It’s always interesting when research projects overlap – and in unexpected ways. In working on a new genealogy of the Samuel Lawrence family of Groton, Massachusetts, I’ve encountered a man I covered in my 2013 book on the descendants of Nathaniel Saltonstall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. What makes the resonance even greater is that earlier members of both the Whitney and Saltonstall families appear in the Regina Shober Gray diary, and there is even a marriage between a Saltonstall cousin and one of Mrs. Gray’s sons. Continue reading Synchronicity
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 13 December 1865: We think now that Lizzie began weeks ago to realize or at least to fear her sickness was a mortal one. While we continued to hope her exhaustion was largely due to nervous depression and would pass off with the nausea, she was sadly conscious of the inward sapping of the springs of life, and her thoughts instinctively dwelt upon ideas of death & burial. She roused from a doze some weeks since, and said “I have had a vision – you will laugh at me, and say it was a dream – but I saw Wesley & Joseph” (my brother’s two men-servants) “come along the entry and into the room with the tressels which were used for John, and set them down here, saying, ‘They must be ready for Miss Lizzie.’”
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 February 2017.]
As I complete publishing excerpts from the 1865 volume, the final year in what I hope will be a single-volume account of the Civil War in the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, it seems like a good time to revisit a Gray diary primer from 2017.
Certain diaries, and their authors, become short-hand for a time and place: Samuel Pepys’s diary of seventeenth-century London, for example, or Anne Frank’s diary of wartime Amsterdam. The diaries of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are often invoked to cover the first half of the nineteenth century in New York; for the Civil War years, readers turn to Mary Boykin (Miller) Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie (1905). Continue reading ICYMI: Boston riches
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober fills pages in her manuscript diary. Here, in the second installment (of three), Mrs. Gray gathers memories and impressions of her sister’s recent deathbed:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 12 December 1865: On Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1864, we laid our dear brother John in the quiet church yard at St. James the less. He died on Sunday the 27th. Just one year from that sad day, the darling of all our hearts, my sister Lizzie, lay at the last gasp apparently – and though she rallied for a few days of inexpressible comfort to us all, she too left us on Friday Dec 1st and was laid by his side, on just such a soft Indian summer [day] as we had for him, on Monday, Dec. 4th, 1865. She was so wasted and altered that I can not realize yet, that it was our bright cheery Lizzie we left there.
It was Suffering & Death we laid in the cold dark tomb, not our darling; even the profile was unnatural, all the sweet smiling lines, drawn & rigid – and the plain hair, parted back like a child’s, and cut short, for its length & weight distressed her so, looked so unlike the rich full puffs, every wave of which caught such a rich golden auburn glow, upon its lovely chestnut brown. Continue reading ‘Aching hearts’
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober is the subject of three diary entries – among the longest passages in the Regina Shober Gray diary, and closing out the year 1865. In these entries Mrs. Gray approaches her subject directly and obliquely, focusing on different moments in Lizzie’s last days as she tries to make sense of the Shober family’s loss.
In her characterization of her younger sister, Mrs. Gray sketches out a Victorian ideal of a maiden lady: “She was pre-eminently the sun shine of her home – the darling sister to each one of us; enjoying all bright, glad things in life, with keenest zest, interested in the smallest details if they were able to pleasure others, ready with quickest sympathies in joys as in sorrows & anxieties – always hopeful if hope were possible, and efficient in all things; at all times considerate & thoughtful for others, self-forgetting, loving, and most lovable.” Continue reading ‘Rest & be comfortable’
In this entry, Regina Shober Gray touches on some of the constraints she felt as a poor relation in a family with richer members. Her economies with seamstresses had repercussions for her health and relationship with her children; both of these worries weave like durable threads through many of her diary entries over the years. In the first paragraph of the following entry Mrs. Gray refers to her four sons: Frank, Sam, Regie, and Morris Gray.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 November 1865: Frank & Sam are both ailing and both studying too hard. We try to hold them back and they declare they are not hurting themselves – both look poorly though. Regie keeps pretty well – and is improving in Latin & French wonderfully but is behind hand in Arithmetic. Morris too improves in every way – especially in Writing. They are all bright enough, if only their health hold out. Continue reading ‘A source of pleasure and profit’
Santa Claus arrived in July with a portable hard drive full of the newly-digitized images from the microfilm of Clarence Almon Torrey’s twelve-volume manuscript, New England Marriages Prior to 1700. It has been forty years since I last had quality time with Clarence. Hard to remember the months and months spent in the stacks going through every book in the library to match his “short” citations and create a bibliography.
For readers who haven’t been introduced, Clarence Almon Torrey spent decades in the library at NEHGS extracting every mention of a seventeenth-century New England marriage from nearly every book, pamphlet, and manuscript in the collection up until about 1960. Continue reading Using “squnch” in a sentence
[Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 November 2016; its contents have been updated by Molly Rogers.]
The genealogy column in the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper has been one of the more heavily used resources at the NEHGS Library for the past century or more. The paper was published, under a few different titles, from 1830 to 1941. From 1906 through 1941, it featured a genealogy column in which readers would submit and respond to queries. During most of its run, the column appeared twice a week. According to an editors’ note which appeared in many issues, the newspaper was almost overwhelmed with submissions and had a backlog waiting to be published. The editors also claimed that they had “correspondents in every corner of the country.” By the time it ceased publication, the column had covered an estimated two million names. Continue reading ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online
Marital entanglements gave Regina Shober Gray grist for the mill: Georgie Blake’s summer romance at Marion had played out to the extent that Miss Blake’s fiancé swore “he could not marry her, would die rather, kill himself, abscond…” By contrast, Clara Morgan’s engagement to her cousin and brother-in-law seems rather tame.
As my mother would have said, the Gray and Shober families “enjoyed poor health,” although there was nothing funny about it – Dr. Gray’s nieces were frequently ill, while Lizzie Shober was in a fatal decline.
Finally, an ancient Shober family connection became, for a brief moment in the mid-1860s, a source of generous recognition: Mrs. Gray’s mention of the Princess Iturbide’s father’s deposition and execution prefigures the fate of the new Emperor of Mexico. Continue reading ‘Friends in adversity’
William Clark began keeping a journal in 1759 at the age of eighteen. He wrote an entry for almost every day until he died in 1815 at the age of seventy-five. The entire journal – fifty-six volumes and almost five thousand pages – is now held by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Clark carefully recorded his neighbors’ births, marriages, and deaths, providing rich pickings for family history researchers, but the author of the journal is himself a fascinating character: a convert, a loyalist, and a refugee.
Clark was an Anglican clergyman by the time of the American Revolution, but – like many New England Anglicans – he had first joined the Church of England as a convert. His father, the Rev. Peter Clark, was a Congregationalist minister in Danvers, Massachusetts, and a leading “old light” defender of the colony’s Congregationalist establishment. Continue reading ‘Indifferent to the world’