Category Archives: News

O Columbia!

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Just the other day, I found myself humming something that felt like an almost-forgotten song. As I hummed along (mindful of anyone thinking me completely bonkers), the tune brought me to a place I hadn’t expected to arrive. One couplet in particular tripped me up:

O Columbia! The gem of the ocean,

The home of the brave and the free…[1]

As I mulled through the verses of that old patriotic song, one word continually stood out. That word was “Columbia,” and I wondered to myself: “Where did that word come from?” Just who was Columbia? Had she fallen off the boat along with Christopher? (I mean, we Mayflower descendants understand all too well the “falling off” of boats, don’t we, John Howland?) Continue reading O Columbia!

Heraldry in the news

On 3 February 2020, the Committee on Heraldry at the New England Historic Genealogical Society will celebrate its 156th birthday. Known as the oldest non-governmental heraldic body in the Western world, the Committee on Heraldry task themselves with maintaining and adding to a unique collection of coats of arms associated with American families, as well as organizing educational programming to introduce more people to this artistic side of family history.

The Committee is chaired by Ryan Woods, Executive Vice President and COO at NEHGS. Woods follows in the footsteps of his kinsman, Henry Ernest Woods, who was chairman of the Committee on Heraldry from 1890 to 1911. Today, the committee of twelve meets three to four times yearly, and is charged with reviewing applications and registrations of coats of arms for Americans. These include both historical and modern coats of arms. Continue reading Heraldry in the news

Low ceilings

Mayflower II. Courtesy of Plimoth Plantation

I’ve always had a fascination with tall ships and antique sailing vessels. I like to think my interest is ingrained, coming genetically from my Norwegian seafaring ancestors. And I don’t mean Vikings, though it’s fun to think about those. I mean my oceanographer grandfather, Navy Lieutenant Commander great-grandfather, and sailor-turned-Coast Guard captain great-great-grandfather. Continue reading Low ceilings

Out of the past

“HMS ENDEAVOUR off the coast of New Holland.” Courtesy of The National Library of Australia

With news of General Washington’s defeat in New York City, the threat of a British attack loomed over the city of Newport, Rhode Island during the summer of 1776, and by winter nearly half of the city’s population had fled. British reports from December 1776 noted that there was scarcely anyone remaining as British and Hessian forces seized Newport, allowing them to take the wealthy and strategic city without a fight.  

For those residents who stayed, their circumstances quickly worsened as the occupying forces commandeered many of their homes, ate their food, and stole their valuables. Under the command of Major-General Richard Prescott, the soldiers robbed and dismantled properties across the city and, in the three years they were there, reportedly chopped down all but one tree for firewood to survive the unsympathetic winters.   Continue reading Out of the past

ICYMI: The Other Half

[Editor’s note: We mourn with the nation the passing of the distinguished journalist, historian, and bestselling author Cokie Roberts. We fondly recall her presence with us in 2016 as we honored her with the NEHGS Lifetime Achievement Award in History and Biography at a memorable NEHGS Family History Benefit Dinner in Boston. On that occasion we presented her with a detailed genealogy, researched by our staff, noting that her family included “valiant women, presidents, and kings.” With her passing today, notables recall her as a “trailblazer” and “pioneering journalist.” To those tributes, we’re proud to add “friend.”

This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 31 October 2016.]

robertscokie-creditabcinc
Courtesy of ABC Inc.

On October 27, NEHGS hosted a Family History Benefit Dinner featuring Bill Griffeth and Cokie Roberts, both accomplished news commentators and authors. Whereas Bill has written of his experiences with unexpected DNA results concerning his paternal side, Cokie has made a career of highlighting the lives of women in American history.

In honor of her accomplishments, the Society presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History and Biography and a beautifully hand-bound book of her ancestors. As I compiled her robust genealogy, I worked to include the kinds of stories that would interest an author of female biographies. Continue reading ICYMI: The Other Half

Edward to Boris, how many times?

King of England (17/18 June 1239–7 July 1307)
King Edward I

Last week, I put together several charts relating to newly appointed U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. These charts were based on the research of Gary Boyd Roberts, and I had assisted him on some of Boris’s Pennsylvania and Connecticut ancestry, which resulted in five charts showing distant kinships to ten U.S. Presidents.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Boris Johnson

The sixth chart was perhaps the most complicated. As was previously reported, and included in Gary’s The Royal Descendants of 900 Immigrants (RD900), Boris Johnson’s father is a descendant of King George II through the older sister of King George III. In researching the New England ancestry behind Boris’s mother, Gary found a descent from Mrs. Elizabeth Alsop Baldwin of Milford, Connecticut, who descends from King Edward I of England.

Continue reading Edward to Boris, how many times?

Heart of a priest

Prayer card. Courtesy Knights of Columbus

We hear so often about how uncivil the public discourse has become. Everyone is talking past one another and no one seems to be listening. No one understands, or tries to understand, the other. Our collective manners leave much to be desired and grace seems to have taken a holiday. (This is not a political screed, I promise!)

Perhaps, then, it is a most apropos moment for a relic of the Catholic Church to be making a national tour of the United States. Though I was raised in the Catholic faith, I confess that I am ignorant about much of Church ritual, in particular the veneration of relics and their miracle healing. I had mostly understood the word relic (or relict) in the context of early cemeteries. From the Latin word reliquiae, relic means remains, or left behind. Continue reading Heart of a priest

Title trouble

Punch cartoon from 1917. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The birth of Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth great-grandchild – the first child of HRH Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex,[1] and the former Meghan Markle – offers a 2019 gloss on names and titles in the British royal family.

During the First World War, the rulers of Germany and Great Britain were first cousins – and King George V of Great Britain had no agreed-upon surname. Whatever the family name was, it was German. This situation led to a wholesale renaming of the royal family (as the House of Windsor) and the ceding of assorted German titles for equivalents in the British peerage system. Continue reading Title trouble

Cento emigration site launches

Back in August 2018, I wrote a post about the strong connection between the Italians of the town of Cento, Italy and the Plymouth Cordage Company in From Cento to America. At that time, I mentioned a web site created by the Archivio di Storico di Cento (the historical archives of Cento) that would be launching in the near future to share stories of those who left Cento for other countries around the world. That day has arrived. Continue reading Cento emigration site launches

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