Tag Archives: Family stories

Of books and alligator lizards

In my capacity as college and career coordinator at my local high school, I recently attended a breakfast hosted by CalTech, Pomona, Yale, and MIT. I got lots of great information for my students, but I especially enjoyed it because I have connections (however slight) to each of these institutions.

Not long after I arrived in England following my own college graduation, a handsome young man and I exchanged glances on a train between Bath and London. We weren’t able to actually speak until we disembarked from the train, when I discovered that Hugh (the only name I learned) was going to begin doctoral studies at CalTech in two weeks. Who knows? If not for his imminent departure, he might have become my husband and the father of my children. Continue reading Of books and alligator lizards

A circus family, part two

The 1870 census, showing a Caron household in Connecticut.

The weekend after my blog post was published in July, I sat down at my kitchen table and knocked down that brick wall. Welcome to part two of my quest to uncover my ‘circus family.’

I joined a website called Genealogy Quebec (https://www.genealogiequebec.com/en) on the recommendation of a co-worker and dedicated a rainy Saturday to my search. I started with the information about which I was confident: my great-grandmother Nora Caron’s birth and death certificate listed her parents as “Alphonse Caron” and “Mathilda Gauthier.” Continue reading A circus family, part two

War stories

Jerry and Merry Athearn and their friends on board the S.S. President Grant.

A previous Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] went to sea after college and eventually became a station master for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. It concluded with my family dropped off in Gladstone, Australia, after being evacuated from Noumea, New Caledonia, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At least a couple of folks wondered what happened to them after that, so here’s the rest of the story, plus a contemporary epilogue. Continue reading War stories

Dead Fred

Fred and Nellie Hayward

Many of our long-sought ancestors remain elusive despite our best efforts to find their hiding places, creating those inevitable brick walls. “Usually if the spirits want you to find something, you do. And if they don’t want you to find something, they don’t let you into the secret. Trust me.”[1]

One such “spirit” is my father’s step-grandfather, Fred A. Hayward.

Born in Vassalboro, Maine about 1860, one of six children of William C. and Margaret Fletcher (Lynn) Hayward, Fred in 1903 married my widowed great-grandmother Nellie (Ellen Frances Cony Church) as her second husband. I know little about Fred, and most of what I know I draw from what Fred left behind. Continue reading Dead Fred

A man of information

The forged baptismal record for John Shipway in Charfield.

On 31 May 1619 John Shipway, the son of John Shipway, was baptized in Charfield in  Gloucestershire.[1] Or so it the record shows. However, in 1897, this record was found to be part of an elaborate fraud which ultimately resulted in the desecration of several historical relics, one unfortunate death, and a three-year prison sentence for its perpetrator. Continue reading A man of information

An ancestral secret

Nancy Dickerson Welch

A recent quiz in The Weekly Genealogist asked readers to share the nature of any secrets they’d uncovered about their ancestors. More than one third of respondents indicated that they had not uncovered any secrets – to which I say, “Hah! You just haven’t discovered them!” Of those who had uncovered ancestral secrets, the greatest number had to do with hidden marriages.

I suspect that most hidden marriages have been contracted by relatives who might be characterized as “the usual suspects”: those folks in every family who provide a long list of colorful anecdotes. Continue reading An ancestral secret

A tale of two Ogles

Mary Elizabeth (Kraus) Ogle (1886-1970)

There is a remote area in the study of family history. Some will call it a myth, or say it has no proper place in the field of study. It hides from anyone who would study it like a registrar, and rarely cloaks itself in any vital records. I’ve taken to calling it existential genealogy, and while hardly essential, I believe it is something all of us who study or experience family history encounter from time to time.[1]

As a young boy there was no one more revered in my family than my great-grandmother “Mrs. Ogle.” You may have heard me mention her before – with deference being given to her feelings concerning my grandmother’s adoption.[2] Continue reading A tale of two Ogles

‘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’

Frozen gold

During a recent reorganization effort of my squirrel files, those slightly more organized companions to my squirrel bins, I came across newspaper clippings entitled “Frozen Gold.” The title probably caught my eye because of all the things I’ve found in My Old House, gold is not one of them (not even one measly coin).

However, this frozen gold referred to ice blocks, those huge chunks necessary for the true “ice boxes” of early refrigeration days. Ice harvesting was once big industry on the Kennebec River in Maine, as I discovered by reading old newspaper clippings liberated from my files. Continue reading Frozen gold