A broadening education

When I was in school, I was better at English than math, but there were still a few sticky wickets I had to deal with. I could not spell. I missed the first day on “adverbs” and never caught up. I hated reading “essays.”

The “essay” is simply a “short piece of writing on a particular subject,” but as I remember it, we were assigned readings from men like Thoreau, Emerson, and Socrates which mostly just blew over my young teen-aged head. I vowed that whatever I did when I grew up, it would not involve writing essays.

Hmm. Well, when Scott Steward reminded me that we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Vita Brevis, I was rather startled to realize that I have been writing essays for five years. Many of these, of course, are on technical subjects having to do with genealogy, and, I hope, they have been helpful. However, the necessity of thinking up a new subject every week inevitably led to some essays that are more personal.

I have written about the deaths of my brother, nephew, and uncle (“Three Argonauts”), about my car-sick travels across the country with my parents (“Education by camper”), about my mother’s pre-Alzheimer diaries (“My mother’s voice”), about the short Facebook videos I have done on family heirlooms for my family (“Aunt Alicia’s videos”), and about “How I became a genealogist” (in three parts), among others. Fortunately, readers of Vita Brevis have received these digressions patiently, which is because I know that you know that genealogy is about people, family, and memories.

Essays, it turns out, are fun to write when the topic is near and dear to one’s heart. They are also fun to read when the topic is interesting to you, and the blessing of a blog like Vita Brevis is that one can simply skip ones in which one is not interested – far different from being assigned to read old men’s essays in school!

Essays, it turns out, are fun to write when the topic is near and dear to one’s heart. They are also fun to read when the topic is interesting to you…

Writing for Vita Brevis these past five years has also broadened my education. They say the best way to learn is to teach. “Teaching” was another thing I vowed not to do, along with “nursing” or being a “librarian” (those of you old enough will remember when that was about the sum-total of the approved paid jobs for women – my mother would have loved to have been a librarian, but she was told that was only for “old maids”). I chose secretary. In these past five years I have done more research than I ever did in my life to try to accurately document the information in my posts (yes, occasionally not entirely successfully). Time spent researching and learning is never wasted, however, so I will keep plugging away at it. Thanks for reading, if you do.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

46 thoughts on “A broadening education

  1. Alicia, you are my favorite read on Vita Brevis! An essay by any other name . . . .
    Being fraught with the over 50 crowd, the world of genealogy is filled with females taught that you can become a secretary, nurse or teacher until you become a wife/mother or a librarian or Catholic sister (as no man would ever have you anyway). I had three 1st grade teachers because the first 2 were (gasp!) pregnant. I loved the library and reading and, who knew, so do lawyers like me.

  2. Alicia, Happy New Year for 2019. You do know how to write a great essay and I feel you have given us a huge amount of great info, as well as LOVE over the years. You have done a great deal to advance our Historical Education. Thanks for so much kindness to all of us. Sincerely yours, Paul Morris Hilton

  3. I got a laugh when I read your post. I also can’t spell or like to write. However I loved math and went on to become a chemical engineer, graduating from Northeastern University. As you said this was not a field that women went into in the late 1950’s, there were only about five of us that graduated as women engineers in 1962. As you know, Northeastern is not a small school and there were a large number of men engineers that also graduated.
    Keep up the interesting essay writing which I enjoy very much.

    1. Nancy – I have a post elsewhere. I graduated from Lehigh University with a minor in math to go with my mechanical engineering degree.

    2. Your comment made me remember a folk song by Pete Seeger about a woman being told her career options. I don’t remember the precise lyrics, but it went something like, “But I want to be an engineer.” Good for you!

  4. I never miss an opportunity to read anything you’ve written. I learn something each time. Thanks for all your hard work. Happy researching in the new year.

  5. Alicia – Amen to those old men’s essays. I thoroughly disliked writing about why a certain word was used. But I loved to read history. Do you remember the Landmark books? And it took my five semesters to get through freshman English; some considered me an English major although my degree was in mechanical engineering.
    And thank you for your essays whether they were on family or technical subjects.

