Monthly Archives: July 2021

Mirrored names

The Burson twins

There was a great commotion in the room that day, a veritable kerfuffle you might call it. I both saw and heard the doctor yell “Get me her chart,” as a well-practiced melee ensued. Our baby girl had just been born, and she was neatly being held by an overprotective nurse. I looked over from our baby to my wife, then to the doctor, and around in disbelief; my wife was exhausted and under an unwonted sort of anesthesia. “Was there something wrong with our baby? Was my wife going to be okay?” Continue reading Mirrored names

Watercress and dandelions

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

I was scanning the children’s book reviews in Horn Book Magazine when my eyes fell upon the title Watercress (2021) by Andrea Wang. “A girl in cutoffs and a T-shirt is embarrassed when her parents stop the car to pick wild watercress growing by the side of the road; she doesn’t understand why her family has to be so different from everyone else,” read the summary in the review.

I knew I had to get my hands on this book—the word watercress plunged me deep into nostalgia. Continue reading Watercress and dandelions

Heirs apparent, heirs presumptive

With Prince Philip’s recent death, Prince Charles has succeeded his father as the 2nd Duke of Edinburgh. This is the third creation of the dukedom,[1] most recently bestowed upon Prince Philip in 1947 as the son-in-law of King George VI, and limited to Philip’s male-line descendants. In 1999, it was announced that Prince Philip’s youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, would follow his father as Duke of Edinburgh when the present title “eventually reverts to the Crown.” With Charles now bearing the title, a fourth creation of the dukedom should ensue on the eventual passing of Queen Elizabeth II, when Prince Charles would succeed as monarch and all his current titles are then available for new creations. However, there are a few extremely unlikely possibilities that would not make Prince Edward the Duke of Edinburgh of the fourth creation quite yet. Continue reading Heirs apparent, heirs presumptive

Coffin ships

Food riot in Dungarvan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Irish potato famine is notorious even today because it killed one million people and prompted two million people to emigrate from Ireland. Signs of the famine can still be found in Ireland today, whether in the form of various ruins whose occupants had all perished or in the form of graves marked solely by rocks. Moreover, Irish emigration fluctuated so much that many voyages took place on coffin ships – small ships aptly named for the increased mortality rate onboard. Many immigrants were so desperate to leave their homeland that they booked inexpensive passage on ships that were small, overcrowded, and ravaged by disease and other unfavorable conditions. Based on these facts, arguably, many Americans with Irish ancestry can connect theirs to this event. Continue reading Coffin ships

The Olympic games: a brief history

Opening Ceremony at the Panathinaiko Stadium for the 1896 games. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Despite being a year late thanks to COVID-19, the Olympics are finally here. With the opening ceremonies set to start on July 23rd, the wait is finally over for athletes and viewers alike. For most people, the Olympics have been a constant occurrence, reliably happening every two or four years, barring any rare unforeseen events. It is hard to believe there was once a time when the Olympics were practically nonexistent. Continue reading The Olympic games: a brief history

Ancestors in northern New England

My Thompson ancestors’ home in Industry, Maine, in 1892.

An article I co-wrote on a colleague’s ancestors in Berwick, Maine was recently published in The Maine Genealogist. While I have worked on families in Maine over the years, and several of my colleagues have specialties in “Northern New England” (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont), I have generally stated that my New England ancestry is largely southern (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). Just how much northern New England ancestry do I have? Continue reading Ancestors in northern New England

A short history of beer

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

When I first started working at a brewery and learning about beer, I heard someone telling a story about Ninkasi, the goddess of beer in ancient Sumerian religious mythology.[1] As a historian I knew how important beer was in early America. Many water sources were often polluted and unsafe for drinking, so low-alcohol beers and ciders were brewed for everyday drinking. “Americans drank an average of thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine per year in 1790.”[2] I had not given much thought to the beginnings of beer, or to brewers and the ingredients they used. This story about the goddess of brewing sparked my interest to learn more about brewing and beer history. Continue reading A short history of beer

St. Augustine Cemetery: resources for research

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Known as the oldest Catholic cemetery in Boston, Saint Augustine Cemetery in South Boston will celebrate its two hundred and third anniversary in 2021. Built in 1818 by the first Catholic Bishop of Massachusetts, Fr. John Louis Ann Magdalen Lefebvre de Cheverus (1768-1836), the cemetery’s first burial was that of  Fr. Francis Anthony Matignon, one of the first Catholic priests in Massachusetts. Less than a year later, on 4 July 1819, the Saint Augustine Chapel was inaugurated as a mortuary chapel to honor Fr. Matignon. The Saint Augustine Chapel is, to this day, the oldest surviving Catholic church and Gothic Revival church in Massachusetts.[1] Continue reading St. Augustine Cemetery: resources for research

By any other name

Throughout the 20th century it was somewhat common, when a divorced (or widowed) mother remarried, for the stepfather to adopt her child or children, often taking the new husband’s surname. (See a recent post on President Bill Clinton, as well as President Gerald Ford and First Lady Nancy Reagan; the latter two also had their first names changed.) There is also the situation where children are born (most often out of wedlock) with the surname of their mother’s previous husband, and thus were not adopted but bear a surname neither parent had at birth. The birth name of Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Mortensen is one of the more famous examples, as Mortensen was the surname of her mother’s estranged husband at the time of Marilyn’s birth (and listed as the father), although she later used her mother’s maiden surname of Baker. Continue reading By any other name

Three Sages

In thirty odd years of researching family history, I, like you, have seen a lot of unusual things. From the recesses of my own DNA to the penumbral prose in a dear friend’s oral history, there’s a whole lot going on out there among Ye Olde Branches. Recently though, I stumbled upon something I’d never seen before. Notwithstanding “the numbers” per se, I’m told it’s an event that only happens once every nine thousand times. It has, however, been a discovery that, although comparatively unique, has attained little in the way of genealogical ‘glory.’ Continue reading Three Sages