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.

Salient points

Mrs. A. C. Burrage Jr. and Mrs. C. F. Ayer, ca. 1915.

One of my great-grandmothers[1] was a penniless orphan, the kind found in storybooks: beautiful and, secretly, a dispossessed member of a once proud family. As often happens when a child’s parents die young, much of this background was lost: my grandmother’s mother, born Sara Theodora Ilsley in Newark, was the daughter of a composer (and member of a distinguished family of musicians), granddaughter of one of the men who owned the yacht America,[2] and the descendant of a notable set of families along the Eastern Seaboard, including the first Congressman from New York City (and an aide-de-camp to General Washington)[3] and the Attorney-General of the Colony of Pennsylvania.[4]

Her descendants knew almost nothing of this when I was growing up, perhaps because of that break occasioned by Theodora’s father’s death in 1887 and her mother’s death in 1895, when she was fourteen. Continue reading Salient points

College records

Harvard 1921 and Columbia 1873

In the books I have written (or co-authored) in the last twenty years or so – on the Thorndike, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, and Winthrop families – I have usually noted the academic histories of family members as well as the more usual genealogical data. I’m occasionally asked why, and until recently I didn’t really have an answer.

While I generally answered that college and university records could help flesh out a sparse biographical narrative for someone treated in one of these books, I would now add that, often, they help keep the genealogist honest. After all, someone born in 1940 wouldn’t be likely to graduate from college in 1954, while a late graduation date begs further study. At the very least, a focus on filling in this area helps distinguish Charles Smith from Chad Smith – not to mention Charles Chad Smith! Continue reading College records

2019: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about the first six months of 2019 as reflected through Vita Brevis posts. Herewith, the rest of 2019:

In July, Jan Doerr – whose family has long been settled in the area around Augusta, Maine – reflected on the uses of old business records:

I wanted to know how my late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century ancestors interacted with the people of the Fort Western Settlement every day, what they traded or bought from the Howard store, and why. I have no primary source material from those Fisher, Williams, or Read families, and only a few pieces from my side of the Coney family. Fortunately, other residents weren’t as reticent as my family (or as inclined to paste newspaper clippings over old account book pages!). Continue reading 2019: the year in review concluded

2019: the year in review

In January 2019, Vita Brevis marked its fifth anniversary with a series of posts, among them one on the blog “By the numbers.” After listing a number of statistics about the blog to that point, I made the following comments:

[But] Vita Brevis is more than the numbers, the percentages, the ongoing series. It is meant to educate; it is meant to entertain. Like P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, it aims to guide its readership – gently, with carrots, not sticks – to the right path, toward genealogical breakthroughs. How? By breaking down the thought processes that successful genealogists use to undertake fresh research, building upon previous work when assessing a new genealogical problem. Continue reading 2019: the year in review

Royal Livingstons

While working on the various connections of the Livingston family in Scotland, I had a vague recollection that I had encountered multiple Livingstons in the ancestry of the late Diana, Princess of Wales; several years ago I edited a book on her forebears,[1] and I pictured several lines from which to choose. The same, in a sense, must be true for the Prince of Wales, whose ancestry was covered so fully in Gerald Paget’s 1977 work.[2]

Well, yes and no. I suspect the name I sought was the Saltonstall family in the Princess’s ancestry – a family about whom I have written a book![3] The Saltonstalls appear with some frequency in The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales, as we were careful to note the families in her ancestry with American connections. Continue reading Royal Livingstons

Mysterious Menteiths

Click on images to expand them.

As I work at reconstructing the environment in which the Livingstons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lived, I have been struck by the frequency with which I have encountered members of the Menteith family. (It is fair to say that there are a number of such families in this project, interrelated in various ways, but the Menteiths keep turning up!) To arrive at the early modern Livingston family, I have gone back on various lines (including the ancestry of Livingston spouses), so the resulting family trees cover individuals who were not named Livingston – or aware of these particular connections. Continue reading Mysterious Menteiths

In ceaseless orbit

Gowrie House, Perth. Courtesy of Perth & Kinross Council

As I continue to map out the connections of the Livingston family of Callendar, Stirlingshire, I am struck by how comparatively closely related the sixteenth-century Livingston family was to two of the husbands of Mary, Queen of Scots. A third connection, rather less salubrious, was to some of the murderers of David Rizzio, or Riccio, which occurred in the presence of the Queen while pregnant with the future King James VI. (Rizzio was accused by his assailants of being the child’s father.) Continue reading In ceaseless orbit

Marrying up

The ruins of Cadzow Castle.

In reviewing some late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century marriages in the Livingston family in Scotland, I was struck by a pair of alliances that must have been important to the Livingstons of that era. This review also underlined my impression that the records of that period – and the later accounts based on those records – can be a challenge, since all too often the compilers shrug and offer “(?) daughter of ______ Somebody of Somewhere” by way of identification. Continue reading Marrying up

Far-flung relations

My great-great-grandfather John Francis Bell (1839–1905)[1] is largely a mystery: he appears unheralded in Richmond, Virginia, in the mid-nineteenth century; his son’s 1915–37 journal makes no reference that I can find to any family on the Bell side. (My great-great-grandmother, known after her marriage as Bell Bell, was Isabella J. Phillips, of a large family centered in Henrico County; I have yet to see any mention of her cousins, some of whom my grandfather knew well.)

Almost all references to family in J. Frank Bell’s journal, then, are to his wife, his children,[2] or to members of the extended Jackson and Eggleston families to which my great-grandmother’s parents belonged. Continue reading Far-flung relations

‘Lots of company’

It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal[1]: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.

1920

9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.

Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.

23 October: Turned on electric lights tonight. Continue reading ‘Lots of company’