The upcoming summer issue of the Mayflower Descendant includes an interesting article by Mark Wentling entitled “Joseph Brownell (1699-ca. 1773) of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and Little Compton, Rhode Island: Corrections to the Identities of His Wives and Children.” The article examines conflicting claims in past genealogical literature and goes through numerous contemporary sources to show that one Joseph Brownell, a fifth-generation descendant of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke, was married five times and had eight children by his first three wives.
The truth is, I’ve rewritten this post about five times. Who really wants to lead with an image of a German royal in official Nazi dress? What could a guy like this possibly have to say? Lately, though, I have been looking for something bigger in the “unusual connections” department. I’ve been wanting one of those Paul Harvey moments, in which a family connection leads you to a broader perspective on the world—something that reveals “the rest of the story.”1
Recently, while watching a randomly stumbled-upon TV program, I learned about diamonds stolen during World War II. These particular diamonds were purloined by American service personnel from members of German royalty with Nazi connections. The story piqued my interest, and I had to wonder—could I have any genealogical connection to this fairly recent history of stolen diamonds, some “likely Nazis,” and the German royal family? Continue reading A Kingdom of No Ends→
Not too long ago, I shared my experience of joining American Ancestors’ recent Scottish Heritage Tour. In that post I briefly introduced you to an intriguing ancestor of mine—John Lynch Breslin, Jr., who was imprisoned for attempted arson. Today I want to discuss how I discovered him, how I learned more about his story, and how I went about emotionally confronting such a noteworthy skeleton in my family’s closet.
It is important to acknowledge that understanding Scottish records is relatively straightforward, particularly from the 1800s onwards. Records are organized in a clear and manageable manner, including information such as register number, sex, admission date, prosecuting court, previous incarcerations, name, age, height, birthplace, current residence, occupation, health status, committed offence, trial date, conviction sentence, and release date. This absolute wealth of information can provide a comprehensive view of an individual—the depth of which I struggle to match for the non-criminal members of my family tree, which unfortunately includes many individuals who are remembered only by a series of names and dates.
I consider myself a west coast woman. Five of my great-grandparents were born on the west coast (three in Southern California, one in Oregon, and one in Washington). A sixth great-grandparent was born in Ohio, but moved to Southern California as a young boy. As for the final pair of great-grandparents, this year marks the centennial anniversary of their arrival on the West Coast…along with their six biological children, plus my great-grandmother’s first-cousin-once-removed, whom they took in during their first year of marriage.
Before moving to a farm outside The Dalles, Oregon in the fall of 1923, Mathias and Ellen (Litherland) Kortge had to sell their farm in Illinois, along with pretty much everything on it. They did this by having a public auction on Monday, August 27, 1923—exactly one hundred years ago today! I know this because they kept a copy of the advertising poster printed by the auctioneer. Continue reading A Family Auction One Hundred Years Ago Today→
Family history research gives us an opportunity to learn more about our ancestors’ experiences in their communities. The histories of buildings and institutions can help provide context for the lives of those who built and used them. When it comes to understanding the stories of Greek immigrants to United States, it can be helpful to turn to the histories of Greek Orthodox churches in America. Tracing the history of a Greek Orthodox church can help paint a picture of the activities of its individual parishioners and the community as whole.
Let’s look at the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Price, Carbon County, Utah as an example. Jobs in the coal mines attracted Greek men to Carbon County at the turn of the twentieth century. Helen Zeese Papanikolas, a Greek American historian and native of Carbon County, writes:
“The newest Greek arrivals heard of the coal mines in Carbon County and, by 1905, there were Greeks in Castle Gate, Spring Canyon, Hiawatha, Sunnyside, Black Hawk, Helper, Winter Quarters, Scofield, and Price. New coal veins were constantly being opened and the young Greeks wrote back to their villages that there was work for all in the mines.”1
This past May, I taught a class on 18th century Pennsylvania and highlighted some documents I had discovered for my Pennsylvania ancestors. As I prepared for the class, I reflected on one of the biggest brick walls I had encountered in my own family research, and thought about what advice I’d give to someone researching their own colonial ancestors. After looking back at my own challenges and triumphs, I came up with three recommendations: don’t trust family lore or uncited published genealogies, consider various spellings of the surname, and visit the local historical society.
