Category Archives: Research Methods

Anna’s origins

According to family stories, my great-great-grandmother Anna Elisabeth Mohrmann emigrated in 1864 from Germany to Cleveland, Ohio. She was supposedly about 17 and came with other young women from her community to marry men who had preceded them to America. For some reason Anna and her intended husband did not marry. There has been a lot of speculation in my family about why the marriage did not occur. Maybe her betrothed was dead? Maybe he had married someone else? Maybe Anna called off the marriage?

In any case, soon after her arrival Anna met my great-great-grandfather Henry Dauber, a “perfect stranger,” and supposedly married him after three days. Continue reading Anna’s origins

Beaver Hill miners

The yards at Beaver Hill mines. Courtesy of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Last fall I was asked to do some research for a local historical society called Oregon Black Pioneers about a group of coal miners recruited to work in Coos County, Oregon, at the end of the nineteenth century. The project was entirely open-ended, so I decided to present it in two main sections: an organized compendium of newspaper articles about the Black miners at Beaver Hill, Oregon, and an attempt to trace the history and descendants of every Black miner in Coos County who appeared in the 1900 census. Continue reading Beaver Hill miners

What’s in a name?

Although these three girls’ names – Mary, Marcy, and Mercy – are similar, they are distinct names, often (and mistakenly) intermingled. Mingling similarly spelled names is usually a result of misinterpreting seventeenth-century handwriting, which is exacerbated for us today when we do not have access to original records. You ask “What’s the harm?” The following case story shows how old genealogists get older because of indiscreet mingling.

A Mayflower line has long been accepted by the Society that claims descent through Mary Medbury/Medbery, daughter of John Howland descendant Benjamin Medbury and his wife Martha Harris. Continue reading What’s in a name?

The wrong Blood!

My recent post on “Philoprogenitive ancestors” resulted in several comments from readers about their own ancestors with many children. I mentioned my ancestor Simon Willard, and one reader also noted him as her own ancestor through his daughter Elizabeth. I was planning to comment back to the reader with my full line of descent (also going through Elizabeth, wife of Robert Blood), but before doing so I did a quick verification of the lineage as I had it. Long story short, Simon Willard can now be classified as one of my Former Ancestors. Continue reading The wrong Blood!

Good deeds

360 Prospect Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, 1962. The houses to the right have been torn down or moved. The cupola of Sacred Heart Academy, far right, is another demolished building.

In the summer of 1962, when I was three, my parents bought their first home on the corner of Prospect Street and Highland Avenue in Fall River, Massachusetts. They paid $9,500! The house had 13 rooms, four fireplaces, two heating systems, servant call buttons – and my favorite device for childhood eavesdropping, speaking tubes (literally pipes through the walls). All light fixtures had combination gas jets and light bulbs. Like many substantial homes of the late Victorian era, a separate enclosed servants’ staircase went from the cellar to the third floor. That portion of the house had never been renovated, the carpeting on the stairs worn thin. Continue reading Good deeds

Allston Christmas

I’ve now lived in Boston for eighteen years. During the first five years I lived in three different Boston neighborhoods – Allston, Brighton, and Fenway, before buying our home in Jamaica Plain. All our apartment leases began on September 1st and ended the next year on August 31. As those who live in Boston know, September 1 is the big move in day for many college students and other residents. With many people moving out of one place by midnight and moving into another apartment the next morning, this can frequently create some chaotic situations! Continue reading Allston Christmas

The elusive Banyars

St. George’s Church, Hanover Square. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I almost hesitate to post this blog, as so much remains to be found – but the roughest outline of a family behind one of my intractable brick walls seems a good excuse to write about it (and seek the collective thoughts of Vita Brevis readers!).

Goldsborough Banyar (or Goldsbrow Banyer)[1] was my great-great-grandmother’s great-grandfather, and an important figure in late colonial and early Federal New York. Perhaps because he spent much of his career in Albany, and the surname died out – despite heroic efforts by Goldsborough, his daughter, his grandson, and his great-grandson – the origins of the Banyar family have been lost. While his descendants have given masses of papers to the New-York Historical Society, nothing in that collection seems to yield a clue about who he was before he came to New York as a young man. His name, Goldsborough, should be a clue – and so it appears to be. Continue reading The elusive Banyars

Who’s buried where?

Phinehas Child stone. Images courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society

A recent news article discussed the current use of an old Boston cemetery, with the permission of the church, as a dog park, prompting a neighborhood discussion. (This reminded me of David Lambert’s post on finding a gravestone on the wall of a church bathroom.) The church, First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist, is located about a mile from my home. Founded in 1769 as the Third Parish of Roxbury, I had mentioned the church in a post I wrote last year about the “Genealogy of Churches” in Roxbury (now Boston). This cemetery has also been called the Jamaica Plain Burial Ground and Jamaica Plain Cemetery. Continue reading Who’s buried where?

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