Observance of Memorial Day always compels me to think about the members of my extended family from Block Island who served in the Civil War, and the long-term effects of the war on their lives. This carte-de-visite photo of eighteen-year-old George Albion Paine, taken in the spring of 1866, belies his turbulent experiences.1
In September 1862, when he was not quite 15, George volunteered to serve for nine months in the 12th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. Patriotic fervor must have swept over the island, because George’s paternal uncle, Alvin Hollis Paine, his maternal uncle Lewis N. Hall, and his uncle-by-marriage, John Thomas, all joined him in the same regiment.2 Barely two months into his service, George was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, spending time in hospital. Comparison with later records shows that George had not yet reached his adult height at this time. He was discharged from the army in July 1863 and re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a landsman on ships Savannah and Constitution until discharge in 1866. Continue reading George Albion Paine: A Teenage Civil War Veteran→
Stored in the archival collection of the Dorchester (MA) Historical Society is a ring, brown in color and lightweight, with the number forty-four carved into it. Until recently, not much was known about the ring’s origins. An old label stored with the ring lists it as a Civil War identification ring pertaining to the 44th Regiment. It is kept in the archives at the William Clapp House, one of three properties owned by the Dorchester Historical Society.
My husband and I have been live-in caretakers of this house for over seven years. It was built in 1806 by William Clapp (1779-1860), an active member of the Dorchester community, whose family owned a tannery and was involved in a variety of agricultural pursuits. Over a period of 150 years, four generations of William’s family resided in the house, including William’s grandson, William Channing Clapp (1843-1921).
During the Civil War, William Channing Clapp served with the 44th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company G. Since William was associated with the 44th Regiment, it seemed likely that the ring was connected to his service. However, the full story about this ring remained unknown until recently, when a descendant of William Clapp donated a number of photographs and family papers to the society. Continue reading The Bone Ring→
When I was growing up, my father would sometimes solemnly remind me to remember Francis Ward Lewis. I would just nod absentmindedly in response. I don’t recall him explaining who this man was or why he was important—I’m not sure that he even knew himself. But for some reason, it was vital to him that I remember and honor this name.
Later, when I was in my forties, my paternal grand aunt Em causally mentioned that Francis Ward Lewis (17 July 1817¬-9 November 1906) was her grandfather. Finally, I knew how he and I were linked. She recounted that on the Fourth of July, he would march in his uniform in the local parade in Concord, California, and then return home to set off a canon from the roof of his home. He did sound like an interesting individual. So, when I began my genealogy research, he was naturally the first relative I sought out.
As I researched my paternal great-great-grandfather, I was surprised to encounter some of his other descendants, previously unknown to me, who had also been told to “remember Francis Ward Lewis.” Despite the shared family mythology, none of us knew much about him. Together, we eagerly shared our clues and combined our research to discover his identity and his importance in our lives. Cousin Paul shared a note that his mom had written, stating that at one time he had sailed on the brig Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she did not list a source for this information. Pam Lewis, a cousin by marriage, uncovered his “Reminiscences” in the California State Library, which he had written shortly before his death in 1906. The fourteen-page memoir recounted his life following his 1846 arrival in California. Lucky for us, it included his photograph as an old man. As we read his thoughts, it seemed as though we were sitting at the knee of a fascinating, kind elder as he reflected on his adventures and times past. Continue reading Finding Francis Ward Lewis→
When I began researching my family history, I initially focused very little time on the Dunn family. The Dunn line had already been almost completely traced back to Ireland by cousins of my grandmother, and I had been given numerous notes and write-ups from over the years. The family was descended from Thomas Dunn and Mary Eagan, who lived in John’s Well and Kilderry in Kilkenny County. Thomas and Mary had the following children:
James Dunn (1817-1873), my 3rd great grandfather
Michael John Dunn (1820-1901)
Patrick Dunn (1823-1869)
Thomas Dunn (1826-1918)
John Dunn (1829-1864)
Mary Ella Dunn (1832-1906)
Catherine Dunn (1835-1911)
Richard Dunn (1838-?)
Lawrence Henry Dunn (1840-1888)
Most of the research on the early generations of the Dunn Family (Thomas, Mary, and their children) came from the Dunn Family Bible, which had been owned by James Dunn and contained numerous notes on the family’s arrival in America and whereabouts thereafter. Curiously missing from the bible was Richard—it was assumed he died young in Ireland. This story centers on this entry written by James Dunn about John Dunn (1829-1864):Continue reading The Curious Case of John Dunn→
On November 2, 2022, my husband and I welcomed our first child: a son, named Jack William for his great-grandfathers. Several weeks after Jack’s birth, I requested a copy of his birth certificate from the town offices, an errand which immediately reminded me of submitting vital records requests for genealogical research. Obtaining my son’s birth record was far simpler—I only had to wait a few minutes—and I left the town offices that same day with the record in hand. I looked down at the certificate, with all the fields neatly filled out, and realized genealogical researchers are perhaps the only people who wouldn’t take this record for granted.
Vital records are often the first and best places to check when seeking information about our ancestors. But what is a researcher to do when a vital record simply doesn’t exist, or provides minimal information? In a previous blog post, I discussed the usefulness of family Bibles as vital records substitutes. There are numerous other record types that link parents and their children, with baptismal records and wills being the next best options. Other records that can identify the names of an ancestor’s children include the following types: Continue reading Linking Parents and Children—Without the Help of Vital Records→