All posts by Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

Saving Grace

Photo of Grace Dixon with her three childrenSometimes it starts with that picture in the attic. It falls out of its black corners and yellow cellophane as if to say, look at me, I’m here for a reason—challenging you to rediscover its past, to make the voice of its subject heard.

I think it must have happened this way for my sister, as she explored the small attic of our mother’s house a few months ago. Here among the musty bric-a-brac and old pictures, a single photograph shook itself free. Mrs. Grace Dixon: a woman none of us in the family had laid eyes on before, waiting buried deep within our archives for one of us to uncover her story.

Sis called me right away, and indeed, I was impressed with her find. I’d first heard of Mrs. Grace Dixon1 years ago, not through any family member, but rather via a brief biographical sketch in Phillip Judd and his descendants.2 At that time, I’d attempted to explore some of the facets of Grace’s life, and I admit that I’d given into genealogy’s worst enemy: assumption. Seeing her there in that old photo with her children, I winced at some of my previous speculations. My sister’s discovery became my opportunity to revisit Grace, and reevaluate what I thought I knew. Continue reading Saving Grace

James Dean: Of Winslows and Wishful Thinking

Photo of James DeanFew cinematic icons have endured in our collective consciousness as well as James Dean. Nearly seventy years after his death, his short and quixotic life has caused many to study not only his life and legacy, but also the possibilities of his ancestry. Indeed, with over fourteen hundred James Dean family trees on Ancestry.com, it seems that interest in this proverbial 1950s bad boy isn’t going away anytime soon.1

For me, there’s still an unabated curiosity revolving around the possibility of Dean having Mayflower ancestry. A quick look at several biographies and a myriad of trees reveals all the “old names” (Dean included) that might lead back to our cousins at Plymouth Rock. Yet nowhere among them could I find anything definitive, beyond the most tepid of answers or the vaguest research. I kept expecting someone to say that Dean had descended from the irascible Doty or the pious Brewster, or perhaps simply confirm that all possible Mayflower connections had been unequivocally disproved. Thus far, I’ve only found one researcher who was willing to make a definitive statement: “no such descent has been found.” That conclusion was drawn in a mid-1990s article by author Richard E. Brenneman.2

Continue reading James Dean: Of Winslows and Wishful Thinking

California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot

Promotional photo of Cass Elliot from 1972Even the smallest bit of nostalgia can set me off down a new genealogical rabbit hole. The other day, when I heard Cass Elliot singing Make Your Own Kind of Music1 in a car commercial on television, I knew right away that I was in trouble. Wouldn’t it be incredible to discover a genealogical connection with that legendary 1960s chanteuse? Okay—maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but for this aging flower-child, the thought of it was uber-cool. Curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to dig deeper.

Almost immediately, I saw that Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941, was Jewish by way of both her parents.2 Let’s face it—unless I’m ever able to find a 14th-century synagogue on the Orkney Islands , I have little chance of finding any similar lines here. This was disappointing, but I figured there had to be more to the story. I began to wonder who Cass had married, and if she had any children to whom I could establish a connection. Continue reading California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot

Tracing a tall tale: was Elvis really in the building?

Photo of Elvis Presley in 1970
Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own…

The myths and stories in any family history are tenuous things. Often self-serving, they mesmerize us—trapping us in visions of the past filtered through glossy hindsight and half-baked truths. The tales in my own family’s history are certainly no exception. However, even these spurious and specious tales may be lost and forgotten, ravaged by time, and become yet another casualty of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, or memory loss. I believe that “true or not,” we as family historians are obligated to protect, explore, and secure these stories. It’s what makes our pursuit somehow different from more academic fields: the preservation of the personal.

My step-mother was the source of many family tales of dubious origin, particularly when she was suffering through the early pains of dementia. Her best story will always be the one about her evening with Elvis Presley, and how that famous crooner sang a song for her one night. In light of the cruelties of her dementia (and my skepticism of her other tall tales), I wondered—how I could ever possibly know if it was true? Was there any way to trace back her shadowy tale of Elvis to see if what she said might ever have happened? Continue reading Tracing a tall tale: was Elvis really in the building?

