Tag Archives: African American Research

Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

With Mother’s Day last Sunday and the wedding tomorrow of Miss Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales, I thought I would write a post on some of her maternal ancestors. Often on Mother’s Day, genealogists consider their matrilineal ancestry as a way to honor their female ancestors.

The chronology of Meghan’s maternal grandmother was a challenging one. Reflecting modern life, over the course of a few generations women were married multiple times; sometimes their daughters’ surnames changed to those of their stepfather (sometimes much later in life!), and mothers’ maiden surnames were sometimes listed under their mothers’ later husbands’ names. I have summarized the line below with the relevant facts and sources. All ancestors are listed as black on the records when asked. The earliest generations of this family would have been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. Continue reading Meghan Markle’s maternal family

‘All in the dark’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Boston’s sultry summers made seaside resorts appealing, but each year Regina Shober Gray[1] struggled to find her family attractive rooms in likely houses outside the city.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 June 1865: Our summer plans are still in abeyance. Dr. & Fred. Gray[2] went down to see what could be done for us at Pigeon Cove,[3] and came back entirely dissatisfied with the place. The best houses there are kept by Mrs. James Edmonds, Mrs. Elisha Edmonds, Mrs. Story, & Mrs. Babson. [The] rooms are small, the terms high, no beach for bathing – bathe in holes off the rocks, and hold on by ropes!! Mrs. Morland,[4] who has boarded at Marion, says it is very hot & sultry there.

I have written to Mrs. Martin at Manchester – but I know she will not take us, and if she does … she will starve us; but that we can bear, I suppose, and guard against. Her house is charming – and I would gladly risk the table for the sake of getting a place for Mary Shober[5] on that lovely Manchester shore; and I think the boys would have a good time too, though they do say Manchester is “played out.” Continue reading ‘All in the dark’

Skipped out

“Icon” of Fred Rogers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Nantucket.

This is a big year for honoring Fred McFeely Rogers, who – if not a family member – was a virtual neighbor to millions of us. The United States Postal Service is issuing a stamp in his memory this week, and I was touched to discover that an “icon” honors him near the pew he habitually occupied in a church my great-great-great-great-grandparents inadvertently helped found in 1838.

However, this story is about a very different Mr. Rogers, the first husband of the second wife of my great-grandmother’s sister’s first husband. Got that? I’ll rewind and explain: my great-grandmother’s sister, Kate Bottomes, married a man named William H. Rardon in 1891. By the 1900 census, Kate was divorced from Mr. Rardon; he married Lillian Vestalina (Roberts) Rogers in 1908. In August 1912, Lillian Rardon got some very interesting news: her first husband, James Wood Rogers, had been killed by government soldiers in Belgian Congo, on 8 October 1911. Continue reading Skipped out

Hard to love

I want to love the husband of my favorite ancestor, Hepsibah, as much as I love her … but I can’t. When I first began researching George Athearn,[1] he seemed to be the very model of an eighteenth-century gentleman: a 1775 graduate of Harvard and judge of probate in his hometown. I was proud to have him as an ancestor, ecstatic to stay five nights in his former home, and diligent in finding out everything I could about him. Continue reading Hard to love

Genealogical lessons

A poster dated April 24, 1851, warning colored people in Boston to beware of authorities who acted as slave catchers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many genealogists will tell you that they get absorbed into the world of the ancestors they are researching. Often one can’t help but recreate their environment and the things they experienced while seeking out documents that help piece together that puzzle. Due to the nature of my work, for me this means coming face to face with the realities of slavery and colonization nearly every day.

Slavery research can be difficult logistically as I try to piece together the lives of ancestors where little documentation exists. The harder aspect of the work is emotional, particularly when it means going page by page through slavery registers of children to find an ancestor recorded among them. Regardless of the challenges, it is important work that has provided me with a much deeper understanding of our past as a nation and the continuing implications of that history on our present. Continue reading Genealogical lessons

Haitian ancestors

Telésforo Ramírez, son of Jacinto Peltan/Ramírez. Courtesy of nbaje.com

A few months ago I posted that, in tracing my wife’s ancestors, I had yet to find an ancestor who was born anywhere but in the Dominican Republic. This all changed within the last few days, thanks for a few detailed records, some very useful DNA matches, a detailed history of my mother-in-law’s hometown, and some luck! I now have three other places of birth for my wife’s ancestors, two within the Caribbean and one back to Europe – and not in Spain!

This started when I found the civil death record of my wife’s great-great-great-grandfather Jacinto Ramírez (1824–1910) of Santiago, Dominican Republic. This record not only listed Jacinto’s parents but also his place of birth, which was quite a surprise: Continue reading Haitian ancestors

2017: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about some of the most widely-read Vita Brevis posts of 2017. To mark the beginning of the next year, here are six more popular posts showcasing the range of subjects covered in a blog that publishes about 250 posts a year. (In fact, Vita Brevis marks its fourth birthday on January 10, and the blog’s one-thousandth post was published in November.)

In July, Michelle Doherty laid out a genealogical case usingCircumstantial evidence”: Continue reading 2017: the year in review concluded

2017: the year in review

As the old year winds down over the next few days, I hope that dedicated Vita Brevis readers will spare a few moments to (re)read some of the most popular posts of 2017. (The second part of this omnibus post will run on New Year’s Day 2018.) The following twelve posts have some of the highest page view counts of the year, but in fact Christopher C. Child should appear four times on this list – that is, one-third of the year’s most popular Vita Brevis posts belong to him. To mix things up a little, I have included other posts, so as to spread the authorial wealth: Chris, Michelle Doherty, and Jeff Record each have two posts here, one appearing today and the other on Monday. Continue reading 2017: the year in review

ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 February 2016.]

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

Updating an exhibit

Courtesy of Arlene Ovalle-Child

In 2010 I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. An exhibit that caught my eye was called Within these Walls, which told the stories of five families who lived in a house in Ipswich, Massachusetts for more than two centuries. The period covered ranges from the Choate family as American colonists in the 1750s to the Scott family during the Home Front of the 1940s. The second family covered, under the period of “Revolutionaries – 1777–1789,” was the Dodge family, under the heading “the Dodges and Chance.” The Dodge household included an African-American man named Chance, as noted in Abraham Dodge’s 1786 will, where Abraham left his wife Bethiah “all my Right to the Service of my Negro Man Chance.” At the time I saw this exhibit, that reference was essentially all the show’s curators knew about Chance. Continue reading Updating an exhibit