For years and years, I tried to breakdown a brick wall that seemed to plague every descendant of my 6th great-grandfather William Ashton of Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A quote from one of the many compilations by his descendants had this to say about William and his ancestry:
“The first Ashton, in this country, of our family was neither banished for crime nor traded for tobacco, but belonged to one of the oldest titled families of England. He was, as I understand, disowned because he espoused the Quaker faith. This Ashton family were related to the Hutchinson’s of England, one of whom, Thomas Hutchinson, was colonial governor of Massachusetts.”
Hugh MacDiarmid, one of Scotland’s most successful modern-day poets, once described his home country as having “loose ends.” Scotland is, undeniably, a land steeped in legends, myths, and mysteries—from the enigmatic Loch Ness monster to the ancient marvel of the Ring of Brodgar. The allure of the unknown, these “loose ends,” as MacDiarmid put it, has always been an integral part of Scottish culture. As someone deeply rooted in Scottish ancestry, my admiration for the country my ancestors and I grew up in has been deepened even further by the aspects that have no concrete answers. Recently, I was invited on an insightful genealogy tour of Edinburgh organised by American Ancestors/NEHGS, allowing me to delve deeper into these mysteries and pursue my own family’s “loose ends” in Scotland.
We embarked on a genealogical journey through Scotland, focussing on tracing our tour members’ Scottish ancestors. We visited three national repositories: The National Records House which houses Scotland’s People Centre, the National Library of Scotland, and the Scottish Genealogical Society. Continue reading Tying Knots in the Loose Ends of Scotland→
I recently visited the Boston City Archives, located near the Charles River in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. The city archives house city departmental records, school records, city census records, jail records, and more. For anyone with ancestors who lived in Boston during and after the 19th century, it’s a valuable repository for in-depth research.
“For many years after this shipwreck, a man, of a very singular and frightful aspect, used, every spring and autumn, to be seen travelling on the Cape, who was supposed to have been one of Bellamy’s crew.” —B.A. Botkin, A Treasury of New England Folklore; Stories, Ballads, and Traditions of Yankee Folk
In April of 1717, the fleet of famed Golden Age pirate Samuel Bellamy was caught in a violent nor’easter off the coast of Cape Cod. Down went the fleet and its flagship, the Whydah Gally,into the depths of the Atlantic, along with its vast hoard of treasure, its captain, and all but a fewsurviving crew members. Though this intense pirate shipwreck is well documented in primary records, most notably by Cotton Mather, the sensational nature of the story of pirate captain Samuel Bellamy and the Whydah Gally eventually caused it to sink from realityinto the realm of legend.
Pirate stories capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. These tales of swashbucklers, buried treasure, violence, and adventure on the open ocean are told and retold time and time again—so much so that they often exist on the margins of fact and fiction. The story of the Whydah Gally and Samuel Bellamy is no exception. In the three centuries since, folktales and ghost stories of the shipwreck have sprung up all along the New England coast. In some, the story is framed as a tragic romance—in others, a tale of revenge. Many of these stories feature a wandering ghost searching the shoreline. Continue reading How a Pirate Shipwreck Near Cape Cod Became a Local Legend→
In 2017, my Uncle Lyman visited me in Northfield, Minnesota, while I was attending Carleton College. It was the summer before my junior year, and this was the first time anyone from my family had visited me on campus since freshman move-in day, so I was eager to give him the tour. Of course, the highlight of the tour was our walk around Lyman Lakes—two small, manmade lakes on the east side of campus. Lyman joked that they were named after him. It’s not the first time he’s made a similar joke—Lyman placenames tend to pop up everywhere we go. There’s a Lyman Lake in Washington, and a Lyman Lake State Park in Arizona. There are two Lyman ponds in Greater Boston, one of which is attached to the Lyman Estate in Waltham. When my uncle visits later this year, I’m sure we’ll visit both.
While these are just jokes, I have a feeling that there could be a touch of truth to them. If my uncle and I really have a familial connection to the picturesque lakes on my college campus, or the man who commissioned their construction, I’d like to know. A quick stop to my alma mater’s information page on the lakes supplied a good starting point for my research. The lakes were built around 1916-1917 in honor of George Huntington Lyman (1882-1902) of Minneapolis, Minnesota.1 A campus viewbook from 1926 named Lyman Lakes as the “George Huntington Lyman Memorial Lakes.”2Continue reading Yes, the Lakes are My Cousins→