the Bronze Star from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. My grandmother stands between them.

John Tyler’s recent blog post on Elizabeth Knapp of Groton has a personal element for me, as I am descended through my maternal grandfather from Elizabeth (Knapp or Knopp) Scripture. According to my notes, both of my mother’s parents were descendants of the Warren family of Watertown, but it was Elizabeth Knopp – the daughter of Elizabeth (Warren) Knopp – who was my grandfather’s ancestress.

In fact, this group of families makes up part of my grandfather’s matrilineal line, one that ends in a mystery. Elizabeth’s son John Scripture married Abigail Utley; their daughter Elizabeth, named for Elizabeth Knopp, married Isaac Heath of Framingham, Massachusetts, and then Tolland, Connecticut. Continue reading Patterns