Category Archives: Family Stories

Philippian mysteries

With Prince Philip’s recent death, several colleagues shared with me the story that recalled how in 1993 the Duke of Edinburgh had helped solve a Russian Romanov murder mystery. This was one of the earliest high profile uses of mitochondrial DNA to confirm historic remains, and something I frequently talked about in my early talks on using DNA in genealogy.[1] I gave two lectures at NEHGS while I was still in college in the early 2000s, the first one on Abraham Lincoln’s maternal ancestry (which I also discussed as having a possible mtDNA component, utilized nearly two decades later) and the other on DNA. These were also the only talks I made using overhead projector transparencies, before finally switching over to PowerPoint. They also both showed how designing charts has always gone hand-in-hand with my genealogical interests. Continue reading Philippian mysteries

Finding Irish relatives: Part One

John Ryan arrives in New York. Click on images to expand them.

In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.

I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One

Burdens of proof

Click on images to expand them.

As a long-suffering amateur genealogist (cue violins!), I suspect there are others like me who find themselves burdened by the proof required in matters genealogical. For me, I admit that is not unique to genealogy – back in the day, I declined to complete work for a second degree, eschewing the rigor of thesis requirements!

Like all genealogists, I have my brick walls, some of them without even a hint of where to go from here. Others, however, have ample circumstances to suggest the likely leap, but are simply unyielding in hard facts to prove my speculation. Continue reading Burdens of proof

A Massachusetts matrilineal line

The death of Alma Wahlberg, aged 78, mother of actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg (also both known for their earlier musical careers in New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, respectively), was announced last month. I had worked on the Wahlbergs’ ancestry several years ago as a surprise for Gary Boyd Roberts, who has been a longtime Mark Wahlberg fan. Years later, when Gary was at Wahlburgers in Boston, noticing numerous pictures of the Wahlberg family as well as those of Mark’s movie career, Gary told his waitress, “This place needs a little less Mark Walhberg and little more Marky Mark!” To Gary’s amazement, the teenaged waitress said she did not know who “Marky Mark” was! Continue reading A Massachusetts matrilineal line

‘A very aged man’

The most recent sketch posted for the Early New England Families Study Project is for George Blake of Gloucester and Boxford, Massachusetts, and his family.[1]

George Blake is another of those men who left little record. We do not know where he came from nor who his parents were. We know neither the maiden name nor parentage of his wife Dorothy. He served one term as a selectman in Gloucester, belonged to the established church, served on juries, and stayed out of trouble, himself, although his daughter Rebecca (Blake) Eames was imprisoned for seven months as an accused witch. Continue reading ‘A very aged man’

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

King George I of the Hellenes. Carte de visite by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri; Scott C. Steward collection

To mark the second birthday of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and with the imminent birth of his younger sister, Christopher C. Child and I have continued our (occasional!) series on Archie’s ancestry. The first segment, covering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, appears here.

This generation of great-great-great-grandparents includes the origins of the surnames Mountbatten and Windsor. The name Mountbatten derives from Archie’s father’s father’s father’s mother’s father, the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven; the name Windsor — also the house name of the current British Royal Family — comes via Archie’s father’s father’s mother’s paternal grandfather, King George V. Just over 100 years after the Princes of Battenberg became Mountbattens and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha adopted (in England) the surname Windsor, a descendant bears both names, marking the 1947 marriage of Lord Milford Haven’s grandson Philip to King George’s granddaughter Elizabeth. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Retroactive surnames

Geoffrey “Plantagenet,” Count of Anjou

Following up on my prior post on retroactive suffixes, I’ll now discuss the other practice of retroactive surnames. This frequently occurs in publications relating to royalty in the medieval period, the best example being the “surname” Plantagenet. Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (1113-1151), had Plantagenet as an epithet or nickname, but this was not used as a surname by himself or his children. His son Henry II became King of England in 1154 as the first Angevin monarch, as Geoffrey was a member of the House of Anjou. Three centuries later, Geoffrey’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Richard, 3rd Duke of York (1411-1460), adopted “Plantagenet” as his family name. The surname Plantagenet was even used by two illegitimate children of Richard’s son King Edward IV. However, Richard’s male line soon died out in the aftermath of the Tudor conquest of England in 1485. The last living legitimate male born with the surname Plantagenet was Richard’s grandson, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, who was beheaded in 1499, and King Edward IV’s illegitimate son Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, died in 1542. Continue reading Retroactive surnames

‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

In the telling of family history, it’s become quite hard for me to stay away from the same old story. Too often, as I comb through ye olde branches, it feels as if I’m only supposed to talk about those somehow-notable persons (or events) and rarely (if ever) tell the tale of “an ordinary life.” Because of this, it’s gotten difficult for me to tell any tale, or indeed to know just whose life into which to delve. I’m left wondering if someone (or anything) of ‘ordinary ways’ will be of enough interest to anyone else on-down-the-line. Continue reading ‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

Real world uses

Ramona Quimby statue in Portland. Photo by Lori Collister

When children’s book author Beverly Cleary died this year on March 25 — just weeks before her 105th birthday — I was a bit surprised to see so many of my friends, near and far, share their feelings about her on social media. It was gratifying to see how many people loved her work, but I have to confess that I felt a tiny bit of proprietary jealousy, since I grew up in the same neighborhood where several of her most popular characters “lived.”

When my brother and I were quite small, we walked with our Grammy along a street that was entirely wooded on the north side for a block or so. We called it The Quiet Peaceful Street, and only found out years later that its real name was Klickitat Street … the same street where Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, and neighboring sisters Ramona and “Beezus” Quimby lived. Continue reading Real world uses

ICYMI: Royal cartes de visite

[Author’s note: These blog posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis between December 2017 and February 2018.]

Princess Louis of Hesse (Princess Alice Maud Mary of Great Britain, 1843–1878) holding her daughter Victoria ca. 1864. CDV by George Washington Wilson.

To mark the death ten days ago and the funeral this weekend of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021), I thought it might be useful to remind readers of four blog posts covering some of the iconography of the British royal family, since they illustrate Prince Philip’s grandmother, Princess Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven;[1] her parents Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine,[2] and Princess Alice of Great Britain;[3] and her grandparents Queen Victoria[4] and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort.[5]

Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (1837–1892). CDV by Camille Silvy

The series covers Victoria and Albert’s family, including the present queen’s great-grandparents, King Edward VII[6] and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.[7] In the genealogically complex world of the Victorian era royal caste, Prince Philip was Queen Alexandra’s great-nephew, just as his wife Queen Elizabeth II[8] was a great-great-niece of Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse. Continue reading ICYMI: Royal cartes de visite