Category Archives: American History

Remembered in stone

Mary Pearson Palmer’s gravestone in Rowley. Images courtesy of Findagrave

My family tried something new for Thanksgiving: lunch at a (very nice) restaurant in Rowley, up the road from my father’s house in neighboring Topsfield, Massachusetts. As I was there early, I went for a walk up Main Street, past the Rowley Burial Ground. Most of the stones nearest the road were well-weathered, but two popped out at me: stones for a Pearson and a Pickard.

Both are names in my seventeenth-century New England ancestry, so I sat beside a fire pit next to the restaurant and did some online digging.

Continue reading Remembered in stone

Pastel portraits

We all have them, those ancestors who seem to fade into the long-ago background of family history. Perhaps they’re not even our relatives, just names heard frequently but without context, or in a wedding guest book, a newspaper column, or in an obituary. The figures are distinguishable, but so unfamiliar that they are blurred whether pastel in color or in sepia or gray. Continue reading Pastel portraits

“Miss Ida with a smile”

“This is war, Peacock. Casualties are inevitable. You can not make an omelet without breaking eggs, every cook will tell you that.”

~ Martin Mull, in the role of Colonel Mustard in Clue (1985)
My first cousin three times removed Ida Florence (Lee) (Sullivan) Barager (1891-1967).

Please forgive the irreverent quote above! It’s just that a quote like helps me muddle my way through Ye Olde Branches in my attempts to go up against Chris Child in yet another game of “Genealogical Clue.” Imagine if you were setting out to countervail Curt DiCamillo in a discussion of classical architecture, or engage Scott Steward in talking through the relationship of Louis IV, the Grand Duke of Hesse, to “Archie.” (Hey, I had to make it easy on myself, right?) In any event, I think you can see where I’m going with this. Suffice it to say: It just ain’t easy. Continue reading “Miss Ida with a smile”

False friends

Marion E. Carl. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When my mother started down the genealogy trail many decades ago, my grandfather was quick to tell her about the famous World War II flying ace in the family, related through his aunt, Nancy Alice (Christy) Carl. She had married the oldest son of Wilson Carl, for whom the small town of Carlton, Oregon was named. (Earlier this year, I shared the surprising discovery that the Christy family and the family of children’s author Beverly Cleary both appeared in the 1880 census living in Carlton, which had only about 500 residents at the time.)

I discovered a folder of materials my mother had collected about Marion Eugene Carl, who was indeed one of the greatest pilots in the Marine Corps. Continue reading False friends

Peter Marié’s collection

Peter Marié (1825-1903). Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Many years ago, now, I visited a cousin outside Baltimore with the marvelous name of Camille Steward Marié (1918-2002).[1] He was the son of one of my great-grandfather’s first cousins, but because of the way our families were constructed, Camille was closer in age to my father than to my grandfather, his actual second cousin. In part this was due to the two marriages of our common ancestor, John Steward (1777-1854): I am descended from the first one, while Camille’s grandmother was the sole survivor of the second. Continue reading Peter Marié’s collection

ICYMI: Disappearing Leveretts

[Editor’s note: To date, 995 blog posts in the category of “American History” have been published at Vita Brevis. Herewith the first, published 15 January 2014.]

I cannot imagine the faith that John Leverett and his wives, Hannah Hudson and Sarah Sedgwick, must have had to cope with deaths of so many of their children. By his two wives, John was the father of eighteen children, eleven of whom died as infants or young children. Six of these children were given the name Sarah after their mother, and five of them died before the sixth survived. Three sons were named John, none of whom lived to grow up. Continue reading ICYMI: Disappearing Leveretts

“Colonel Larned with the revolver”

Colonel Morris Larned and his wife Elizabeth Eaton

Well, Jeff Record got back at me with another Clue post, and wisely moved away from talking about double names, as there are only so many one can find! So, I’ll continue the game with my great-great-great-great-grandfather Col. Morris Larned (1786-1878) of Dudley, Massachusetts. While I have discussed several of his relatives (his wife was the last centenarian in my ancestry, and his namesake great-grandson Morris Larned Healy was a bit of a wild one), I really do not know much about Colonel Larned himself, other than that he was a colonel … but a colonel of what? Continue reading “Colonel Larned with the revolver”

A slave in Vermont

New England Congregational church minute books from the nineteenth century abound in routine facts: admissions, dismissals, committee reports and the like that do not make for compelling reading. Ivy Dixon, historian of the Pittsford Congregational Church, found this remarkable episode appearing intermittently from 1842 to 1850. Long forgotten, this story of one expatriate church member has undercurrents that still haunt us today.

Pittsford Congregational Church, founded in 1784. The present structure, overlooking the village green, dates from 1837.

Hannah Weed Hitchcock (1815–1898), daughter of John Hitchcock (1760–1836) and his second wife Lucy Ripley, later Manley (1789–1865), became a member of the church in 1834. Hannah’s father served as a soldier in the American Revolution. She was named for John Hitchcock’s first wife, Hannah, who died in 1814, having given birth to nine babies, all of whom died in infancy! Hitchcock’s second family had exceptional educations for the times: sons William graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, and John Hitchcock, dead at 25, attended Middlebury College but left for a stint in Alabama to improve his health. Continue reading A slave in Vermont

The Donner party

Route taken by the Donner party. The trees have been cut at the height the snow reached in 1846-47.

Growing up in a suburb outside San Francisco, my family vacationed in Lake Tahoe every summer.  I remember driving by Donner Lake and driving over Donner Pass. I believe I was about eight years old when my mom gave me the book Patty Reed’s Doll, which I still have today. The book details the experience of the Donner Party getting snowbound at Donner Lake. I became fascinated by the story. It wasn’t long before I was reading everything I could get my hands on about them, another fact that continues today. Continue reading The Donner party

Flower power

The author’s cousins in Potenza, Italy: standing (l-r), Angela Tolve, her daughter Rosa Mancinelli, and niece Antonella Tolve; seated, Angela’s husband Antonio Mancinelli.

If you have ever tried to track down distant cousins, especially in foreign countries, you know how difficult it can be, and that you will have to be resourceful. I’ve used different approaches in different circumstances in Ireland and Italy, and sometimes succeeded. But occasionally sheer serendipity works its magic. This account is particularly touching for me because I met my elderly Italian cousin unexpectedly, thanks to a confluence of fortuitous circumstances, as I neared the end of an unproductive week seeking cousins in southern Italy. But this happy-ending story also holds some tips and lessons that may help you as well. Continue reading Flower power