A sense of place and name

The question from the previous post was: “What if John Smith and Mary Brown lived in Barnstable but Abigail Smith and Harry Carey were married at Sandwich?” Barnstable and Sandwich are right next to each other, so why would this raise a red flag?

Although this example..

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"The Good lord direct us": a New England love quadrangle, 1648-49

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..

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Organizing a family reunion: Part Two

The organizers of the William Boucher reunion are starting with incomplete information about the family, as often happens. My cousins Cheryl and Connie and I all have lists of William Boucher’s descendants, but of course these lists are more accurate about Boucher’s..

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“To tell and retell the stories of their lives”

Every year at this time, the New England Historic Genealogical Society holds its annual meeting here in Boston. This year, the program began on Thursday with a lunch for board members, councilors, and other out-of-town guests, followed by tours of the Society’s new..

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Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

As the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) has only recently formed a strategic partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), anyone interested in New England Jewish history or genealogy may want to know about..

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Age old problems and comfort zones

In my last post, I left Abigail (Smith) Carey in a Black Hole with conflicting information about her age. Age discrepancies are a common cause of Red Flags and avoiding them requires an understanding of such things as the average age at marriage for men and women in..

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“Very serviceable”: Maidservants in New England, 1638-41

Young men and women of relatively high status, including the children of close relatives, passed through the households of the Winthrops and their friends: it was a rite of passage.

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Canadian colonization companies: an introduction

One of the best things about working on the reference desk at the New England Historic Genealogical Society is that each new patron brings new challenges. Often new discoveries come with these challenges that I can use down the road to assist another patron. Such an..

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The Great Migration: Top-down, bottom-up

The activities of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629-30 were uniformly organized from the top down. The Company either purchased or hired the vessels to carry the passengers and provisions. The passengers themselves, and especially the critically important..

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"The place where you are": letters to New England, 1631-36

As I read through the third volume of the Winthrop Papers, one of the Winthrop correspondents I have most enjoyed is Edward Howes, described succinctly in a footnote as a “student of law, alchemist and mystic, clerk to [John1 Winthrop’s brother-in-law] Emmanuel..

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Using heraldry for genealogical research

Commodore William Bainbridge (1774-1833)

I have had two good personal experiences with heraldry — and no bad ones.

When I was developing the West Indian ancestry of my ancestress, Susanna (Heyliger) Bainbridge, I found that her grandson (my great-grandfather) had..

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Missing nails and black holes

My “Devil’s advocate” pops up and waves red flags at me whenever something is not quite right based on “our” experience. Our most often used flag is for “black holes” – too much missing information. The connection may be right, but it certainly hasn’t yet been proved,..

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"Between the bark and the tree": 'The Winthrop Woman,' 1629

A view of St. Bartholomew's Church, Groton, Suffolk.

As I delve further into the Winthrop Papers, I am finding interesting asides about the relationships within the Winthrop family. Like his father, Governor John1 Winthrop (1588–1649) remained close to his..

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Navigating Connecticut probate and court records

More than the other New England states, Connecticut has kept its records in a variety of jurisdictions. Probate records can be particularly difficult to navigate. For Connecticut Colony, after 1639, estates were in the jurisdiction of the Particular Court (sometimes..

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Organizing a family reunion: Part One

Pauline Boucher Glidden in Venice, 1923. Author's collection. (Click on the images to expand them.)

My mother used to say, wistfully, “You’re always writing about your father’s family; I wish you would write about mine.” Vita Brevis readers will remember the posts..

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Blue prints, building codes, and inspections

Okay, so now we have a pile of bricks. Are we ready to start building our genealogical house? No. We need to know what the house is supposed to look like (blue prints) and the regulations about how the house should be constructed (codes). If we were really building a..

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Returning to my ancestral home in Nova Scotia

My actual hometown is seventeen miles south of Boston; I have called Stoughton my home since birth, and as a genealogist I can claim a variety of ancestral home towns or villages. Genealogically speaking, however, I feel most at home in Nova Scotia, Canada.

My paternal..

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A genealogical jigsaw puzzle

315 Dartmouth Street, Boston. Courtesy of backbayhouses.org

If you are familiar with Boston’s Back Bay, you have probably wondered who lived in a given house when it was first built, or how it has changed and been used over the years. Do you have an ancestor or..

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Ships of the Winthrop Migration, 1629-1630


The Massachusetts Bay Company arranged for six vessels to sail for New England in 1629, only five of which reached their destination. The salient details for each of these sailings are summarized below:

George Bonaventure, Thomas Cox, master. She left the Isle of..

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Learning from our mistakes

We often learn from our mistakes. A promise that “I won’t do that again” can be a valuable tool. And, if repeated enough times, it becomes known as experience.

A decade ago I had a luncheon talk entitled “My Ten Worst Mistakes in Genealogy.” When the title appeared,..

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Genealogical building blocks

A master mason can “butter” a brick and add it to a straight and true wall in a matter of seconds. He learns to do this through repeated practice, laying thousands of bricks in hundreds of walls.

In genealogy we deal with bricks that we call primary, secondary, and..

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Voices from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

View of St. Bartholomew's Church, Groton

One of my current projects is a new genealogy of the Winthrop family of Suffolk in England and then Massachusetts Bay in New England. I am in the process of reading through the Winthrop Papers, a six-volume collection of..

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A shopping list of technological and genealogical resources

As I was pulling together information for my upcoming April presentation, “Genealogy on the Go: Mobile Tools to Manage Your Discoveries,” I started thinking about how genealogy and technology go hand-in-hand these days – but that finding out more about the technology..

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