Category Archives: American History

Parallel Patricks

Three generations, 1937: Patrick Dwyer, grandson Francis Dwyer (my father), son Michael F. Dwyer. My grandmother captioned this one “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

My father’s Irish-born grandfathers, Patrick Dwyer of Newport, Rhode Island, and Patrick Cassidy of Fall River, Massachusetts, had much in common besides their first names. They left behind parents, emigrated in their early twenties, arrived in New York within a year of one another, quickly became United States citizens, joined fraternal organizations, and purchased homes. Their exact birthdates are approximated because although baptismal records have been found for other siblings, records for the two Patricks fall in the gaps of Catholic registers. And in another coincidence, they were married by brother Roman Catholic priests, Thomas and Philip Grace.[1]

Patrick Cassidy, ca. 1885

Paternal grandfather Patrick Martin [middle name added later] Dwyer (ca. 1862–1945), a native of Dreenauliff, County Kerry, had a lifetime job as a blacksmith with the New England Steamship Company in Newport. Past 80, he died from injuries sustained from crossing a busy street without looking. By contrast, maternal grandfather Patrick Cassidy (ca. 1862–1891), a native of Cloonierin, County Mayo, dead at 29, supports the chilling statistic that about one-fifth of Irishmen died in their prime, usually from work-related accidents. Continue reading Parallel Patricks

Not a gangster in the bunch

Recently, I wrote about the search for my great-great-great-aunt Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox, and the rewards and pitfalls of what I like to call those Delayed Messages from “beyond.” While I was happy to put the mystery of Minnie to rest (and to collaborate with my new almost-a cousin-in-law Tom), the rest of my family didn’t seem all that enthused to learn the tale and final resting place of Aunt Minnie.[1] Heck, even my clan’s most ardent family history aficionados seemed numb to the small cache of findings about Minnie. The only thing I can say here is that I’m hopeful that their nonchalance about Minnie was just in deference to (and disapproval of) her curmudgeon of a husband, Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox. My great-great-great-uncle Billy probably should have been a 1920s-style “poster husband” for spousal abuse. This isn’t to say that I didn’t hear from “da folks” with regard to Tom’s and my discoveries about Minnie (or Billy). Only to say that by and large I heard from those polite branches, and they for the most part, are distant from ye olde trunk. Continue reading Not a gangster in the bunch

No detail too small

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When I started researching family history more than twenty years ago, I was eager to find out about my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated from Italy to America. Where did he come from? When did he emigrate? Did other members of his family come too? I hoped immigration records would answer these questions. Unfortunately, before the twentieth century, passenger lists did not provide much information, but at least one could glean a passenger’s age, occupation, marital status, native country, destination, whether he or she was in transit or intending to stay in the U.S., what compartment they stayed in, and how much baggage accompanied them. Genealogists likely pay close attention to most of these details, but why care about baggage?! Amazingly, in Gerardo’s case, such trivial information was to prove decisive in determining when he immigrated to America. Continue reading No detail too small

Mitochondrial prospects

My mother’s great-grandmother Mary Bethiah Paine (1848–1933).

With the new start of a new year (and decade), I always make genealogical resolutions. Often these renewed exercises in persistence focus on long-standing unsolved puzzles. At the top of my list, my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Jane Durin. Inspired by several articles in Nexus almost twenty years ago that outlined various contributors’ matrilineal ascents, I worked out my own matrilineal line that hit the brick wall with Jane’s marriage in 1667. My documentation for each successive generation looked reliable, especially since most of the marriages were recorded in town vital or church records: Continue reading Mitochondrial prospects

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

Billingtons three

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As my final 2020 post relating to this year’s anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, I’ll reminisce about how I found my own Mayflower line, somewhat accidentally, after nearly two decades of genealogical research. The families of my paternal grandfather, whose ancestors never left New England, actually had a tradition that they did not have any Mayflower ancestors. Early on in my researches, my aunt and I briefly thought we identified a descent from Stephen Hopkins, but we quickly realized it was a collection of mistaken connections. Over the years, I found a descent from brothers of Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow and John Howland, and from a cousin of Henry Samson. All close, but no direct ancestors on Plymouth’s first English ship. Continue reading Billingtons three

The ‘Magee storm’

As 2020, the year commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing in the New World, comes to a quiet end we can, with hopefulness, look forward in 2021 to making up for all the 2020 cancellations by commemorating the quadricentennial of many first-year Mayflower milestones. The “Winter of Death” and the death of the colony’s first governor, John Carver, were despairing events, but other milestones, including the treaty signed with Massasoit in March 1621, the first marriage in the Pilgrim village in May, and the harvest feast in late October lifted the colony’s hopes. The year 2021 should, in more ways than one, be recognized as the year of survival. Continue reading The ‘Magee storm’

Ghost towns

In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns

Body unknown

I climbed to the Harrisville Cemetery in Burrillville, Rhode Island, from the hill at its back. While preparing to put our canoe in at the boat access on Mill Pond, my dad had pointed up the forested slope and told me that the old graveyard was just through the woods. There are few things I love more than old cemeteries, and this one held an interesting connection to one of my particular historic interests – transit during the nineteenth century.

Towards the center of the cemetery, I came across the Bryant and Remington family plot with its large granite marker for 27-year-old Clarence S. Remington, “lost from the steamer Narragansett.” Continue reading Body unknown