Category Archives: Family Stories

Lessons in oral history

Grow Hill. Courtesy of Connecticut Day Trips

It was the stuff that dreams are made of. Novice genealogists, my wife and I had traveled from our home in Ohio to rural Windham County, Connecticut, on our first foray into family history field research, in hopes of finding a trace or two of my eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Grow ancestors, four generations of whom had owned a large hilltop farm somewhere in the Pomfret-Hampton border area.

With the aid of a map from an old genealogy, we soon located what appeared to be the original family farm – now a large commercial dairying operation – at the peak of a high elevation along a quiet, two-lane state road. Continue reading Lessons in oral history

Genealogy chaos

There is a great deal of irony here. Having spent 45 years practicing genealogy, I have just had a very rude shock.

The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me. Continue reading Genealogy chaos

Lost in the census

Bethiah (Phinney) Hall (1795–1884), full-plate ferrotype, ca. 1860.

Recently, as I completed my Census 2020 information online, I wondered how many people like my elderly mother – who has never been online – would bother to complete their questionnaire if they did not have someone to do it for them. Without the personal contact of past censuses, how many people will be missed?

Right after the release of the last two censuses, 1930 and 1940, I asked friends and family recorded in their youth if they would like to see how they appeared. Sometimes what they saw was expected; other times it jogged a long dormant memory: “Oh, I had forgotten that Uncle Henry was living with us at that time.” Nonetheless, we all have our own examples of lost relatives in censuses. Were some of our ancestors truly not recorded? Did they slip through the cracks? Or is it that we just have not looked hard enough? Continue reading Lost in the census

Sturgis – or Sturgeon?

In my study of Sturgis family history, I have found many branches of Sturgis families besides “my” branch, which begins with Edward Sturgis of Charlestown (1635) and Yarmouth (1639.) There are Sturgis (or Sturges) families in Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.

I began looking into Pennsylvania Sturgis families because of Samuel Davis Sturgis, who was a West Point graduate and Brevet Major-General during the Civil War.[1] I am fairly sure that I am not a direct relation to the famous General, but I would like to learn more about his ancestry. Continue reading Sturgis – or Sturgeon?

Quarantined kids and family history

If you are anything like me, you have spent the last couple weeks at home with little faces staring at you for attention while you try to get work done. Quarantine has proved particularly challenging for parents of school-age and younger children as we added homeschooling to our day jobs, all within the confines of our homes. The mom groups I am a part of have been sharing activity ideas to keep kids engaged and occupied. I realized a lot of them can be adapted with a family history theme to use this time to learn about our families and our history: Continue reading Quarantined kids and family history

Postcards from the past

Last month my sons Oliver and Charlie each received a postcard from their grandparents—Grandpa Bill and Oma—in Michigan. My husband Tom and I were slightly mystified because the postcards were from Boston and Cambridge and had seemingly traveled through time from the past. The Boston skyline didn’t look quite right. And who talks about beans anymore? Even the style of the fonts and the graphic design are extinct. Continue reading Postcards from the past

Irish ancestors and the 1918 flu

During St. Patrick’s Day week, when the NEHGS instagram account shared pictures of our Irish ancestors, I shared the picture at left of my great-great-grandfather Thomas Nelson Kelly (1853–1943) of Philadelphia. His parents, Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, both emigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and met and married in Philadelphia in 1850. Joseph and Rebecca are my only ancestors who arrived in the United States after 1776. I still do not know where in Ireland they came from (some family have said Belfast, some have said Donegal): I’m still searching!

However, my Kelly ancestors were Protestants, and known as “Orange Irish.” Joseph and Rebecca married at the Scots Presbyterian Church and their children were baptized Episcopalian. Continue reading Irish ancestors and the 1918 flu

Salient points

Mrs. A. C. Burrage Jr. and Mrs. C. F. Ayer, ca. 1915.

One of my great-grandmothers[1] was a penniless orphan, the kind found in storybooks: beautiful and, secretly, a dispossessed member of a once proud family. As often happens when a child’s parents die young, much of this background was lost: my grandmother’s mother, born Sara Theodora Ilsley in Newark, was the daughter of a composer (and member of a distinguished family of musicians), granddaughter of one of the men who owned the yacht America,[2] and the descendant of a notable set of families along the Eastern Seaboard, including the first Congressman from New York City (and an aide-de-camp to General Washington)[3] and the Attorney-General of the Colony of Pennsylvania.[4]

Her descendants knew almost nothing of this when I was growing up, perhaps because of that break occasioned by Theodora’s father’s death in 1887 and her mother’s death in 1895, when she was fourteen. Continue reading Salient points

Worth listening to

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, Francis Carr, and Anna Redding in California, 22 September 1932. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

When this blog was still fairly new, Christopher Carter Lee did a great post on discovering the political leanings of one’s ancestors. Since this is not only a presidential election year, but also the centennial of the first such election in which females could participate, I thought it would be fun to share a little tidbit I gleaned from my great-grandfather’s[1] reminiscences. Yes, I do know how blessed I am to have such a document in my possession, even if it’s a very blurry copy of a fourth carbon copy. I will let him tell the story in his own words: Continue reading Worth listening to

Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry

Click on image to expand it. Courtesy of the Perry-Castañeda Map Collection at the University of Texas

My maternal grandmother Sylvia was the youngest of seven children born to Rufus Herman Bailey of Windham, Rockingham County, New Hampshire and his wife Mina P. Watson of Boston, Massachusetts. Her Bailey lineage traces back to immigrant Richard Bailey, who died in Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1647. My grandmother was a definite survivor. She lost her twin sister at eight months. She was hit by a car in 1920 at the age of 18. She lost her first daughter to scarlet fever when Shirley was just shy of her fourth birthday. Sylvia epitomized New England stoicism. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution so that she could volunteer at the General John Stark house, which was just a block from her home in Manchester, New Hampshire. Continue reading Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry