"There was an eastern prince"

As it turns out, the envelope in which my great-great-grandmother’s letter to her son was mailed in 1864 (and found in my grandfather’s box of family papers) also contains a story written by my great-grandfather and dated 1 November 1862. His own interpolations are..

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A genealogist's research process

[Editor’s Note: Between June and August of this year, Alicia wrote two series on her research and writing methodologies. In the interest of bringing them together, and sharing them with a fresh audience, they are offered again, with some of the author’s commentary.]


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Writing family history from A to Z

When writing your family history, it's important to decide what to omit. This almost sounds like perverse advice, doesn’t it? And yet, when I read a recent New Yorker article on that topic by John McPhee,[1] I realized that omission is an essential part of the process..

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For want of a key

Notes by Margaret Steward, June 1966, p. 1

I would venture to say that many of us got our start in genealogical research with the kind of handwritten notes on cemeteries I found in my grandfather’s box of family papers. My great-aunt Margaret Steward (1888–1975) was..

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Finding a better life

Susan (Duross) McKenna, daughter of Terence Duross.

It is said time and time again that our immigrant ancestors came to America for a better life. What I often find in my research is that once they made the journey, they were met with hardship and heartache.


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Harry Potter? Harry Leech!

To a genealogist who is also a huge Harry Potter fan, the recent news from J.K. Rowling has been very exciting. According to a short story posted to her website, the origin of the Potter surname has deep roots in twelfth-century England. According to Jo, Linfred of..

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A family of photographers

Franchot Tone filming "Trail of the Vigilantes" (1940). Photo by Roman Freulich

One of the pleasures of collecting old photographs is the (perhaps unsurprising) genealogical content they embody – or maybe that’s just me. The focus of my recent collecting has been..

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A dream come true

Colonial Massachusetts records are a family historian’s dream come true. From the beginning, early Bay colonists meticulously tracked the goings on of their communities, leaving records of government and community alike. These habits have resulted in a veritable trove..

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Prison time

Inhabitants of Danville Jail, 1850. Click on images to expand them.

The Federal Census of the United States was established to accurately list the nation's citizens, including those serving time in jail. In June 1850, men by the name of Christian Meadows and William..

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What's in a photo?

Click on the images to expand them.

I have been looking at lots and lots of photos lately – mostly of my mother-in-law, Ella Mabel Corke. Her recent death at 99 – almost 100 – prompted a sifting of hundreds of photos. Ella’s family always seemed to have a camera at..

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"My dear Cam"

As I have been making my way through my grandfather’s box of family papers, one letter – written by my great-great-grandmother Catharine Elizabeth (White) Steward[1] to her son, my great-grandfather[2] – has proved elusive. It was, I remembered, written in 1864, and..

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Witches and traitors and saints, oh, my!

The Asa Williams house (1789). Photograph taken ca. 1912.

I have, on most occasions, an irreverent attitude toward my family history. I think the critical details of names, dates, and places are the foundation of any genealogical research, but beyond that it seems..

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A second toe in the web

When I started my experiment of creating a web page about seven months ago, I advised everyone not to follow my advice and not to expect quick results. Good thing, because as of this writing, I have just managed to publish a website with one page!

Back in February I..

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Family history for sale

Bear Castle house and, at left, its garage, Louisa County, Virginia, photographed in the mid-1990s.

For the second time in my life, I have the nagging sensation of not being at all in the market for a home in the middle of Virginia – but wishing that I were. Bear..

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Loyalist ancestors

"Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown, a new settlement on the banks of the River St. Lawrence, in Canada West," courtesy of Archives Ontario.

Mabel Winters, my great-grandmother, left Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years..

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Vive la Reine!

A decorative family tree created for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Queen Elizabeth II's father, the future King George VI, may be seen at right, about half-way up the tree. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS

Later on today, Queen Elizabeth II’s..

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Making progress by breaking with tradition

Pellegrino Vitale (1887-1973)

As an avid genealogical researcher, I am keenly aware of the role that tradition plays in history. In all cultures, each new generation largely expects to follow traditions set by their predecessors, often without much thought as to..

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The sweet satisfaction of labor

At this time of year, my family and I have two special reasons to contemplate the memory of my maternal grandfather, Arthur David (born Achille Alessio Riccardo) Belforti (1902-1996). First of all, his birthday is September 3 – a date that never passes unnoticed in my..

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17th-century occupations in Massachusetts

In his monumental work The Pioneers of Massachusetts, Charles Henry Pope summarized the occupations and trades of 1,725 of the 6,000 “pioneers” for whom the information was available. These 6,000 individuals were identified “in the journals and lists of the colonies,..

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The figure in the photograph

Recently, while going through my family’s photos and albums, I laid out the various tintypes, cabinet cards, ambrotypes, albumen prints, and daguerreotypes on a long family tree chart drawn on paper and covering my dining table. I placed a tintype or daguerreotype next..

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A Beekman family cookbook

Recipes for Indian pudding, suet pudding, and carrot pudding from the Beekman cookbook.

A surprising find in my box of Steward family papers is a combination cookbook–book of home remedies. It is a surprise not as a document – the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

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How to keep a surname going?

The poet James Russell Lowell

Reading Scott Steward’s post about surnames being changed to keep another family name going reminded me of two examples we encountered when we wrote The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts together.

The first..

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