[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 4 June 2020.]
“Goodbye Helsinki,” Anni Virta wrote in July 1960, “our trip to the west has started and the point of the dream has become a reality.” Anni was a cousin by marriage. An English translation of her diary came to me recently through a serendipitous connection.
Anni’s nephew, Antti Virta of Helsinki, had written to the daughter of one of my cousins, making the connection via WikiTree, asking for information about his aunt Mary Rajasilta, wife of my mother’s brother, George Isaacson. Busy with an ailing mother, my cousin’s daughter bounced Antti’s request to me. I looked up some information about Aunt Mary in American records for Antti. And there began a pleasant correspondence. Continue reading ICYMI: Icing on the cake→
[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]
While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.
The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series→
In case you were wondering, American Ancestors’ Great Migration Study Project continues to add new research to uncover the details of immigrants who came to New England between 1636 and 1638. NEHGS will publish a first volume by Ian Watson in early 2023 that will contain letters A-Be for these years, and research will continue for the foreseeable future to cover those who arrived through the year 1640.
[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 21 April 2014.]
The activities of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629-30 were uniformly organized from the top down. The Company either purchased or hired the vessels to carry the passengers and provisions. The passengers themselves, and especially the critically important professionals such as ministers and soldiers, were recruited by the Company leaders.
Yet this phase of the migration was brief, as most of the merchants involved found the enterprises for which all this activity was expended to be losing propositions and allowed their New England plantations to disperse, some almost immediately and most by the middle of the next decade. The influence of those leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Company who remained behind in England quickly faded away, and by 1632 the top-down direction of the migration process was essentially at an end. Continue reading ICYMI: The Great Migration: Top-down, bottom-up→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 13 February 2018.]
Many of us have bunches of old family letters set aside to review – preferably with the sender and the recipient already noted on the envelope. Years ago, as I was researching my first family history (The Sarsaparilla Kings), I was fortunate enough to have some published (as well as unpublished) sources available to consider the relationship between my great-great-grandfather Frederick Ayer (1822–1918) – one of the two Sarsaparilla Kings – and his son-in-law George Smith Patton Jr. (1885–1945).
Frederick Ayer made two distinct fortunes – in patent medicines with his elder brother, Dr. J. C. Ayer, and in textiles and other investments later in life – and by the turn of the twentieth century he was a wealthy man. His second wife, Ellen Barrows Banning (1853–1918), was a member of a sprawling family with connections in Delaware, Minnesota, and California, among them to the family of George and Ruth Patton of San Gabriel, California. Continue reading ICYMI: ‘Neutral ground’→
Late in the day on Wednesday, Vita Brevis marked an important milestone: 3,000,000 page views since it launched in January 2014. In that period, 151 bloggers have published 1,774 posts on a wide range of subjects of interest to genealogists.
Looking back at the top ten most popular posts for the period 2014-2022, I am struck by the top three: Jean Maguire’s announcement that the legendary Boston Transcript genealogical column (1911-41) was now available online, and Penny Stratton’s twin posts on elements of style: how not to make words plural, and how to feature dates in genealogical works. These three posts, from 2015 and 2016, account for about 77,000 page views, and no doubt they have driven traffic to other posts over the years. Continue reading A milestone→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2021.]
A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?
As the editor at VitaBrevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading ICYMI: Research strategies for 2021→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 March 2021.]
Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle. Continue reading ICYMI: A problem in perspective→
In July 2021, Christopher C. Child reviewed a surprising feature in his ancestry: that he has 1 (one) ancestor who resided in northern New England during the seventeenth century:
“…My connections to Vermont are even briefer. A great-great-great-great-grandmother, Julia (Vaughan) Perry (ca. 1814-1899), was born in Allegany County, New York. Her parents William and Elizabeth (Foster) Vaughan were born in Massachusetts, Vermont, or Rhode Island (sources vary). Continue reading 2021: the year in review concluded→
“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse – it’s certainly an exhausting way to go through life. As 2021 rolls over to 2022, here is a look back at 2021 in Vita Brevis:
In January, Ann Lawthers urged genealogists visiting cemeteries to apply some of the insights garnered from their research, in this case about how the changing cultural norms around death translated into stone: Continue reading 2021: the year in review→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 30 December 2014.]
Most families have one: the family historian. Whether or not the focus is genealogical, there is usually at least one family member who keeps track of siblings and cousins, sometimes to the nth degree. My father’s family had one in my great-aunt Margaret Steward (1888–1975). I do not remember meeting her, but I’ve been told I take after her, at least in so far as the mantle of family genealogist passed from her to me when I was still in middle school. Continue reading ICYMI: The family historian→