Philatelic genealogy

All stamps from the author’s collection.

While watching the recent broadcast of “Atlantic Crossing,” it took me a minute or two to remember the parentage of protagonist Crown Princess Martha of Norway as well her siblings. Making those connections began with stamps. My childhood world blossomed when a family friend gave me a postage stamp album for my eighth birthday. The package came with an assortment of world stamps, and stamp hinges with which to fix the stamps to the illustrations in the album. A new hobby soon became an absorbing passion. Continue reading Philatelic genealogy

An introduction to nicknames

Rotundo, Barbara. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Concord, Mass.) gravestone: Nellie, February 1989. Barbara Rotundo Papers (PH 050). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

As a genealogist, I often get questions from patrons about differences in given names. For example, are Ellen Turner and Nellie Turner the same person? What was her “real” name? What about Ann Coe and Nancy Coe? (The answer, in both cases, is yes, they were the same person.)
Continue reading An introduction to nicknames

‘In memory of the dead’

A grave marker at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. Photo by Claire Vail Photography

American Ancestors recently announced a new database: Massachusetts: Catholic Cemetery Association Records, 1833-1940. This partnership between NEHGS, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCA) makes available newly-digitized lot sale and burial records as well as cemetery maps to aid researchers. The records of thirteen cemeteries are currently available to search, with more cemeteries to be added to this database throughout the year. Continue reading ‘In memory of the dead’

Bringing the pain

The “Victorian Trade Card” at left recently came up for sale on eBay, prompting a friend to send it to me as it concerns “John Payne’s Fish and Fruit Market, Putnam” in my Connecticut hometown. While I had never heard of the business, I soon found John Paine (1850-1919) listed in censuses as a fish peddler, meat peddler, and butcher.[1] A decent treatment of the Paine family in northeastern Connecticut is given in the eighth volume of Clarence Winthrop Bowen’s Genealogies of Woodstock Families. While I have a full set of this work at home, I had loaned the last two volumes for several years to Scott Andrew Bartley so he could use them for Early Vermont Settlers to 1784, as they cover many families moving from northeast Connecticut to Vermont. (The first six volumes are available online.) Fortunately, he had returned them to me only a few days before this card was sent my way! Continue reading Bringing the pain

A president’s origins

Chester Alan Arthur. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given the growth and proliferation of twenty-four-hour news networks offering instantaneous political commentary, nearly every American adult is likely aware of the (demonstrably false) allegation that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As many also know, President Obama was easily able to provide records which thoroughly debunked the baseless narrative. This was not, however, the first time a United States president was faced with questions about his origin which were dispelled by supporting records.

Beginning in late 1880, then Vice President-elect Chester A. Arthur was alleged to be a native of Canada, and, therefore, ineligible to hold the office to which he had been elected. Continue reading A president’s origins

In praise of maiden aunts

Sally Leeds. Author’s collection

As most genealogists focus their in-depth research on direct ancestors, I have adopted the term “genealogical orphans” for persons with no living descendants to take an interest in researching them. While we usually document the births of all known children in a family, and sometimes their marriages and deaths, we less frequently go beyond the basics to learn about their lives. We have been encouraged to investigate family, associates, and neighbors (the “FAN club”), but often do so only in search of evidence to document a hard-to-prove family relationship. Yet I have found that these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors. Continue reading In praise of maiden aunts

ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 April 2014.]

In December 1648, Lucy (Winthrop) Downing sent her nephew John2 Winthrop a letter full of family news: her husband, Emmanuel Downing, had been at the birth of John’s baby half-brother, Joshua, the week before, and “I belleeue our cosen Dorithe Simonds is nowe wonne and weded to Mr. Harrison the Virginia minister.” Sounding at once like a modern-day gossip and a character in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Downing also noted that her daughter Lucy would probably soon marry: she “was a little [while ago] goeinge to be maryed to Mr. Eyers sonne Thomas I meane, but he had not yet art enough to carye his [court]ship, so they turnd backe, and nowe wee are apon an earnest motion with Mr. William Norton. The man is verye fayer, but she hath not yet forgotten Mr. Eyers his fresh red [sic] but hath goten some obiections concer[n]inge Mr. Norton, which are nowe sent to be answeered by [William’s brother] Mr. Jhon Norton…”[1] Continue reading ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

Nostalgia

I recently remarked to Son how it seemed to me that as I age my family history research becomes more like nostalgia, a walk down Memory Lane, and increasingly frequent but random reminiscences. Eschewing the expected age jokes, Son promptly provided me with several columns in the Maine Farmer newspaper written between October 1876 and May 1877 by one “D.C.” and entitled “Random Thoughts and Recollections.” D.C. wrote more than ten columns in the slightly purple style of the times about his memories of people, places, and events, a gold mine of information about places and people in the 1820s and 1830s, Augusta and Hallowell, Maine in particular. Continue reading Nostalgia

A problem in perspective

Culter Kirk. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle. Continue reading A problem in perspective

Finding Clifford

Clifford and Alta Dixon

We are often ‘best known’ by the mementos we leave behind. After we’ve passed, an old picture book, pocket knife, glass dish, or a diary may be all that’s left to provide any clue as to who we were in life, or what may have mattered to us. As years go by, and that old picture book gets torn apart, or Cousin Johnnie misplaces the pocket knife and Niece Mary gives the glass dish away at a bake sale, well, there often isn’t much ‘left’ of anyone or even anything left to tell. While we are all so much more than just the sum total of our possessions, it can be a harder story to tell once those pieces may have lost their meaning or become scattered. It’s even more difficult when there weren’t very many to start with. Continue reading Finding Clifford