Category Archives: Genealogical Writing

Philoprogenitive ancestors

Rev. Samuel Willard (1639-1707), fourth child of Maj. Samuel Willard. Portrait from the 1915 Willard Genealogy

Recently a genealogical colleague made a Facebook post on his “newly discovered philoprogenitive” ancestor. This was a word I had to look up, with the colleague referring to its definition of “producing many offspring.” This prompted me to explore who in my own ancestry had the most children.

My recent post on my New Hampshire ancestress Mary (Carter) (Wyman) Batchelder noted that her second husband Nathaniel Batchelder (ca. 1630-1709/10) had seventeen children, fourteen of whom  survived to adulthood; Nathaniel is only my “step-ancestor,” and Mary had a mere ten children by her two husbands. For cousins, I have written about my distant relative Warren Gould Child (1835-1906), an early member of the Latter Day Saints movement, who had twenty-five children with three of his four wives.[1] Continue reading Philoprogenitive ancestors

Sybilla’s daybook

Many years beyond the lifetime of Sybilla Shakshober Phillips (1872-1947), I discovered a pocket-sized daybook in my grandmother’s living room cabinet, which turned out to be a Masonic almanac or “National Diary” registered in 1879 for the Year 1880. In pencil on the flyleaf was written: “Miss Sybilla Shakshober.” Several pages in the front and throughout the volume were removed and only a few pages had been used at all. One or more members of the family had sporadically used the book for household accounting before it fell into the hands of young Sybilla, who mimicked its adult style by recording her transactions. Continue reading Sybilla’s daybook

Devil in the details

Two hundred eleven years ago today, on 6 August 1810, Assistant Marshal Ebenezer Burrell set out to make a full and accurate count of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts. He was instructed to make a formal inquiry at each dwelling house, or with the head of household, to count the number of free white males (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), free white females (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), and free persons of color (no gender or age designator) living at the residence. He was also told to make two copies of the enumeration, placing them both in two public places for verification. After the enumerations were confirmed, one of the copies was sent to the District Court for safe keeping, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. Continue reading Devil in the details

Irish deeds? Yes, indeed

David and Margaret Mackelroy to James Warick. Click on image to expand it. Courtesy of the Family History Library

Deeds are wonderful sources for genealogists, but Irish deeds? One of the most voluminous collections of Irish records is also the most underappreciated and underutilized: more than 2,000 volumes of recorded “memorials” (detailed abstracts) of deeds, conveyances, and wills spanning more than 200 years can be found in the Irish Registry of Deeds (ROD). Like many others with Irish roots, I was long put off by the low likelihood of finding my poor rural landless ancestors among landlords and other people of means who had property and assets to protect in wills. Continue reading Irish deeds? Yes, indeed

Mirrored names

The Burson twins

There was a great commotion in the room that day, a veritable kerfuffle you might call it. I both saw and heard the doctor yell “Get me her chart,” as a well-practiced melee ensued. Our baby girl had just been born, and she was neatly being held by an overprotective nurse. I looked over from our baby to my wife, then to the doctor, and around in disbelief; my wife was exhausted and under an unwonted sort of anesthesia. “Was there something wrong with our baby? Was my wife going to be okay?” Continue reading Mirrored names

Heirs apparent, heirs presumptive

With Prince Philip’s recent death, Prince Charles has succeeded his father as the 2nd Duke of Edinburgh. This is the third creation of the dukedom,[1] most recently bestowed upon Prince Philip in 1947 as the son-in-law of King George VI, and limited to Philip’s male-line descendants. In 1999, it was announced that Prince Philip’s youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, would follow his father as Duke of Edinburgh when the present title “eventually reverts to the Crown.” With Charles now bearing the title, a fourth creation of the dukedom should ensue on the eventual passing of Queen Elizabeth II, when Prince Charles would succeed as monarch and all his current titles are then available for new creations. However, there are a few extremely unlikely possibilities that would not make Prince Edward the Duke of Edinburgh of the fourth creation quite yet. Continue reading Heirs apparent, heirs presumptive

Coffin ships

Food riot in Dungarvan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Irish potato famine is notorious even today because it killed one million people and prompted two million people to emigrate from Ireland. Signs of the famine can still be found in Ireland today, whether in the form of various ruins whose occupants had all perished or in the form of graves marked solely by rocks. Moreover, Irish emigration fluctuated so much that many voyages took place on coffin ships – small ships aptly named for the increased mortality rate onboard. Many immigrants were so desperate to leave their homeland that they booked inexpensive passage on ships that were small, overcrowded, and ravaged by disease and other unfavorable conditions. Based on these facts, arguably, many Americans with Irish ancestry can connect theirs to this event. Continue reading Coffin ships

The Olympic games: a brief history

Opening Ceremony at the Panathinaiko Stadium for the 1896 games. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Despite being a year late thanks to COVID-19, the Olympics are finally here. With the opening ceremonies set to start on July 23rd, the wait is finally over for athletes and viewers alike. For most people, the Olympics have been a constant occurrence, reliably happening every two or four years, barring any rare unforeseen events. It is hard to believe there was once a time when the Olympics were practically nonexistent. Continue reading The Olympic games: a brief history

Ancestors in northern New England

My Thompson ancestors’ home in Industry, Maine, in 1892.

An article I co-wrote on a colleague’s ancestors in Berwick, Maine was recently published in The Maine Genealogist. While I have worked on families in Maine over the years, and several of my colleagues have specialties in “Northern New England” (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont), I have generally stated that my New England ancestry is largely southern (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). Just how much northern New England ancestry do I have? Continue reading Ancestors in northern New England

By any other name

Throughout the 20th century it was somewhat common, when a divorced (or widowed) mother remarried, for the stepfather to adopt her child or children, often taking the new husband’s surname. (See a recent post on President Bill Clinton, as well as President Gerald Ford and First Lady Nancy Reagan; the latter two also had their first names changed.) There is also the situation where children are born (most often out of wedlock) with the surname of their mother’s previous husband, and thus were not adopted but bear a surname neither parent had at birth. The birth name of Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Mortensen is one of the more famous examples, as Mortensen was the surname of her mother’s estranged husband at the time of Marilyn’s birth (and listed as the father), although she later used her mother’s maiden surname of Baker. Continue reading By any other name