Category Archives: American History

Underwear Days

Apple rights

There are Remembering Days when we remember stories about family lives for the benefit of our descendants. There are Researching Days when we hunt for clues to our ancestors’ lives and their stories. And there are Underwear Days, when Remembering and Researching get tangled up in a pile on the floor, just like those mornings when you can’t get your feet out of your underwear, lose your balance, and fall over (especially when some jokester flings open the bedroom door and yells “freeze, sucker!!”). Underwear Days. Continue reading Underwear Days

The elusive Banyars

St. George’s Church, Hanover Square. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I almost hesitate to post this blog, as so much remains to be found – but the roughest outline of a family behind one of my intractable brick walls seems a good excuse to write about it (and seek the collective thoughts of Vita Brevis readers!).

Goldsborough Banyar (or Goldsbrow Banyer)[1] was my great-great-grandmother’s great-grandfather, and an important figure in late colonial and early Federal New York. Perhaps because he spent much of his career in Albany, and the surname died out – despite heroic efforts by Goldsborough, his daughter, his grandson, and his great-grandson – the origins of the Banyar family have been lost. While his descendants have given masses of papers to the New-York Historical Society, nothing in that collection seems to yield a clue about who he was before he came to New York as a young man. His name, Goldsborough, should be a clue – and so it appears to be. Continue reading The elusive Banyars

Who’s buried where?

Phinehas Child stone. Images courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society

A recent news article discussed the current use of an old Boston cemetery, with the permission of the church, as a dog park, prompting a neighborhood discussion. (This reminded me of David Lambert’s post on finding a gravestone on the wall of a church bathroom.) The church, First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist, is located about a mile from my home. Founded in 1769 as the Third Parish of Roxbury, I had mentioned the church in a post I wrote last year about the “Genealogy of Churches” in Roxbury (now Boston). This cemetery has also been called the Jamaica Plain Burial Ground and Jamaica Plain Cemetery. Continue reading Who’s buried where?

Seth Harding, Mariner

From the History of Maritime Connecticut

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy played an integral role in the colonists’ quest for freedom. The Navy also launched numerous careers, including those of Captains John Paul Jones and John Barry. During the Revolution, many men fought bravely defending the shores of the Colonies and capturing enemy vessels. After the war, the troops and sailors were discharged and the Continental Navy itself was dissolved for lack of financing. After a total of ten years without a navy, in March 1794 Congress passed the Naval Act, which launched the first United States Navy.[1] Over the next two centuries the Navy continued to grow to become the extensive branch of the military we currently know. In the words of John Adams, the ‘Father of the American Navy,’ “A Naval power … is the natural defense of the United States.”[2] Continue reading Seth Harding, Mariner

‘Pruning the tree’

The Misses Ogle and Long

With all of their ‘lives’ so scattered about, I really had nowhere to run and certainly nowhere to hide. There were papers and pictures everywhere, and in the midst of the fray of utter ancestry I caught my grandmother “Miss Ogle” (no pun intended…) staring back at me. Carefree and young in her photograph, she ‘watched’ as I rifled through my great ‘genealogical reduction.’ Her gaze appeared to crisscross over all those lives, and over the hodgepodge of paperwork connecting me to a host of pilgrims and witches … and other assorted knuckleheads. From her grainy Kodak vantage point, Miss Ogle seemed to smirk in humorous disbelief at my genealogical disarray as if to say “Well, isn’t that just the living end…”[1] The only thing I could think in reply to the memory of her long-ago voice in that near-forgotten photo was“Sorry grandma. I need to. It’s time.” Continue reading ‘Pruning the tree’

Philoprogenitive ancestors

Rev. Samuel Willard (1639-1707), fourth child of Maj. Samuel Willard. Portrait from the 1915 Willard Genealogy

Recently a genealogical colleague made a Facebook post on his “newly discovered philoprogenitive” ancestor. This was a word I had to look up, with the colleague referring to its definition of “producing many offspring.” This prompted me to explore who in my own ancestry had the most children.

My recent post on my New Hampshire ancestress Mary (Carter) (Wyman) Batchelder noted that her second husband Nathaniel Batchelder (ca. 1630-1709/10) had seventeen children, fourteen of whom  survived to adulthood; Nathaniel is only my “step-ancestor,” and Mary had a mere ten children by her two husbands. For cousins, I have written about my distant relative Warren Gould Child (1835-1906), an early member of the Latter Day Saints movement, who had twenty-five children with three of his four wives.[1] Continue reading Philoprogenitive ancestors

Sybilla’s daybook

Many years beyond the lifetime of Sybilla Shakshober Phillips (1872-1947), I discovered a pocket-sized daybook in my grandmother’s living room cabinet, which turned out to be a Masonic almanac or “National Diary” registered in 1879 for the Year 1880. In pencil on the flyleaf was written: “Miss Sybilla Shakshober.” Several pages in the front and throughout the volume were removed and only a few pages had been used at all. One or more members of the family had sporadically used the book for household accounting before it fell into the hands of young Sybilla, who mimicked its adult style by recording her transactions. Continue reading Sybilla’s daybook

Devil in the details

Two hundred eleven years ago today, on 6 August 1810, Assistant Marshal Ebenezer Burrell set out to make a full and accurate count of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts. He was instructed to make a formal inquiry at each dwelling house, or with the head of household, to count the number of free white males (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), free white females (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), and free persons of color (no gender or age designator) living at the residence. He was also told to make two copies of the enumeration, placing them both in two public places for verification. After the enumerations were confirmed, one of the copies was sent to the District Court for safe keeping, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. Continue reading Devil in the details

In the Heights

Photo probably taken at the park on 175th and Fort Washington, ca. 1990.

When the trailer for In the Heights was released in late 2019, I got flashbacks of my childhood and I couldn’t wait to watch it. I never got the opportunity to see the musical live, but I am drawn to anything about the neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, since it was the backdrop to my more recent family history: it’s where I spent my formative years and where my parents met and fell in love. Continue reading In the Heights

Mirrored names

The Burson twins

There was a great commotion in the room that day, a veritable kerfuffle you might call it. I both saw and heard the doctor yell “Get me her chart,” as a well-practiced melee ensued. Our baby girl had just been born, and she was neatly being held by an overprotective nurse. I looked over from our baby to my wife, then to the doctor, and around in disbelief; my wife was exhausted and under an unwonted sort of anesthesia. “Was there something wrong with our baby? Was my wife going to be okay?” Continue reading Mirrored names