All posts by Amy Whorf McGuiggan

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).

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

A guiding spirit

In a recent post about Provincetown’s efforts over the years to reclaim its Pilgrim story, I mentioned a number of initiatives by the Ladies’ Research Club of Provincetown to commemorate Mayflower events. In this year, the quadricentennial of the Mayflower’s First Landing at Provincetown, we owe gratitude to that small club of Provincetown ladies, all of them Mayflower descendants who, a century ago, preserved Pilgrim history for posterity to build upon.

Continue reading A guiding spirit

Magic of the attic

The Whorfs’ house in Provincetown.

While admiring April’s Super Pink Moon – and contemplating what the man up there must be thinking as he looks down on Earth’s current woes – the notion of the slingshot effect popped into my head. As someone who, as a kid, took great fascination in the Apollo program, I remember this term being used, described as a maneuver using gravity to change the speed or direction of the spacecraft. That’s as far as I will venture into the science of it, lest I earn the ridicule of all the scientists out there, but the term seemed an apt metaphor for my latest genealogical wanderings. We’ve all had those moments. We are on our way somewhere and then, in a sudden shift in trajectory, we are flung in another direction. Continue reading Magic of the attic

Overlooked no longer

Click on the images to expand them.

Just the other day I received an email from a friend in Provincetown. It started out cheerily enough with him telling me of an exhilarating walk he had taken at Great Island in Wellfleet, but it struck a despairing note at the end when he mentioned that a recent New York Times story about Mayflower 400 events had failed to even mention Provincetown. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Pilgrim story, Provincetown is accustomed to being overlooked. Continue reading Overlooked no longer

Family ties

What is it that they say about coincidences, that there are no coincidences? The word is defined as suggesting a remarkable concurrence of circumstances that seem to have “no apparent causal connection.” The OED shows a 1598 usage meaning “exactly contemporaneous” and a 1656 usage meaning “occupying the same place.” It seems that, in reality, coincidences are less magical than they initially appear to be when one considers the probability of two events occurring.

I thought about coincidences recently when taking The Weekly Genealogist survey that asked about personal connections to NEHGS. Had the question been asked just a few days earlier I would still have been able to check a number of the boxes, but the coincidence of it appearing when it did allowed me to check the last box, the one about a connection to NEHGS not mentioned in the survey. Continue reading Family ties

A colonial goldmine

Sarah Fayerweather cookbook. Images courtesy of Colonial North America at Harvard Library

Last year when I wrote about zinc headstones for Vita Brevis, I mentioned that after seeing my very first example of “white bronze,” I began seeing them regularly in various cemeteries. What were the odds, I asked? Well, it turns out that once we have been made aware of something, that something pops up frequently because our brains are unconsciously in search of another example. It’s called frequency illusion.

Which brings me to the recent daylong seminar at NEHGS – “Seventeenth-Century English Research with the Society of Genealogists UK” – that I had the pleasure of attending. Continue reading A colonial goldmine

The youngest volunteer

Those of us who love the informalities and irregularities of older cemeteries know that there are surprises and delights at every turn. On our rambles (mine, at least), progress is slow as we meander, waylaid and stopped in our tracks by the transcendent folksy beauty of carvings; by messages of remembrance, love, and loss; by wisdoms, life philosophies, and, occasionally, a mischievous bit of humor that momentarily lifts us from our solemnity.

In the older cemeteries, even when we’ve seen the classic motifs a hundred times before, or feasted on the opulence of Victorian-era monuments, there is always another example that seems to swallow our attention from a distance. We make a beeline to it, certain that it is the headstone of all headstones, the pièce de résistance, only to have another one come along that sets the bar even higher. Continue reading The youngest volunteer

Christmas for the horses

Photos courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The other night I tuned into one of my favorite programs, the always interesting and informative American Experience. I’ve been a devotee for most of the 30 years that the series has been produced. Taken as a whole, the series reminds me of one of those exquisite, perfectly-put-together album quilts of yesteryear, made by many hands, each block of eye-catching fabric elaborately designed, intricately sewn, and an expression and remembrance of the world as it was. Continue reading Christmas for the horses