Tag Archives: Object Lessons

Finding the Amadons

The first round of cleaning.

Back in April I attended the biennial conference of the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) in Springfield, Massachusetts. Knowing that I had ancestors who lived in Springfield, I was excited about what I might find at the local repositories. I was not disappointed.

My first order of business was to find the graves of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Titus and Sabra (Gilbert) Amadon. Continue reading Finding the Amadons

Royal cartes de visite

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, from 1876 Empress of India (1819–1901), and Albert, Prince Consort of Great Britain (1819–1861).

As a collector of photographs, I am drawn to faces: the hints of personality in an unflinching gaze or a sidelong glance. Periodically I find myself haring off in a new direction, and this latest detour is perhaps unsurprising: I’ve started collecting royal cartes de visite, with a focus on the family of Queen Victoria and her -in-laws. (Just in time for the royal engagement, in fact!)

There is something pleasing about Queen Victoria and her family: it is large enough, complex enough, and far-flung enough to be a challenge. (I am still working on some of the sons- and daughters-in-law – I only just reached the full complement of Victoria’s nine children.) In these images, one can see the distinctive Hanoverian and Coburger physiognomies, as divided up between the offspring of Victoria and Albert. In the following images there is even the hint of the modern royal look, in Princess Louis of Hesse’s infant daughter, Victoria, later Princess of Battenberg and then Marchioness of Milford Haven – and the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite

The grafting trunk

The clickety-clack of my great-grandmother’s ‘old lady shoes’[1] resonated as I toddled after her down the narrow hallway to the old trunk. There, in that back bedroom she and I would sit in the dark brilliance of polished woods, with the old trunk somehow beckoning us as if the face of some minor deity or oracle. Indeed, my great-grandmother treated the old trunk as if it held all the wonders of the world, which, in many ways, it certainly did (and still does…). Continue reading The grafting trunk

‘There is no try’

Currier and Ives’ “The Road, Winter.”

As a family historian, you can’t help but love the holiday season. It’s a time for reconnecting with extended family, and an excellent opportunity to share everything that you have learned about your ancestral past. With a bit of tact, you can engage your relatives in genealogical discussions, coaxing out anecdotes that flesh out your research. To that end, I have assembled a list of some of my favorite holiday genealogy dos and don’ts. Continue reading ‘There is no try’

‘To have his family around him’

George H. Folger joins the holiday mix.

As a genealogist, I have so much to give thanks for. Soon after I started my genealogical quest, I discovered that the Nantucket Historical Association had correspondence from my great-great-great-grandfather[1] in their collections. Of course I was anxious to read it and asked for copies … not knowing that there were more than eighty letters, many of them comprising multiple pages!

It took a while to accustom myself to my ancestor’s writing, since he adopted a sort of modified scripto continua, with virtually no punctuation or capital letters at the start of sentences. Much of the correspondence was dry, relating to business transactions, but there were also many droll comments and insights into the character and activities of the extended family. Continue reading ‘To have his family around him’

Fadeaway

John Alfred Young (1890-1960), ca. 1935.

I’ve always wanted to know more about the life of my great-grandmother Opal Young (1895–1978). To do this, I decided to see what researching her siblings might reveal about her. By and large, information about her siblings has been limited to meager ‘raw data.’ An interesting exception to this has been the life of my great-grandmother’s brother John Alfred Young (1890–1960). He is called Johnnie on the back of this Hitchcock-like cameo – it is the only known photograph to show him.[1]

Johnnie Young came to California about the time his sister Opal did in the late 1920s. Their lives as children back in Kansas seems to have been pretty normal – other than there were a LOT of people living with them in the Young household.[2] Continue reading Fadeaway

Things lost and found

As a member of my local historic preservation commission, as well as my family’s de facto family historian and custodian of All Things Family Memorabilia, I often encounter the decision of what to preserve, what to donate or sell, and what to demolish. Historic preservation of buildings is a complex and sometimes contentious topic best left for other writers. But what about all those smaller treasures our ancestors left for us, assuming that we would value them, cherish them, and preserve them as they had (even if we don’t know what or who they are)? Continue reading Things lost and found

“Mother Cary”

“Mother Cary” (Betsey Swain Cary) as drawn in 1860 by David Hunter Strother under his nom de plume “Porte Crayon.”

A while back, I wrote about the hotel in Marshalltown, Iowa run by my great-great-great-grandparents, which I like to fantasize might have been called “Hotel California.” The Shaws were not the only branch of my family to provide public accommodations.

After her husband[1] died in China in 1812, Betsey (Swain) Cary[2] operated a hotel called Washington House on Nantucket’s Main Street; her lodging book is in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association, and lists guests from 1816 through 1829. On 22 August 1831, she sold Washington House to her brother-in-law, my great-great-great-great-grandfather,[3] who turned day-to-day operations over to the town sheriff, Elisha Starbuck.[4] Continue reading “Mother Cary”

Bone of my bones

My aunt, grandfather, and father at the grave of Simon Athearn.

We’ve just been through Halloween, All Souls Day, and Dia de los Muertos, when society in general gives thought to skeletons, graveyards, and spirits of the departed. But whereas most folks have now packed away their plastic tombstones and ghost lights, we genealogists continue to haunt cemeteries in search of historic graves, and track down strangers whose living flesh matches that of our dead ancestors.

Long before the secrets of DNA were unlocked, humans have sensed the power in otherwise lifeless bones. Traditional Polynesian culture speaks of mana – spiritual energy – residing in bones, and relics have been treasured for centuries as a way of coming close to the holiness of Christian saints. Even elephants are known to caress the tusks and bones of their dead, somehow able to recognize the remains of elephants they’ve known in life. Continue reading Bone of my bones

Family chronicles

George Anson Jewett’s NEHGS membership form.

Recently, Jennifer Jewett Dilley of Des Moines, Iowa, reached out to the Publications office at NEHGS to discuss permissions for a project. Jennifer explained that her father Gerald Anson Jewett Jr. is “92 years young,” and that they are writing a book that chronicles Gerald’s life and the times in which he lived. It currently stands at three hundred pages and is nearing completion. Jennifer mentioned that Gerald’s great-grandfather, George Anson Jewett, was a member of NEHGS many years ago. I wrote down his name and wondered if we’d be able to uncover anything of interest on George. Continue reading Family chronicles