Tag Archives: Family stories

I left my ship in San Francisco

My lovely step-mother, Joanne Athearn, checking out the diorama of the Niantic in her beached state.

In my last post for Vita Brevis, I shared a picture of “Cleaveland House” on Martha’s Vineyard, which is currently owned and inhabited by a direct descendant of James Athearn, the man who built it. One reader asked, “How did ‘Cleaveland House’ get its name? Is there any association with the descendants of Massachusetts Colonist Moses1 Cleveland?”

The house is named for Athearn’s great-great-grandson, Capt. James Cleaveland, who bought the house about a century after its construction and substantially renovated it. Its next major renovation came about a century after that, when it finally acquired modern amenities such as indoor plumbing! Continue reading I left my ship in San Francisco

A hint of Rosemary

She was just a little tyke, picture perfect really, her arms draped around a sheepish grandpa’s neck and shoulders. The only clue I had as to who she might be was in her name, Rosemary, penned out along with that of “Grandpa” in stylish ink beneath the old photograph. She and Grandpa (or rather a grainy picture of the same …) arrived in my mail box all the way from Alexandria a few weeks ago.

I didn’t start out looking for Rosemary, and I really wasn’t too sure who “Grandpa” was, either, but the more I looked at their picture, the more they seemed to be calling out to me. I was pretty sure I’d never “met” Rosemary before in the family tree – and I definitely needed to back track a bit on figuring out just who “Grandpa” was. However, like most of us who do family history, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to let it go. There seemed a reason for Rosemary to be looking at me from that old picture – and it was going to bug me until I found out just who she was. Continue reading A hint of Rosemary

A-hunting we will go

For the most part, my ancestors travelled very little, inclined to stay on home ground, at home or on the farm. I’ve discovered, however, that as recreational travel became easier, some of my ancestors “went up country.”

Out of my squirrel bins came a large album clearly entitled “Illustrated Postcards.” At first I assumed it was nothing more than a collection of vintage postcards. Indeed it is that, but it is also a travel history, a list of friends and relatives, and at the very least an indication that my family members were all literate. Continue reading A-hunting we will go

Unforgettable

Yvonne Guerry at Huntington Beach, California, in October 2016.

Her gaze, somewhere between curious and indifferent, held me. Almost unable to breathe, I crisscrossed her Great Room, hoping against hope for the slightest glimpse of my once-alert mother. I had hurried to see her, and then as now, I believed there must be some sort of a magic spell that would bring her back to us, back from the prison of Alzheimer’s, and from the world of all things forgotten. Why hadn’t she taught me that spell? (Or had she?)

She’d always glowed whenever I discovered even the slightest bit of our family’s history, saying to me, “Oh, my, look at all you have learned…” So I had to believe that the cure for this, the cure to return all things unforgettable, had to be hidden away, recorded in an old family history book and just waiting to be discovered. You know, as if from a perfect Book of Spells, the cure called out to me, as if to say… Continue reading Unforgettable

‘That beacon’

Courtesy of pittsburgksmemories.com

When the money Fred had earned on the tanker Gulf King ran out, he started hanging around the hiring hall in Port Arthur, Texas, to find another ship that was sailing to someplace more exotic than Jacksonville, Florida. In the spring of 1923, however, jobs on board the Texas and Gulf Oil Companies’ ships were scarce. Fred met another out-of-work seamen named Jim who was headed back home to Denver. This piqued Fred’s interest, since Fred was born in Colorado, so he decided to tag along. Jim explained that with no money, the way to go was to hitch a ride on a freight train. Continue reading ‘That beacon’

Humoresque

Jack Record and Katheryn Ogle in Kansas, 1934: Two sensible people.

Lately, it seems like I can’t catch a break! You see, I’ve been trying to put some good old-fashioned humor back into my life – without much success. Finding humor (or laughter) these days seems to take a whole lot of effort – and an even bigger dose of understanding. It’s as if the world has become filled with folks who are afraid to, you know … smile. I just don’t get it, as I’m pretty sure we were all schooled that facing the world each day with a smile makes the world a better place, right? Because of this, I’ve started to wonder about the ancestral origins of my own tomfoolery – and if any sense of humor isn’t “relative” after all.

Now, I can’t pretend to know the history or psychology behind humor or laughter. But it sure does function differently for each of us. Take the other day, for example. Continue reading Humoresque

Contact those cousins!

NEHGS president Brenton Simons recently proposed an “Ancestral Gallery” – a series of paired portraits of staff members with their ancestors and relatives, to hang in the building’s staircase. Jean Powers coordinated the effort with staff members who could contribute pictures for the first exhibit. The gallery debuted before our recent annual meeting. I was one of the staff who contributed a picture of an ancestor, and so for these last few weeks I have seen a large picture of myself next to my ancestor, followed by several colleagues, on my way up the stairs! The exercise was also another great example of reaching out to local organizations and distant relatives for material. Continue reading Contact those cousins!

Genealogical healing

Catherine Dunn Parsons at her grandson’s wedding, 1999.

Among the emotions experienced at the conclusion of a genealogical investigation – surprise, satisfaction, pride, shock, joy, bewilderment – healing ranks high on my list. Almost 20 years ago, my friend Nancy Parsons Crandall asked me to prepare a family genealogy as a wedding gift to her son.

Nancy grew up with little family information of any kind. Three of her grandparents – two in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and one in Rutland, Vermont – died within a month of one another during the flu epidemic of 1918. Continue reading Genealogical healing

‘He thinks we’re his crew’

As I wrote in A Telluride story,  my maternal grandmother Thelma and great-uncle Frederick MacLean were orphaned at ages 3 and 1, respectively, when their parents died six months apart in 1905–6. Their father’s unmarried sister, Cape Breton-born Christine MacLean, brought the children from Telluride, Colorado, to raise them in Boston.

Great-Uncle Fred married four times to three women but never had any children. Perhaps that’s why he was very close to his sister Thelma’s four children: my mother Thelma Jr., her two sisters, and their baby brother, Andrew Jr. Fred’s poor marital track record may have been the result of his career choice. According to his official American Export Lines work record, between 1937 and his retirement in 1968 he spent an average of 38 weeks a year away from home. He also kept a list of the forty-seven countries on six of seven continents that he visited over the course of his career. Continue reading ‘He thinks we’re his crew’

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