Tag Archives: Object Lessons

ICYMI: A Bronx tale

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 August 2016.]

Boys playing stick ball. Photo courtesy of formerdays.com

My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading ICYMI: A Bronx tale

Blue moon rising

A blue moon rose for me two years ago, prompting me to write a post called “Once in a blue moon” about two serendipitous events. One instance concerned my research to find the full story of Kenneth Maurer’s 1951 axe murder of his family, an event which took place in my husband’s early childhood home just before his parents bought the property. The serendipity that led me to those details has again come knocking! Continue reading Blue moon rising

Hill country back roads

Hugo Cemetery

My grandmother, Marvalee, was born and raised on a South Texas dairy farm. Spending my summers with her growing up, she told me family stories of the hardships her family and ancestors endured while farming in the dry and hot Texas hill country.

In one tragic story, my great-great-grandparents, Thomas and Wilhelmina (Sachtleben) Black, faced the loss of two children consecutively. First, they lost 10-year-old Freddie to a rattlesnake bite in 1914 and, then, 14-year-old James to a ruptured appendix the following year. Thomas Black blamed himself for the death of his two sons and carried the guilt with him for the rest of his life. Continue reading Hill country back roads

Ancestral homes

Alumni Chapel of Wilbraham & Monson Academy, designed and built by Porter Cross.

I recently drove from Maryland to New England for a week of genealogical research with the NEHGS Research Tour in Hartford. I went up a day early to start my week with a day in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Porter Cross, had lived. What a day it was!

A year ago I discovered Porter Cross’ obituary while researching in the archives of the Museum of Springfield History. According to the obituary, Porter “was a trustee of Wesleyan academy at Wilbraham and while living in that town designed and constructed the Methodist memorial church.” Continue reading Ancestral homes

The diary in question

The Rev. Thomas Cary posed for this portrait by John Singleton Copley around 1770, shortly after he came into his inheritance. He is wearing a blue silk banyan, an “at home” garment popular with eighteenth-century gentlemen. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

When I attended a workshop in Seattle put on by NEHGS, Lindsay Fulton told attendees that one can often find useful genealogical tidbits in old diaries, especially those written by public figures in a community. She recommended searching for diaries of anyone who lived in locations your ancestors did, even if they’re apparently unrelated to your family. You might get lucky and read about births, weddings, and deaths – and perhaps even some juicy gossip – that can flesh out your family history.

If diaries belonging to total strangers can be useful, imagine the thrill I felt when I read in the “Weekly Genealogist” of 28 March that the diary of my (half) first cousin six times removed is now available online – digitally and in transcription – through AmericanAncestors.org![1] Of course I had to dive right in, even though I had taxes to do and a belated birthday present to sew for my husband.

The diary in question is actually many volumes stretching from 1762 to 1806, excepting the year 1777. Continue reading The diary in question

ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2016.]

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

Funny photos

There was no Vita Brevis post on April Fools’ Day this year since April 1st fell on Sunday, so I’m sharing some funny family pictures today.

The first photograph didn’t start off funny; in fact it’s a little sad due to its deteriorated condition. However, after some … shall we say “inexpert”? … photo restoration by a family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty), it has become hilarious!

I’m afraid that I don’t have a copy of the entire picture in its original state, but the first stage of editing gives a good idea of the unaltered condition. It depicts my husband’s great-grandparents, Joseph and Genevieve (Perone) Sciolaro, and their two oldest children, taken circa 1900 in Kansas City. Continue reading Funny photos

The original Lucy

Just when one thought we might be done with John and Lucy Lee…

When I began to research the life of John E. Lee, I was fortunate when a photograph surfaced purporting to be that of his wife, my great-great-grandmother Lucy Melinda (Nestle) Lee.[1] For me, a photograph of my primordial Lucy was a real prize. Hard to find, it was a photograph procured through more than just my own efforts, thanks to the amazing connections we all make with our distant cousins. Continue reading The original Lucy

Boomerang photos

I grew up with few pictures from my mother’s side of the family. Her parents, Emory Morse and Lois Rhodes, had been near-neighbors as children in Wareham, Massachusetts. They divorced when my mother was eight. Mother had no further contact with her father until she was 40.

After my mother’s college graduation, her mother and step-father, a teacher working for the U.S. State Department, announced they had accepted a three-year-assignment in Ethiopia. Mother declined the opportunity to go with them. Instead, she accepted her first job as a clinical instructor and moved into a small apartment. Her family home in Maywood, New Jersey, was rented, with all contents of the house placed in a storage warehouse. Three months later, the warehouse burned – a total loss. Continue reading Boomerang photos

‘Lovely lady’

Many posts ago, I bemoaned the fact that I had (and have) many photographs of unknown people, animals, and landscapes. I have always been lucky enough to have all these albums and bins, even if I can’t put names to faces, or labels to albums. I’ve learned a little about how to date clothing and surroundings, hairstyles and hats, and poses and props.

So it was with smug satisfaction and great glee years before reality set in that I retrieved a negative from its tightly curled state. Knowing who it was, I had it developed, and a safety negative prepared. Continue reading ‘Lovely lady’