Category Archives: Family Stories

Introducing Martha

“Only trust your heart,” ca. 2010, courtesy of the artist Martha Wakefield

I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha. She’s my best friend of sorts, both before and after there was ever anything of me to call a life of my own. She certainly knows me very well, or at least half of everything, anyway. Thinking about it, I can’t say as she hasn’t heard all of my innermost thoughts and confessions. And while I don’t always heed her counsel or advice, I always feel it in my bones. Hers is a great concern for my well-being and survival. Truth be told, Martha is in the deepest recesses of my ancestry. Oh, she can be a bit shy and defiant, and it’s true that she often thinks she’s a lot funnier than she actually is. Yes, I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha, and just what Martha means to me. Continue reading Introducing Martha

The Jones boys

There were three contemporary Isaac Joneses – all with wives named Mary, all living in Dorchester and Boston at the turn of the eighteenth century – whose records have been squashed together in earlier writings. The problem starts with the death record in Dorchester for Isaac Jones “late of Boston, mariner, his wid. [sic] Mary, deceased,” on “February the 18th 170[0/]1”[1]  – the wording is noticeably weird since a widow cannot pre-decease her husband. This record has been attributed to Isaac Jones who married Mary (Howard) Bass in Dorchester in 1659. That Mary died in October 1691. Continue reading The Jones boys

A fresh look at Linden Street

A view of Linden Street, in front of Sacred Heart Church, looking north; virtually all of the houses were multiple-family dwellings. 143 Linden Street is the second building past, and beside, the church.

The slides my father took on my First Communion Sunday, 15 May 1966, in Fall River, Massachusetts, serve as a colorful time capsule of a bygone era. Sacred Heart Church, now closed, once covered the largest geographical parish in the center of the city. On that morning, more than 60 children, girls in white and boys in black, having fasted for twelve hours in preparation for communion, processed into church with disciplined precision. We returned to church in the afternoon to receive scapulars, prayer books, and rosaries, and then processed out of the church east along Pine Street for the May crowning. Continue reading A fresh look at Linden Street

fka Ulysses Simpson Grant

To keep the momentum going on middle names amongst presidential families, I’ll discuss one of the more confusing cases, regarding President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885). The contemporary reporting on his actual name varied considerably and gets repeated even amongst organizations that should have had a more direct relationship with Grant or his descendants.

The most authentic source on the matter was the president’s father, Jesse Root Grant (1794-1873), who wrote a serial column in the New York Ledger on “Early Life of Gen. Grant.” Continue reading fka Ulysses Simpson Grant

Picturing Maggie

Margaret (Ricketts) (Wright) (Willin) Witzke (ca. 1882-1948)

This past couple of weeks a lot of the old ghosts have decided to haunt me. Just when I think I’ve got them all figured out (especially a significant one like that of my paternal great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record), a surprise comes along to teach me that I still have much to learn. Now, I’ve studied John Henry’s ancestry until I’m blue in the face. I’ve looked at journals and notes handed down from his daughter Grace[1] to her daughter Barbara.[2] I’ve studied Civil War era pension files and been privy to deathbed letters from his mother Susanna[3] to his brother George.[4] But a few weeks ago, something very rare and unexpected showed upending most of what I thought possible to know or discover about my Record family. I happened to stumble upon Maggie. Continue reading Picturing Maggie

An update on Elliott Roosevelt

Elliott Roosevelt with his daughter Eleanor in 1889. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Soon after my recent post on the fictional middle name of Theodore Roosevelt’s brother Elliott was published, I was pleasantly surprised to see his fake middle name starting to go away, and I learned of a few other places where that the error had been repeated, most of which were also being corrected.

Elliott’s findagrave entry was fixed right away and now notes “He had no middle name, so any requests to add such will be declined.” One Wikipedia editor attempted to correct the error, although there was some initial pushback, citing that the middle name was included in the Encyclopedia of the Theodore Roosevelt Center, which I had not noted in my previous post. Continue reading An update on Elliott Roosevelt

ICYMI: The Great Migration: Top-down, bottom-up

In case you were wondering, American Ancestors’ Great Migration Study Project continues to add new research to uncover the details of immigrants who came to New England between 1636 and 1638. NEHGS will publish a first volume by Ian Watson in early 2023 that will contain letters A-Be for these years, and research will continue for the foreseeable future to cover those who arrived through the year 1640.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 21 April 2014.]

The activities of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629-30 were uniformly organized from the top down. The Company either purchased or hired the vessels to carry the passengers and provisions. The passengers themselves, and especially the critically important professionals such as ministers and soldiers, were recruited by the Company leaders.

Yet this phase of the migration was brief, as most of the merchants involved found the enterprises for which all this activity was expended to be losing propositions and allowed their New England plantations to disperse, some almost immediately and most by the middle of the next decade. The influence of those leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Company who remained behind in England quickly faded away, and by 1632 the top-down direction of the migration process was essentially at an end. Continue reading ICYMI: The Great Migration: Top-down, bottom-up

Ghosted

It sat there like the apparition of a chad from some long-ago election. I stared at the blank lines somehow expecting immediate changes to the record of his life, changes I’d reckoned should be there. There were none. What the heck? Couldn’t they see that all the information they had about Frank was wrong?[1]

I had reached out to them the moment I first saw mention of Cousin Frank: Hey, Frank didn’t die in ‘29. He’d lived, disappearing into a simple and solitary life. Further, he’d somehow put into motion posthumous wishes to be buried under the name of Tom nearly fifty years later. Yep, old Frank; he’d simply ghosted them all. Then at this, at my notion to reach out and tell the family about Frank, his descendants simply did the same thing. They ghosted me.[2] Continue reading Ghosted

Presidents in the 1950 census

Okay, so despite my earlier claims, I did end up looking at the 1950 census on day one. Of my twelve living ancestors, I found seven immediately upon searching, and another two after browsing their specific town of residence; I was unsuccessful in locating the remaining three (one couple, one widow) after browsing their towns, both of which had several addresses listed “not at home.” All in all, I spent about twenty minutes looking for ancestors. Overall, I am impressed with the advances of OCR technology giving genealogists a much better start this time around than ten years earlier. Continue reading Presidents in the 1950 census

Grafted in

Folger Johnson, Jr. and Sr. Courtesy of Brian W. Johnson

I suspect that many cities have a Facebook page called “You know you grew up in _____, when …” I am one of nearly thirty thousand who belong to the one for Portland, Oregon, and not long ago, someone posted an article there about how recent remodeling has made the back of Benson High School visible for the first time in almost seventy-five years. That was an interesting factoid just because it’s a beautiful old building, but especially so since my brother and stepfather graduated from the school. Near the end of the article, it mentioned the officially-designated architect for the school, but then also noted that contemporary newspapers credited a young architect named Folger Johnson as a chief designer for the project. Continue reading Grafted in