All posts by Susan Donnelly

Susan Donnelly

About Susan Donnelly

Susan is a native New Englander and second generation American from a large extended family of artists. She spent two years with the Research Services team, working on several large projects, before joining Newbury Street Press. Prior to NEHGS, Susan was the director and auction coordinator with a premier antique gallery in Boston for two decades and an archival volunteer with the Hingham Historical Society. She received her B.A. in English Literature from Simmons College and holds a Professional Certificate in Genealogy from Boston University. Her research interests include Colonial America, royal ancestry, westward expansion, and U.S. migration trails. Susan is a photographer and potter and collects mid-century modern art.

Seasonal compromises

Trinity Church lit for the Christmas season.

“…as close to heaven as human hands and voices have ever crafted. To be amid people in a room so full and so fully at peace. This is the Christmas of dreams.” – Amy Traverso, Yankee Magazine.[i]

There are multiple reasons why the holidays are challenging for many people; this year there is an added feature putting stress on the season. Many of the parties and events we have built traditions around are inaccessible, while others are simply not possible. Continue reading Seasonal compromises

The potter’s field

THE NEW YORK HERALD, 29 July 1870

“We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64: 8

Recently, I was researching a case for a client whose ancestors had roots in Sullivan County, New York during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Locating New York records from any period presents a near perpetual brick wall. I had few clues with which to assemble this report.

According to the New York Death Register of Manhattan, my subject, John Gray, died from delirium at a city hospital in 1829 at age 41. From evidence furnished to us by the client, he was married nine years prior, probably near Liberty, in Sullivan County. The death register noted that he is buried in “Potter’s Field.” Discovering the whereabouts of burial for my subject could help lead to more details about the family, especially if some are interred with him. Continue reading The potter’s field

Lost Towns of the Quabbin

Atkinson’s Hollow, ca. 1910, Prescott, Mass.

If you live in the Greater Metropolitan area of Boston, your water travels a long way to get to your tap. And your palate thanks you! Boston water has a reputation for being straight from the spigot drinkable. Its origin is located 70 miles west of the city in a fresh water source known as the Quabbin.

The controversial Quabbin Reservoir project was roughly a 40-year effort, spanning from the 1890s to the near mid-century. The construction phase occupied the darkest years of the Great Depression. Continue reading Lost Towns of the Quabbin

Sold for a song

“You know, there is a shortage of beautiful, old theaters left in this country and this is one of them…” – Daryl Hall

 At some point during the first decade of 2000s, I went to see Hall and Oates at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. They were on a tour to promote a Christmas music album they released earlier that year, but I don’t think I knew that and I don’t know that many people in the audience did either. I went there to see Sarah Smile performed live, just like everyone else. When they were about to start their fifth consecutive Christmas folk song of the night, the entire theater whined in unison, and Daryl Hall was not amused. A known curmudgeon, he motioned for the band to stop playing before he disembarked the clown car of complaints about the esthetic and operational state of the theater. He said that he had seen quite a few such old auditoriums, that the one we were all together in at that moment was one of the most beautiful, and what a shame for the current owners not to value its charm and elegance. Continue reading Sold for a song

Collective memory

“As the flood itself has receded in Boston’s collective memory, so, too, have the players in this tragedy” – Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide

The Boston Globe, 15 January 1919

As genealogists, we build relationships with the dead. We see them in our minds as we peel back the layers of their lives. We absorb details about the environments where they lived and worked, and whether or not they had any time to play. Sometimes researching is like looking for a needle in a haystack; other times it’s like picking wildflowers in a field. When we have enough evidence, we write the stories of people we never knew. Continue reading Collective memory

The Great Molasses Flood

As slow as cold molasses.”

I’ve heard the adage about the substance probably more often than I’ve tasted it. I’ve never used the phrase, or typed it … until now. The expression, however, does make logical sense. Molasses is slow. I’ve made my share of gingerbread, and using molasses is a bit of a battle. The amount of waste is astounding. You have to make sure you allocate more than what the recipe calls for because it will cling to the measuring apparatus and mixing utensils creating an epic cleanup. In appearance, molasses seems predictable. I mean, you know molasses. Right? But how slow would 10 gallons of molasses be? Or 100? Continue reading The Great Molasses Flood