Tag Archives: African American Research

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

Strong emotions

Several weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance of mine, a man I will describe only as a prominent African American personality. Let’s call him Alex. He emailed to say he had read my book, The Stranger in My Genes, and he wanted to discuss something with me. Privately.

My book, published by NEHGS, tells the story of a DNA test I took to help a cousin with his genealogical research. The results were shocking. They revealed that my father was not my father. Since it was released in September of 2016, I have heard from dozens of people – friends and strangers – who have had similar experiences. I assumed Alex was only the latest. Continue reading Strong emotions

A pair of firsts

Bessie Coleman in 1922. Courtesy of Wikispaces.com

Recently, as I was browsing Google, I noticed their doodle for the day.[1] It was honoring Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, who was born 26 January 1892. She was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to receive her pilot’s license, and she was also the first person of African American and Native American descent to receive an international pilot’s license. Continue reading A pair of firsts

Remembering William Monroe Trotter

William Monroe Trotter

The documentary “Birth of a Movement” – which premiered on 30 January at the Somerville Theatre outside Boston, and airs nationally on PBS on Monday 6 February during African-American History Month – explores D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) through a modern lens. What caught my attention about the film is the documentary’s protagonist, famed civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934). Trotter lived nearly his entire life in Boston and founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper. He also established the Niagara Movement, in 1915, with fellow Massachusetts native W.E.B. DuBois, and participated in numerous other causes for civil rights until his death in 1934. Continue reading Remembering William Monroe Trotter