Tag Archives: Road Trips

A desirable residence

“Cleaveland House,” built for James Athearn and inhabited by George and Hepsibah (Hussey) Athearn.

Don’t you love how certain themes seem to pop up and swirl around all at one time? The very definition of serendipity! A couple of days ago, while reading an article online about a completely different topic, my eye spied an article titled “Slave trader’s home, slum, des res: the stories of one house raise restless ghosts.”[1]

I’ll bet that most family historians would be interested in this article – as well as the television mini-series it describes, which is sadly not generally available to American viewers. For me personally, the title immediately put me in mind of my ancestor George Athearn, although in this particular case the “slave trader” turned out to have been a Victorian trader of cotton produced by slaves. Continue reading A desirable residence

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

James O’Neil revisited

Note that Patrick J. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, appears two lines above James O’Neil’s entry; both men are listed at 23 Border Street.

Over a year ago I wrote a Vita Brevis post about my great-great-great-grandfather, James O’Neil, who successfully sued the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, for the wrongful death of his daughter, Emily O’Neil. I had only recently learned that James had three children in Vermont before moving to Boston in the early 1870s: Mary Ellen (1864), Arthur Michael (1866), and Emily Ann (1867). Continue reading James O’Neil revisited

A treasure indeed

On the list of books of which you have probably never heard is Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England…, originally published in 1702.[1] Roughly translated as The Glorious Works of Christ in America, it might not sound all that interesting and certainly doesn’t sound like a genealogical resource, but it really is a rich treasure of biographical information for early New England ministers.

The Rev. John Ward (1606–1693) of Haverhill, Massachusetts,[2] who was in New England by 1639, was the son of Great Migration immigant Rev. Nathaniel Ward, who arrived with some of his family in New England in 1634.[3] Continue reading A treasure indeed

‘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’

Kilauea days

A luridly-tinted photograph taken by Oscar McBride in October 1918 – almost exactly a century ago.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was talking with a young woman at the school where I work, she mentioned that she had lived on the Big Island of Hawaii until last year. In fact, her home was in Leilani Estates, where Kilauea volcano is now pumping out fountains of molten lava! I have relatives who currently live on the island (many miles to the north), but the family member I most connect with Kilauea is my great-great-uncle, Oscar McBride: my mother’s father’s mother’s brother.

During the First World War, Uncle Oscar traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. I knew that somewhere I had a postcard toasted by him at Kilauea – toasting postcards over volcanoes evidently being a popular pastime in those days. Continue reading Kilauea days

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’

Wild honey

Burlington County Hospital for the Insane, Pemberton Township, Community of New Lisbon, New Jersey. Courtesy of westjerseyhistory.org

His name, Asa Schooley, seemed to jump out at me. It was a name I hadn’t been searching for, but there he was in black and white newsprint, clinging to his little spot on the back page of time.[1] The details of how I got to Asa in the first place probably aren’t all that important, but suffice it to say I’d started out looking for someone else’s obituary – that of another Mr. Schooley.[2] But like the rest of us I’d found myself stumbling upon a “rabbit hole,” this particular one belonging to Asa. (I’m a bit embarrassed to tell you that I never did find the obit. I had been looking for.) Asa’s sad life, lacerated with circumstance, caught me off guard, prompting me to look further for facts and answers – a search with still much left to uncover. Continue reading Wild honey

‘Shivered into atoms’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The aftermath of the Civil War continued to affect Regina Shober Gray[1] and her family, sometimes in surprising ways. The question in October 1865 was how to provide for the family of the diarist’s mother-in-law’s Southern family, represented by her sister Eliza and sister-in-law Matilda Clay. Amid the worries about Lizzie Shober’s health and a neighbor’s accident, Mrs. Gray found solace in the “little stranger” expected by her friend Emily Curtis.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 15 October 1865: Aunt Eliza Clay[2] has accepted an invitation from Cousin Ann Wallace to spend the winter with them in Newark. Mrs. Clay[3] and her children will pass it in Savannah – Joe [Clay][4] will be married this fall and join his housekeeping to his mother, but what under the sun he has to be married on, is a puzzle. Their negroes are gone – the plantation they will probably recover, but the house and outbuildings are burned to the ground. Continue reading ‘Shivered into atoms’