Tag Archives: Spotlight

Long Island puzzles

I have been struggling with the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Thomas Cornish of Gloucester, Mass.; Exeter, N.H.; and Newtown, Long Island. While there are half a dozen published accounts on the family, or various parts of it, they disagree on almost everything.

Some accounts claim that Thomas had children who remained in New England; others point to evidence the Cornishes were in New York and New Jersey. Some accounts include a daughter Martha who married consecutively to Francis Swain and Caleb Leverich. Continue reading Long Island puzzles

ICYMI: Shorthand systems

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 October 2016.]

From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading ICYMI: Shorthand systems

Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

With Mother’s Day last Sunday and the wedding tomorrow of Miss Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales, I thought I would write a post on some of her maternal ancestors. Often on Mother’s Day, genealogists consider their matrilineal ancestry as a way to honor their female ancestors.

The chronology of Meghan’s maternal grandmother was a challenging one. Reflecting modern life, over the course of a few generations women were married multiple times; sometimes their daughters’ surnames changed to those of their stepfather (sometimes much later in life!), and mothers’ maiden surnames were sometimes listed under their mothers’ later husbands’ names. I have summarized the line below with the relevant facts and sources. All ancestors are listed as black on the records when asked. The earliest generations of this family would have been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. Continue reading Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Assessment

Do we really need to assess all the published resources we use in our genealogical research? It obviously takes time and effort to consider even the ten categories we are using for this experiment in “scoring” genealogies, not to mention that assigning numbers to subjective criteria is tricky. In the end, however, the exercise does give us a way to compare the enormously disparate genealogical sources we use. Our two test subjects – The Phelps Family of America and The Bulkeley Genealogy – are similar, yet they scored very differently. From a maximum score of 100, The Phelps Family eked out a 40, while The Bulkeley Genealogy nearly topped the chart with 90. Continue reading Assessment

A decade of growth: technology

In the seventh floor reading room in 2012.

When it comes to technology, change comes quickly. In one decade, devices can transform almost beyond prediction. Back in April 2008, I could not have foreseen how technological advances would transform NEHGS.

Many advances came before my time. As Brenton summarizes: “We’d had a website since ’96, but it was a billboard. And in 2000, we launched the first searchable website, which had the Register on it.” Continue reading A decade of growth: technology

A decade of growth: content

With Judy Lucey on Free Fun Friday in 2013, working in a space that is now shared with the Society’s Jewish Heritage Center.

In addition to laying foundations for progress, over the past ten years NEHGS has greatly increased an already-impressive collection. Better still, we now find it much easier to access vast quantities of content.

When I first volunteered at NEHGS in 2006, its new leader, D. Brenton Simons, reached out to NEHGS members. “In my new role as president, I ask for your help in expanding our collections and increasing donor support in order to preserve our invaluable holdings. Together we can move our remarkable institution forward while still valuing our great traditions.”[1] Within the year, NEHGS launched Preserving New England’s Records: An Initiative for Family and Local History, and its goal has been to gather additional and varied materials for the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.[2] We still have a vibrant collecting program, and you can learn more about donating here. Continue reading A decade of growth: content

A decade of growth: foundations

The author in 2009.

As genealogists spending time researching our ancestors’ lives, we often overlook our personal histories. Having this tendency myself, I now make a point of celebrating significant anniversaries by reflecting on the relevant years. This month marks my tenth anniversary as a full-time employee at NEHGS. Over the past decade, I have experienced first-hand the great march of progress here at NEHGS, but until I spoke with D. Brenton Simons, President and CEO, I had not realized just how closely our institution’s evolutionary waves coincided with my personal growth here. Continue reading A decade of growth: foundations

Academic genealogy

Photos of Norbert Wiener courtesy of the MIT Museum (webmuseum.mit.edu)

Shortly before my retirement as a computer science professor, one of my master’s degree students asked me for my academic genealogy, intending to attach himself at the end of it. I had not heard of the concept of an academic genealogy before then, but I was immediately intrigued and started tracing mine.

An academic genealogy is a sequence of advisor-advisee relationships, usually (in modern times) a sequence of PhD dissertation advisor-advisee relationships. A person with a PhD may have only one advisor (analogous to a parent in a biological genealogy) or two co-advisors. It is even possible that a PhD holder would have three “parents”; perhaps, for example, there were initially two co-advisors, but one of them died and was replaced by a third faculty member. Continue reading Academic genealogy

Pulling it all together

Over the past weeks I have been defining 10 categories to use when assessing the value, or lack thereof, of a genealogy. The question is not “Where do I find a list of the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ genealogies,” but “How do I judge whether a genealogy is good or bad?” For the experiment, I am assigning a maximum of 10 points per category with the idea of coming up with numbers that may allow us to compare thousands of genealogies. This is purely my subjective opinion, of course, and numbers by themselves have little meaning without the reasoning behind them, which is why I have included a good deal of reasoning in the examples below – which means it will take me several posts to complete my report. Continue reading Pulling it all together

Completeness and restraint

It is one thing for the author of a genealogy to have the goal (or scope) of publishing everything about all the descendants of [blank], and a much, much different thing to achieve that goal.

Clearly, there is no such thing as “everything” and “all.” The author has to decide what information she wants (or is able) to include, how much detail of that information to provide, and whether the same standard will be applied to everyone. Does the standard go beyond names, dates, and places? Are probates, land and church records, gravestones, obituaries, pensions, census records, and the like provided in detail when available? How exhaustive has the search for these facts been? Continue reading Completeness and restraint