Category Archives: NEHGS Collections

Time travelers

The Place de la Concorde leading into the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

With good weather and summer’s long-awaited arrival, many of us will be traveling near and far to new and exciting places. Traveling today is still frustrating, even with fast transportation and constant access to technology, so I was very curious to find out what obstacles our ancestors faced centuries ago.

Many diaries have been digitized and added to the NEHGS Digital Collections on the American Ancestors website. In this new grouping I found two travel diaries that sparked my interest on what the similarities and differences of the diarists’ travels in the nineteenth century and my own in the twenty-first century might be. Continue reading Time travelers

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

‘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’

Synchronicity

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

‘An ornament to the city’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The third and final entry in the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary on the death of her sister Lizzie[2] turns from private grief to the public response to the news.

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,[3] and set them down here, saying, ‘They must be ready for Miss Lizzie.’”

“Oh, honey,” said Sallie [Shober],[4] who was with her, “of course it was a dream, you are so restless & feverish.” Continue reading ‘An ornament to the city’

ICYMI: Boston riches

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 February 2017.]

Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

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

‘Aching hearts’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober[1] fills pages in her manuscript diary.[2] 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[3] in the quiet church yard at St. James the less.[4] 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’

‘Rest & be comfortable’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober[1] is the subject of three diary entries – among the longest passages in the Regina Shober Gray[2] 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’

‘A source of pleasure and profit’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this entry, Regina Shober Gray[1] 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.[2]

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’

Using “squnch” in a sentence

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