All posts by Scott C. Steward

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About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

The weekend farmer

Of my four grandparents, it is my maternal grandfather[1] whose background seems most mysterious. He and his parents duly appear in Norfolk (Virginia) city directories and censuses, but much of the personal – the quirks and the quotidian – seems missing from the life he led before he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919.

His father, J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944), has, if anything, been more of a cipher. It was his father, also John Francis Bell (1839–1905), who appears out of thin air, hailing from Isle of Wight County and establishing himself as a contractor in Richmond. Frank Bell went south to Norfolk, where he met and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935). Frank Bell seems as solid as Estelle’s father, the roguish O.D. Jackson, proved transient, and he became a leading figure in Norfolk, managing hotels, winning election to the City Council, and helping to found the Rotary Club. Continue reading The weekend farmer

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh following the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Photo by Cecil Beaton, courtesy of Wikipedia.org

The birth of the newest member of the British royal family affords the chance to review all of young Archie Mountbatten-Windsor’s ancestry – from his paternal ancestors, well-covered in a range of sources, to his maternal forebears in America, about whom much remains to be learned. In the following ancestor table, Christopher C. Child and I have used some recent sources on the British royal family for Archie’s paternal grandfather’s family; Richard Evans’s The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales (with some updates published at Vita Brevis) and Burke’s Peerage for the baby’s paternal grandmother’s ancestors; and a variety of sources for the family of Archie’s mother, the Duchess of Sussex.

As British titles and honours can affect the name or title used at various stages in a person’s life, they are given in the table below, along with a separate glossary. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Title trouble

Punch cartoon from 1917. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The birth of Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth great-grandchild – the first child of HRH Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex,[1] and the former Meghan Markle – offers a 2019 gloss on names and titles in the British royal family.

During the First World War, the rulers of Germany and Great Britain were first cousins – and King George V of Great Britain had no agreed-upon surname. Whatever the family name was, it was German. This situation led to a wholesale renaming of the royal family (as the House of Windsor) and the ceding of assorted German titles for equivalents in the British peerage system. Continue reading Title trouble

Miniature works of art

Richard Bowers Oliver

Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.

Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office.[1] While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit. Continue reading Miniature works of art

“A perfect ‘Sallie Ward’”

Sallie Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs (1827-1896) by George Peter Alexander Healy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

She was once a by-word for her beauty, with “a curious kind of popularity, more like that of a French princess in her hereditary province, in whom her people claimed a sort of ownership, than the simple admiration of republicans for a fair being highly favored of fortune. If a child had a pet kitten or a bird of remarkable beauty, it was fondly named ‘Sallie Ward.’ If a farmer rejoiced in the possession of a young lamb or heifer which he wanted to praise to the utmost degree of comparison, he would recommend it as ‘a perfect “Sallie Ward.”’ She was the ideal of all that was pure, and sacred to young people who saw her only at a distance in her father’s carriage, or walking, attended, or at church.”[1]

Sallie Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs,[2] to give her her full array of names, was one of the most famous of the antebellum belles, the prototype of a beauty that, a generation later, would be captured by the still and then the moving picture camera. Continue reading “A perfect ‘Sallie Ward’”

Synchronicity

It’s always interesting when research projects overlap – and in unexpected ways. In working on a new genealogy of the Samuel Lawrence family of Groton, Massachusetts, I’ve encountered a man I covered in my 2013 book on the descendants of Nathaniel Saltonstall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. What makes the resonance even greater is that earlier members of both the Whitney and Saltonstall families appear in the Regina Shober Gray diary, and there is even a marriage between a Saltonstall cousin and one of Mrs. Gray’s sons. Continue reading Synchronicity

ICYMI: Grants for New England historians

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 October 2014. NERFC continues to add members and to increase the number of fellowships granted, so I urge doctoral candidates and freelance scholars to consider applying for one in the 2019–2020 cycle. Completed applications are due at midnight on Friday, 1 February 2019.]

Courtesy of R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS.

I will be out of the office today, attending a planning meeting for the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) at the John Hay Library in Providence. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is a member of the consortium, a group made up of New England state and local historical societies, university and college libraries (Harvard, Smith, Trinity, and Brown), and museums (Historic Deerfield and Mystic Seaport). What links the membership together, for the purpose of providing $5,000 research fellowships, is a shared interest in making their large collections available for use by historical researchers. Continue reading ICYMI: Grants for New England historians

Vita Brevis turns five

Photos by Claire Vail

When I became Editor-in-Chief at NEHGS in June 2013, one of the new initiatives Ryan Woods and I discussed was a blog for the Society. Current and former colleagues worked with me to establish the blog’s purpose and name, and – in time – got me set up on WordPress. (Two years later, when I was on a sabbatical, three current and former colleagues managed the blog in my absence.) So Vita Brevis has been a cooperative venture from the beginning, relying on the energy and commitment of the NEHGS staff and some dedicated outside contributors to produce fresh content. Continue reading Vita Brevis turns five

By the numbers

Since the blog launched (unofficially) on 2 January 2014 – with an official birthday of 10 January 2014 – Vita Brevis bloggers have written at least 1,252 posts, of which 1,244 have been published.[1]

The blog has 105 official users, with eleven administrators and 94 authors.[2]

In the blog’s five-year history, Scott Steward has published 260 posts, for about 21% of the total. Alicia Crane Williams comes next, with 175 posts (14%), then Christopher C. Child (82; about 7%). Other prolific bloggers include Zachary Garceau (49), Jeff Record (45), Jan Doerr (44), Penny Stratton (36), and Pamela Athearn Filbert (35). Continue reading By the numbers

2018: the year in review concluded

In a few days’ time the blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Here, to review the year just ended, are some posts from the second half of 2018 demonstrating the range of material published at Vita Brevis.

In July, Meaghan E. H. Siekman wrote about her great-grandfather, the Chicago-born son of Czech immigrants who

spent his lifetime chasing the American dream and preserving a history which was not directly his own, as none of his ancestors ever lived in colonial America. Evidence of the importance of American history in his life can be found in his obituary, which focuses more on his collections [parts of which ended up in the Smithsonian Institution] and preservation work than his career in medicine. Continue reading 2018: the year in review concluded