Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Genealogy chaos

There is a great deal of irony here. Having spent 45 years practicing genealogy, I have just had a very rude shock.

The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me. Continue reading Genealogy chaos

Quarantined kids and family history

If you are anything like me, you have spent the last couple weeks at home with little faces staring at you for attention while you try to get work done. Quarantine has proved particularly challenging for parents of school-age and younger children as we added homeschooling to our day jobs, all within the confines of our homes. The mom groups I am a part of have been sharing activity ideas to keep kids engaged and occupied. I realized a lot of them can be adapted with a family history theme to use this time to learn about our families and our history: Continue reading Quarantined kids and family history

“Clustering” Salem

I have most recently been concentrating on “clustering” research for the Early New England Families Study Project around Watertown, Massachusetts. Six new sketches – John Bigelow, Richard Norcross, William Parry, John Sawin, William Shattuck, and Daniel Smith – have been added to thirteen previously posted sketches of immigrant families in Watertown – NEHGS members can find links to all families in the database here.

While I still have some Watertown families in the pipeline, and there will be plenty more in the future, it is time for a change of scenery, so I am moving north to concentrate on Salem families for the next phase of the project. Continue reading “Clustering” Salem

In the beginning

Shortly after the founding of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845, the first issue of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register was published. The Register first appeared in January 1847 and was the visionary work of the Society’s first president, Charles Ewer. Mr. Ewer envisioned a society made up of hundreds of members, offering a physical library to house thousands of volumes of books, where a publishing program would expand upon the work of John Farmer’s Genealogical Register.

Mr. Ewer’s goal was to create a quarterly journal of history and genealogy that “would give members of the Society a further vehicle for research, discussion, and writing about New England’s Puritan fathers as well as fill a deficiency in historical literature by providing information on families.”[1] Additionally, he wanted to rescue records that were being destroyed in public offices and present them as transcribed and printed resources for future research.[2] Continue reading In the beginning

The Society’s first member: Lucius Robinson Paige

In November of 1844, five men “organized themselves into a society for historical and genealogical research” in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was incorporated the following March. Prior to the society’s incorporation, several additional members were elected, the first being the Reverend Lucius Robinson Paige on 21 January 1845.[2] At the time of his death on 2 September 1896, he was the oldest member of NEHGS.[3] While the distinction of being the first member of NEHGS is noteworthy, his accomplishments during his lifetime are also worth a closer look. Continue reading The Society’s first member: Lucius Robinson Paige

College records

Harvard 1921 and Columbia 1873

In the books I have written (or co-authored) in the last twenty years or so – on the Thorndike, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, and Winthrop families – I have usually noted the academic histories of family members as well as the more usual genealogical data. I’m occasionally asked why, and until recently I didn’t really have an answer.

While I generally answered that college and university records could help flesh out a sparse biographical narrative for someone treated in one of these books, I would now add that, often, they help keep the genealogist honest. After all, someone born in 1940 wouldn’t be likely to graduate from college in 1954, while a late graduation date begs further study. At the very least, a focus on filling in this area helps distinguish Charles Smith from Chad Smith – not to mention Charles Chad Smith! Continue reading College records

Mayflower trolls

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 Mayflower trolls

Four hundred years local

Plymouth Harbor at dusk.

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading Four hundred years local

Whistle in the wind

Pennell manuscript boxes at the Maine Historical Society library.

Much to my chagrin, google Thomas Pennell + Pennellville and this excerpt of a Wikipedia article still comes up: “Pennellville was settled by Thomas Pennell II (1720–1770), who arrived in 1760 at the age of 40. His father, Thomas (1689–1723), had emigrated from Jersey (in the Channel Islands) around 1708. He originally settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Durrell, and sired two sons and two daughters.” Continue reading Whistle in the wind

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