Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Delayed messages

Minnie Maud (Hickok) Wilcox with her twin sister Mallie Mae (Hickok) Bodwell. Courtesy of Tom Kennedy

Okay. Let’s clear something up straight away. Like the rest of us here, I see dead people.[1] The truth is, though, that “my visions” aren’t always very clear, and truer still, is that I don’t exactly see dead people so much as I hear them. (And no, it’s not time for you to call your local mental health professional on this blogger just yet – but do give it time.) I know it may seem like a big genealogical s t r e t c h, but I have to believe you know just what I mean. They, our dearly departed, “come a calling” to leave one with that feeling of a special message – one intended for you alone. It’s almost like some form of spectral evidence meant to guide us in researching the old family tree. Stretch or not, most of the time my own dearly departed are just like this; that is, showing up with their usual hints of hushed and secretive messages. “Messages” that make me sweat it out for the smallest discovery of their lives, relationships, whereabouts, or demise. (Well, they never promised that it would be easy, right?) Continue reading Delayed messages

Summer spots: Part One

Even the birds are socially distancing at Crane Beach. August 2020

With this most unusual summer now coming to an end, my family of four spent a lot more time together and got to enjoy some outdoor spots within an hour’s drive from Boston. We visited several spots owned by the Trustees of the Reservations and, as a way to remember this time, I’ve done some genealogical research on people historically associated with these places. The first place I’ll discuss is Crane Beach on Crane Estate.

Last summer, our staff outing was to nearby Castle Hill – obviously this summer we were unable to do any such outing. This property was purchased in 1910 by Richard Teller Crane, Jr. (1873-1931), president of the Chicago-based Crane Co. (manufacturer of plumbing supplies and other goods), which he had inherited from his father. Continue reading Summer spots: Part One

He said. She said

Click on images to expand them.

At our dinner table recently, talk turned to a discussion of family stories, specifically the story that our great great-great-great-grandfather, George Read, refused to paint his chimneys white in the English style because he was so opposed to British oppression. Son, He of the Flypaper Mind (everything sticks to it!), challenged the origin of the tale, asking “How do you know that? Do we have any documents he wrote about it, or his diary, for instance?” At something of a loss given his significant lack of respect for The Family Story, I turned to Husband, a retired attorney, for his input and support, but got the legal definition of “hearsay” instead. Continue reading He said. She said

Who were the Huguenots?

Courtesy of Findagrave

As any genealogical researcher with French ancestry knows, if you ever bring up those French forebears, the first question you’ll inevitably be asked is “Were they Huguenots?” But who exactly were the Huguenots? Where did they come from? And most importantly, why did so many migrate to America in the first place?

Quite simply, the Huguenots were French Protestants who observed the reformed (also known as Calvinist) form of Protestantism.[1] Continue reading Who were the Huguenots?

Matrilineal mergers: Part One

Jefferson County, Kentucky Marriage Licenses and Bonds, 1810-1814, showing the 1814 bond between William Shake and Stephen Smith.

An “added” middle name is something that comes up quite a lot when seeing family trees online and can sometimes be difficult to detect. Middle names in the eighteenth century in the present-day United States are rare, and even though they gained popularity during the nineteenth century, numerous people get their mother’s maiden name (or what a descendant thinks it is) added into a name online.

I’ve always been interested in matrilineal lines, and seeing how far back I could trace my mother’s mother’s mother, etc. Continue reading Matrilineal mergers: Part One

A ‘no brainer’

I prefer to work on the Early New England Families Study Project (ENEF) sketches by myself, surveying literature, digging into primary sources, organizing, and immersing myself in the subject, so that I do not have to deal with teaching someone else to do things the way I want them done.

However, a nice NEHGS member, Barry E. Hinman of California, Librarian Emeritus of Stanford University, recently donated access to his digital manuscript collection for use by NEHGS authors, including ENEF and the Great Migration Study Project (GM). Barry’s many credits include articles that have been published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.[1] Continue reading A ‘no brainer’

Kinbot, and friendship

Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

As part of my research on the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I have been looking at allied families – who sometimes turn out to be Livingstons themselves. One such case is John Bruce of Stenhouse (Airth), sometimes Sir John, who married Elizabeth Menteith,[1] the daughter of William Menteith of Kerse and Helen Livingston, a daughter of Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar.[2] John and Elizabeth’s daughter, in turn, married William Livingston, younger of Kilsyth, a descendant of Sir Alexander’s half-brother, also William.[3] Eventually these three Livingston lines united in the marriage of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, grandson of the 4th Lord Livingston, and Barbara Livingston of Inches (a descendant of Callendar as well as a cadet line of Kilsyth).[4]

John Bruce died in circumstances I have yet to work out. Suffice it to say that he was “slain” by his wife’s brothers, the Menteiths, but what happened after the “slaughter”[5] is somewhat surprising. Continue reading Kinbot, and friendship

A publishing timeline

From the very beginning, the New England Historic Genealogical Society intended to publish works helpful to genealogists. In fact, the first section of the 1845 charter stated that the founders had formed a corporation “for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and occasionally publishing genealogical and historical matter relating to early New England families.” Since then, NEHGS has had a vibrant history of publishing, so let’s take a whirlwind tour through that publishing timeline.

In January 1845, according to the proceedings, “a committee was appointed to prepare a circular for the use of the Society.” That November, the Society formed a committee to publish a journal “devoted to the printing of ancient documents, wills, genealogical sketches and Historical and antiquaria matter generally.” Continue reading A publishing timeline

ICYMI: A Lowell mystery

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 28 September 2017.]

One of the upcoming Early New England Families Study Project sketches is that for Richard Lowell of Newbury, Massachusetts. Richard was the son of Percival Lowell, who came to New England in 1639 at the age of about 69 with several grown children. Richard, Percival’s eldest son, was 37, and he apparently brought with him a wife and either an infant or in utero son who was named Percival. Richard had three more children born in Newbury: Rebecca, 27 January 1641[/42]; Samuel, about 1644; and Thomas, 28 September 1649. Continue reading ICYMI: A Lowell mystery

The devil’s Mr. Gideon

Torphichen Preceptory, where Henry Livingston was preceptor in 1449. Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America.[1] His volume on the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, in introducing the Scottish ancestry of the American immigrants, glides right by the siblings of “Worthy famous Mr. John Livingston” – father and grandfather of two Robert Livingstons – remarking that John was the “only child [of his parents] we need take any notice of.”[2]

Brave words! As it happens, though, a series of biographical volumes on Scottish ministers fills in the names of the children of the Rev. William Livingston and two of his three wives, and in the biographies of the ministers who married John Livingston’s sisters there are indeed stories on which to linger.[3] John Livingston’s sister Anna married the Rev. Thomas Vassie (or Wassie), later of Torphichen, in 1627; their half-sister, Jean, married the Rev. Gideon Penman, a widower, in 1651.[4] Both the Vassies and the Penmans figure in questions of witchcraft – even as the three brother ministers were involved in the religious and political ferment of the period. Continue reading The devil’s Mr. Gideon