Category Archives: American History

‘In memory of the dead’

A grave marker at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. Photo by Claire Vail Photography

American Ancestors recently announced a new database: Massachusetts: Catholic Cemetery Association Records, 1833-1940. This partnership between NEHGS, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCA) makes available newly-digitized lot sale and burial records as well as cemetery maps to aid researchers. The records of thirteen cemeteries are currently available to search, with more cemeteries to be added to this database throughout the year. Continue reading ‘In memory of the dead’

Bringing the pain

The “Victorian Trade Card” at left recently came up for sale on eBay, prompting a friend to send it to me as it concerns “John Payne’s Fish and Fruit Market, Putnam” in my Connecticut hometown. While I had never heard of the business, I soon found John Paine (1850-1919) listed in censuses as a fish peddler, meat peddler, and butcher.[1] A decent treatment of the Paine family in northeastern Connecticut is given in the eighth volume of Clarence Winthrop Bowen’s Genealogies of Woodstock Families. While I have a full set of this work at home, I had loaned the last two volumes for several years to Scott Andrew Bartley so he could use them for Early Vermont Settlers to 1784, as they cover many families moving from northeast Connecticut to Vermont. (The first six volumes are available online.) Fortunately, he had returned them to me only a few days before this card was sent my way! Continue reading Bringing the pain

A president’s origins

Chester Alan Arthur. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given the growth and proliferation of twenty-four-hour news networks offering instantaneous political commentary, nearly every American adult is likely aware of the (demonstrably false) allegation that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As many also know, President Obama was easily able to provide records which thoroughly debunked the baseless narrative. This was not, however, the first time a United States president was faced with questions about his origin which were dispelled by supporting records.

Beginning in late 1880, then Vice President-elect Chester A. Arthur was alleged to be a native of Canada, and, therefore, ineligible to hold the office to which he had been elected. Continue reading A president’s origins

In praise of maiden aunts

Sally Leeds. Author’s collection

As most genealogists focus their in-depth research on direct ancestors, I have adopted the term “genealogical orphans” for persons with no living descendants to take an interest in researching them. While we usually document the births of all known children in a family, and sometimes their marriages and deaths, we less frequently go beyond the basics to learn about their lives. We have been encouraged to investigate family, associates, and neighbors (the “FAN club”), but often do so only in search of evidence to document a hard-to-prove family relationship. Yet I have found that these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors. Continue reading In praise of maiden aunts

Nostalgia

I recently remarked to Son how it seemed to me that as I age my family history research becomes more like nostalgia, a walk down Memory Lane, and increasingly frequent but random reminiscences. Eschewing the expected age jokes, Son promptly provided me with several columns in the Maine Farmer newspaper written between October 1876 and May 1877 by one “D.C.” and entitled “Random Thoughts and Recollections.” D.C. wrote more than ten columns in the slightly purple style of the times about his memories of people, places, and events, a gold mine of information about places and people in the 1820s and 1830s, Augusta and Hallowell, Maine in particular. Continue reading Nostalgia

Trinidaddy

In the last post about our family christening gown, I mentioned that my “middle” brother, John Winthrop Williams, was not christened in the gown. John was born 5 October 1941 (two months and two days before Pearl Harbor) at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts.[1]

Dad was a Corps of Engineers combat engineer stationed at Trinidad, British West Indies. Mom and David, their firstborn, were living with her parents in Natick, Massachusetts, with plans to join Dad in Trinidad once the baby was born. Continue reading Trinidaddy

Cats and dogs

Courtesy of the Berkshire Eagle

For those of you who are familiar with the Berkshires, you will recognize this statue of a cat and dog spitting at each other as the centerpiece of an iconic fountain in downtown Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The statue sits in the intersection of South and Main Streets and entices travelers to explore beyond the famed Red Lion Inn. The sculpture has had a number of meanings attached to it over the years and has become a piece of Stockbridge history. Continue reading Cats and dogs

Marion’s genes

Marion Sylvia at his farm in Marion, Massachusetts in 1917.

In 1982, when I discovered my mother’s great-grandfather, Azorean immigrant Marion Sylvia (ca. 1847–1924), Mom asked me, “How much Portuguese ancestry do I have?” Marion remains my only identified maternal forebear without any links to the British Isles. Long before DNA analysis, I calculated Mom’s Portuguese ethnicity at 12.5%, with her mother at 25%, and her maternal grandmother, Marion’s daughter, at 50%. Now, we all know these percentages may not match the amount of atDNA after four or five generations. Continue reading Marion’s genes

Looking for earlier marriages

When editing an article for the Mayflower Descendant, I try to look for references the author might have missed, which, in turn, can sometimes lead down a rabbit hole of further information only tangentially related to the article at hand. The following concerns an upcoming article in our Winter Issue by Rich Hall on the Mayflower ancestry of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. The article is quite interesting, as it adds an additional generation on Senator Duckworth’s lineage for which she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.[1] The Senator’s line has a number of generations of people marrying several times, with spouses who were also married several times. The following is one such example. Continue reading Looking for earlier marriages

‘All these many years’

“I have saved this book all these many years. Think and read before you destroy it. Thought and prayer my darling,” Love, M… – 1835

There’s an antique hymnal tucked away in the wilds outside Boise, Idaho. The pages are jaundiced and “crackled,” and they seem to move away from the hinges and endbands as if by design. Inside this venerable old book, there’s an inscription…

Varicolored inks recede from the well-penned markings along the ancient pastedown. It’s here against the board where her message is. She writes in a tone of loving admonition; her “voice” inviting her darling to “thought and prayer” before it fades into a signature of murky identity. Continue reading ‘All these many years’