Category Archives: Family Stories

Presidential surnames

A 4th of July post on Facebook shared the above image quoting John Quincy Adams of The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America, which was founded in 1896. A friend of mine thought initially this quote was meant to be attributed to the president of that name, who died in 1848. The person in the quote above was John Quincy Adams (1848-1911) of New York City, who was born in New Hampshire eight months after the president’s death. Through his father Harvey8 Adams (Benjamin7, Andrew6, John5, Edward4, John3, Edward2, Henry1), this John Quincy Adams was a fourth cousin three times removed to his presidential namesake through the immigrant Henry Adams (1583-1646) of Braintree, Massachusetts.[1] Continue reading Presidential surnames

ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2020.]

Internet trolls are people who lurk on social media and generally cause trouble for everybody else. I recently found a list of the ten types of internet trolls, and suspect I probably qualify under No. 5, “The Show-Off, Know-it-All Or Blabbermouth Troll.” Or at least that is how I feel whenever I chime in on one of the Mayflower/Alden-related Facebook pages or the like. It becomes my job to deflate the balloons of some of these wonderful newly-found Mayflower descendants, who have, most unfortunately, inadvertently gathered and believed all the dross of Internet information about their ancestors. Continue reading ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

Family friends

It would appear that I am not finished with my self-imposed task of sorting through my grandfather’s box of family papers. As I was preparing to put the box away, I found that I had by no means exhausted its treasures, from old passports and (miniature) Bibles to a copy of my paternal grandparents’ wedding certificate and the marriage service itself.[1]

Such wedding ephemera is easy to misplace, lovely and important though it is. Several insights emerge from looking at my grandparents’ service and the accompanying certificate. One is that, while my grandfather[2] is addressed throughout the service as Gilbert, my grandmother is Anne Beekman – I think the last person who thought of her in that way was her sister, my great-aunt Theo,[3] who died in 1996. Once married, it seems my grandmother dropped the slightly cumbersome double name. Continue reading Family friends

A ‘naughty’ wife

The following advisory was printed in the Virginia Gazette on 21 January 1775:

Prince Edward, Dec. 1, 1774

“Whereas my wife Delphia hath been a naughty, furious Housewife for some Years past, and hath invented, and reported certain Slanders, to the Prejudice of my Character, and hath often threatened to ruin me, which she hath in Some part effected; This is therefore to forewarn all Merchants and others, from crediting her on my Account, as I will pay no Debts of her contracting; and I do hereby forewarn all Persons from receiving at her Hand, any Goods or Chattels appertaining to me, as they will answer the fame at their Peril.” THOMAS COLDWELL Continue reading A ‘naughty’ wife

The genealogist McFly

Not too long ago, my daughter asked me if I would look into the Danish ancestry of a “new friend” of hers – a guy named Charlie. Now Jen’s usually quite secretive about father learning anything at all about her prospective beaux, so I jumped at the chance to take a look at the ancestry of her new fellow – a guy who just might easily show up to our house for Sunday dinner. I knew I had to be a bit careful about it all, too. I wanted to make sure that I researched Charlie’s Nordic connections as respectfully as possible, not only for his sake, but to make sure that my daughter would continue to value my counsel – and not summon one of my mother’s ancient curses against me. (Little did I know that in doing all of this, my hubris and I were about to experience an embarrassing genealogical gaffe…) Continue reading The genealogist McFly

Fire and ice

The fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Photo by Arnold Genthe, courtesy of the Library of Congress

After my parents were married, my maternal grandmother[1] gave my mother a dowry of a kind, one suited to her new life in New England: the gift of Boston cousins. My mother’s family was both Southern in background and, given my grandfather’s service in the Navy, coastal by experience, so the notion that my mother had Glidden cousins in Boston appealed to her. As it happens, other than her grandmother’s family in Baltimore, the sprawling Glidden family (originally from Maine) makes up the largest part of my mother’s near kin. Continue reading Fire and ice

The silver lining

Positive graffiti adorns the protective plywood at our 97 Newbury Street building.

We are well into our fourth month of isolation here in Boston in order to fight back against the Covid-19 virus. During this time, I think it’s fair to say people have been experiencing many emotions, most of them negative—fear, grief, hopelessness, anxiety, doubt, outrage, exhaustion, anger, sadness, stress, loneliness… I have felt these things myself, but there have been several instances when I was reminded that, even in extremely difficult situations, there can be moments of positivity.

The first person I heard use the term “silver lining” was my boss, Executive Vice President and COO Ryan Woods, someone I consider a wise and level-headed person. He said that, although the pandemic forced him to be at home while doing the difficult job of navigating our organization through an unprecedented crisis, he was happy to be able to spend so much time with his wife, young child, and new baby—an opportunity that he never would have had otherwise. Continue reading The silver lining

Playing Pilgrims

For me and my friends growing up on Cape Cod, the story of the Mayflower voyage took on a mythical quality. It felt significant to us to be walking the land that the Pilgrims saw after that long and perilous voyage. Our frequent field trips to Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II provided fuel for our imaginations, and through the long New England winters we played Pilgrim in our houses. My mother let us empty out a large closet, and my friends and I would gather some blankets and toys and munch on stale bread in the dark, pretending we were in cramped quarters on the Mayflower with our children. In the summer we gathered wildflowers for our forest fort – our version of a Plimoth Plantation cottage. I had no ancestral connection to the Mayflower, but I was drawn to the idea of a seafaring adventure and of reinventing oneself in a new land. Continue reading Playing Pilgrims

South Carolina leaders

Montage created in 1876 showing the “Radical Members” of the South Carolina Legislature. (Click on images to expand them.) Courtesy of facinghistory.org

I recently watched comedian Dave Chappelle’s powerful Netflix special 8:46, remarking on the death of George Floyd and several other recent events. During the performance, Chappelle mentioned that President Woodrow Wilson received a delegation of African Americans from South Carolina after a black man was lynched in that state. This delegation was led by the comedian’s great-grandfather, William David Chappelle (1857-1925), born enslaved, the 37th Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dave Chappelle also mentioned this ancestor’s wife was the woman Dave’s father called out to on his deathbed, and how that memory reminded him of when George Floyd called out to his mother knowing his death was imminent.

I had worked on the genealogy of Dave Chappelle over a decade ago, and biographies of Bishop William David Chappelle appear in Who Was Who and Who’s Who in the Colored Race. Continue reading South Carolina leaders

The trouble with Jimmie

Albert James Lefurgey (1901-1948), Folsom State Prison 1928

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I work on family history I get bored. After all, how long can one be expected to stare at the same old brick walls, or to wonder why researching on Rootsweb these days feels more like your worst blind date ever? I guess you could say that this sort of ennui has gotten me into a bit of trouble, as in the absence of anything interesting in my own family tree I start looking for ways to escape the solitary confinement of (what I like to call) my own little “genealogical slammer.” I know it’s a bit dangerous to go on the lam like this but, hey, I think you’ll agree that, genealogically speaking, you truly can meet a lot of interesting people along the way. Continue reading The trouble with Jimmie