Well, for what looked like it was going to be an awesome year … even in Roman numerals (MMXX) … 2020 is set to go down in history as one of the most trying ever! When so much of what we typically learn about history is painted by textbooks in wide, sweeping gestures, it can be illuminating to read the granular experiences of individuals. I’ve seen several small museums publishing requests for their patrons to keep diaries now, and sharing items online from their collections illustrating the importance of first-person history. In this spirit, I thought I would share a few accounts written by my own ancestors who lived through momentous events. Continue reading First person singular
Recently Meaghan E. H. Siekman shared tips for how to incorporate genealogy into at-home learning, noting that going through old photographs is a good way of introducing children to relatives who passed away before they were born.
That reminded me of a mystery in my own album of early childhood photos. It’s a picture of me taken on my very first Easter, sitting on the lap of an elderly man, and labeled: “Grandpa Ewer 98 Yrs.” Even as a very young girl, I was perplexed by this picture because I knew both of my grandfathers, and two of my great-grandfathers, and none of them had the name Ewer. When I asked my mother who this “Grandpa Ewer” was, she replied that he wasn’t really related to me. Who was he, then, and Why was he in my photo album? It was only when I started doing my own genealogical research that I found out. Continue reading ‘Grandpa Ewer’
When this blog was still fairly new, Christopher Carter Lee did a great post on discovering the political leanings of one’s ancestors. Since this is not only a presidential election year, but also the centennial of the first such election in which females could participate, I thought it would be fun to share a little tidbit I gleaned from my great-grandfather’s reminiscences. Yes, I do know how blessed I am to have such a document in my possession, even if it’s a very blurry copy of a fourth carbon copy. I will let him tell the story in his own words: Continue reading Worth listening to
The newest issue of American Ancestors magazine prominently features women: how to trace them, their accomplishments in the field of genealogy, and even their role “hiding in plain sight” with infants in early photographs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share something surprising that I discovered this past summer about one of my great-great-grandmothers.
I have spent countless hours tracking down genealogical material in old newspapers, but in this case, exciting information was handed to me on a virtual silver platter through a hint on Ancestry.com. Continue reading Riot girls
Twelve years ago, my family moved back to Salem, Oregon – the city where my husband had gone to college, and where we spent the first three years of our married life together. As the movers hauled furniture into our new home, we were welcomed with fresh bread and warm greetings by our new next-door neighbors. My husband recognized Tom right away as his former economics professor, which seemed like a lovely coincidence.
At some point over the years, we discovered that Tom had attended Pomona College, which my father also attended, but their years hadn’t quite overlapped. Then last year Tom and Priscilla hosted a bon voyage party just before our sabbatical trip, inviting everyone on the email list I’d used to send our itinerary to family and neighbors. My mother recognized Tom as a high school classmate, and we thought that was another fun coincidence … though in a school with 2,200 students, that didn’t mean they’d rubbed elbows frequently. Continue reading Small world
On a visit home several months ago, my older son introduced me to some works by H. P. Lovecraft that have been dramatized as pseudo-radio broadcasts. My son thought I would particularly enjoy The Case of Charles Dexter Ward … which is a bit of a warning to all of us family historians who might be tempted to take things a bit too far!
In this spooky short story, young Charles Dexter Ward comes from a prominent Providence, Rhode Island family, and gets pretty obsessed with an ancestor named Joseph Curwen, who fled from Salem Village during the 1692 witch trials and became a successful merchant, shipping magnate, slave trader … and sorcerer. The story is pure fiction (at least we should all hope that it is!), but it features several actual eighteenth-century Rhode Island luminaries, including Abraham Whipple, John and Moses Brown, and Esek Hopkins. Continue reading The case of Levi Starbuck
American Ancestors recently shared, via social media and The Weekly Genealogist, the news that the Rev. Thomas Cary’s diary (owned by NEHGS) was mentioned in a Ben Franklin’s World podcast. His diary was among the documents Susan Clair Imbaratto consulted in writing Sarah Gray Cary from Boston to Grenada: Shifting Fortunes of an American Family, 1753–1825. Combined with the anniversary of my own visit to the Chelsea, Massachusetts house in which Sarah (Gray) Cary and her husband — Thomas’s brother Samuel — lived, this news seemed like a clear invitation to write another blog post about the family.
This time I wanted to focus on Thomas’s life as a minister, a topic very close to my heart since my husband is also a minister. While the life of an eighteenth/nineteenth-century Congregational cleric has some profound differences from that of a twentieth/twenty-first-century Episcopal priest, I’ve found many diary entries that resonate with personal experience. Continue reading Call to ministry
One of the many benefits of pursuing genealogy is the chance to meet long-lost family members. In addition to the possibility of finding old photographs, documents, and family stories through them, the acquaintance itself can be a blessing. This past month, Oregon became the final state in “the lower forty-eight” that my fifth cousin once removed visited, and I was excited to host him and his wife for a couple of days.
My husband and I first met Cousin Dick last September when he led a tower climb at Washington National Cathedral. Once the climb was over, Dick pointed out a few details in the cathedral connected to our shared family legacy on Nantucket, and I was able to give him a Richard Mitchell & Co. flag, which I’d recreated from old paintings. You see, Dick is the sixth man in a row to be named Richard Mitchell, so it only seemed right that he should be able to fly the old “house flag.” In days of yore, each whaling ship flew a flag identifying the house (company) it belonged to, as well as a unique flag identifying the ship by name. Continue reading Richard Mitchell & Co.
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