Last year, the Boston Globe interviewed my colleague Sarah Dery on the ancestry of recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and myself on the “Boston Brahmin” ancestry of her husband, Dr. Patrick Graves Jackson. While I’ve also discussed here the numerous Harvard graduates in the Jackson family, one other interesting item is the origin of his name Patrick, which was a rather uncommon name for Yankee families in Massachusetts before the American Revolution.
Similar to my own name of Christopher, Patrick tended to be a name amongst Catholics, with Pilgrims and Puritans rarely using the name in the 17th and 18th centuries. Within our database of New England Marriages to 1700, there are only thirteen married men named Patrick in all of New England in the seventeenth century.
Situated in Boston’s Back Bay is a particularly unique and beautiful building known by a few different names. I know it as the Armory—to others, it’s the Castle at Park Plaza. It sits at the intersections of Columbus Ave and Arlington St, looking like a relic of the past: a medieval fortress surrounded by tall office buildings, skyscraping hotels and trendy restaurants (looking at you, Salt Bae). Today, the building is lost in the skyline. When it was built in 1897, however, it stood proud and at attention for the cadets who used it.
The Armory (or Castle) was originally constructed as the headquarters for the First Corps of Cadets of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. If you have never heard of this before, it is because it no longer exists as it once did. The corps was reorganized and ultimately became part of the U.S. military—a relic of a bygone era. Continue reading The Armory: The Story Behind a Unique Boston Landmark→
Unlike the old-world monarchies of Europe, the United States has no hereditary titles. Even so, some families have become political dynasties. We can count the Roosevelts as one such family. Along with the Adamses, Harrisons, and Bushes, the Roosevelts have produced two presidents. Indeed, in the twelve elections from 1900 to 1944, a Roosevelt appeared on eight ballots for president or vice-president. Theodore and Franklin are the most recognizable Roosevelts, but the family’s roots and branches extend from the 17th-century Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to the present day.
Despite their public image, tracing the family history has been exceedingly difficult. The early Roosevelt family left few records. Like other immigrants who came to the United States in the colonial period, the reasons they left Europe are hazy, and the jobs they took up varied. Not all Roosevelts were aldermen and wealthy tycoons, and not all Roosevelts settled in New Amsterdam. They strayed to Pennsylvania, Delaware, the Carolinas and Georgia. Continue reading Uncovering a Lesser-Known Roosevelt Legacy→
It’s really hard for me to go on vacation without being tempted to do genealogy. I don’t mean my own family—that’s its own problem—I mean researching the history of the place I’m visiting, or the family history of the people who made it a vacation destination.
Case in point: I recently visited the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia with my family. Super fancy, very historic. The decoration style isn’t what you’d call modern—the bold colors, wallpaper patterns, bright carpeting, and ornate chandeliers could only work in that space. The sprawling campus is home to a hotel, three golf courses, a spa, horseback riding trails, a casino, and—most compelling of all—a former secret government bunker.1Continue reading A Secret Government Hideaway in the Allegheny Mountains→
I am incredibly fortunate that I have my dream job, working remotely as a Genealogical Researcher with the Boston-based New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS), while living in my dream location – the remote Keweenaw Peninsula of northern Michigan.
