Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Philippian mysteries

With Prince Philip’s recent death, several colleagues shared with me the story that recalled how in 1993 the Duke of Edinburgh had helped solve a Russian Romanov murder mystery. This was one of the earliest high profile uses of mitochondrial DNA to confirm historic remains, and something I frequently talked about in my early talks on using DNA in genealogy.[1] I gave two lectures at NEHGS while I was still in college in the early 2000s, the first one on Abraham Lincoln’s maternal ancestry (which I also discussed as having a possible mtDNA component, utilized nearly two decades later) and the other on DNA. These were also the only talks I made using overhead projector transparencies, before finally switching over to PowerPoint. They also both showed how designing charts has always gone hand-in-hand with my genealogical interests. Continue reading Philippian mysteries

A Massachusetts matrilineal line

The death of Alma Wahlberg, aged 78, mother of actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg (also both known for their earlier musical careers in New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, respectively), was announced last month. I had worked on the Wahlbergs’ ancestry several years ago as a surprise for Gary Boyd Roberts, who has been a longtime Mark Wahlberg fan. Years later, when Gary was at Wahlburgers in Boston, noticing numerous pictures of the Wahlberg family as well as those of Mark’s movie career, Gary told his waitress, “This place needs a little less Mark Walhberg and little more Marky Mark!” To Gary’s amazement, the teenaged waitress said she did not know who “Marky Mark” was! Continue reading A Massachusetts matrilineal line

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

King George I of the Hellenes. Carte de visite by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri; Scott C. Steward collection

To mark the second birthday of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and with the imminent birth of his younger sister, Christopher C. Child and I have continued our (occasional!) series on Archie’s ancestry. The first segment, covering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, appears here.

This generation of great-great-great-grandparents includes the origins of the surnames Mountbatten and Windsor. The name Mountbatten derives from Archie’s father’s father’s father’s mother’s father, the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven; the name Windsor — also the house name of the current British Royal Family — comes via Archie’s father’s father’s mother’s paternal grandfather, King George V. Just over 100 years after the Princes of Battenberg became Mountbattens and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha adopted (in England) the surname Windsor, a descendant bears both names, marking the 1947 marriage of Lord Milford Haven’s grandson Philip to King George’s granddaughter Elizabeth. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Retroactive surnames

Geoffrey “Plantagenet,” Count of Anjou

Following up on my prior post on retroactive suffixes, I’ll now discuss the other practice of retroactive surnames. This frequently occurs in publications relating to royalty in the medieval period, the best example being the “surname” Plantagenet. Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (1113-1151), had Plantagenet as an epithet or nickname, but this was not used as a surname by himself or his children. His son Henry II became King of England in 1154 as the first Angevin monarch, as Geoffrey was a member of the House of Anjou. Three centuries later, Geoffrey’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Richard, 3rd Duke of York (1411-1460), adopted “Plantagenet” as his family name. The surname Plantagenet was even used by two illegitimate children of Richard’s son King Edward IV. However, Richard’s male line soon died out in the aftermath of the Tudor conquest of England in 1485. The last living legitimate male born with the surname Plantagenet was Richard’s grandson, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, who was beheaded in 1499, and King Edward IV’s illegitimate son Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, died in 1542. Continue reading Retroactive surnames

‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

In the telling of family history, it’s become quite hard for me to stay away from the same old story. Too often, as I comb through ye olde branches, it feels as if I’m only supposed to talk about those somehow-notable persons (or events) and rarely (if ever) tell the tale of “an ordinary life.” Because of this, it’s gotten difficult for me to tell any tale, or indeed to know just whose life into which to delve. I’m left wondering if someone (or anything) of ‘ordinary ways’ will be of enough interest to anyone else on-down-the-line. Continue reading ‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

Retroactive suffixes

An occasional question I receive relates to two practices used in publications by my longtime friend and colleague, Gary Boyd Roberts, that I would summarize as retroactive suffixes and surnames. The latter is used in many other genealogical compendia, largely in relation to royal genealogy (which I’ll discuss in part two of this post), while the former is perhaps less common, and used more often in identifying Americans after 1620. I would identify Gary as belonging to “Team Present,” in terms of using a modern genealogical naming system for past eras, while Vita Brevis editor Scott Steward would belong to “Team Contemporary” in trying to identify people by the names they used in their lifetimes. I would put myself in “Team Whatever,” usually omitting suffixes entirely, except when their contemporary identification is useful to determine how they might fit genealogically into a family. Continue reading Retroactive suffixes

An introduction to nicknames

Rotundo, Barbara. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Concord, Mass.) gravestone: Nellie, February 1989. Barbara Rotundo Papers (PH 050). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

As a genealogist, I often get questions from patrons about differences in given names. For example, are Ellen Turner and Nellie Turner the same person? What was her “real” name? What about Ann Coe and Nancy Coe? (The answer, in both cases, is yes, they were the same person.)
Continue reading An introduction to nicknames

In praise of maiden aunts

Sally Leeds. Author’s collection

As most genealogists focus their in-depth research on direct ancestors, I have adopted the term “genealogical orphans” for persons with no living descendants to take an interest in researching them. While we usually document the births of all known children in a family, and sometimes their marriages and deaths, we less frequently go beyond the basics to learn about their lives. We have been encouraged to investigate family, associates, and neighbors (the “FAN club”), but often do so only in search of evidence to document a hard-to-prove family relationship. Yet I have found that these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors. Continue reading In praise of maiden aunts

ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 April 2014.]

In December 1648, Lucy (Winthrop) Downing sent her nephew John2 Winthrop a letter full of family news: her husband, Emmanuel Downing, had been at the birth of John’s baby half-brother, Joshua, the week before, and “I belleeue our cosen Dorithe Simonds is nowe wonne and weded to Mr. Harrison the Virginia minister.” Sounding at once like a modern-day gossip and a character in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Downing also noted that her daughter Lucy would probably soon marry: she “was a little [while ago] goeinge to be maryed to Mr. Eyers sonne Thomas I meane, but he had not yet art enough to carye his [court]ship, so they turnd backe, and nowe wee are apon an earnest motion with Mr. William Norton. The man is verye fayer, but she hath not yet forgotten Mr. Eyers his fresh red [sic] but hath goten some obiections concer[n]inge Mr. Norton, which are nowe sent to be answeered by [William’s brother] Mr. Jhon Norton…”[1] Continue reading ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

Nostalgia

I recently remarked to Son how it seemed to me that as I age my family history research becomes more like nostalgia, a walk down Memory Lane, and increasingly frequent but random reminiscences. Eschewing the expected age jokes, Son promptly provided me with several columns in the Maine Farmer newspaper written between October 1876 and May 1877 by one “D.C.” and entitled “Random Thoughts and Recollections.” D.C. wrote more than ten columns in the slightly purple style of the times about his memories of people, places, and events, a gold mine of information about places and people in the 1820s and 1830s, Augusta and Hallowell, Maine in particular. Continue reading Nostalgia