Category Archives: Collections

Genealogy chaos

There is a great deal of irony here. Having spent 45 years practicing genealogy, I have just had a very rude shock.

The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me. Continue reading Genealogy chaos

Family Treasures: View from the index

For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index

Mayflower musicians

While perusing the lists of notable descendants recently published in Gary Boyd Roberts’ Mayflower 500: Five Hundred Notable Descendants of the Founding Fathers on the Mayflower, one name, James Vernon Taylor, immediately caught my eye. The music of James Taylor has always been special to me, which is why my wife and I chose “Sweet Baby James” as our first dance at our wedding three years ago. Perhaps my fondest memory, however, came when James was in the broadcast booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy during the Boston Red Sox game promoting his newest song “Angels of Fenway.” In the middle of answering one of Don’s questions, James stopped mid-sentence to allow the audience at home to focus on the upcoming pitch, showing his dedication and knowledge as a baseball fan. Continue reading Mayflower musicians

‘Decidedly frosty’

Researchers unfamiliar with the history of the New England Historic Genealogical Society may assume women have been members since the organization’s founding in 1845. In fact, for the first fifty years, women were denied membership. In 1894, some members began to propose opening membership to women: “The reaction was haughty and dignified, if not decidedly frosty.” Women quietly persisted in submitting their applications to male members courageous enough to offer women’s names for election. When a woman’s name was read, though, it was greeted by silence. Several men went so far as to argue that “membership was limited to persons,” and women could not join because they were not “persons.” In early 1897 the issue was put to a vote by special ballot and passed, 451 in favor and fifty opposed, with thirteen offering qualified approval. On 2 February 1898, thirty-six women were nominated, twenty-nine accepted membership — and a new chapter began at NEHGS.[1] Continue reading ‘Decidedly frosty’

Postcards from the past

Last month my sons Oliver and Charlie each received a postcard from their grandparents—Grandpa Bill and Oma—in Michigan. My husband Tom and I were slightly mystified because the postcards were from Boston and Cambridge and had seemingly traveled through time from the past. The Boston skyline didn’t look quite right. And who talks about beans anymore? Even the style of the fonts and the graphic design are extinct. Continue reading Postcards from the past

Catholic Association of Foresters

J. Frank Doherty 1876-1923

For the past year I’ve been focusing more on researching in old newspapers, and have had some amazing luck. Recently, newspapers led me to a collection of records that, while small, could be invaluable to anyone researching Irish ancestors who lived in Boston, Massachusetts.

My great-grandparents, J. Frank Doherty and Harriett Storen, were born in Montreal where they married and had three children. After the death of their oldest child in 1905, the family moved down to Boston where they had six more children, including my grandmother. Frank, who was a self-employed realtor, died suddenly in 1923 at age 47. By all accounts from my grandmother and her siblings, Frank’s death left the family really struggling, and all the children who were old enough to get jobs went to work to help support the family. The children ranged in age from 4 to 19 when he died. Continue reading Catholic Association of Foresters

A colonial goldmine

Sarah Fayerweather cookbook. Images courtesy of Colonial North America at Harvard Library

Last year when I wrote about zinc headstones for Vita Brevis, I mentioned that after seeing my very first example of “white bronze,” I began seeing them regularly in various cemeteries. What were the odds, I asked? Well, it turns out that once we have been made aware of something, that something pops up frequently because our brains are unconsciously in search of another example. It’s called frequency illusion.

Which brings me to the recent daylong seminar at NEHGS – “Seventeenth-Century English Research with the Society of Genealogists UK” – that I had the pleasure of attending. Continue reading A colonial goldmine

‘Palace of the People’

The Boston Public Library in 1895.

Boston has been a hub of learning since its founding. Today, genealogists have several major repositories where we can access huge collections. With NEHGS celebrating its 175th birthday, a nearby sister institution also has a significant anniversary in 2020. The Boston Public Library (BPL) was established just three years after NEHGS and has since held two big openings during the month of March. Continue reading ‘Palace of the People’

“Clustering” Salem

I have most recently been concentrating on “clustering” research for the Early New England Families Study Project around Watertown, Massachusetts. Six new sketches – John Bigelow, Richard Norcross, William Parry, John Sawin, William Shattuck, and Daniel Smith – have been added to thirteen previously posted sketches of immigrant families in Watertown – NEHGS members can find links to all families in the database here.

While I still have some Watertown families in the pipeline, and there will be plenty more in the future, it is time for a change of scenery, so I am moving north to concentrate on Salem families for the next phase of the project. Continue reading “Clustering” Salem

Lost in the mountains

Some of you may know of Herbert Brutus Ehrmann. A Harvard-educated attorney born in Louisville, Kentucky, he is most known for serving on the defense team for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of (and later executed for) murdering a paymaster at a shoe company during an armed robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1930. The JHC has a collection of his materials.

His wife Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann was equally well-known in the Boston community. Also born in Kentucky, she was raised in Rochester, New York, and married her husband in 1917. Partially in response to the injustice she saw in the case against Sacco and Vanzetti, she devoted her life to fight against capital punishment. Continue reading Lost in the mountains