Category Archives: Family Stories

2019: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about the first six months of 2019 as reflected through Vita Brevis posts. Herewith, the rest of 2019:

In July, Jan Doerr – whose family has long been settled in the area around Augusta, Maine – reflected on the uses of old business records:

I wanted to know how my late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century ancestors interacted with the people of the Fort Western Settlement every day, what they traded or bought from the Howard store, and why. I have no primary source material from those Fisher, Williams, or Read families, and only a few pieces from my side of the Coney family. Fortunately, other residents weren’t as reticent as my family (or as inclined to paste newspaper clippings over old account book pages!). Continue reading 2019: the year in review concluded

2019: the year in review

In January 2019, Vita Brevis marked its fifth anniversary with a series of posts, among them one on the blog “By the numbers.” After listing a number of statistics about the blog to that point, I made the following comments:

[But] Vita Brevis is more than the numbers, the percentages, the ongoing series. It is meant to educate; it is meant to entertain. Like P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, it aims to guide its readership – gently, with carrots, not sticks – to the right path, toward genealogical breakthroughs. How? By breaking down the thought processes that successful genealogists use to undertake fresh research, building upon previous work when assessing a new genealogical problem. Continue reading 2019: the year in review

Christmas for the horses

Photos courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The other night I tuned into one of my favorite programs, the always interesting and informative American Experience. I’ve been a devotee for most of the 30 years that the series has been produced. Taken as a whole, the series reminds me of one of those exquisite, perfectly-put-together album quilts of yesteryear, made by many hands, each block of eye-catching fabric elaborately designed, intricately sewn, and an expression and remembrance of the world as it was. Continue reading Christmas for the horses

Irish origins

I recently attended my first concert ever, with my husband. Whenever I listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s music, it puts me into a holiday mood. During the concert, I learned that founder Paul O’Neill passed away two years ago. I was curious about his roots and wanted to see what I could find. I learned from his obituary that he had grandparents from Ireland. Through a variety of interviews published online, I was able to start tracing his tree. I first started looking into his maternal side.

Paul’s maternal grandparents were Andrew Joseph Moore and Julia P. Merryman. Both were born in Ireland. The couple married in South Dublin on 13 June 1924,[1] a few short years after the Irish War of Independence. Continue reading Irish origins

The great “Billington Sea”

My ancestor Francis Billington is never mentioned by name in William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. Francis’s first name is given in Bradford’s list of the Mayflower passengers, and in Bradford’s subsequent notes on passengers’ fates written in 1650, Francis is only referred is as John’s second son.

I am reading the 1952 edition of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, with notes and an introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison. On page 79, concerning early relations with Native Americans, Morison notes that Mourt’s Relation provides more details, along with Morison’s own description of Francis Billington as Mayflower’s “bad boy.” Continue reading The great “Billington Sea”

Holiday spirits

Christmastime in Germany is magical. Winter is generally a cold, dark season, but for most of November, and all of December, it seems like every open square in large towns and cities all over the country is taken over by holiday spirits as the Weihnachtsmärkte and Christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets) are built. Wooden stalls go up, and decorations adorn the streets. At night, twinkle lights go on, braziers are lit, and the Glühwein starts flowing. In the absence of a national holiday in November, Germany and neighboring countries like the Netherlands and Austria devote the late fall and early winter exclusively to Christmas, building up to Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve. Continue reading Holiday spirits

Riot girls

The newest issue of American Ancestors magazine prominently features women: how to trace them, their accomplishments in the field of genealogy, and even their role “hiding in plain sight” with infants in early photographs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share something surprising that I discovered this past summer about one of my great-great-grandmothers.

I have spent countless hours tracking down genealogical material in old newspapers, but in this case, exciting information was handed to me on a virtual silver platter through a hint on Ancestry.com. Continue reading Riot girls

Long settled

The Benjamin Lincoln House in Hingham.

Twenty or so years ago a lady who exuded friendliness came strolling along the Bathing Beach in Hingham where I have been a daily summer swimmer for the better part of thirty years. Back then, as one of several dozen regulars who called ourselves “Beach Bums,” we congregated at high tide to collectively share that little slice of sand and salt water, each enjoying it in our own way. With her folded towel tucked under her arm, the lady approached us, clearly ready for a swim, and introduced herself as Rosie. It wasn’t long before she was a beloved member of the group, a group that has now sadly dwindled. Rosie and I, and two or three others, are the last regulars. Continue reading Long settled

Mayflower kin

As we head into 2020 with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, I’ll likely be posting more and more on various figures with Mayflower heritage, as I have already this year with Denise Nickerson and Terry Kiser. As is most often the case (except in my own), usually one Mayflower line leads to another, then another, etc., since members of these families often married one another.

After watching the Netflix original movie El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which focuses on the character Jesse Pinkman, I took a look on the ancestry of actor Aaron Paul, who portrays Jesse. Continue reading Mayflower kin

Small world

My mother in high school.

Twelve years ago, my family moved back to Salem, Oregon – the city where my husband had gone to college, and where we spent the first three years of our married life together. As the movers hauled furniture into our new home, we were welcomed with fresh bread and warm greetings by our new next-door neighbors. My husband recognized Tom right away as his former economics professor, which seemed like a lovely coincidence.

At some point over the years, we discovered that Tom had attended Pomona College, which my father also attended, but their years hadn’t quite overlapped. Then last year Tom and Priscilla hosted a bon voyage party just before our sabbatical trip, inviting everyone on the email list I’d used to send our itinerary to family and neighbors. My mother recognized Tom as a high school classmate, and we thought that was another fun coincidence … though in a school with 2,200 students, that didn’t mean they’d rubbed elbows frequently. Continue reading Small world