‘What’s in a name?’ asked Juliet of Romeo, concluding that the name of something does not define what it really is. A rose, after all, by any other name would smell as sweet, but for family genealogists, a rose by any other name can become an obstacle to progress and success. Naturally, we go in search of a name as we expect it to be, as we’ve always known it to be and, in doing so – in not considering all the possible variations or that any given spelling may not necessarily be the “correct” spelling – we may overlook vital clues and new pathways for our research. I suspect that most family genealogists who stay at their research beyond the “low hanging fruit” stage, who don’t give up too soon, eventually double back and realize their earlier oversights. Continue reading What’s in a name?
During the late summer of 2011, having then recently been afflicted with genealogy fever, I found myself day after day at the Massachusetts State Archives in front of a microfilm reader. I’m one of those lucky descendants whose ancestors, for the most part, were born in Massachusetts and remained rooted in Massachusetts, so I quickly amassed a binder full of vital records and began learning details about my great-great-greats. Continue reading My day in court
We hear so often about how uncivil the public discourse has become. Everyone is talking past one another and no one seems to be listening. No one understands, or tries to understand, the other. Our collective manners leave much to be desired and grace seems to have taken a holiday. (This is not a political screed, I promise!)
Perhaps, then, it is a most apropos moment for a relic of the Catholic Church to be making a national tour of the United States. Though I was raised in the Catholic faith, I confess that I am ignorant about much of Church ritual, in particular the veneration of relics and their miracle healing. I had mostly understood the word relic (or relict) in the context of early cemeteries. From the Latin word reliquiae, relic means remains, or left behind. Continue reading Heart of a priest
During a walk in the historic cemetery in my town, I spied a headstone perched at the edge of one of the steep terraced slopes. It caught my attention not only because it seemed ready to topple over the edge, but also because it was different: it appeared to glow with a bluish color in the spring sunlight. With a kind of eagerness, I suspected that it might be one of the “trendy” monuments that I had read about and that had had a brief popularity during the Victorian Era.
I made my way up the hill, reached the monument, and proceeded to apply the proof test by knocking on the surface (hoping and praying that no one would knock back!) and, indeed, it was hollow. I had found, quite inadvertently, my first example of a grave marker made of cast zinc. Continue reading White bronze
When I was a kid enjoying idyllic summers in Provincetown, a familiar face in the West End of town where I stayed was that of Johnny Oliver, born in Provincetown in 1899 to Manuel Oliver, who had emigrated from Brava, Cape Verde, and Mary Boatman, born in Provincetown to Portuguese parents. During my childhood, there were any number of “characters” in Provincetown, those otherwise regular, hardworking folks who just seemed to have a rhythm all their own. Johnny was one of them.
He was old enough to be my Dad’s father, but he and my Dad, who had grown up in Provincetown, seemed to hit it off and I often saw them jawing out in the street, Johnny always animated no matter what story he was telling, and my Dad enjoying every minute of it. Continue reading Past is present
Before she married my grandfather, my paternal grandmother was Vivienne Isabel Wing. Born in Rumford, Maine in 1903, six generations after Simeon Wing (1722–1794) and his family had traded Sandwich, Massachusetts for the wilderness of New Sandwich, Maine (incorporated as Wayne in 1798), my grandmother was proud of her Wing ancestry; at times, she lamented that as an only female child she would be the last in her long line to bear the name.
Had my grandmother not been a woman of a certain generation she might have at least “kept” her name. Continue reading Desired havens
I recently revisited one of my all-time favorite books, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Years ago, when I first discovered the book, I raved about it to anyone who would listen. “You HAVE to read this book,” I’d implore. “What’s it about?” they’d ask. “It’s about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary,” would be my enthusiastic reply, whereupon I could immediately sense a kind of let-down, as if they were saying You’re kidding, right? A story about a dictionary? Why not a telephone book? My reply was “Trust me, there’s more to it than just the dictionary and you won’t be able to put it down… You’ll wish it would never end.” My would-be converts assured me that they would check it out and off they scampered, every bit of their body language saying, Not a chance. Continue reading A madman and his family
Here in my hometown we are blessed with an exquisite landmark building, the 1681 meetinghouse known as Old Ship Church, whose name may have been inspired by the building’s vaulted roof, resembling a ship’s hull, built of oak timbers. Used originally as a gathering place for both civic discussion and religious worship it is, today, the oldest church structure in the United States in continuous use. Behind the meetinghouse is the town’s oldest cemetery, whose earliest burials pre-date construction of the meetinghouse. Sometimes called the First Settlers graveyard, it is the final resting place of the families who founded Hingham – Cushing, Lincoln, Thaxter, Beal, Hobart – their descendants, and other prominent residents – including two Massachusetts governors. It is one of the few historic cemeteries where burials are still taking place. Continue reading Touched by an angel
A few months ago I had an unexpected email from one of the editors at Applewood Books in Carlisle, Massachusetts, informing me that they were reprinting the Christmas book I wrote in 2006. Needless to say, I am delighted that the fifty or so stories about New England Christmas traditions will now reach a new generation of readers, but I wondered if the stories, after all these years, would still hold up.
I immediately grabbed my dog-eared copy of the book and began flipping through the pages. Surprisingly, the stories had staying power, which is the whole point of traditions, isn’t it, that we can rely on them, or should be able to rely on them, to not change too much down the generations. Traditions are like families: with each generation there are permutations, something new added to tweak the mix, but the family resemblance is still there. Continue reading Jingling all the way
Not long ago, when two names popped up on my Churchill family tree, they had the ring of familiarity. I probed my memory as to where I might have encountered them but just couldn’t place them until I noticed that this husband and wife are buried in Hingham’s High Street Cemetery. Then, it all came back to me in one of those Really? moments that makes one wonder how often, because the timing isn’t right, we cross paths with something relevant to our lives but pass it by unknowingly and obliviously. Continue reading Deep roots