Finding Eddie

One of the biggest challenges in my family tree has been discovering information about my maternal great-grandfather, Eddie Gail. I had no information on his parents, and I don’t think he had any siblings. I knew he was a jewelry engraver in New York City and married my great-grandmother Mollie Siegel. He was an immigrant, but my family wasn’t sure which country he was from. I met him on his 100th birthday – I wish now I had asked him questions before he passed away at 102, particularly about his parents. Continue reading Finding Eddie

The Jeffers Engine

The Jeffers Engine sits in the basement of Station 2 of the Woonsocket Fire Department, covered in dust and surrounded by workout equipment. Built by William Jeffers of Pawtucket, pulled first by hand, then by horse, and now missing its pump, the first steam fire engine the department purchased in 1872 is a far cry from the massive engines in the garage above.[1] Something in the large red wheels and the big dull water drum shares their spirit, though. It too once raced through the streets of Woonsocket towards scenes of danger, carrying fire fighters just as determined to save lives and livelihoods as those who serve today. Continue reading The Jeffers Engine

White bronze

During a walk in the historic cemetery in my town, I spied a headstone perched at the edge of one of the steep terraced slopes. It caught my attention not only because it seemed ready to topple over the edge, but also because it was different: it appeared to glow with a bluish color in the spring sunlight. With a kind of eagerness, I suspected that it might be one of the “trendy” monuments that I had read about and that had had a brief popularity during the Victorian Era.

I made my way up the hill, reached the monument, and proceeded to apply the proof test by knocking on the surface (hoping and praying that no one would knock back!) and, indeed, it was hollow. I had found, quite inadvertently, my first example of a grave marker made of cast zinc. Continue reading White bronze

Title trouble

Punch cartoon from 1917. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The birth of Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth great-grandchild – the first child of HRH Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex,[1] and the former Meghan Markle – offers a 2019 gloss on names and titles in the British royal family.

During the First World War, the rulers of Germany and Great Britain were first cousins – and King George V of Great Britain had no agreed-upon surname. Whatever the family name was, it was German. This situation led to a wholesale renaming of the royal family (as the House of Windsor) and the ceding of assorted German titles for equivalents in the British peerage system. Continue reading Title trouble

Ease of use

In my work on the current “Watertown Cluster” for the Early New England Families Study Project, I am getting a heavy refresher course in the records of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In the olden days, I would get on the Green Line and go to the Middlesex County Court House in Cambridge to access probate records. Today, I find online access is both a blessing and a curse.

AmericanAncestors.org has images of Middlesex County probate files, but in my search on William Parry/Perry of Watertown, I found that the image of his original will from these files is indecipherable (to me, at least).[1] In such cases, the next step is to access the copy book versions of the records, images of which are accessible on FamilySearch.org.[2] Continue reading Ease of use

Genealogical instincts

Over time and practice a family historian develops an instinct for when a recorded fact does not make sense. The following examples may serve as illustrations of genealogy as more art than science.

Thirty-seven years ago, my uncle-by-marriage, Bill Shea, made an ancestral pilgrimage to Ireland in pursuit of his County Cork great-grandparents, Dennis Shea and Eva Bard. He did not find them. Later I commented to Bill that Eva Bard was not an Irish name and seemed an unlikely match with Dennis Shea in Catholic Ireland during the last third of the nineteenth century. “How do you know her name was Eva Bard?” He replied, “That’s the name of the mother on grandfather’s death certificate.” Continue reading Genealogical instincts

Passing the torch

Portland’s current mayor, Ted Wheeler, poses with our former principal. During senior year, Ted served as class president and I as class historian, so I guess we both ran true to form!

I recently attended a gala celebrating the 150th anniversary of my high school in Portland, Oregon. When I was a student there, and even at its 125th anniversary, Lincoln was billed as the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi. However, it turns out that Lowell High School in San Francisco (presumed to be private because it’s open to only a few select students, like Boston Latin) was actually the first. Curiously enough, both schools use the colors red and white; they share the cardinal as mascot. This coincidence is even stranger when one considers that zero cardinals live on the West Coast! Continue reading Passing the torch

Miniature works of art

Richard Bowers Oliver

Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.

Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office.[1] While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit. Continue reading Miniature works of art

Popham’s promise

The John Hunt map. Courtesy of canadianhistoryworkshop at WordPress

When I was a child, my mother and grandmother enjoyed taking me and my siblings to Fort Popham and Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, Maine. We loved exploring the Civil War-era fort, combing the beach for sea glass and shells, and ending the day with a visit to a candy shop along the way home for glittery rock candy on a stick. As a child, the 100+-year-old Fort Popham appeared to be ANCIENT. But lying-in-wait several hundred feet away was the long-forgotten and soon-to-be-rediscovered 412-year-old Popham Colony of 1607. Continue reading Popham’s promise

Dom Vitale’s war

Some of Dom Vitale’s fellow soldiers.

Last year, while going through boxes of old photos at my dad’s house, we came across a plastic bag containing hundreds of photos taken by my great-uncle Dominic Vitale during the Second World War. The photos were curled and disorganized, but on the backs of many of the photos Uncle Dom had written the names of his buddies who were in the photos, as well as dates, locations, and the names of their hometowns. I took the photos home with me, hoping to find a way to organize them electronically and eventually find relatives of his army buddies who would appreciate seeing them. Continue reading Dom Vitale’s war