Category Archives: Collections

The object tells a story

NEHGS Conservator Todd Pattison in the Conservation Lab.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with NEHGS Conservator Todd Pattison in our Conservation Lab to discuss his background, the world of conservation, and his work at NEHGS. Todd joined our Library staff in June 2018 and brought a wealth of experience with him, having worked previously at the Harvard College Library and the Northeast Document Conservation Center. He has quickly developed an understanding of NEHGS and its mission. Working with him has been a wonderful experience for us, and we welcome this opportunity to give our Vita Brevis readers a chance to get to know him, too. Todd will present a free webinar on Thursday, January 17, on the topic of Preserving Your Family Treasures. (You can learn more and register here.) Continue reading The object tells a story

2018: the year in review concluded

In a few days’ time the blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Here, to review the year just ended, are some posts from the second half of 2018 demonstrating the range of material published at Vita Brevis.

In July, Meaghan E. H. Siekman wrote about her great-grandfather, the Chicago-born son of Czech immigrants who

spent his lifetime chasing the American dream and preserving a history which was not directly his own, as none of his ancestors ever lived in colonial America. Evidence of the importance of American history in his life can be found in his obituary, which focuses more on his collections [parts of which ended up in the Smithsonian Institution] and preservation work than his career in medicine. Continue reading 2018: the year in review concluded

2018: the year in review

As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.

Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review

The dress is all

At the end of October, I shared the exciting experience of touring the Gov. Bellingham-Cary House, where my distant cousin – the Rev. Thomas Cary (1745–1808) – spent time as a young adult. I mentioned near the end that I’d found something curious at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art vaguely related to his family, and now it’s time for the “reveal.”

While I don’t know what Thomas’s father or mother looked like, his mother’s sister, Katherine (Graves) Russell of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was painted by John Singleton Copley around 1770. The portrait, at left, is in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Continue reading The dress is all

The family archivist

The Cann family archives, before organizing.

I am not sure why my family decided to elect me – maybe because I majored in History? – but I am the “family archivist.” What does that entail exactly? I have the responsibility to decide what is kept and what is thrown away in the box of family photographs, letters, and journals. I organize this material in a way that makes the most sense to me, so future generations of the Cann family can look at them and understand their history. Continue reading The family archivist

Divine intervention?

My grandfather, later in life.

When the time comes for me to plunge into my Boston Irish Catholic ancestry – my Tierneys, Quinlans, Sweeneys, and Kellards – I intend to make full use of the Catholic parish records that are currently being digitized by the historic collaboration between NEHGS and the Archdiocese of Boston. Until that time, I am comforted in knowing that these precious records are safely ensconced online, for all eternity, ready at the click of the mouse.

Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t already been dabbling in a few things Catholic. Indeed, my current project took me to Braintree, Massachusetts, to the Archives of the Archdiocese of Boston (www.bostoncatholic.org/Archives) in search of answers about my Protestant grandfather, John Osborne, he of stern Puritan stock, who, we were always told, had been orphaned at a young age. Continue reading Divine intervention?

Sitting pretty

Sitting in an estate of 10,000 acres, Castle Howard is generally considered the finest private residence in Yorkshire and the first great British house of the eighteenth century. Built to the designs of Sir John Vanbrugh, one of England’s greatest architects, for Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, the house cost the immense sum of £78,000 (approximately £154 million in inflation-adjusted values) and is noted for its great dome, the first on a private house in Britain. Continue reading Sitting pretty

‘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’

Revisiting a classic

Father and daughter, ca. 1988.

I have a distinct memory of my dad picking me up from daycare and presenting me with two of the loveliest books I had ever seen: The World of Christopher Robin and The World of Pooh, by A.A. Milne. At the time, my dad was a member of Quality Paperback Book Club, a division of Book of the Month Club. Members were required to purchase a certain number of books each year. There was a monthly mailing, but members did not have to make a purchase each month. Quality paperbacks indeed – the books were large with many cream-colored pages, and my dad had gotten them with the intention of reading them to me. I was bursting with happiness. Continue reading Revisiting a classic

Pictures from “home”

I just received my order of two copies of a lovely 2019 calendar from Wales (one for me and one for my brother). It is illustrated with paintings of village life in Wales by Welsh artist Valeriane LeBlond (www.valeriane-leblond.eu). The calendar text is in Welsh, so I can’t translate the titles, but the scenes include little white cottages with quilts hung out to air (even in the snow), row houses exactly like those I know my ancestors lived in, bucolic landscapes – this is the southern part of Wales, great farming country – with wind-whipped waves off shore. Neat stuff. Continue reading Pictures from “home”