Category Archives: Family Stories

Matrilineal mergers: Part One

Jefferson County, Kentucky Marriage Licenses and Bonds, 1810-1814, showing the 1814 bond between William Shake and Stephen Smith.

An “added” middle name is something that comes up quite a lot when seeing family trees online and can sometimes be difficult to detect. Middle names in the eighteenth century in the present-day United States are rare, and even though they gained popularity during the nineteenth century, numerous people get their mother’s maiden name (or what a descendant thinks it is) added into a name online.

I’ve always been interested in matrilineal lines, and seeing how far back I could trace my mother’s mother’s mother, etc. Continue reading Matrilineal mergers: Part One

Kinbot, and friendship

Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

As part of my research on the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I have been looking at allied families – who sometimes turn out to be Livingstons themselves. One such case is John Bruce of Stenhouse (Airth), sometimes Sir John, who married Elizabeth Menteith,[1] the daughter of William Menteith of Kerse and Helen Livingston, a daughter of Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar.[2] John and Elizabeth’s daughter, in turn, married William Livingston, younger of Kilsyth, a descendant of Sir Alexander’s half-brother, also William.[3] Eventually these three Livingston lines united in the marriage of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, grandson of the 4th Lord Livingston, and Barbara Livingston of Inches (a descendant of Callendar as well as a cadet line of Kilsyth).[4]

John Bruce died in circumstances I have yet to work out. Suffice it to say that he was “slain” by his wife’s brothers, the Menteiths, but what happened after the “slaughter”[5] is somewhat surprising. Continue reading Kinbot, and friendship

The devil’s Mr. Gideon

Torphichen Preceptory, where Henry Livingston was preceptor in 1449. Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America.[1] His volume on the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, in introducing the Scottish ancestry of the American immigrants, glides right by the siblings of “Worthy famous Mr. John Livingston” – father and grandfather of two Robert Livingstons – remarking that John was the “only child [of his parents] we need take any notice of.”[2]

Brave words! As it happens, though, a series of biographical volumes on Scottish ministers fills in the names of the children of the Rev. William Livingston and two of his three wives, and in the biographies of the ministers who married John Livingston’s sisters there are indeed stories on which to linger.[3] John Livingston’s sister Anna married the Rev. Thomas Vassie (or Wassie), later of Torphichen, in 1627; their half-sister, Jean, married the Rev. Gideon Penman, a widower, in 1651.[4] Both the Vassies and the Penmans figure in questions of witchcraft – even as the three brother ministers were involved in the religious and political ferment of the period. Continue reading The devil’s Mr. Gideon

ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2019.]

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly. Continue reading ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

None too delicate

Tomb of the 5th Earl of Douglas in St. Bride’s Church, Douglas, Lanarkshire. Courtesy of Lori Huey Hebert/Findagrave

The executions of the Earl of Douglas,[1] his brother David Douglas, and Sir Malcolm Fleming[2] for treason in November 1440 mark an important moment in the early reign of King James II.[3] A boy of ten under a regency – the Douglases’ father,[4] who died in 1439, was James’s first regent; the king’s guardian in 1440 was Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar – James II was already sadly familiar with unrest among the Scottish nobility, and the execution of his Douglas second cousins and their advisor Fleming of Cumbernauld was by no means the last such event in his short reign. The fall of the Douglases, following the events leading up to Livingston becoming the de facto regent, set the stage for the Livingston family’s own spectacular downfall in 1449-50, although Sir Alexander and his elder son James would survive the worst of it. Continue reading None too delicate

‘Discredited descendants’

Recently a colleague was interviewed for a UK radio show concerning his Mayflower ancestor Governor William Bradford and noticed an entry on a Wikipedia page regarding William Bradford’s descendants. I have long been aware of Hugh Hefner’s Mayflower line, as this has been mentioned in most of his biographies, and he even named his youngest child Cooper Bradford Hefner. Gary Boyd Roberts included the line (see below) in his recent publication, The Mayflower 500. Looking at the line over the years, I have never seen anything wrong with it. Continue reading ‘Discredited descendants’

ICYMI: Four hundred years local

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2020.]

Plymouth Harbor at dusk

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading ICYMI: Four hundred years local

ICYMI: Mysterious Menteiths

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 November 2019.]

Click on images to expand them.

As I work at reconstructing the environment in which the Livingstons of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries lived, I have been struck by the frequency with which I have encountered members of the Menteith family. (It is fair to say that there are a number of such families in this project, interrelated in various ways, but the Menteiths keep turning up!) To arrive at the early modern Livingston family, I have gone back on various lines (including the ancestry of Livingston spouses), so the resulting family trees cover individuals who were not named Livingston – or aware of these particular connections. Continue reading ICYMI: Mysterious Menteiths

‘Ye olde pandemic life’

My old Scottish home?

Now that a few of our shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, my wife Nancy and I have started to get back to the more ‘normal’ side of life. I have to admit, it’s been pretty nice not having to treat toilet paper like some new form of currency, and truly heartwarming to only Zoom with the grandkids for fun. Indeed, the pandemic life has reminded me of what’s most precious in life, i.e., family. Interestingly enough though, it’s also played an important part in helping me to find out just who I am – at least in ancestral terms. Yes, ye olde pandemic life has also taught me a thing or two outside of ‘the norm.’ And along with its implied “six degrees of separation,”[1] this period has reminded me about some ancestral ties I scarcely knew I had. Continue reading ‘Ye olde pandemic life’

ICYMI: Plagues are personal

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 28 April 2020.]

Baptismal record for Laers, son of Truels Laersen, living at Bruk 4 of Broe, from the Kirkebok for Rennesøy Palm Sunday 24 March 1771.

While I was researching and writing “The Early Years” segment of the book I have been writing about my great-great-great-grandfather Nils Trulsen Bru, I needed to look at his family of origin. What could be learned about his parents and siblings which might shed light on the course his life followed?

I had previously recorded data about his parents and the names and dates for his sister Malena and for two brothers, both named Lars. I knew that the first “Lars” died as a baby and that it was fairly common practice in those days to name a later child after one which had been lost. In fairness, I had never paid much attention to the death of the older Lars, who was baptized 24 March 1771 and buried later that year (on 10 November). Continue reading ICYMI: Plagues are personal