Category Archives: American History

Where the Partridge Drums

Akwesasne baskets; some by Florence Benedict. Photo by Meaghan E. H. Siekman.

While I was in graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on tribal museums and the ways they share authority with the communities that they serve. I focused my research on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation known by the people who call it home as Akwesasne, which translates to “Where the Partridge Drums.” I was honored to spend many years getting to know the place and its people.

“You are on Mohawk Land.”

You know you are in Akwesasne as soon as you arrive because there are large signs on the roads leading into the reservation that read “You are on Mohawk Land.” They have good reason to assert their claim to the land since they have had to defend their right to live and move freely within their own reservation for centuries. Continue reading Where the Partridge Drums

My little slice of Irish ancestry

The author’s children with relatives in Ireland, 2004.

Although my background is almost all German and English, I’ve always wanted to find a bit of Irish in me. This is because my husband was born in Cork City and after numerous visits I’ve fallen in love with Ireland. For years I searched in my family tree for an Irish ancestor and finally, about a year ago, I found one. My 5th great-grandparent, William Jack, was born in Ireland. It might only be a sliver but I’m at least 1/128th Irish!

It might only be a sliver but I’m at least 1/128th Irish!

Continue reading My little slice of Irish ancestry

‘The fate of the world depended upon their devotions’

NEHGS Digital Collections at AmericanAncestors.orgLet’s take a step back in time. Imagine yourself in the 1840s as the British are slowly expanding their power into places like New Zealand and Hong Kong, the Oregon Trail is not just a video game but a real expedition, and you have traveled to California to make your fortune in the Gold Rush. The United States is working hard at home all the while trying to establish itself on the world stage. The 1840s were also the early days of American missionaries — a significant and often controversial piece of history which I began to learn about through reading the correspondence of Leander Thompson through the NEHGS Digital Collections at AmericanAncestors.org. Continue reading ‘The fate of the world depended upon their devotions’

Between the rails

The decennial United States Federal Census often forms the backbone of historical research into an unfamiliar family member. By its nature, the census will never be fully comprehensive or exact, but it can serve as a bit of a guard rail, keeping us from going off on an unlikely tangent in our research.  Sometimes, though, those 10-year gaps between enumerations can conceal a whole lifetime of information – or in the case of my father’s family, many lifetimes. Continue reading Between the rails

A Middlesex muddle

In the last post I talked about Massachusetts court records in general. Now let’s look closer at some examples from Middlesex County.

For the earliest records, the easiest entry point is the abstracts made by Thomas Wyman in the mid-nineteenth-century that are available as a database on AmericanAncestors, under the Category “Court, Land and Probate Records,” and database “Middlesex County, MA: Abstracts of Court Records, 1643-1674.” Wyman abstracted all the names that appear in the records and basic information about the cases, but otherwise no details. An example (members may need to log in) can be found here. Continue reading A Middlesex muddle

‘Lots of company’

It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal[1]: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.

1920

9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.

Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.

23 October: Turned on electric lights tonight. Continue reading ‘Lots of company’

ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 April 2017.]

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth-century New Englanders. Continue reading ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

High tide

My grandfather[1] did not have a lot to say about his mother’s brothers.[2] Perhaps because the Jackson family was relatively prosperous when my great-grandparents married, my great-grandmother led a more settled life than her brothers, none of whom, my grandfather once said, “amounted to much.”

At an earlier stage in my research, I was surprised to find my great-great-grandmother living in Phoenix in the household of one of her younger sons;[3] indeed, this sojourn proved to be brief – but long enough for Jennie Jackson to appear in the 1920 census, far from her residence in New York. Continue reading High tide

A rehabilitated marriage

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly.

Westerly town directories revealed Eva Clancy lived at 155 Granite Street, and after her death in 1980, Eva’s daughter Mary Clancy remained at the same address. Happy to meet a new, previously unknown relative, Mary and her cousin Alma Rhodes provided me with a wealth of information. Continue reading A rehabilitated marriage

The occasional cognac

S. & W. Howard account book 3, showing the Asa Williams account. Courtesy of Linda Novak, Director/Curator, Old Fort Western

There are those theorists who say that time is a river with many bends, and that if we could look back around one of those bends, we’d see the past. I think of that whenever I cross the Kennebec River here in Augusta on my way to Old Fort Western. If I could see around the river’s bend, would I see my ancestor, the Pilgrim John Howland, arriving to establish the Cushnoc Trading Post for the Plymouth Colony in 1628? I might find my house-builder cousin, Asa Williams, on his way to the Fort in 1777, or his brother Seth trading at the S. & W. Howard store in 1790. Maybe my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read would be galloping by to call the midwife Martha Ballard to help deliver his first child,[1] or perhaps I’d see that same midwife on her way to view an autopsy in Eunice (Fisher) Williams’s kitchen.[2] Continue reading The occasional cognac