An alter-ego’s tale

Groucho Marx:”Well, whaddya say girls? Are we all gonna get married?”

Woman: “All of us? But that’s bigamy!”

Groucho: “Yes, and it’s big-a-me, too.

Researching the collateral relatives of my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record has brought a host of complicated characters. From “liars, whores, and thieves”[1] and murdering wives,[2] to throat-slashing cousins[3] and snake oil salesmen[4] alongside lawyers for the KKK,[5] to the accompanying tragedies of kidnapping and allegations of rape,[6] it’s no wonder that some of them ran off to join a traveling theater,[7] or, oddly enough (and contrary to all other indications), the police force.[8] Yes, my folks from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Del Marva peninsula were a colorful bunch to say the least. Continue reading An alter-ego’s tale

All these lines

Every time when I look in the mirror/All these lines on my face getting clearer. ~ Aerosmith, 1973

Like a thief in the night, old age has claimed me. I’m not sure when that ignoble laird decided to vandalize me, but it’s certain I wasn’t paying very close attention. I expect it happened in the usual way, though I never expected to be harpooned by fishy-sounding Beta-blockers or riddled with Star Wars-like statins. And while I can’t see “the sunset” just yet, I can tell you that some of those evening stars have indeed arrived. Continue reading All these lines

Road lines

True love comes in the strangest ways.

It was, for me, not exactly love at first sight. There were those who said I was wasting my time with her; that she didn’t come from good lines and that her family was nothing but a bunch of hot heads or, worse, nouveaux riches. Still, I persisted. I mean it wasn’t like she’d been omitted from any of the more recent lists of Who’s Who in the appropriate Blue Books,[1] right? After all, what more could they want from her? Her family had indeed built skyscrapers;[2] in later years some of her adopted kin even became synonymous with our efforts during the last World War.[3] Perhaps in spite of all these things, or because of them, she rather captivated me, and I must confess that I quickly fell in love with her. Continue reading Road lines

Blended wives

“Two ladies and an officer seated at tea,” 1715. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

After reading Alicia Crane Williams’ recent post on Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester, I was reminded of a Glover ancestor of my own, Uriah Glover of Long Island, New York. Looking back through my notes and revisiting “all things Uriah,” I recalled that Uriah’s first wife Sarah Hopkins was an alleged descendant of that old tempest himself, Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins.

Since I’m always on the hunt for any elusive Mayflower line, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, I recalled that this possible connection had already been long since debunked, and my chances of picking up another line to Plymouth Rock were (yet again) quickly dashed against said rock.[1] Continue reading Blended wives

A letter to Paul

Paul Charles Doerr, 1931-1985

Dear Paul,

As far as letters go this won’t be much of one. After all, it’s a bit unusual to write letters to the dead; still, there seems much to say. I just wanted them to know who you were, Paul. I hope you can forgive me this along the way…   

Jeff

*

In the summer of 1968, my parents were well on their way to what would otherwise be an amicable divorce. Continue reading A letter to Paul

Introducing Martha

“Only trust your heart,” ca. 2010, courtesy of the artist Martha Wakefield

I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha. She’s my best friend of sorts, both before and after there was ever anything of me to call a life of my own. She certainly knows me very well, or at least half of everything, anyway. Thinking about it, I can’t say as she hasn’t heard all of my innermost thoughts and confessions. And while I don’t always heed her counsel or advice, I always feel it in my bones. Hers is a great concern for my well-being and survival. Truth be told, Martha is in the deepest recesses of my ancestry. Oh, she can be a bit shy and defiant, and it’s true that she often thinks she’s a lot funnier than she actually is. Yes, I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha, and just what Martha means to me. Continue reading Introducing Martha