Tag Archives: A Genealogist’s Diary

‘Friends in adversity’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Marital entanglements gave Regina Shober Gray[1] grist for the mill: Georgie Blake’s summer romance at Marion had played out to the extent that Miss Blake’s fiancé swore “he could not marry her, would die rather, kill himself, abscond…” By contrast, Clara Morgan’s engagement to her cousin and brother-in-law seems rather tame.

As my mother would have said, the Gray and Shober families “enjoyed poor health,” although there was nothing funny about it – Dr. Gray’s nieces were frequently ill, while Lizzie Shober was in a fatal decline.

Finally, an ancient Shober family connection became, for a brief moment in the mid-1860s, a source of generous recognition: Mrs. Gray’s mention of the Princess Iturbide’s father’s deposition and execution prefigures the fate of the new Emperor of Mexico. Continue reading ‘Friends in adversity’

Hiding in plain sight

Courtesy of belfastforum.co.uk.

I have been working on various genealogical projects since boyhood, with – as I hope – increasing research ability. Happily, there are times when a lucky Google search cuts through years of dead ends: as yesterday, when I went looking for my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Getty of Belfast, who died in Baltimore, Maryland 11 February 1839.[1]

Both Elizabeth and her husband, Dr. John Campbell White (1757–1847), have tantalizing if mysterious backgrounds: both came from Belfast, and Dr. White had professional credentials. As I’ve mentioned, he was the son of an esteemed minister in Templepatrick, not far from Belfast – but who were Elizabeth’s parents? Continue reading Hiding in plain sight

‘Outward unity’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
This entry from the Regina Shober Gray[1] 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[2] came round to-day to announce the birth of a little girl there, born yesterday afternoon[3] – 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’

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 superfluity of Hamiltons

Click on image to expand it.

A recent review of my ancestral royal lines has suggested that they are all, in one way or another, problematic – either the line breaks here, in America, or there, in the British Isles. One approach I’ve tried, in a desultory way, is to look at all the lines around the desired royal one, creating an ancestor table (or ahnentafel) to manage the information (and keep me honest!).

I am a descendant of Robert Livingston, the first Lord of Livingston Manor (1654–1728), whose rank as a patroon testifies to his success as a land speculator in the Colony of New York. In roughing out an ancestor table for Robert, I was struck anew by the way even well-to-do families with property to inherit seem so often to lack agreed-upon pedigrees supported by contemporary records. Continue reading A superfluity of Hamiltons

‘Shivered into atoms’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The aftermath of the Civil War continued to affect Regina Shober Gray[1] and her family, sometimes in surprising ways. The question in October 1865 was how to provide for the family of the diarist’s mother-in-law’s Southern family, represented by her sister Eliza and sister-in-law Matilda Clay. Amid the worries about Lizzie Shober’s health and a neighbor’s accident, Mrs. Gray found solace in the “little stranger” expected by her friend Emily Curtis.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 October 1865: Aunt Eliza Clay[2] has accepted an invitation from Cousin Ann Wallace to spend the winter with them in Newark. Mrs. Clay[3] and her children will pass it in Savannah – Joe [Clay][4] will be married this fall and join his housekeeping to his mother, but what under the sun he has to be married on, is a puzzle. Their negroes are gone – the plantation they will probably recover, but the house and outbuildings are burned to the ground. Continue reading ‘Shivered into atoms’

‘A most affecting scene’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
An episode from early in the Civil War had a sequel in October 1865, and Regina Shober Gray[1] wrote about it as she reviewed other news from her family in Philadelphia. The earlier entry, dated 13 January 1862, read:

“Our papers too give an acct. of the arrest of the Rev.d. Mr. Wilmer[2] (formerly I suppose of St. Mark’s church Philad., and obliged to resign there, on acct. of his secession sentiments). [He] was arrested in an attempt to pass into the rebel lines, with quantities of supplies and despatches – some interlining his clothes, some in his cravat &c &c.”

In a later entry, Mrs. Gray reflects on the changed circumstances of Southern life at the end of the war.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 6 October 1865: Discouraging letters from Philad. Lizzie is more sick, though not with the symptoms she had here – but it does seem as if one blow after another had come on her this summer – and she so utterly unused to sickness! It makes me feel very anxious about her. Continue reading ‘A most affecting scene’

‘All of our set’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Even on holiday the diarist Regina Shober Gray[1] could not escape anxieties about the health of family members – indeed, her sister Lizzie was beginning a fatal decline, and would die later in the year.

Marion, Massachusetts, Thursday, 24 August 1865: A clear cold autumn day, which makes us bundle up in shawls enough for an Arab Sheik! I came back from Boston, in the rain storm of Tuesday – and did not bring Ella G[ray].[2] Her cough is troublesome again and her mother[3] is afraid of the dampness here – which has certainly been very chill and penetrating for the last two weeks; a very different air from the soft, balmy, almost oppressive warmth of the earlier part of our visit.

Lizzie Shober[4] is better – but I think she and Mary [Shober][5] will be glad to get away from here. They are engaged this morning making a cross and triangle of white flower and evergreens for the funeral of a young sea-captain, who died a few weeks since of dysentery in some West Indian port – he leaves a young wife not 20 years old and a babe. Continue reading ‘All of our set’

‘A stranger to us’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Grays’ summer was flying by in Marion, and Regina Shober Gray[1] faced new social responsibilities as her daughter Mary[2] ventured into society:

Sunday, 6 August 1865: A week ago last Wed’y, I went up to Boston to make my deserted husband a visit, intending to return early on Friday; but some deeds were sent on for the girls[3] to sign before a commissioner – so they had to come up on Friday morning and I waited, of course, to return with them p.m.

Frank [Gray][4] went to Worcester that mg. for the [rowing] regatta – he was so excited about it that he hardly slept for 2 nights previous. If he took it so hard, what must have been the excitement of the fellows actually competing in the race; and alas! for all their hopes and efforts, the Yale men bore the palm, in both races – and Harvard was only second best. Continue reading ‘A stranger to us’

‘Crowded with berries’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
From time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] pauses to describe what she sees and hears, and it is usually a feast for the senses: In its way the place is very lovely, very placid, with the soft sinuous curves of its low green shores, its bright little islets and its glassy waters reflecting, as would the quietest inland lake, the counterpart of the upper world in the calm depths below. The tide swells dreamily up and ebbs sleepily down, with never a ripple to disturb its ineffable complacency…

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 16 July 1865: [The diarist’s sisters] Mary & Lizzie Shober[2] arrived duly by Newport train yesterday morning. It is so good to have them here – more than 9 years since Mary’s last visit to me, at the time of [Mrs. Gray’s son] Morris’s birth – since then this devoted sister has never left our brother John[3] day or night, save when she went to Baltimore on Susan Drinker’s[4] death, to be with Aunt Catharine[5] for 3 days. It is a painful effort to her to come now, but she bears up bravely, and will I am sure be better for the change. It has been a frantically busy week with me – but the [sewing] work is pretty thoroughly finished up, with Isabella to help for 10 days past. Continue reading ‘Crowded with berries’