Category Archives: American History

Near neighbors

Small world. All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of backbayhouses.org

My grandfather[1] came from New York, and when I was growing up it was understood that the Stewards were from New York and the Ayers (my grandmother’s family) were from Boston. A little digging suggests a more complicated picture – my grandfather’s mother-in-law[2] came from Newark, and his maternal grandmother[3] had only New England ancestry – while there is also an interesting collateral connection, somewhat obscure to later generations of the family. Continue reading Near neighbors

Making plans

Plan of Boston surveyed by Osgood Carleton, dated 1795. Courtesy of digitalcommonwealth.org

Whenever I find myself doing Massachusetts research that predates 1800, I return to a collection of early town plans, 1794-1795, that are as much a documentary source as they are an aesthetic pleasure. Housed at the Massachusetts State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State, the original collection consists of sixteen volumes which were digitized in June 2017.[1]

In the post-Revolution years, it fell to the individual states to produce accurate maps to facilitate governmental administration, develop transportation networks, and encourage settlement. Continue reading Making plans

A family of strong women

Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, circa 1910. Used with permission from the Durand Family Archives
This month marks one hundred years since passage of the United States Constitution’s Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote across the country. Some of my female ancestors[1] were able to vote many years earlier, however, including my great-great-grandmother, Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, whom I wrote about late last year. Recently a fellow descendant sent me scans of scrapbook pages and family photos, which imparted more interesting details about this indomitable ancestress.

I already knew that Aurelia was a strong woman. She gave birth to her second daughter while traveling by wagon train from Hopkins County, Texas, to Southern California. According to the recently shared newspaper clippings, she usually drove the wagon’s team while her husband attended to other duties … but I guess even she had to take a break from that during the baby’s delivery!

Around the time of my great-grandmother’s birth in March 1878, Aurelia and John Thomas Bottoms divorced. Continue reading A family of strong women

The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part One

Governor William Wanton (1670-1733), by an unidentified artist.

For much of the eighteenth century, the political landscape of Rhode Island was shaped by a single family. Between 1732 and 1775, four descendants of Edward Wanton served as the governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and another would act as deputy governor. The run of Wantons serving as the chief executive of the colony began when two of Edward’s sons, William and John, served consecutive tenures between 1732 and 1740; it came to an end when William’s son, Joseph, was removed from office at the start of the Revolutionary War after he opposed the formation of an army out of loyalty to the crown. While there have been many fathers, sons, and brothers who have held the same office at different times throughout American history, the story of the Wanton family is interesting for the number of individuals connected to the family who held prominent positions. Continue reading The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part One

Campione d’Italia

Waterfront, Campione d’Italia, Lake Lugano, Italy. Courtesy Library of Congress

Researching family history does a lot to expand your knowledge of the world. I recently felt this way after discovering that my Italian roots are not as clear-cut as I had thought. Family lore had always stated that my great-grandfather, Julian Consolini, had come to America from Verona. I recently discovered that this was just family lore and that the documents tell a different story. His naturalization certificate states that he was born in Campione, Italy. Naturally, I looked into Campione to see where it was. My expectation had been that Campione was a small town on the outskirts of Verona. I imagined Verona was just the metropolitan reference point that people would understand better, in the same way that I tell people that I am from Boston when I really am not. I learned, however, that Campione was not close to Verona and, in fact, it wasn’t even in Italy. Continue reading Campione d’Italia

In the neighborhood

The Fensgate, today’s Charlesview Condominium. All images courtesy of backbayhouses.org

Real estate transactions might not seem very romantic, or as offering much in the way of narrative, but sometimes proximity and dates can signal ongoing relationships. One in my own family comes to mind: in 1899, my Ayer great-great-grandparents[1] moved from Lowell to Boston, initially renting a house on Beacon Street while they planned to build a new home on Commonwealth Avenue.

At the same time, my great-great-grandfather’s sister-in-law, the former Mary Hascall Wheaton,[2] was living in a house on Beacon Street while planning her own new house, just two doors down. Of all these houses, only Aunt Minnie Kittredge’s former home has been torn down, to make way for The Fensgate at the corner of Beacon Street and Charlesgate East. And while the street addresses don’t hint at it, the Kittredge and Ayer houses were just two blocks apart. Continue reading In the neighborhood

Group photos

Julie Haydon photographed for “Shadow and Substance” (1938). Proof by Alfredo Valente; author’s collection

Much like genealogical research, photo collecting can be a serendipitous process – sometimes one finds answers, and interesting ones at that, when least expected. From time to time I have focused my efforts on one photographer or another, collecting everything available for sale at a given moment. One such photographer is Alfredo Valente (1899-1973), whose handsome portraits of Broadway stars (and others) give me joy.

I like to buy photographs where the subject is known, although a bit of detective research doesn’t trouble me. In the course of purchasing a Valente proof of Julie Haydon (Donella Donaldson, 1910-1994),[1] I came across an attractive proof of Miss Haydon (and, so I understood, Martha Scott, 1912-2003[2]) as part of a quartet, also by Valente, so I bought it, too. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what show these four women had appeared in, and came up with the note (to myself) that Miss Haydon and Miss Scott had done some summer stock in 1937-38… Continue reading Group photos

Voyages abroad

Images from the Hannah LeBaron (Drury) Clark sketchbook. Reinier Beeuwkes III Family Collection in R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS

One of my favorite things to do is travel. When that isn’t possible, I try to travel vicariously through the experiences of someone else. While working on the Reinier Beeuwkes III Family Collection this past year, I have had the chance to imagine myself voyaging all around the world. Here are some of my favorite adventures:

According to family legend, Captain Daniel LeBaron Goodwin (1767-1830) began his career as a sailor when he ran away from home at age 12. He spent the next thirty years sailing merchant vessels between New England, England, South America, and the West Indies. Continue reading Voyages abroad

Researching the Negro Baseball Leagues

Courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Baseball is back! As someone who has always loved baseball, I could not be more excited to see the players return to the diamond. Although the game might not look exactly like it did last year, these differences simply remind us of how baseball has changed over the years, and how it will continue to do so in the future.

Growing up in eastern Connecticut, an allegiance to the Boston Red Sox has deep roots in my family. In fact, many of them still talk about that fateful Game 4 in 2004, when the curse of the Bambino was broken for good.[1] Personally, baseball has always meant something special to my father’s family. As my paternal grandfather died long before I was born, he was always the biggest question mark on my family tree. Before I began doing research of my own, the only fact I knew about my grandfather was that he played in the Negro Baseball Leagues. Continue reading Researching the Negro Baseball Leagues

Family ties revealed

What drew me to genealogy was the idea that my family could have been part of a major historical event. When you learn about history in school, the different events – whether it be the Holocaust, the French Revolution, or the English Civil War – always seem to be so far removed from that moment. You never expect to learn that you might have personal ties to that event.

For example, I was fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic; I swear that had nothing to do with the massive crush my 13-year-old self had on Leonardo DiCaprio. Continue reading Family ties revealed