From our modern perspective, seventeenth-century New England was a strange cultural cosmos: a post-medieval/pre-modern world where metaphysical beliefs, superstition, and fear of the supernatural still prevailed – a world in which people believed that witches were real and that ghosts, “specters,” and spirits from “the invisible world” could directly influence the lives of humans. We look back on that world today with a mixture of amusement and condescension, horror and fascination. Continue reading Twilight
My great-grandfather was born in Wisconsin in 1901, just about a year after his parents and older sisters immigrated from Norway. His father, a sailor who was once “honored by the King of Norway,” settled the family on the shores of Lake Michigan and began a long career with the U.S. Life Saving Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. Though this man, my great-great-grandfather Søren “Sam” Carlsen, died in 1955, long before I was born, he has always been a central figure in the family lore. His portrait is displayed proudly and prominently at my grandpa’s house, and many of my grandpa’s childhood stories feature “Grampa Carlsen” swooping in to save the day. Continue reading A walk in their footsteps
New Hampshire has a special place in my heart. My friends and I camp in the White Mountains every summer and each year we find something new to visit. One summer, we made it up Mount Washington. Everyone in New England knows the “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers. But do people know enough about Mount Washington’s history? It’s full of human perseverance, courage, and innovation. Its main claim to fame is that on the summit in 1934, the highest wind speed ever was recorded. The record was held till 1996, but it is still the highest wind speed recorded that is not associated with a tornado or a cyclone. Continue reading Courage and innovation
I learned a few years ago that I have Mayflower ancestors along two lines of descent. Not a big surprise, as NEHGS makes it known that “More than 30 million people around the world have Mayflower ancestors.” My Sturgis, Gorham, and Paine ancestors were from Cape Cod and, thanks to my Gorham and Paine connections, I can claim Mayflower ancestors along those lines.
When I hear about Mayflower ancestors, it’s almost always about the male passengers, even though there were eighteen female passengers, eleven of whom were teenagers or younger. My inspirations for this blog post are (1) my 14-year-old granddaughter, Bridget, who is a very bright and capable young woman – and who is probably getting quite tired of my stories about her bright and capable ancestors – and (2) the Hon. Josiah Quincy, Jr., who spoke at the 1854 anniversary meeting of the Cape Cod Association of Boston. Continue reading Mothers of Cape Cod
As I said in Family Treasures: View from the index, Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo, Publications Design Manager Ellen Maxwell, and I recently finished work on a beautifully illustrated book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. For me and Ellen, the experience was a nice change from the 60+ text-heavy genealogical resources and compiled family histories we have produced in our four years at NEHGS. We enjoyed learning from our author Gerry Ward and our colleague Curt, who brought their combined experience in producing fine art books and museum catalogs to the project. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the pressroom
It was the stuff that dreams are made of. Novice genealogists, my wife and I had traveled from our home in Ohio to rural Windham County, Connecticut, on our first foray into family history field research, in hopes of finding a trace or two of my eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Grow ancestors, four generations of whom had owned a large hilltop farm somewhere in the Pomfret-Hampton border area.
With the aid of a map from an old genealogy, we soon located what appeared to be the original family farm – now a large commercial dairying operation – at the peak of a high elevation along a quiet, two-lane state road. Continue reading Lessons in oral history
Seven hundred thirty-eight pounds of pork, 152 bushels of corn, 65 heads of cabbage, 3 tons of oats, and 60 gallons of cider – and, no, this isn’t a farmer’s market. These items represent just a sampling of the produce sold in 1895 by the town asylum of Scituate, Rhode Island. The whole summary of the institution’s annual revenue and expenses may be found at the North Scituate Public Library’s local history room.
I came across these documents while researching a family living in Scituate. The 1870 federal census showed a traditional family unit living alongside what appeared to be ten strangers. Continue reading Complicated responsibilities
The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me. Continue reading Genealogy chaos
In my last post (in a footnote), I gave a summary of presidents with Mayflower ancestry. Readers called attention to the fact that some of the presidents were grouped by descent from a male passenger, while in some of these groupings the male passenger’s wife was also a passenger. The footnote was meant to be brief, and referred to pages in Ancestors of American Presidents, which had more specific information (including all passengers, female and male, within a family from which each president descended).
While I was not specifically leaving out female passengers (other Mayflower passengers who were themselves children of named passengers were also omitted), the comments clearly spoke to the often “male-preferred” nature of how genealogies are frequently summarized, leaving out or minimizing female ancestors. Continue reading Patriarchs and matriarchs
For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index