Category Archives: News

Reflections on Researching Racism in America

Thomas Bivins Probate Inventory (1857), Marion, Inventories and appraisements 1852-1904, “Georgia, Probate Records, 1742-1990,” FamilySearch.

I have agonized over what I would say in a blog post that would speak to the gravity of where our nation is today. I question if it is my place to say anything or if this is even the forum to do so. The more I debated in my head, the more convinced I became that I needed to write something, if only to amplify the voices of those speaking out against the racism they face every day.

Continue reading Reflections on Researching Racism in America

Overlooked no longer

Click on the images to expand them.

Just the other day I received an email from a friend in Provincetown. It started out cheerily enough with him telling me of an exhilarating walk he had taken at Great Island in Wellfleet, but it struck a despairing note at the end when he mentioned that a recent New York Times story about Mayflower 400 events had failed to even mention Provincetown. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Pilgrim story, Provincetown is accustomed to being overlooked. Continue reading Overlooked no longer

Family Treasures: View from the index

For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index

Mayflower musicians

While perusing the lists of notable descendants recently published in Gary Boyd Roberts’ Mayflower 500: Five Hundred Notable Descendants of the Founding Fathers on the Mayflower, one name, James Vernon Taylor, immediately caught my eye. The music of James Taylor has always been special to me, which is why my wife and I chose “Sweet Baby James” as our first dance at our wedding three years ago. Perhaps my fondest memory, however, came when James was in the broadcast booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy during the Boston Red Sox game promoting his newest song “Angels of Fenway.” In the middle of answering one of Don’s questions, James stopped mid-sentence to allow the audience at home to focus on the upcoming pitch, showing his dedication and knowledge as a baseball fan. Continue reading Mayflower musicians

Irish ancestors and the 1918 flu

During St. Patrick’s Day week, when the NEHGS instagram account shared pictures of our Irish ancestors, I shared the picture at left of my great-great-grandfather Thomas Nelson Kelly (1853–1943) of Philadelphia. His parents, Joseph Kelly and Rebecca Nelson, both emigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and met and married in Philadelphia in 1850. Joseph and Rebecca are my only ancestors who arrived in the United States after 1776. I still do not know where in Ireland they came from (some family have said Belfast, some have said Donegal): I’m still searching!

However, my Kelly ancestors were Protestants, and known as “Orange Irish.” Joseph and Rebecca married at the Scots Presbyterian Church and their children were baptized Episcopalian. Continue reading Irish ancestors and the 1918 flu

‘Palace of the People’

The Boston Public Library in 1895.

Boston has been a hub of learning since its founding. Today, genealogists have several major repositories where we can access huge collections. With NEHGS celebrating its 175th birthday, a nearby sister institution also has a significant anniversary in 2020. The Boston Public Library (BPL) was established just three years after NEHGS and has since held two big openings during the month of March. Continue reading ‘Palace of the People’

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