Category Archives: Technology

Narrowing the field

Interest in genealogy has increased dramatically since the introduction of DNA testing. With the United States long being considered a melting pot society, Americans have turned to DNA testing to discover what other ethnicities they can claim. DNA testing has also played an instrumental role in solving decades-old crimes, such as catching and prosecuting the Golden State Killer. However, what a lot of people probably don’t realize is that DNA can help solve genealogical mysteries, as well. Continue reading Narrowing the field

Parish boundary maps

One of our newest tools, launched last year, is the Archdiocese of Boston: Parish Boundary Map. It was created by the Archive Department of the Archdiocese of Boston. This interactive map is a visual tool that can help you understand which Catholic churches existed in a particular neighborhood or town in the greater Boston area. It should be used in conjunction with our Historic Catholic Records Online project. Continue reading Parish boundary maps

Timekeepers

Once rumored to have been Aunt Jennie, her image has gazed back at me for years. Certainly she was Jennie Sage – or so Nana had said before several strokes took hold of Nana’s memories and clutched them tight within her. Jennie gazed out from her oubliette of a broken pocket watch, watching us as if we were playing that age-old genealogical game of Can you guess who I am? Indeed, she’s ‘stayed’ Aunt Jennie for years now, though at the time how my grandmother knew this with any certainty was lost on me. Yes, lost, not unlike Nana’s evaporated memories, and with the question of how my grandmother had come to have the old pocket watch in the first place never resolved. Continue reading Timekeepers

Philippian mysteries

With Prince Philip’s recent death, several colleagues shared with me the story that recalled how in 1993 the Duke of Edinburgh had helped solve a Russian Romanov murder mystery. This was one of the earliest high profile uses of mitochondrial DNA to confirm historic remains, and something I frequently talked about in my early talks on using DNA in genealogy.[1] I gave two lectures at NEHGS while I was still in college in the early 2000s, the first one on Abraham Lincoln’s maternal ancestry (which I also discussed as having a possible mtDNA component, utilized nearly two decades later) and the other on DNA. These were also the only talks I made using overhead projector transparencies, before finally switching over to PowerPoint. They also both showed how designing charts has always gone hand-in-hand with my genealogical interests. Continue reading Philippian mysteries

Finding Irish relatives: Part One

John Ryan arrives in New York. Click on images to expand them.

In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.

I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One

Burdens of proof

Click on images to expand them.

As a long-suffering amateur genealogist (cue violins!), I suspect there are others like me who find themselves burdened by the proof required in matters genealogical. For me, I admit that is not unique to genealogy – back in the day, I declined to complete work for a second degree, eschewing the rigor of thesis requirements!

Like all genealogists, I have my brick walls, some of them without even a hint of where to go from here. Others, however, have ample circumstances to suggest the likely leap, but are simply unyielding in hard facts to prove my speculation. Continue reading Burdens of proof

ICYMI: Mapping the Great Migration

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis 12 April 2019.]

In early 2015 I had just completed work on The Great Migration Directory: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1640, with abbreviated entries for each known head of household or isolated individual participant in the Great Migration. The result was an alphabetical listing of about 5,700 families or individuals. Each entry included last name, first name, English origin, year of migration, first residence in New England, and a brief listing of the best primary and secondary sources available for each. For about 1,800 of the entries, the English origin (defined as the last known residence in England before migration) was known. Continue reading ICYMI: Mapping the Great Migration

Trinidaddy

In the last post about our family christening gown, I mentioned that my “middle” brother, John Winthrop Williams, was not christened in the gown. John was born 5 October 1941 (two months and two days before Pearl Harbor) at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts.[1]

Dad was a Corps of Engineers combat engineer stationed at Trinidad, British West Indies. Mom and David, their firstborn, were living with her parents in Natick, Massachusetts, with plans to join Dad in Trinidad once the baby was born. Continue reading Trinidaddy

Into the ether

Ether Day by Robert C. Hinckley. Courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University

Back in 2018, when I had the good fortune to be added to the Vita Brevis family of writers, one of my first posts was about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and the seven-year journey I had taken to learn about this man who had, we were always told, grown up an orphan.

Because I was starting with nothing more than my grandfather’s death certificate (which, fortunately, included his birthplace and parents’ names), I knew that my research would likely be a journey of discovery and, indeed, there were many revelations. Continue reading Into the ether

Torrey’s New England Marriages

Clarence Almon Torrey

Four books rest next to me whenever I am researching in seventeenth-century New England. These are the first items I check for any previous treatment of a family:

Continue reading Torrey’s New England Marriages