My second-ever Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather became a stationmaster for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. On the morning of 8 December 1941 (on his side of the International Date Line), Papi oversaw the departure of a Pan Am Clipper flying boat from Noumea, New Calendonia, which would immediately thereafter enter aviation history by flying “the long way” back to New York over uncharted routes. At almost the exact same time (on the American side of the International Date Line), a young man named Joe Pease was at the dock of Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor facility, awaiting the arrival of another Clipper. Needless to say, Joe had the more exciting morning! Continue reading Stubborn facts
Lightning has struck twice! More than a year ago, I wrote about my surprise (and slight suspicion) when someone contacted me seeking information about the Rev. Moses Marcus. As I wrote at that time, “In case another soul on the planet ever wants more information, I periodically check to see if I can find anything new about Moses Marcus.” It turns out that at least one other soul was interested!
I was contacted in March by a professional genealogist who had seen a query on JewishGen seeking information about Moses’s younger brother, Henry Robert Marcus. The genealogist found Henry in my online tree and wondered whether I might be able to help. Continue reading Lightning has struck
I recently attended a gala celebrating the 150th anniversary of my high school in Portland, Oregon. When I was a student there, and even at its 125th anniversary, Lincoln was billed as the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi. However, it turns out that Lowell High School in San Francisco (presumed to be private because it’s open to only a few select students, like Boston Latin) was actually the first. Curiously enough, both schools use the colors red and white; they share the cardinal as mascot. This coincidence is even stranger when one considers that zero cardinals live on the West Coast! Continue reading Passing the torch
In my very first post for Vita Brevis, I mentioned that I’d learned a wonderful tip from NEHGS staff: many historic Massachusetts land deeds can be browsed free online through Family Search. Since NEHGS serves lots of folks with family roots in Massachusetts, this is a valuable resource for many of this blog’s readers.
Armed with this knowledge, I sat down at my computer expecting to discover family real estate transactions … which I definitely found in spades. However, various other deeds were also recorded that I had not expected to find, including those for ships and even church pews. Then I found another kind of deed that really knocked me for a loop: a deed of manumission. It had never occurred to me that documents freeing slaves might be recorded alongside those for houses and farms. The man receiving manumission even shared a name with the man I wrote about in my last post: Cato, a former slave of John Hancock. Continue reading Well played
I truly went down a rabbit hole recently, and all the credit goes to NEHGS’s Chief Genealogist, David Allen Lambert. He recently reported in Vita Brevis that his second academic sabbatical was spent transcribing the 1800 “Taking Books” (tax records) for Suffolk County, Massachusetts. I commented then that I looked forward to checking out this new database, and recently I got around to doing so.
I’d already discovered my ancestor, George Athearn, in Boston city directories for 1798, 1800, 1803, 1805, 1806, and 1807, but it was still fun to check out his entry in the Taking Books. I noted wryly that his surname and that of his business partner, Stephen Fales, were both misspelled; additional notes were “Merch[an]t: ½ Store on Spears W[harf], partners w[ith] Fails, Large Ho[use]” with real estate valued at $3,000. Continue reading Curiouser and curiouser
A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a woman curious to know why her grandmother was in my online family tree. This is hardly a unique occurrence, since I enjoy tracking down fairly distant family connections. In this case, however, our connection was very close (at least by my standards): her mother was the great-aunt of my first cousin’s husband. I even personally saw my correspondent’s first cousin at my cousin’s wedding!
My husband, father, and I were able to represent the Mainland contingent of our family at her wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a fascinating experience, complete with island customs such as leis, a whole pig roasted in an imu, poi, and miniature kahilis as party favors. Continue reading Preventative measures
One of my sons discovered last month that we had an opportunity to view Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary constructed from World War I motion picture footage owned by the Imperial War Museum in London. The movie was shown on only two dates in December, but apparently will be released more generally beginning in January, so all is not lost if you missed seeing it.
The film’s premise is to restore the humanity of men who, up until this time, have been caught in a silent world of flickering black-and-white images. Modern digital techniques allowed Jackson’s crew to rebalance the density/lighting and speed of the film, and – in some footage – to add realistic color. Continue reading ‘They shall not grow old’
I’m sure that many of you asked for – and even received – some genealogical resources this holiday season. Hopefully they will be as rewarding as the items Genealogy Santa delivered to me! A few were things that I requested, but a couple were glorious surprises.
In the category of things requested were the latest mystery novel by my distant cousin, Cynthia Riggs, whose house on Martha’s Vineyard I wrote about last June; a very back issue of Historic Nantucket, the magazine of the Nantucket Historical Association; and a book published this year by history professor Everett U. Crosby. Continue reading Gifts from Genealogy Santa
At the end of October, I shared the exciting experience of touring the Gov. Bellingham-Cary House, where my distant cousin – the Rev. Thomas Cary (1745–1808) – spent time as a young adult. I mentioned near the end that I’d found something curious at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art vaguely related to his family, and now it’s time for the “reveal.”
While I don’t know what Thomas’s father or mother looked like, his mother’s sister, Katherine (Graves) Russell of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was painted by John Singleton Copley around 1770. The portrait, at left, is in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Continue reading The dress is all
The 31 October edition of NEGHS’s Weekly Genealogist ran a quiz asking readers whether they had any ancestors who participated in organized sports as adults. It reminded me that this past Thanksgiving marks one hundred and twenty years since my great-grandfather first played in “The Big Game” between the University of California (Berkeley was its only campus at the time) and Stanford – this year’s game will be played tomorrow.
Fred Athearn played a variety of sports at Pomona College, and when he transferred to the University of California he was urged by both students and faculty to be part of their football team. Cal had never beaten Stanford, but they’d just hired a new coach from “Back East,” and hoped that this – plus new blood among the players – would yield better results. The stakes of this rivalry were now higher than ever, since U.S. Senator James D. Phalen had just offered to place a statue on the campus of whichever university won two successive games. Until that happened, the statue would remain on display in Golden Gate Park. Continue reading “Grandfather Mustache”