Contact those cousins!

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.

Elizabeth is the earliest ancestor for whom I have found a photograph.

The ancestor I picked was my great-great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth (Eaton) Larned (1790–1890) of Dudley, Massachusetts, the last centenarian in my family. I had acquired a scanned photograph of hers as a result of my challenge of finding family photos a few years ago, after contacting local historical societies in my great-grandmother’s hometown of Dudley. While not the oldest ancestral photograph (this was taken around 1890, just before she turned 100), Elizabeth is the earliest ancestor for whom I have found a photograph. (Earlier photographs are of ancestors born after 1790, but taken in the 1840s and ’50s.)

The problem was that the photograph needed to be at a higher resolution than the image I could provide. I contacted Linda Braniff, who had kindly e-mailed the photograph three years ago. She told me the picture was sent to her by Gregg Estabrook in Ohio, who I then e-mailed and left my phone number. He called me the same day.

Gregg turned out to be my father’s fourth cousin: I descend from Elizabeth’s eldest son Thomas, while Gregg descends from her eldest surviving daughter (also named Elizabeth). Gregg and my father even shared a small amount of DNA, as they showed up as a match on AncestryDNA, with a predicted kinship of …. fourth cousins! Gregg had a lot of family photographs, many of which were scanned on his Ancestry Tree. Sure enough, he was able to send me a high resolution of our common ancestor Elizabeth, but he also sent me the back, which identifies the photographer in neighboring Webster, Massachusetts (which happens to be where my parents live today).

He also sent me a bonus picture, of spectacles belonging to Elizabeth’s husband – my great-great-great-great-grandfather Colonel Morris Larned (1786–1878). I was quite pleased indeed. I of course shared my genealogical research on our common ancestors with Gregg as well.

Our last common ancestors – Morris and Elizabeth – were born just before and during the administration of George Washington! Yet thanks to making contact with a fourth cousin once removed, and several states away, I now have pictures of two artifacts to remember them!

Gregg wanted to add: “I was fortunate enough to have inherited tons of pictures and family history information. I haven’t had to do a lot of traditional research, because so much was handed to me already documented. Unfortunately, often times when people get this sort of information, if no one at that time is interested in being caretaker, it all goes to the scrap heap.

“Thanks to the World Wide Web, commercial companies like Ancestry, and now public resources like AmericanAncestors.org, there is a venue for sharing this information with others, whether distant cousins or generations yet to come who may find it interesting. Your story is just one example.  I would encourage anyone else who finds themselves inheriting this type of information to make it publicly available, as you never know who may benefit from it.“

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About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

7 thoughts on “Contact those cousins!

  1. Oh surely not the Scrapheap, there are so many depositories for all this inheritance that the scrapheap shouldn’t even be a thought. It is up to us to make sure our children and grandchildren know where it should go, some I am taking care to see that a Historical Library already has some of it!

  2. We have all been discussed getting in contacting contacting relatives even fourth, fifth, and later degrees. Sometimes they have information on our direct ancestors that are direct cousins to not have

  3. Brenton looks quite similar to his handsome ancestor! It is so wonderful to be able to see the similarities across generations. Fortunately I have been blessed as the keeper of most of our family’s vintage photographs, albums, scrapbooks, and even a handmade quilt that I treasure. Posting the family’s photos online is so rewarding because actually seeing an ancestor’s face really brings that person to life as you learn more about the milestones in his or her life.

  4. Do you have your ancestors in a searchable database? Is that how you’re able to identify centenarians, oldest centenarian, etc. I’d love the ability to pull up a list of people who lived in a particular place, at any time, for example, but can’t figure out how to accomplish that.

    1. I know that you can search within the more recent versions of Family Tree Maker software by location of your ancestors that is within their profiles. Hope that helps!

  5. Speaking of Dudleys, I thought that I remember seeing a portrait of Anne Dudley Bradstreet hanging in the 6th floor reading room above the fireplace. And the other portrait was Edward Rawson. This would have been in the 1970s. Has my memory failed me or is this correct? And where is her portrait now?

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