Category Archives: Family Stories

As the crow flies

Rand McNally map of St. Clair County, Michigan, 1911. Courtesy of genealogyhound.com

In my mind’s eye there’s always a crow, a silly old crow really. It follows me as I search after forgotten things, and spies out the burial place where my ancestor, Erastus Lee, ought to be – but isn’t.[1] Indifferently, that darn crow watches me, as my mind traverses the Wolverine State landscape of St. Clair County and the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, there, in Wales Township.[2] Like me, the old crow knows that, lost or not, this is where Erastus’s grave surely has to be. True enough, too, the crow knows that Wales Township is a place that neither of us (unless it’s the old crow) will ever get to explore. And, as much as it chagrins me to say, I’ve come to accept that there will always be “those places” in family research that many of us will never get to see. Places remaining only approachable in the mind’s eye – and visited on occasion by that old crow.

My own phantom bird travels there, northeast to Wales Township, revealing peaceful surroundings but few possibilities about the grave of Erastus Lee. Continue reading As the crow flies

Desired havens

Rev. Ichabod Wiswall’s gravestone.

Before she married my grandfather, my paternal grandmother was Vivienne Isabel Wing. Born in Rumford, Maine in 1903, six generations after Simeon Wing (1722–1794) and his family had traded Sandwich, Massachusetts for the wilderness of New Sandwich, Maine (incorporated as Wayne in 1798), my grandmother was proud of her Wing ancestry; at times, she lamented that as an only female child she would be the last in her long line to bear the name.

Had my grandmother not been a woman of a certain generation she might have at least “kept” her name. Continue reading Desired havens

Prince Edward Island reflections

St. Michael’s Church baptism record for Joseph Dougherty.

One of my favorite research topics while investigating my family tree is learning more about my Prince Edward Island (PEI) ancestors. This Canadian province captured the hearts of my ancestors, particularly my grandfather Michael Doherty. My dad would often tell us stories of heading in the car with his parents and siblings from Long Island in New York up the coast to PEI to visit cousins. Continue reading Prince Edward Island reflections

Some fascinating connections

Courtesy of De Nederlandsche Leeuw.

For years I have received De Nederlandsche Leeuw [The Dutch Lion], the journal of the Koninlijk Nederlandsch Genootschap voor Geslacht-en Wapenkunde [Royal Dutch Society for Genealogy and Heraldry], published since 1884 in The Hague. I scan each issue for any scraps on the ancestry of the settlers of New Netherland in the seventeenth century. Continue reading Some fascinating connections

The Ghost of Failures Past

Click on image to expand it.

I have a ghost standing at my shoulder, pointing a skeletal finger at my family history “to do” list to remind me of my deficiencies. This ghost arrives at year’s end when The Weekly Genealogist arrives with a survey asking if I’ve completed my genealogical goals, and then asking what my goals are for the coming year.

Wait! There’s a difference? Continue reading The Ghost of Failures Past

A madman and his family

Eastman Strong Minor monument at Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven.

I recently revisited one of my all-time favorite books, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Years ago, when I first discovered the book, I raved about it to anyone who would listen. “You HAVE to read this book,” I’d implore. “What’s it about?” they’d ask. “It’s about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary,” would be my enthusiastic reply, whereupon I could immediately sense a kind of let-down, as if they were saying You’re kidding, right? A story about a dictionary? Why not a telephone book? My reply was “Trust me, there’s more to it than just the dictionary and you won’t be able to put it down… You’ll wish it would never end.” My would-be converts assured me that they would check it out and off they scampered, every bit of their body language saying, Not a chance. Continue reading A madman and his family

Synchronicity

It’s always interesting when research projects overlap – and in unexpected ways. In working on a new genealogy of the Samuel Lawrence family of Groton, Massachusetts, I’ve encountered a man I covered in my 2013 book on the descendants of Nathaniel Saltonstall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. What makes the resonance even greater is that earlier members of both the Whitney and Saltonstall families appear in the Regina Shober Gray diary, and there is even a marriage between a Saltonstall cousin and one of Mrs. Gray’s sons. Continue reading Synchronicity

Preventative measures

Nancy de Freitas, aged 8.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a woman curious to know why her grandmother was in my online family tree. This is hardly a unique occurrence, since I enjoy tracking down fairly distant family connections. In this case, however, our connection was very close (at least by my standards): her mother was the great-aunt of my first cousin’s husband. I even personally saw my correspondent’s first cousin at my cousin’s wedding!

My husband, father, and I were able to represent the Mainland contingent of our family at her wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a fascinating experience, complete with island customs such as leis,[1] a whole pig roasted in an imu,[2] poi,[3] and miniature kahilis[4] as party favors. Continue reading Preventative measures

Block Island revisited

Nathaniel Briggs Paine, aged 87. Photo by Parlow Studio, New Bedford

Writers find inspiration in other writers. As Vita Brevis celebrates its fifth anniversary, I have been inspired by rereading the scope, depth, and variety of the blog’s posts. These essays have also nudged me out of my comfort zone – to share what I hope to accomplish in my leap into the unknown: in this instance, the mysteries of autosomal DNA.

Sometimes our most carefully reasoned genealogical constructions crumble like a house of cards. Few other ancestral haunts have gripped me like Block Island, Rhode Island. Of all places in the Ocean State, it is the most remote for on-site research. To give myself the maximum amount of time in the town vault, I would fly to Block Island from Westerly rather than take the ferry. I spent years combing through land evidence page by page to sort out confused family relationships. In the end, even after publishing two articles, I had to unlink every one of my eighteenth-century Block Island ancestors. Here’s why: Continue reading Block Island revisited

An approaching anniversary

Another anniversary is approaching. In April it will be six years since the first Early New England Families Study Project sketches were published on AmericanAncestors. While many of you have been following the project all these years, it is probably a good time to do a little recapping for newer readers.

The Early New England Family Study Project was conceived as a companion to the Great Migration Study Project and a fitting use for the massive compilation done by Clarence Almon Torrey, published by NEHGS in the four-volume New England Marriages Prior to 1700, which is also available as an AmericanAncestors database. Torrey’s work covers information gleaned from thousands of books, periodicals, and manuscripts in the NEHGS library about couples who lived in New England from 1620 through 1700. The total number of marriages treated by Torrey is estimated to be 37,000! Continue reading An approaching anniversary