2015: the year in review

Meeting cousins in County Roscommon.

Vita Brevis recently marked a milestone, with the publication of its five-hundredth blog post. Early in January 2016, the blog will celebrate its second birthday, and, in a tradition started last year, today and tomorrow I will..

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Maine deeds online: a rich resource

The deed naming Moses True as the son of Winthrop True (and grandson of Israel True). Image courtesy of Cumberland County Registry of Deeds

A happy discovery in my genealogical research was the online availability of deeds for the state of Maine. The Maine Registers..

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Chaos in the streets

Moving Day, 1831. Images courtesy of Wikimedia.org

As many genealogical researchers know, tracing your ancestors in major metropolitan areas can prove difficult, thanks to the use of similar names, confusing address patterns, and, often, changing locations. In New..

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Multiple searches for a New Jersey marriage

Click on images to expand them.

While editing the Winter 2016 issue of Mayflower Descendant, I searched the draft articles for additional genealogical facts for the families presented. Christopher Carter Lee’s article – “Elizabeth (Briggs) Shippey and her husband..

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The Philadelphia box

Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

In 1860, when Regina Shober Gray began keeping her diary, gift-giving was spread between Christmas and New Year’s Day: indeed, the latter day was the more important..

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"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!"

Virginia O'Hanlon (1889-1971)

As a child I always looked forward to the Christmas season: a time for family and friends, Christmas tree decorating, and candle light services at my church in Stoughton, Massachusetts. At the end of 1979, when I was ten years old, I..

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A Victorian Christmas album

My grandmother Lula. Click on the images to expand them

Searching for anything in My Old House carries certain risks, usually in the form of an interesting distraction (corsets, small bones I still refuse to discuss, or shoe lasts). My latest search turned up my..

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Making time to talk

Genealogy, like the study of history in general, aims not only to identify the names of a particular individual’s ancestors, but also to reconstruct the details of that ancestor’s life. Driven by natural curiosity and a desire to connect with those of the past,..

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Research in organizational records

One of my recent research cases involved searching for information within societies and organizations. It began with searching in newspapers for an 1849 obituary in order to gather more biographical information about my research subject, but I also looked for any..

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Deeds: Part Three

Following up on my previous post, Jerry Anderson reminds me that some colonies did not require a wife to sign a deed releasing her dower rights. This just emphasizes the complexity of the subject of land records and the fact that you will need to learn all the ins and..

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Poor relief records

Sheldon Poor House Association, 1860. Click on images to expand them.

Vita Brevis readers are likely all too familiar with the problem of brick walls in genealogical research. Many are aware of the uses of probate and estate records, but what if your ancestors are..

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Centenarians in the family

Sometime in the 1920s. From left to right: my grandfather Willard Challender, my great-grandfather Alton, my great-aunt Maxine, and my great-grandmother Elizabeth.

Today marks the one-hundredth birthday of my great-aunt Maxine Smith of Newton, Kansas. My mother flew..

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Quality control

Editor's Note: This is part three of a series on digitizing our special collections. The previous posts can be read here and here.

Good news! The next phase of our digitization project is under way. We’ve just received the first batch of images from our scanning..

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Saturday's Fireside Chat

On Saturday I had the honor and fun of joining with Bob Anderson and Chris Child in a Fireside Chat in the Treat Rotunda at NEHGS. We were each touting publications for sale – Bob’s Great Migration Directory (so popular it has sold out and there were none to physically..

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A grave concern

Over the past thirty years I have examined thousands of old slate gravestones in the cemeteries of New England. This fascination led me to write A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries, which allowed me to determine the oldest cemeteries in the Commonwealth of..

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Keeping it in the family

Susannah (Dexter) Brown's will

Recently, I had a client who wanted to know more about a silver teapot designed by the Hurd silversmiths of Boston that had been passed down through his family. The teapot had the name “Sally Brown” engraved on it, but to his..

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Blending a family

Mine is a typical American family, and I am a typical genealogist. My family is an assortment of divorced households and second marriages and I, the ever diligent genealogist, have labored to research all of the family lines, even if they are not my own, because even..

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Devil at the crossroads

One of only two confirmed images of Robert Johnson in existence.

Rock and roll icon Eric Clapton once described Robert Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”[1] Despite the fact that Johnson influenced musicians decades after his death, his..

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On with the dance

"What a joy it is to dance and sing"

As genealogists, we tend to focus on the more remote past, rarely pausing to consider our parents’ or grandparents’ times in a rush to get back to 1850, or 1750, or sometime before that. Someday, of course, 1950 will seem as..

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Deeds: Part Two

Continuing with the parts of a deed from my last post:

Warranty: “…to warrant & forever confirm the same unto him the said Josiah Lichfield his heirs & assigns from & against all the lawful claims and demands of all persons whatsoever.” (Types of deeds will be..

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Maps of Maritime Canada

A.F. Church, Yarmouth County Map: detail of Lake George in Nova Scotia

Tracing the origins of Canadian ancestors can be difficult, and the lack of early vital records can prove frustrating. Often, we have to turn to other sources to help piece together family..

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Founders of Maryland

This past summer, the release of images and data discovered in the burials beneath the Jamestowne Colony’s first parish chancel attracted nationwide interest. These were remarkable for their antiquity, the prominent positions the interred colonists had occupied, and..

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This "piecemeal world"

Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Mark Twain is credited with the line “Humor is tragedy plus time,” and it is certain that with time comes perspective (and perhaps comedy). Of course, context is..

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Update for Ancestors of American Presidents

Editor’s Note: NEHGS Senior Research Scholar Emeritus Gary Boyd Roberts makes his Vita Brevis début with a series of articles updating entries to his Ancestors of American Presidents, 2009 Edition, and its 2012 reprint.

The subject matter of Ancestors of American..

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