Category Archives: Collections

Stories in stone

When the genealogy bug hits, one of the earliest field trips a budding genealogist makes is to a cemetery. Cemeteries are rich in history. The grave marker inscriptions reveal our ancestor’s death date, and perhaps age at death or date of birth. If we are fortunate, we also learn the names of spouses, maiden names, and names of children in a cemetery.

But how many of us pay attention to the grave markers themselves? There are substantial differences in the markers of the colonial period and the stones of later centuries. Continue reading Stories in stone

In pencil

Daniel Jackson Steward (1816-1898)

On occasion I look around my living room, at the lovingly collected and curated family photos on (almost) every flat surface, and wonder how I will pass along the identifying information on the subjects. (No unidentified photos for me! But the identification resides in my head…)

I don’t worry so much about the ones of my parents and grandparents, although in due course they will all pass into history. The multitude of photos of them, at each stage of their lives, here and in other family houses, argues for some chance that they will be recognized and remembered by future generations. Continue reading In pencil

2020: the year in review concluded

Detail of Leiden map, ca. 1600, a hand-colored engraving created by Pieter Bast, showing the Pieterskerk and surrounding area. Courtesy of Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken (Heritage Leiden and Region)

[Author’s note: Part One appears here.]

In July, Tamura Jones collated the references to important dates in the Mayflower’s journey to New England to sort out when the Julian calendar is meant and when the Gregorian calendar is used. In the process, he pointed out that 31 July 2020 was the four hundredth anniversary of the Pilgrims’ departure from Leiden:

“The Mayflower Pilgrims left Leiden on 21 July 1620 of the Julian calendar. Commemorating that on 21 July 2020 of the Gregorian calendar makes no sense. You just cannot mix and match dates and calendars like that.

“There are two obvious candidate dates for the quadricentennial. If we were still using the Julian calendar, we would surely commemorate the departure on 21 July 2020 of the Julian calendar. Continue reading 2020: the year in review concluded

2020: the year in review

Plymouth Harbor. Photo courtesy of James Heffernan

As we reach the end of this extraordinary year – one marked by titanic public stresses and private losses – it is time to review a few of the blog posts that appeared in Vita Brevis in 2020. Most posts, of course, concerned genealogical pointers and results, but some addressed the current moment, when so much of our time was spent solitary and in front of a computer screen.

Of course, at the start of 2020 the blog – and NEHGS – focused on twin anniversaries: the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, in 1620, and the 175th birthday of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, in 1845. Continue reading 2020: the year in review

A brief history

As we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of NEHGS during 2020, I wanted to explore the history and present of our website, AmericanAncestors.org. I can’t cover the entire history of the our website in one brief post, but as I spoke to my colleagues who have worked at NEHGS for many more years than I, I found many parallels between our work today and the website of the past. Continue reading A brief history

Ghost towns

In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns

Finding Ma

Ma Seal revealed. Images by Lora Webb Nichols, courtesy of the University of Wyoming

“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life.[1] I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Sealcame into our lives. Ma Seal,[2] for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma

The Churchill letter

Click on image to expand it.

My wife’s maternal grandmother, Lydia (Woliung) Faulds (1896-1939), was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a blacksmith with family roots in Alsace. Her mother was a recent immigrant from Germany. The family later moved to Matoon, in Coles County, Illinois, where Lydia graduated from high school. After receiving a diploma from Eastern Illinois State Normal School in 1914, she taught school in the Oak Park (Illinois) school system for several years. In 1918, in recognition of her academic abilities, especially in mathematics, Lydia was elected to a position on the staff of the Lincoln School of the Teachers College within Columbia University, in New York City. Set up the year before, the Lincoln School was created to conduct “experiments in modern education.” Her assigned subjects were geography and mathematics. She resigned after one term in the expectation of the imminent return of her fiancé from war duty in France; they planned to get married back in Illinois and make a home there. He arrived as expected, but was debilitated from being gassed on the battlefield and spent most of the next year in a New York hospital. Lydia stayed in New York and was employed that year as a governess for the Rockefeller family. Continue reading The Churchill letter

Finding confirming information

Researching someone with a common name can be challenging. Sometimes you will find too many records, and without more identifying information it can be almost impossible to determine which is the correct record. Or, if you do find a promising record, how do you know if it is for the person being researched or someone else with the same name? To overcome these problems, you need to find enough information to come to a solid conclusion.

I had this problem recently while researching Charles McDermott, who lived in New York City. I found a possible naturalization record for Charles in 1896. The record showed this Charles was about the right age and had immigrated around the right year. Continue reading Finding confirming information