Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Where the Partridge Drums

Akwesasne baskets; some by Florence Benedict. Photo by Meaghan E. H. Siekman.

While I was in graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on tribal museums and the ways they share authority with the communities that they serve. I focused my research on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation known by the people who call it home as Akwesasne, which translates to “Where the Partridge Drums.” I was honored to spend many years getting to know the place and its people.

“You are on Mohawk Land.”

You know you are in Akwesasne as soon as you arrive because there are large signs on the roads leading into the reservation that read “You are on Mohawk Land.” They have good reason to assert their claim to the land since they have had to defend their right to live and move freely within their own reservation for centuries. Continue reading Where the Partridge Drums

My little slice of Irish ancestry

The author’s children with relatives in Ireland, 2004.

Although my background is almost all German and English, I’ve always wanted to find a bit of Irish in me. This is because my husband was born in Cork City and after numerous visits I’ve fallen in love with Ireland. For years I searched in my family tree for an Irish ancestor and finally, about a year ago, I found one. My 5th great-grandparent, William Jack, was born in Ireland. It might only be a sliver but I’m at least 1/128th Irish!

It might only be a sliver but I’m at least 1/128th Irish!

Continue reading My little slice of Irish ancestry

Between the rails

The decennial United States Federal Census often forms the backbone of historical research into an unfamiliar family member. By its nature, the census will never be fully comprehensive or exact, but it can serve as a bit of a guard rail, keeping us from going off on an unlikely tangent in our research.  Sometimes, though, those 10-year gaps between enumerations can conceal a whole lifetime of information – or in the case of my father’s family, many lifetimes. Continue reading Between the rails

‘Lots of company’

It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal[1]: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.

1920

9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.

Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.

23 October: Turned on electric lights tonight. Continue reading ‘Lots of company’

ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 April 2017.]

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth-century New Englanders. Continue reading ICYMI: Cambridge Cameos

ICYMI: Sex in Middlesex

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 March 2017.]

As one would imagine from the title, Roger Thompson’s most popular work (see my last post) is Sex in Middlesex, Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699.[1] First, a few words on the differences between academic historians and genealogists. Academic historians are concerned with the “why” of history. They gather large samples of statistical information but usually skim over individual people. Genealogists work from the individual, but usually we leave the bigger picture to the historians while we move on to another ancestor. Continue reading ICYMI: Sex in Middlesex

A rehabilitated marriage

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly.

Westerly town directories revealed Eva Clancy lived at 155 Granite Street, and after her death in 1980, Eva’s daughter Mary Clancy remained at the same address. Happy to meet a new, previously unknown relative, Mary and her cousin Alma Rhodes provided me with a wealth of information. Continue reading A rehabilitated marriage

Remembering Denise Nickerson

Some of the WILLY WONKA cast; Denise Nickerson is on Gene Wilder’s right. Courtesy of David Allen Lambert

As a child, I read every book by Roald Dahl; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite movies. I can still say most of the dialogue by heart and occasionally listen to the film’s soundtrack. I was saddened to hear last week of the death of child actress Denise Nickerson, who portrayed Violet Beauregarde. As I often do when someone in the news passes away, I decided to see if I could find anything of interest on her family history, recognizing her surname often has connections to colonial Cape Cod. Continue reading Remembering Denise Nickerson

Proof summaries

Click on image to expand it.

As part of the NEHGS Research Services team, I spend a lot of my time documenting lineage society applications. We often receive requests to document lines that require some additional attention. For instance, there can be some generations that simply cannot be connected through birth, marriage, and death records. Perhaps there are no vital records for the time period and location, or you may have vital records that do not include critical information such as parents’ names. When these genealogical obstacles occur, a proof summary may be needed to demonstrate the connections between the generations.

A proof summary, also called a proof argument, is simply an essay which summarizes all sources you have gathered to link the generations. It is compiled in a way to be persuasive enough to connect generations, despite the lack of vital records or direct evidence for the generational connection. These proof summaries are a surprisingly common addition to lineage society applications. Continue reading Proof summaries

‘Old Green’

In my house, there’s an old book that stands guard against the march of time. It’s not any great work or an impressive tome, that’s for sure, as it’s pretty humble in title and origin. However, it still endures – and much like a singular nomad on my Costco bookshelf, it spends its days between the works of Robert Charles Anderson and my collection of Mayflower Silver Books and issues of the Mayflower Descendant. Nevertheless, this book – which I have taken to calling “Old Green” – has its own unique story, as she was once the prized possession of my great-great-grandmother Mary (Hoyt) Wilcox. (Even now I have to believe Mrs. Wilcox keeps a watchful eye on it from the Great Beyond.) You see, truth be told, if our home was ever to (God forbid) fall prey to any disaster, man-made or otherwise, I am ‘bound’ by some celestial edict to rescue “Old Green.” It seems silly to say so, but I count it among those irreplaceable things, and among those things with a life of their own, serendipitously placed by our ancestors for safe-keeping. Continue reading ‘Old Green’