    1. Howland, I don’t remember the Landmark Books, but I did something similar to you in college, where I was majoring in Animal Industries. All of my electives were in English.

  6. I feel like we are kindred spirits, car-sickness, secretary, etc. Yours are my favorite posts and I never fail to miss them. Always learn something.

  7. I’m always pleased when I see that the blog for the day is one written by you. Not only do I enjoy your clear, concise writing style, but once in a while I get a new clue for my genealogy research since we share some long ago ancestors.

  8. Dear Alicia, All of the above and well written comments, share the feelings that I want to express. I look forward to your posts. You encouraged me about four years ago on my journey to my 10th great grandfather, John Alden. I was able to visit the NEHGS in October. What an amazing research center. Also visited the Alden House in Duxbury. Thank you for continuing your research and publications.
    Alden Cousin Judy in Minneapolis

  9. I’m with you on the spelling issue. I always was a “reader” and my vocabulary was way ahead of my age or education, but my spelling was a different matter. As my daughter became old enough to do crossword puzzles, I could supply the word but she would do the spelling. That way we could complete the puzzle.

    1. Ruth, I finally learned to spell once I started typing (way before Spell Check) because seeing the word in type, instead of my bad handwriting, I knew when it was wrong!

  10. I really enjoy your essays. My first job at age 13 was in a library (.35/hr) and it was like being set loose in a candy store. It gave me a love of research which eventually led me to geneaology. This blog is enjoyable because of the wide range of topics it provides without being overbearing. It is thought provoking. A simple comment triggers a memory and I am digging through memories of similar people, places or things. Thank you and all the other bloggers.

  11. I,too, look forward to your “essays” and the opportunities for learning from you as well as other Vita Brevis authors.

  12. Thanx for your opinion of being a librarian Alicia! 😉 Really though as a history major/librarian I find the hunt for the answers to people’s questions to be very similar to the hunt for the trail of an ancestor. I use many of the same skills. And especially curiosity. I enjoy your “essays” a lot. Keep it up

    1. Hey, Nancy, wasn’t MY opinion, was what my Mother was told, probably in the 1920s. When she was in her 60s she got to be a shelf reader at the St. Louis library and had a ball.

  13. Alicia, thank you for your “essays”! Family, stories, histories – that’s what we are about. To that trio mix, you engage us as we can tell you: love the journey, love the learning, and care deeply about the people you write about. That’s a wonderful mix for your readers. Thank you!

  14. Thank you for the past five years of essays. I look forward to more of your research-related articles. “how you found stuff”

  15. Alice,
    I love your essays. One of the most remembered fact about you though was your time with keeping track of horse pedigrees. Wouldn’t genealogy be so much easier if we all were required to have a pedigree? Keep on writing and researching.

    1. Polly, thank you. The reason the horses are so easy to keep track of, however, is because the Stud Book was “closed” several hundred years ago and every horse today has to be descended from a horse in the Stud Book, who were all descended from three foundation Studs a few hundred years before! That results in common, acceptable and encouraged inbreeding to the 4th and 5th generations!

  16. Alicia, my sister and I have been doing much research recently, through the many internet websites and Ancestry.com. We are now convinced that John and Priscilla Alden would be our 9th generation Great-grandparents through Mary Alden(Thomas), granddaughter of Joseph and Mary Alden( Simmons). I just happened to come across this page and am trying to establish our new-found lineage. I would be very grateful for any information to help us along in our quest. We have accessed multiple Birth/death– DNA,.. Baptism and Census data to help verify our findings….. Mary Alden married- Noah… daughter, Fear Thomas married-Samuel Shaw, son, William Shaw-married Elizabeth Haskins, daughter Mary Shaw-married John H, Larimore, daughter Mary Ann-married David H. Lively, son Phillip – married Mary Ann Thomas, daughter Eulah- married Lewis A. Potts which were my grandparents. Thank You

  17. Wilson, The line down to William Shaw is in the “Five Generations” books on John Alden (vol. 1 and Vol. 3). I’ll turn you over to Lilly Cleveland, who is the Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America for any further information on the line. Contact her through genealogy@alden.org. Good luck.

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