Category Archives: 175th Anniversary

2020: the year in review concluded

Detail of Leiden map, ca. 1600, a hand-colored engraving created by Pieter Bast, showing the Pieterskerk and surrounding area. Courtesy of Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken (Heritage Leiden and Region)

[Author’s note: Part One appears here.]

In July, Tamura Jones collated the references to important dates in the Mayflower’s journey to New England to sort out when the Julian calendar is meant and when the Gregorian calendar is used. In the process, he pointed out that 31 July 2020 was the four hundredth anniversary of the Pilgrims’ departure from Leiden:

“The Mayflower Pilgrims left Leiden on 21 July 1620 of the Julian calendar. Commemorating that on 21 July 2020 of the Gregorian calendar makes no sense. You just cannot mix and match dates and calendars like that.

“There are two obvious candidate dates for the quadricentennial. If we were still using the Julian calendar, we would surely commemorate the departure on 21 July 2020 of the Julian calendar. Continue reading 2020: the year in review concluded

2020: the year in review

Plymouth Harbor. Photo courtesy of James Heffernan

As we reach the end of this extraordinary year – one marked by titanic public stresses and private losses – it is time to review a few of the blog posts that appeared in Vita Brevis in 2020. Most posts, of course, concerned genealogical pointers and results, but some addressed the current moment, when so much of our time was spent solitary and in front of a computer screen.

Of course, at the start of 2020 the blog – and NEHGS – focused on twin anniversaries: the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, in 1620, and the 175th birthday of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, in 1845. Continue reading 2020: the year in review

A brief history

As we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of NEHGS during 2020, I wanted to explore the history and present of our website, AmericanAncestors.org. I can’t cover the entire history of the our website in one brief post, but as I spoke to my colleagues who have worked at NEHGS for many more years than I, I found many parallels between our work today and the website of the past. Continue reading A brief history

ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 July 2020.]

Façade of 9 Ashburton Place, NEHGS headquarters in 1920.

During this 175th anniversary year, I wondered how we marked an earlier NEHGS milestone, one hundred years ago. To learn about the state of the Society in 1920, I looked at Boston newspapers online and NEHGS Proceedings and a scrapbook in our R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

On Thursday, 18 March 1920, NEHGS celebrated its 75th anniversary of incorporation—to the day—and recognized the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. From 2 to 6 p.m. that day, the Society welcomed the public to an open house at “its spick and span headquarters,” then located at 9 Ashburton Place in Boston, near the Massachusetts State House. Guides greeted the visitors and introduced them to the Society and its collections. Tea was served. Continue reading ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

Our family album

As we close out our 175th anniversary year, I was struck by the wealth of our own history as I worked along with Cécile Engeln on The Family Album: A Visual History of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1845–2020. I have been an employee of NEHGS for only four years, so I didn’t really know many of the details about our past history myself. Continue reading Our family album

‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

“I might understand if only you wouldn’t explain.”[1]

The contours of this year’s two hundredth anniversary of Maine’s statehood have been undeniably unexpected. Most anniversary celebrations here were cancelled or postponed, leaving most Mainers “celebrating” from the comfort of their homes. I began to think about the convergence of ancestral factors in my family history, Spanish Flu and Covid-19 aside.

My cousin Asa Williams, the builder of Our Old House, came to Maine about the same time and from a nearby Massachusetts town as my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read, with their wives (who were third cousins and stepsisters), settling at the Fort Western Settlement, the area’s trading post, bank, and social venue, the center of the tiny community’s daily life. Continue reading ‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

A publishing timeline

From the very beginning, the New England Historic Genealogical Society intended to publish works helpful to genealogists. In fact, the first section of the 1845 charter stated that the founders had formed a corporation “for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and occasionally publishing genealogical and historical matter relating to early New England families.” Since then, NEHGS has had a vibrant history of publishing, so let’s take a whirlwind tour through that publishing timeline.

In January 1845, according to the proceedings, “a committee was appointed to prepare a circular for the use of the Society.” That November, the Society formed a committee to publish a journal “devoted to the printing of ancient documents, wills, genealogical sketches and Historical and antiquaria matter generally.” Continue reading A publishing timeline

Soulful eyes

Every day I come into the office, I look above my desk and say hello to my lady with the soulful brown eyes. You might ask, “Who is she?” She is Beatrice Cenci, a young woman whose portrait is displayed in a beautiful gold leaf frame. She joined my office suite in 2018 and has calmed me in times of stress or when I need a break from staring at a computer screen.

I did some research on the Internet and Wikipedia about the Portrait of Beatrice Cenci after learning a bit about this copy of the painting from Curt DiCamillo, Curator of Special Collections at American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogy Society. Continue reading Soulful eyes

Rooted in history

A detail of the Clapp pear tree

As a genealogist, when I hear the word “tree” I typically think of family trees, not the outdoor variety used for shade on a sunny day. However, I came across an interesting newspaper article about a gentleman named James Raymond Simmons who gave a lecture on trees at the New England Historic Genealogical Society one hundred years ago. Simmons, who served as secretary-forester of the New York State Forestry Association and assistant state forester of Massachusetts, described trees as “the oldest living witness of our past history.”[1] He compiled a list of Massachusetts trees and their connection to people and historic events, which he included in his book The Historic Trees of Massachusetts.[2] Although a few of his examples have tenuous connections, I appreciate the message Simmons attempted to convey to his audience. Continue reading Rooted in history

Undimmed luster

One of the features of this anniversary year – the four hundredth since the Mayflower’s landing at Plymouth as well as the 175th anniversary of the Society’s founding in 1845 – has been a focus on early members of the Society, people no one alive today can have known. As a historical society, we are familiar with old records, even ones biographical in nature, but there is still something uncanny about how some early members – even some of the Society’s founders – come to life in the stories of their own time. Continue reading Undimmed luster