Category Archives: ICYMI

ICYMI: Grants for New England historians

[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 October 2014. NERFC continues to add members and to increase the number of fellowships granted, so I urge doctoral candidates and freelance scholars to consider applying for one in the 2019–2020 cycle. Completed applications are due at midnight on Friday, 1 February 2019.]

Courtesy of R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS.

I will be out of the office today, attending a planning meeting for the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) at the John Hay Library in Providence. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is a member of the consortium, a group made up of New England state and local historical societies, university and college libraries (Harvard, Smith, Trinity, and Brown), and museums (Historic Deerfield and Mystic Seaport). What links the membership together, for the purpose of providing $5,000 research fellowships, is a shared interest in making their large collections available for use by historical researchers. Continue reading ICYMI: Grants for New England historians

A broadening education

When I was in school, I was better at English than math, but there were still a few sticky wickets I had to deal with. I could not spell. I missed the first day on “adverbs” and never caught up. I hated reading “essays.”

The “essay” is simply a “short piece of writing on a particular subject,” but as I remember it, we were assigned readings from men like Thoreau, Emerson, and Socrates which mostly just blew over my young teen-aged head. I vowed that whatever I did when I grew up, it would not involve writing essays.

Hmm. Well, when Scott Steward reminded me that we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Vita Brevis, I was rather startled to realize that I have been writing essays for five years. Continue reading A broadening education

By the numbers

Since the blog launched (unofficially) on 2 January 2014 – with an official birthday of 10 January 2014 – Vita Brevis bloggers have written at least 1,252 posts, of which 1,244 have been published.[1]

The blog has 105 official users, with eleven administrators and 94 authors.[2]

In the blog’s five-year history, Scott Steward has published 260 posts, for about 21% of the total. Alicia Crane Williams comes next, with 175 posts (14%), then Christopher C. Child (82; about 7%). Other prolific bloggers include Zachary Garceau (49), Jeff Record (45), Jan Doerr (44), Penny Stratton (36), and Pamela Athearn Filbert (35). Continue reading By the numbers

2018: the year in review concluded

In a few days’ time the blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Here, to review the year just ended, are some posts from the second half of 2018 demonstrating the range of material published at Vita Brevis.

In July, Meaghan E. H. Siekman wrote about her great-grandfather, the Chicago-born son of Czech immigrants who

spent his lifetime chasing the American dream and preserving a history which was not directly his own, as none of his ancestors ever lived in colonial America. Evidence of the importance of American history in his life can be found in his obituary, which focuses more on his collections [parts of which ended up in the Smithsonian Institution] and preservation work than his career in medicine. Continue reading 2018: the year in review concluded

2018: the year in review

As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.

Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review

ICYMI: Boston riches

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 February 2017.]

Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

As I complete publishing excerpts from the 1865 volume, the final year in what I hope will be a single-volume account of the Civil War in the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, it seems like a good time to revisit a Gray diary primer from 2017.

Certain diaries, and their authors, become short-hand for a time and place: Samuel Pepys’s diary of seventeenth-century London, for example, or Anne Frank’s diary of wartime Amsterdam. The diaries of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are often invoked to cover the first half of the nineteenth century in New York; for the Civil War years, readers turn to Mary Boykin (Miller) Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie (1905). Continue reading ICYMI: Boston riches

ICYMI: Researching family heirlooms

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 January 2017.]

Side chair, De Young Museum: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (San Francisco, California) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Research Services team at NEHGS is occasionally approached with questions relating to the history of ownership (i.e. provenance) of a particular family heirloom. These questions are usually supplemented with stories about the heirloom’s first owner and how the object was acquired. Genealogists are uniquely qualified to carry out provenance research due to their familiarity with and frequent use of two sources commonly used in provenance research: wills and estate inventories. However, before consulting any of these sources, a serious study of an heirloom’s provenance should begin by studying the object itself.

To illustrate how the study of an object is crucial to provenance research, consider the following hypothetical scenario: An individual is interested in documenting the ownership of a piece of heirloom furniture (a side chair) that has been in the family for multiple generations. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that the chair is similar in form to the image at left, and that the chair is not a reproduction. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching family heirlooms

ICYMI: Piece work

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 December 2016.]

I have developed a soft spot for two of my great-great-grandparents, Domenico Caldarelli and Maria Tavano. They were born in Italy, Domenico in Naples and Maria in Villa Santa Maria, Chieti. They emigrated to New York with their four children around 1890.

I had my first glimpse of Domenico in New York in the 1900 Federal Census, when he was listed as a prisoner in Sing Sing. Was this my Domenico? The prisoner was older than I thought Domenico should be. Why was he in Sing Sing? What happened to his family? Continue reading ICYMI: Piece work

ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

[Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 November 2016; its contents have been updated by Molly Rogers.]

The genealogy column in the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper has been one of the more heavily used resources at the NEHGS Library for the past century or more. The paper was published, under a few different titles, from 1830 to 1941. From 1906 through 1941, it featured a genealogy column in which readers would submit and respond to queries. During most of its run, the column appeared twice a week. According to an editors’ note which appeared in many issues, the newspaper was almost overwhelmed with submissions and had a backlog waiting to be published. The editors also claimed that they had “correspondents in every corner of the country.” By the time it ceased publication, the column had covered an estimated two million names. Continue reading ICYMI: Boston Transcript column now online

ICYMI: Shorthand systems

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 October 2016.]

From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading ICYMI: Shorthand systems