Over the holiday weekend I have been going through my mother’s calendar diaries. The earliest I have (right now; I’m sure there are more hidden in boxes, although earlier years may not be in calendar books) begin with 1967 and end in 1992. That was when she was first diagnosed with “mild Alzheimer’s Disease.” It is sad to watch her entries in the late 1980s become confused and tail off, but it is heart-warming for me to read her earlier entries, when the voice of the mother I knew was strong.
One thing that popped out was her referring to me as “Lish.” This was my parents’ nickname for me, pronounced “Leesh” and taken from the family pronunciation of “Aleesha.” (The one person who gets away with calling me “Alisha” is Gary Boyd Roberts.) Continue reading My mother’s voice→
Lately, it seems like I can’t catch a break! You see, I’ve been trying to put some good old-fashioned humor back into my life – without much success. Finding humor (or laughter) these days seems to take a whole lot of effort – and an even bigger dose of understanding. It’s as if the world has become filled with folks who are afraid to, you know … smile. I just don’t get it, as I’m pretty sure we were all schooled that facing the world each day with a smile makes the world a better place, right? Because of this, I’ve started to wonder about the ancestral origins of my own tomfoolery – and if any sense of humor isn’t “relative” after all.
Now, I can’t pretend to know the history or psychology behind humor or laughter. But it sure does function differently for each of us. Take the other day, for example. Continue reading Humoresque→
NEHGS president Brenton Simons recently proposed an “Ancestral Gallery” – a series of paired portraits of staff members with their ancestors and relatives, to hang in the building’s staircase. Jean Powers coordinated the effort with staff members who could contribute pictures for the first exhibit. The gallery debuted before our recent annual meeting. I was one of the staff who contributed a picture of an ancestor, and so for these last few weeks I have seen a large picture of myself next to my ancestor, followed by several colleagues, on my way up the stairs! The exercise was also another great example of reaching out to local organizations and distant relatives for material. Continue reading Contact those cousins!→
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→
Clarence Almon Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 is a wonderful guide to material in published genealogies and articles at the NEHGS library. Often the entries have dozens of citations to sources. There are other entries, however, that are really short, such as:
CUTTING, John Jr. & _____ _____ (had dau Mary); bef 1642
This type of entry can derive from a birth record for a child, but the citation to the child’s birth should be included. Where did Torrey find information on a John Cutting Jr. who married an unknown woman before 1642 and had a daughter Mary. And “grrrr”: why didn’t Torrey give a citation? Continue reading Too young→
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→
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’→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 9 September 2016.]
One of the trends in my ancestry is the curious one whereby, when given the choice between staying in a locale or moving on, my nineteenth-century forebears often remained behind as other relatives ventured further west. One of the sadder family stories is covered in the 1999 book Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California, by Albert L. Hurtado, and concerns my great-great-great-uncle John Henry Beeckman (1818–1850).
Uncle John was the eldest son of Henry Beeckman and Catherine McPhaedris Livingston, and the family was a prosperous one in the days before the Civil War. That they were socially acceptable to New Yorkers and Virginians alike is suggested by the fact that John H. Beeckman married Margaret Gardiner in 1848 at the Virginia plantation of the bride’s brother-in-law, former President John Tyler. Still, John Beeckman was a young man, fired up by the discovery of gold in California, and in 1849 he left bride and newborn son to travel west. Continue reading ICYMI: Lost generations→
A recent review of my ancestral royal lines has suggested that they are all, in one way or another, problematic – either the line breaks here, in America, or there, in the British Isles. One approach I’ve tried, in a desultory way, is to look at all the lines around the desired royal one, creating an ancestor table (or ahnentafel) to manage the information (and keep me honest!).
I am a descendant of Robert Livingston, the first Lord of Livingston Manor (1654–1728), whose rank as a patroon testifies to his success as a land speculator in the Colony of New York. In roughing out an ancestor table for Robert, I was struck anew by the way even well-to-do families with property to inherit seem so often to lack agreed-upon pedigrees supported by contemporary records. Continue reading A superfluity of Hamiltons→
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→