Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Here be dragons

If Our Old House builder, Asa Williams, had recently awakened from his 201-year eternal sleep, he would have seen, with fascinated but utter panic, the thunder of dragons that crawled up my driveway. (I think the blacksmith in Asa would find any fire-breathing dragons very useful … eventually.) As a patriot and devout Christian, he might have thought that Satan disguised as  King George had unleashed his “great red dragon” on him personally. Continue reading Here be dragons

Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two

Continuing  with the ancestry of actor Billy Porter, the story of note I found in the actor’s maternal ancestry was more immediate and quite tragic. Porter’s mother Cloerinda Jean (Johnson) (Porter) Ford was the daughter of James and Martha (Richardson) Johnson, and granddaughter of Thomas H. and Mary (Hines) Richardson. Thomas H. Richardson (1889-1923), a native of Cumberland County, Virginia, moved to Pittsburgh by 1910. Thomas and Mary had three children, and Thomas worked as a packer in a steel mill and as a plasterer. Thomas died young, at thirty-three, on 26 May 1923. However, the cause of death on his death certificate prompted me look at his life further – “Shock Hemorrhage following Gun Shot Wound Through right Breast.” Continue reading Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two

Finding Anastasia

The Mack family of Holbrook, Massachusetts, ca. 1925, with matriarch Bridget (Mahoney) Mack (1845–1927) at its center. Her granddaughter Therese (Mack) Doherty (1928–2020) helped me re-establish ties among lost branches of our family in Newport, Rhode Island.

This tale began with a headline – “Fatally Stricken While in Bank” – in the Newport Daily News on 5 January 1965 that described the sudden demise of Anastasia Dwyer, age 76 [sic]. A reserved, quiet, unmarried woman, “Stacia” always came to family wakes and sat alone. My Newport Dwyer relatives, with roots in County Kerry, Ireland, assumed she belonged to our clan but did not know any details. Stacia’s death certificate presented the first of many puzzles, beginning with the names of her parents: father — Dwyer, Patrick later inserted, and mother Abbie Mahoney [sic]. Informant: Patrick Mack of Holbrook, Massachusetts. Who was he? It struck me as odd that none of the Newport Dwyers supplied that information. Stacia had lived with her mother, Abbie Dwyer, until the latter’s death in 1946. Abbie Dwyer’s death certificate indicated her maiden name was Sullivan, the names of her parents unknown. A death notice in the Newport Mercury offered no additional information, but her funeral notice disclosed Patrick Mack as one of her pallbearers. Continue reading Finding Anastasia

Fractured fairy tale

The occasion for my visit that day was not Heidi’s death.[1] I’d traveled far to get there, and next to her sole surviving kin (a sister by adoption), I was the only other person that day who might give some sort of testimony to her life. Still, I had the strange feeling that I didn’t belong at her memorial. She’d been dead so long. Wasn’t there some sort of rule about having a service this many years after the fact? What can I say? I guess the existential genealogist in me was having trouble with all this ex-post mourning business. My mind reeled in search of some forgotten Mayflower mourning etiquette,[2] all of this brainstorming no more than an attempt to assuage the grief I felt for the loss of my friend. Continue reading Fractured fairy tale

Shared DNA

Click on image to expand it.

While I’ve talked about examples of sharing DNA through two (unrelated) parents, which can occur frequently when one’s ancestors lived in the same area for generations, this example involved a DNA match my father had through both of his parents, who are from different geographic and ethnic backgrounds. Continue reading Shared DNA

Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

My recent post on the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment also touched upon the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and a recent book I had read – Thunder at the Gates – about the black regiments of Massachusetts that served in the Civil War. Another genealogical connection to these regiments concerned Civil War soldiers from Mashpee, Massachusetts treated in recent articles in the Mayflower Descendant. Continue reading Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

Peart’s Elixirs

The rasp of her son’s cough hadn’t stopped for a fortnight, and it seemed (as Mrs. Hatton would later write) that there was “no medicine on earth that could reach his disease.”[1] It was terrible to watch him wasting in his struggles. There certainly was no ease or comfort for the boy. There appeared to be no cure.

The doctors the Hattons had called upon at Baltimore lauded the Playfair method for flushing his lungs.[2] Good Lord, his mother had thought, he is but two years old! Continue reading Peart’s Elixirs

The 29th Connecticut

Last Memorial Day, after writing a post on my great-great-great-uncle John Merrick Paine of Woodstock, Connecticut, a lieutenant in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment, I became interested in researching other soldiers in this regiment also from northeastern Connecticut. Several of them were from families I had researched previously, with one surprising connection to a colleague here at NEHGS. Continue reading The 29th Connecticut

What’s in a name?

Although these three girls’ names – Mary, Marcy, and Mercy – are similar, they are distinct names, often (and mistakenly) intermingled. Mingling similarly spelled names is usually a result of misinterpreting seventeenth-century handwriting, which is exacerbated for us today when we do not have access to original records. You ask “What’s the harm?” The following case story shows how old genealogists get older because of indiscreet mingling.

A Mayflower line has long been accepted by the Society that claims descent through Mary Medbury/Medbery, daughter of John Howland descendant Benjamin Medbury and his wife Martha Harris. Continue reading What’s in a name?

The wrong Blood!

My recent post on “Philoprogenitive ancestors” resulted in several comments from readers about their own ancestors with many children. I mentioned my ancestor Simon Willard, and one reader also noted him as her own ancestor through his daughter Elizabeth. I was planning to comment back to the reader with my full line of descent (also going through Elizabeth, wife of Robert Blood), but before doing so I did a quick verification of the lineage as I had it. Long story short, Simon Willard can now be classified as one of my Former Ancestors. Continue reading The wrong Blood!