Family history research gives us an opportunity to learn more about our ancestors’ experiences in their communities. The histories of buildings and institutions can help provide context for the lives of those who built and used them. When it comes to understanding the stories of Greek immigrants to United States, it can be helpful to turn to the histories of Greek Orthodox churches in America. Tracing the history of a Greek Orthodox church can help paint a picture of the activities of its individual parishioners and the community as whole.
Let’s look at the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Price, Carbon County, Utah as an example. Jobs in the coal mines attracted Greek men to Carbon County at the turn of the twentieth century. Helen Zeese Papanikolas, a Greek American historian and native of Carbon County, writes:
“The newest Greek arrivals heard of the coal mines in Carbon County and, by 1905, there were Greeks in Castle Gate, Spring Canyon, Hiawatha, Sunnyside, Black Hawk, Helper, Winter Quarters, Scofield, and Price. New coal veins were constantly being opened and the young Greeks wrote back to their villages that there was work for all in the mines.”1
I recently visited the Boston City Archives, located near the Charles River in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. The city archives house city departmental records, school records, city census records, jail records, and more. For anyone with ancestors who lived in Boston during and after the 19th century, it’s a valuable repository for in-depth research.
“For many years after this shipwreck, a man, of a very singular and frightful aspect, used, every spring and autumn, to be seen travelling on the Cape, who was supposed to have been one of Bellamy’s crew.” —B.A. Botkin, A Treasury of New England Folklore; Stories, Ballads, and Traditions of Yankee Folk
In April of 1717, the fleet of famed Golden Age pirate Samuel Bellamy was caught in a violent nor’easter off the coast of Cape Cod. Down went the fleet and its flagship, the Whydah Gally,into the depths of the Atlantic, along with its vast hoard of treasure, its captain, and all but a fewsurviving crew members. Though this intense pirate shipwreck is well documented in primary records, most notably by Cotton Mather, the sensational nature of the story of pirate captain Samuel Bellamy and the Whydah Gally eventually caused it to sink from realityinto the realm of legend.
Pirate stories capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. These tales of swashbucklers, buried treasure, violence, and adventure on the open ocean are told and retold time and time again—so much so that they often exist on the margins of fact and fiction. The story of the Whydah Gally and Samuel Bellamy is no exception. In the three centuries since, folktales and ghost stories of the shipwreck have sprung up all along the New England coast. In some, the story is framed as a tragic romance—in others, a tale of revenge. Many of these stories feature a wandering ghost searching the shoreline. Continue reading How a Pirate Shipwreck Near Cape Cod Became a Local Legend→
I read two stories of interest in a recent issue of The Woodstock Villager, a local newspaper from my grandfather’s Connecticut hometown. The first story (on page A3) concerned a Witness Stone for Cuff Fellows (1762-1848), who spent half of his life enslaved in Woodstock. The marker was placed at the First Congregational Church (where my grandfather was baptized, where he married his wife, and where both were buried in the nearby cemetery along with several generations of my ancestors, and, maybe someday, myself). The article notes that Cuff Fellows was enslaved by Isaac Fellows and emancipated in 1798 by Isaac’s widow Leah (Paine) Fellows. Leah was the daughter of Daniel and Leah (Paine) Smith of Woodstock, the great-great-grandparents of my great-great-granduncle (by marriage) Lt. John Merrick Paine (1845-1916), who had served in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
The second story (on page A9), concerned Rufus C. Malbone (ca. 1824-1884) of Putnam, Connecticut (my own hometown), an African-American farmer and laborer. He was buried beside his horse Dolly, who was shot and buried thirteen days after his death, with her inscription on the same monument reading “Dolly his faithful horse October 25, 1884.” This is certainly the first time I have encountered a horse and a human listed on the same grave marker.
Rufus’s surname very likely derives from his parents or grandparents being enslaved by Godfrey Malbone (1724-1785) of Newport, Rhode Island, and Brooklyn, Connecticut, a wealthy enslaver and Loyalist of the area. Cuff Fellows’s wife Dinah was also enslaved by the Malbone family, as were ancestors of Albert E. Malbone (ca. 1844-1888) of Brooklyn, a soldier in the 29th Connecticut that I had previously researched and who has numerous descendants in northeast Connecticut today. I started to research both Cuff and Dinah Fellows, as well as Rufus C. Malbone, but was ultimately sidetracked by an intriguing note in the 1820 census of Woodstock. Continue reading The Last Woman Enslaved in Woodstock, Connecticut→
While reviewing my family records recently, I found myself remarking to my wife how interesting it was that my grandmother’s baptism record from St. Ambrose Church in Albion, Rhode Island, was written in French—despite the fact that, as far as I knew, my grandmother did not speak the language. I knew my family had deep French-Canadian roots, and I was well aware that the Blackstone Valley, where my grandmother’s family had lived, was a popular destination for French-Canadian immigrants. Further research revealed exactly why Woonsocket bills itself as La Ville la Plus Française aux États-Unis—the most French city in the United States. Continue reading Woonsocket, Rhode Island: The Most French City in the United States→
A few months ago, I chaperoned my daughter’s school field trip to the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End. I had previously visited this house several times over the course of five childhood summers, when our grandmother would visit New England and bring one of our cousins with her, each of whom would be shown the sights in turn. When Alice mentioned the field trip, I was eager to volunteer, as it had now been thirty years since I was last inside this historic home.
Since I was last there, the Paul Revere Memorial Association has turned a neighboring building into an education and visitor center. Our tour was interactive: the guides assigned each student a different historic role as the tour progressed. Several played members of the Revere family, and Alice was given the part of Paul Revere’s second wife, Rachel. Between his two marriages, Paul Revere had sixteen children, eleven of whom survived childhood.1
After touring the house, we walked over to the famed Old North Church, where we were told Revere had instructed the church’s sexton Robert Newman to light two lanterns to signal that the British troops (or “regulars” as they were called then) were traveling by water. The tour was finished at the nearby Paul Revere Mall, with Alice’s teacher and I being given the final roles of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, as the guide told how Paul Revere arrived in Lexington as the battle on the green unfolded on 19 April 1775, starting the American Revolution.
Needless to say, whenever I think of the Old North Church of Boston, I think of the church from Paul Revere’s midnight ride, and the building that still stands. However, while working on a Newbury Street Press project, I uncovered documentation which has brought that mental image into question. Continue reading Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride—Which Old North Church?→
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→