Last week I was sitting in Shute’s 1890 Saloon—an historic watering hole in the city of Calumet, Michigan—reflecting on my good fortune, when I looked up at the television flanking the old Brunswick-stained glass canopy and recognized a familiar ship on the screen. The film was a 1952 movie called Plymouth Adventure, a rather questionable depiction of the Mayflower landing on Plymouth Rock. It got me thinking about how I came to be in this spot: a Finn drawing a paycheck from a Boston organization in remote northern Michigan. Surely, I represent a strange confluence of events. Continue reading Boston Roots in the Keweenaw Peninsula→
Over fifty years ago on an autumn Sunday, I met formally with Chief BlackHawk of Tiverton, Rhode Island. My visit had been arranged through the chief’s sons, Algoma “Goma” Clarke (1926–1980) and Watacee “Tecee” Clarke (1934–1975), master carpenters who built my father’s office in 1964 and remained family friends. Tall and spare, with graying hair combed straight back and hazel eyes, Chief BlackHawk looked like he could have stepped out of an Edward Curtis photograph. He presented me with these booties, which I kept atop my bedroom dresser ever since, until they made their way into a display case with other cherished mementoes. Continue reading Booties from Chief BlackHawk→
Plenty of people own Shaker furniture or have heard of Shaker-style craftsmanship, but it’s less common to find someone with Shaker ancestry. There’s good reason for that: the Shakers, or the United Society of Believers, were a Christian religious sect that believed in gender equality, pacifism, and complete celibacy—no marriage or children. They first arrived in the U.S. from England in 1774 and settled in villages throughout the Northeast and Midwest, where they lived communally, kept separate from “the world” of nonbelievers, and worshipped through song and dance.
Shakers didn’t hold with violence, so I was intrigued to come across the story of Caleb Marshall Dyer, believed to be the only Shaker murder victim in history. A respected leader in his community, he was killed in a dispute with a local man over custody of the man’s daughters, who had been entrusted to the Shakers of Enfield for a period of time. Ironically, I only became aware of Caleb Dyer because of his involvement in an earlier custody dispute—that time not as a community leader, but as one of the children in question. Continue reading Discovering Caleb Dyer, the Only Shaker Ever Murdered→
Scott Steward, founder and editor of Vita Brevis, retired last month. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet for all of us at American Ancestors/NEHGS, allowing me space to vent about research projects, share what I’ve learned about certain record collections, and manipulate a genealogical theme just enough to warrant another post about Harry Potter.
But the most satisfying, miraculous, and fulfilling posts that I’ve written were about the first winner of the Boston Marathon, John J. McDermott—and we still don’t have an answer to our mystery yet. But you could help!
On April 20, 2015, I wrote the first of my posts ( Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go? ) in which I lamented the difficulty of locating a person with a very common name in a very large place. According to period newspapers, John J. McDermott, the winner of the first Boston Marathon in 1897, was an avid long-distance runner from the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City. John was born about 1880, immigrated from Ireland, and worked as a lithographer in New York. While McDermott should have been a celebrity of his time, newspapers and marathon histories neglected to report any information about his personal life: no date of birth, date of death, or names of his wife, children, or other family members. Continue reading Continuing the search for the first Boston Marathon winner: we want your help!→
In early July I was given the opportunity to attend an online educational event, “Women in the Gilded Age,” with guest speakers Laura Thompson and Betsy Prioleau, part of the American Inspiration series at NEHGS. The draw was my interest in women’s history, and this event sparked my interest further and provided me with a newfound love of the history of the Gilded Age of New York (1870–1910), a captivating era of growth, greed, and deep cultural changes.
I became truly fascinated by one woman in particular, Miriam Leslie, known in her day as Mrs. Frank Leslie. What intrigued me about Mrs. Leslie was the way in which she challenged the societal norms of the time; in a time that expected women to be homemakers, she stepped up, challenged misogyny, and worked her way to success as a professional businesswoman, taking over the publication business of her late husband, Frank Leslie, and inspiring women who sought more than domesticity. Continue reading Mrs. Frank Leslie→
When Scott Steward told me about his forthcoming departure from NEHGS, he asked if I could send him one more Vita Brevis post “for the road.” The posts I have written have largely been when I need a mental break from whatever genealogy I am working on or go down a rabbit hole on a minor problem within a project; they are sometimes inspired when I am engaged in other forms of entertainment outside of work. While I had one such post “in the cupboard” for Scott to publish, I thought a more appropriate final post under Scott’s editorship would be reminiscing about the many projects we have worked on together for more than fifteen years! Continue reading One more for the road→