On a visit home several months ago, my older son introduced me to some works by H. P. Lovecraft that have been dramatized as pseudo-radio broadcasts. My son thought I would particularly enjoy The Case of Charles Dexter Ward … which is a bit of a warning to all of us family historians who might be tempted to take things a bit too far!
In this spooky short story, young Charles Dexter Ward comes from a prominent Providence, Rhode Island family, and gets pretty obsessed with an ancestor named Joseph Curwen, who fled from Salem Village during the 1692 witch trials and became a successful merchant, shipping magnate, slave trader … and sorcerer. The story is pure fiction (at least we should all hope that it is!), but it features several actual eighteenth-century Rhode Island luminaries, including Abraham Whipple, John and Moses Brown, and Esek Hopkins. Continue reading The case of Levi Starbuck→
In an earlier Vita Brevispost, I introduced a free webinar that I conducted in August on the Top 10 Published Resources for Early New England Research. The Vita Brevis post was the first in a series of upcoming posts that will break down the top 10 list into individual discussions. The first post addressed what makes a published resource a “top 10” and analyzed the first published resource on the list, the Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research. Today I will continue the conversation and talk about the second and third, in the “no particular order” list, of top 10 resources: Mayflower Families through Five Generations and New England Marriages Prior to 1700.
Families of the seventeenth century expected that their scandals would die out pretty much when the last neighbor who knew about them died. It is fortunate, therefore, that they cannot know how easy it is for us to dig up long-buried skeletons today. An example of this came to light while I was working on two Watertown families.
William Parry [sic] settled in Watertown by 1641, and he and his wife Anna [maiden name unknown] had six children. Richard Hassell arrived in Cambridge about 1643 and he and wife Joan [maiden name unknown] had three children born there. Continue reading Family drama→
Another story of a person “claiming” the British throne appeared in the news recently. While years ago I wrote about a silly claim of an American going back centuries allegedly to the Welsh throne, this story is much more immediate to the current royal family.
In summary, Francois Graftieaux, 73, claims his father Pierre-Edouard Graftieaux, born in 1916, was the result of an affair with the then-Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and a French seamstress. The suit claims that, “In the 1900s, the true line of succession was unlawfully concealed to block the Graftieauxs from their place in history. Whilst my father and I would have no direct claim to the throne on account of Edward’s abdication…” Continue reading Royal claims→
Tracing your immigrant ancestors across the ocean is a journey. You need to understand the ports they have left from as well as those to which they came. You also need to familiarize yourself with the different resources available to locate passenger lists – whether on FamilySearch, Ancestry, stevemorse.org, or even in overseas archives. When we find an ancestor’s passage to the United States, this journey doesn’t end when they step foot off the boat. Many of our ancestors travelled back overseas to visit family they left behind, bringing money that they made during their time here. Some even brought back additional family members after establishing their roots in a new land. Continue reading Family left behind→
I love to walk. Sweet fern and dry grasses scented the warm air during my late summer walks through the Blue Hills. As Marcel Proust describes in Remembrance of Things Past, scents evoke memories. In my case, the memories are of my grandmother and lazy summer days at New Canada Farm in Danbury, New Hampshire. It wasn’t until cleaning out my mother’s papers after her death that I learned that New Canada Farm was named for a nineteenth-century settlement of French Canadian farmers along the road. New Canada Road starts at Route 4 in Wilmot and hugs the contours of Ragged Mountain before passing into Danbury and turning towards Gulf Brook. Continue reading Family lore→
“We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” –Isaiah 64: 8
Recently, I was researching a case for a client whose ancestors had roots in Sullivan County, New York during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Locating New York records from any period presents a near perpetual brick wall. I had few clues with which to assemble this report.
According to the New York Death Register of Manhattan, my subject, John Gray, died from delirium at a city hospital in 1829 at age 41. From evidence furnished to us by the client, he was married nine years prior, probably near Liberty, in Sullivan County. The death register noted that he is buried in “Potter’s Field.” Discovering the whereabouts of burial for my subject could help lead to more details about the family, especially if some are interred with him. Continue reading The potter’s field→
My great-great-grandfather John Francis Bell (1839–1905) is largely a mystery: he appears unheralded in Richmond, Virginia, in the mid-nineteenth century; his son’s 1915–37 journal makes no reference that I can find to any family on the Bell side. (My great-great-grandmother, known after her marriage as Bell Bell, was Isabella J. Phillips, of a large family centered in Henrico County; I have yet to see any mention of her cousins, some of whom my grandfather knew well.)
With news of General Washington’s defeat in New York City, the threat of a British attackloomed over the city of Newport, Rhode Island during the summer of 1776, and by winter nearly half of the city’s population had fled.British reportsfrom December 1776 noted that there was scarcely anyone remainingas British and Hessian forcesseized Newport, allowing them to take the wealthy and strategic citywithout a fight.
For those residentswho stayed,their circumstances quickly worsened as the occupying forces commandeeredmany of their homes, ate their food, and stole their valuables. Under the command of Major-General Richard Prescott, the soldiers robbed and dismantled propertiesacross the city and, in the three years they were there, reportedly chopped down all but one tree for firewood to survive the unsympathetic winters. Continue reading Out of the past→
Since 1993, I have read countless family records within the pages of old family Bibles for colleagues and patrons at NEHGS. I have been fortunate to share in many moments of discovery. The moment when patrons discover we have their family Bible is priceless.
However, until recently I had never experienced this same moment of discovery for myself. Of course, I always hoped that one day I would walk into an archive, historical society, or a relative’s home and miraculously discover an old family Bible relating to my branch of the family. Most of the time this was simply a lovely ending to a genealogical day dream.
A few years ago, I was reviewing copies of letters between my great-aunt Mary Olive (Lea) Rogers (1899–1995) and her cousin Florence Newton written during the 1960s. In one of those letters her cousin asked: “Do you still have that large family bible that sat on the little table in Toronto your dad owned?” I paused and considered that a family Bible for my great-grandfather John George Lea (1876–1953) might actually exist. Then I realized this is the same man who received a trunk of family papers and photos from his late brother in England, decided they smelt funny, and tossed in a match! And, so, up in smoke went any hope that my family history had survived. I tried not to think of what might have been in the trunk, let alone what became of this old Bible. Continue reading The saga of a family Bible→