Category Archives: American History

‘A mighty happy time’

My great-grandfather was a man of few words, at times, as when he made his sole reference to a new office: “Elected to the [Norfolk] City Council tonight.”[1] A more typical effusion occurs nine days later, when he notes the “Early cabbage [is] looking good.”[2]

1918

1 April: Bought an Overland car.

3 May: Went with Hotel Ass[ociatio]n to Cape Henry[3] for Oyster Roast.

8 May: After supper tonight the whole family[4] went to the strawberry patch and picked berries for breakfast. Had a mighty happy time. Continue reading ‘A mighty happy time’

A light-bulb moment

A “family record” from the Sefrit collection.

This past week I began to explore the large collection of Bible records on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website, and I was expecting to find just ordinary records, not anything surprising. What I uncovered, however, is just how helpful these records and registers can be in understanding your family history. While the records typically convey very simple information to the reader, such as births, deaths, and marriages, they sometimes contain other information that can result in a “light-bulb” moment when you are piecing together your genealogy. NEHGS has digitized a series of Bible records and family registers, and continues to add new records regularly, creating a selection of nearly 300 so far in the Digital Collections. Continue reading A light-bulb moment

‘Old Green’

In my house, there’s an old book that stands guard against the march of time. It’s not any great work or an impressive tome, that’s for sure, as it’s pretty humble in title and origin. However, it still endures – and much like a singular nomad on my Costco bookshelf, it spends its days between the works of Robert Charles Anderson and my collection of Mayflower Silver Books and issues of the Mayflower Descendant. Nevertheless, this book – which I have taken to calling “Old Green” – has its own unique story, as she was once the prized possession of my great-great-grandmother Mary (Hoyt) Wilcox. (Even now I have to believe Mrs. Wilcox keeps a watchful eye on it from the Great Beyond.) You see, truth be told, if our home was ever to (God forbid) fall prey to any disaster, man-made or otherwise, I am ‘bound’ by some celestial edict to rescue “Old Green.” It seems silly to say so, but I count it among those irreplaceable things, and among those things with a life of their own, serendipitously placed by our ancestors for safe-keeping. Continue reading ‘Old Green’

Stubborn facts

Joe Pease. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

My second-ever Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] became a stationmaster for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. On the morning of 8 December 1941 (on his side of the International Date Line), Papi oversaw the departure of a Pan Am Clipper flying boat from Noumea, New Calendonia, which would immediately thereafter enter aviation history by flying “the long way” back to New York over uncharted routes. At almost the exact same time (on the American side of the International Date Line), a young man named Joe Pease was at the dock of Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor facility, awaiting the arrival of another Clipper. Needless to say, Joe had the more exciting morning! Continue reading Stubborn facts

Mixing it up in Middlesex

At the end of my last post on locating digital images of Middlesex Probate Court records, I promised to deal with the topic of other “Court Records.” Pull up a chair, this may take some time.

For this discussion, for the sake of simplicity, I will only be talking about records in Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the beginning, a “General Court” was established in Boston for the entire colony. These colony records have long been published in Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, 1628–1686, 5 vols. in 6 (Boston, 1853). Continue reading Mixing it up in Middlesex

What’s in a name?

‘What’s in a name?’ asked Juliet of Romeo, concluding that the name of something does not define what it really is. A rose, after all, by any other name would smell as sweet, but for family genealogists, a rose by any other name can become an obstacle to progress and success. Naturally, we go in search of a name as we expect it to be, as we’ve always known it to be and, in doing so – in not considering all the possible variations or that any given spelling may not necessarily be the “correct” spelling – we may overlook vital clues and new pathways for our research. I suspect that most family genealogists who stay at their research beyond the “low hanging fruit” stage, who don’t give up too soon, eventually double back and realize their earlier oversights. Continue reading What’s in a name?

‘Eyes dry as dust’

The Civil War was a time of conflict and distress. While we often hear stories of the courageous men who fought the bloody battles of a terrible and long war, the battles did not stop on the fields. Citizens from all states and backgrounds gathered strength and stepped into positions they never thought possible, including Betsey Jennings Nixon, who discovered fresh reserves of strength as the war progressed.

The NEHGS Library holds the diary of Betsey Jennings Nixon in its R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. The diary has been digitized and is available on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website. Betsey, the daughter of William and Louise (Sheldon) Nixon, was born in 1839 and grew up in Ohio, living in several neighboring states before eventually moving to Colorado where her sons had settled. Continue reading ‘Eyes dry as dust’

‘Planting watermelon’

I have a vivid memory as a boy of the time my mother’s father showed me a healed wound in his leg. While he was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, with the Purple Heart (among other medals) to show for it, this scar – deep enough for a child probe with a finger – came from a shooting accident when he was not much older than I. The idea that my grandfather had ever been an unruly boy – his childhood inconceivably remote in the early 1970s – fascinated me, and, anyway, boys love the squeamish and the gross: this evidence of time’s passage, long-healed, formed a Proustian memory, sending me back to a hot summer’s day and a moment’s connection with my beloved grandfather. Continue reading ‘Planting watermelon’

Mayor Pete’s cousins

I have been exploring the ancestry of the twenty-plus 2020 presidential candidates. Although I will likely wait some time until the number is reduced before reporting on most of them, I was recently surprised to find in the ancestry of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, via a small amount of his New England ancestry, connections to two prominent figures in the United Kingdom! Continue reading Mayor Pete’s cousins

Cousin confusion

Agnes Horan Bento

My grandmother Anne (Cassidy) Dwyer never met her father, Patrick Cassidy, who was killed in a Fall River (Massachusetts) mill seven months before her birth, but from the Cassidy side of the family, she knew a dozen or more Irish-born first cousins. Six sisters from one family alone came to Fall River to escape the grinding poverty of rural Ireland. Agnes Horan, a favorite cousin, arrived at age 20 in 1908. Agnes’s elder sister, Annie Driscoll,[1] paid for her passage. Agnes, in turn, brought over the next sister. In 1919, after working ten years as a domestic servant, Agnes married Joseph Bento, son of Azorean immigrants. Agnes died in 1930, leaving her husband and four small children. For the rest of her life, Nana Dwyer nonetheless maintained contact with Agnes’s children. Long after my grandmother’s death, I renewed acquaintance with the Bento family, sharing genealogical information and photographs. Continue reading Cousin confusion