All posts by Meaghan E.H. Siekman

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About Meaghan E.H. Siekman

Meaghan holds a Ph.D. in history from Arizona State University where her focus was public history and American Indian history. She earned her B.A. in history from Union College in Schenectady, New York, the city where she grew up. Prior to joining the NEHGS team, Meaghan worked as the Curator of the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, as an archivist at the Heard Museum Library in Phoenix, Arizona, and wrote a number of National Register Nominations and Cultural Landscape Inventories for the National Park Service. Meaghan is passionate about connecting people with the past in meaningful and lasting ways. She enjoys finding interesting anecdotes about an ancestor to help bring the past to life.

Reflections on Researching Racism in America

Thomas Bivins Probate Inventory (1857), Marion, Inventories and appraisements 1852-1904, “Georgia, Probate Records, 1742-1990,” FamilySearch.

I have agonized over what I would say in a blog post that would speak to the gravity of where our nation is today. I question if it is my place to say anything or if this is even the forum to do so. The more I debated in my head, the more convinced I became that I needed to write something, if only to amplify the voices of those speaking out against the racism they face every day.

Continue reading Reflections on Researching Racism in America

Quarantined kids and family history

If you are anything like me, you have spent the last couple weeks at home with little faces staring at you for attention while you try to get work done. Quarantine has proved particularly challenging for parents of school-age and younger children as we added homeschooling to our day jobs, all within the confines of our homes. The mom groups I am a part of have been sharing activity ideas to keep kids engaged and occupied. I realized a lot of them can be adapted with a family history theme to use this time to learn about our families and our history: Continue reading Quarantined kids and family history

Before the Mayflower

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, “The First Thanksgiving, 1621.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A popular image exists of Native Peoples meeting the passengers of the Mayflower as a first contact scenario where the indigenous populations in what would become New England saw Europeans for the first time. This is a romantic myth designed to create warm feelings of a cooperative relationship leading to the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Native populations in New England had already met European fishermen and traders nearly a century before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth and their interactions with Europeans made them wary of the newcomers.[1] Continue reading Before the Mayflower

Where the Partridge Drums

Akwesasne baskets; some by Florence Benedict. Photo by Meaghan E. H. Siekman.

While I was in graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on tribal museums and the ways they share authority with the communities that they serve. I focused my research on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation known by the people who call it home as Akwesasne, which translates to “Where the Partridge Drums.” I was honored to spend many years getting to know the place and its people.

“You are on Mohawk Land.”

You know you are in Akwesasne as soon as you arrive because there are large signs on the roads leading into the reservation that read “You are on Mohawk Land.” They have good reason to assert their claim to the land since they have had to defend their right to live and move freely within their own reservation for centuries. Continue reading Where the Partridge Drums

Facing death

Deathbed portrait of Elizabeth Royall, attributed to Joseph Badger, ca. 1747. NEHGS Fine Art Collection, photograph by Gavin Ashworth

Unfortunately, over the last month I had to visit a few different funeral homes. On one visit, my husband asked why funeral homes always resembled a house. Knowing a bit about the evolution of how we handle death in America, I explained that it is because a wake or viewing used to take place within the person’s home. Funeral “parlors” or “homes” are intentionally designed to resemble the parlors in homes where we once laid out our dead for visitation.

This question led me to revisit some of my old studies about death in America and how handling the dead went from being a very personal and hands-on experience for the survivors to something that is handled by professionals outside of the home. Continue reading Facing death

To be American

I grew up with an understanding that I had German and Irish roots. My paternal grandfather would often pull out a few German phrases he learned from his grandparents. On my mother’s side my cousins and I all took great pride in being “Kiley girls.” While these identities were strong in my upbringing, it wasn’t until I was older that I realized my most recent immigrant ancestor was not German or Irish, but Czech – an identity that was not impressed upon me at all.

Continue reading To be American

Genealogical lessons

A poster dated April 24, 1851, warning colored people in Boston to beware of authorities who acted as slave catchers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many genealogists will tell you that they get absorbed into the world of the ancestors they are researching. Often one can’t help but recreate their environment and the things they experienced while seeking out documents that help piece together that puzzle. Due to the nature of my work, for me this means coming face to face with the realities of slavery and colonization nearly every day.

Slavery research can be difficult logistically as I try to piece together the lives of ancestors where little documentation exists. The harder aspect of the work is emotional, particularly when it means going page by page through slavery registers of children to find an ancestor recorded among them. Regardless of the challenges, it is important work that has provided me with a much deeper understanding of our past as a nation and the continuing implications of that history on our present. Continue reading Genealogical lessons

Bittersweet discoveries

I have traced my husband’s paternal line back to Anthony Siekman, who was born in Germany about 1821. I knew from his petition for naturalization that he arrived in the United States in 1852, but I did not know much beyond that. As the progenitor of this line in America, I have Anthony to thank for the surname I carry after marriage and the name my children will carry into the world. Perhaps this is the reason why I first took an interest in piecing together the details of his life, but what I discovered was a tragic story that led to more questions. Continue reading Bittersweet discoveries

ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation. Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 February 2016.]

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading ICYMI: Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

Family marks

My family spent a mostly rainy Memorial Day weekend at my family’s summer home in the Catskills. The house that has been called simply “the Farm” for at least four generations holds a special place in my heart and some serendipitous discoveries around the property over the course of the weekend reminded me that I am not the first in my family to feel a strong connection to the place.

As one of my son’s first trips up for the season, we were sure to measure him against the growth chart on the pantry door that recorded my development and that of all my cousins. It was a fun to see that my 19-month-old is almost as tall as I was at 2 years old, which hopefully means he will be taller than me! Beyond that, seeing all the markings on the wall brought back memories of childhood. The door is now a document of how many of us were raised under the Farm’s roof. Continue reading Family marks