All posts by Amy Whorf McGuiggan

About Amy Whorf McGuiggan

Amy Whorf McGuiggan recently published Finding Emma: My Search For the Family My Grandfather Never Knew; she is also the author of My Provincetown: Memories of a Cape Cod Childhood; Christmas in New England; and Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song. Past projects have included curating, researching, and writing the exhibition Forgotten Port: Provincetown’s Whaling Heritage (for the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum) and Albert Edel: Moments in Time, Pictures of Place (for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum).

The language of genealogy

Over the last few months, any number of Vita Brevis posts have pointed out the frustrations of relying on public trees and trying to sort through the “dross of Internet information” that does little but “cause trouble for everyone else.” Those who try very hard to get it right, who quibble over trifles and worry about the minor details are, it seems to me, in the best sense of the word, genealogical pettifoggers.[1]

Accuracy does matter. Chronology matters. Details matter. In fact, the tiniest detail can be the clue that turns a theory on its head or knocks down a brick wall. Details, however minor (and one can certainly make the argument that there are no minor details in genealogy), can also bring a story alive. Continue reading The language of genealogy

Into the ether

Ether Day by Robert C. Hinckley. Courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University

Back in 2018, when I had the good fortune to be added to the Vita Brevis family of writers, one of my first posts was about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and the seven-year journey I had taken to learn about this man who had, we were always told, grown up an orphan.

Because I was starting with nothing more than my grandfather’s death certificate (which, fortunately, included his birthplace and parents’ names), I knew that my research would likely be a journey of discovery and, indeed, there were many revelations. Continue reading Into the ether

The ‘Magee storm’

As 2020, the year commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing in the New World, comes to a quiet end we can, with hopefulness, look forward in 2021 to making up for all the 2020 cancellations by commemorating the quadricentennial of many first-year Mayflower milestones. The “Winter of Death” and the death of the colony’s first governor, John Carver, were despairing events, but other milestones, including the treaty signed with Massasoit in March 1621, the first marriage in the Pilgrim village in May, and the harvest feast in late October lifted the colony’s hopes. The year 2021 should, in more ways than one, be recognized as the year of survival. Continue reading The ‘Magee storm’

Outdoor classroom: Part Two

It was a glorious late October day in Plymouth. If only that could be said without qualification but, alas, we are still in the midst of Covid … mandatory face mask zones and digital signs warning of fines for scofflaws. But the sun was shining and a fresh breeze wafted in from the harbor as I resumed my lessons in the outdoor classroom, determined, as I have been all year despite the restrictions, to make the most of the Mayflower quadricentennial.

There has been something of a silver lining with the virus in that the explorations that might have taken me farther afield have kept me close to home. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part Two

Monumental plans: Part Two

One of the earliest designs for the Pilgrim Monument. Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy Salvador Vasques, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection

Fifteen years after the second effort to build a monument in Provincetown had been abandoned and three years after Plymouth dedicated its National Monument to the Forefathers, there was another initiative to commemorate the First Landing of the Pilgrims at Provincetown. On 29 February 1892, a group of civic-minded citizens – James H. Hopkins, James Gifford, Artemas P. Hannum, Moses N. Gifford, Howard F. Hopkins, Joseph H. Dyer, and their associates and successors – were made a corporation, the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA), by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. Later that year an appeal for funds was circulated to the general public and a request for funding was made to the Massachusetts Legislature. Not only did CCPMA members see their mission as building an appropriate monument to commemorate the arrival of the Mayflower at Provincetown, they were determined, too, to recognize other significant events in Provincetown’s Pilgrim history, including the Signing of the Mayflower Compact, the birth of Peregrine White, and the death of Dorothy May Bradford. Continue reading Monumental plans: Part Two

Monumental plans: Part One

Plymouth Rock canopy, ca. 1880. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

What does it take to build a monument, a lasting legacy, to the First Landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown? Determination and persistence and, of course, money, not to mention years of territorial squabbles and skirmishes. Finally dedicated in 1910, Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument has a story that may be said to have begun ninety years earlier across the bay in Plymouth.

Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, ca. 1860. Stereograph, courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

With its roots in the Old Colony Club, founded in 1769, the Pilgrim Society was formally organized in Plymouth in 1820, the bicentennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims. Its mission was to perpetuate the memory of the Mayflower Pilgrims, specifically with the goal of building appropriate monuments, the first of which was Pilgrim Hall, whose cornerstone was laid in September 1824.[1] Continue reading Monumental plans: Part One

Outdoor classroom: Part One

Proof that fears and concerns still prevail six months after the country was plunged into lockdown, isolation and quarantine could be found in the empty streets of Plymouth on the day that eager Mayflower descendants and philatelists should have been lining up for the first day issue of the long-awaited Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor stamp. All the empty parking spaces along the main thoroughfares were the first clue that the event, like so many others, had been scratched from calendars. But not mine. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part One

Making plans

Plan of Boston surveyed by Osgood Carleton, dated 1795. Courtesy of digitalcommonwealth.org

Whenever I find myself doing Massachusetts research that predates 1800, I return to a collection of early town plans, 1794-1795, that are as much a documentary source as they are an aesthetic pleasure. Housed at the Massachusetts State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State, the original collection consists of sixteen volumes which were digitized in June 2017.[1]

In the post-Revolution years, it fell to the individual states to produce accurate maps to facilitate governmental administration, develop transportation networks, and encourage settlement. Continue reading Making plans

ICYMI: Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

[Editor’s note: The following blog post appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 December 2019.]

Having been occupied with a project these last few months, not only have I been away from Vita Brevis for far too long, but I’ve allowed issues of the Weekly Genealogist to pile up in my in box. In truth, I do open them each week to add my vote to the survey, but until the other day I had not had the opportunity to read them start to finish. While each issue is always brimming with interesting things, I particularly enjoy the Stories of Interest. And so, as I binged on my backlog of six weeks, a story from October 2 about the town of Ashland, Massachusetts recovering its long lost Boston Post cane caught my eye. Continue reading ICYMI: Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

Phantom faces

On a glorious late spring afternoon, just days before the solstice and the return of summer, I should have been jostling with the crowds on my visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I should have been standing on the hot pavement waiting my turn to see the sanctuary of the beautifully restored First Parish Church in Town Square. Should have been in a long line snaking its way to the pavilion to get a glimpse of Plymouth Rock, after which I should have been climbing the hill for a tour of the eighteenth-century Edward Winslow House, built by the great-grandson of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, and now the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. I should have been among the throngs visiting the humble thatched homesteads of the Pilgrims at the recreated Plimoth Plantation, watching them cultivate their gardens and listening to them recount stories of their first years in the New World. Continue reading Phantom faces