The youngest volunteer

Those of us who love the informalities and irregularities of older cemeteries know that there are surprises and delights at every turn. On our rambles (mine, at least), progress is slow as we meander, waylaid and stopped in our tracks by the transcendent folksy beauty of carvings; by messages of remembrance, love, and loss; by wisdoms, life philosophies, and, occasionally, a mischievous bit of humor that momentarily lifts us from our solemnity.

In the older cemeteries, even when we’ve seen the classic motifs a hundred times before, or feasted on the opulence of Victorian-era monuments, there is always another example that seems to swallow our attention from a distance. We make a beeline to it, certain that it is the headstone of all headstones, the pièce de résistance, only to have another one come along that sets the bar even higher. Continue reading The youngest volunteer

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

The Society’s first member: Lucius Robinson Paige

In November of 1844, five men “organized themselves into a society for historical and genealogical research” in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) was incorporated the following March. Prior to the society’s incorporation, several additional members were elected, the first being the Reverend Lucius Robinson Paige on 21 January 1845.[2] At the time of his death on 2 September 1896, he was the oldest member of NEHGS.[3] While the distinction of being the first member of NEHGS is noteworthy, his accomplishments during his lifetime are also worth a closer look. Continue reading The Society’s first member: Lucius Robinson Paige

College records

Harvard 1921 and Columbia 1873

In the books I have written (or co-authored) in the last twenty years or so – on the Thorndike, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, and Winthrop families – I have usually noted the academic histories of family members as well as the more usual genealogical data. I’m occasionally asked why, and until recently I didn’t really have an answer.

While I generally answered that college and university records could help flesh out a sparse biographical narrative for someone treated in one of these books, I would now add that, often, they help keep the genealogist honest. After all, someone born in 1940 wouldn’t be likely to graduate from college in 1954, while a late graduation date begs further study. At the very least, a focus on filling in this area helps distinguish Charles Smith from Chad Smith – not to mention Charles Chad Smith! Continue reading College records

Mayflower trolls

Internet trolls are people who lurk on social media and generally cause trouble for everybody else. I recently found a list of the ten types of internet trolls, and suspect I probably qualify under No. 5, “The Show-Off, Know-it-All Or Blabbermouth Troll.” Or at least that is how I feel whenever I chime in on one of the Mayflower/Alden-related Facebook pages or the like. It becomes my job to deflate the balloons of some of these wonderful newly-found Mayflower descendants, who have, most unfortunately, inadvertently gathered and believed all the dross of Internet information about their ancestors. Continue reading Mayflower trolls

The power of one volunteer

Early in the process.

Large, dusty, and certain to leave an indelible brown smudge if allowed to touch your clothing, handling the fourteen volumes of Albany County, New York Deeds, 1630-1894 was my first assignment after I became an NEHGS volunteer in 2005. With ancestors who settled near Fort Orange (present-day Albany) in 1650, I had a personal interest in helping to bring this collection to a broader audience. These early land records represented some of the few city and county records that had not been destroyed or damaged during the disastrous 1880 fire at Albany City Hall.    Continue reading The power of one volunteer

An elegant resolution

When I first began to explore my family tree, I asked my mother what she knew about her ancestors. She pulled out some old typewritten papers and documents that contained most of the information the family knew, and I pored over them. One of the family lines that caught my attention was my great-great-grandfather Henry John Dauber. He was born 23 October 1834 in New York City. The family notes even specified he was born on Delancey Street, near the police station. But there was no mention of his parents, either in the notes or on his death certificate. Continue reading An elegant resolution

A foolish boy

Last month I shared the story of my ancestor Francis Billington “discovering” the Billington Sea. This story is relayed in the 1622 publication known as Mourt’s Relation. The second story on Francis Billington from this work could have had very dire consequences for the new settlement. This event occurred on 5 December 1620, a few weeks before his “discovery” of the Billington Sea: Continue reading A foolish boy

Tenacious roots

Courtesy of Wikipedia.com

There have been many interesting characters associated with NEHGS, but one president in particular holds my attention. Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1798–1886), the eighth president of the society (for the long period 1868–86), held many posts other than his presidency at NEHGS, including service as president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and as a trustee of the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Wilder was also a dedicated horticulturist himself and grew many hybrids of camellias and pear trees. Tragically, he lost 798 specimens of the 800 camellias in his collection in a greenhouse fire in 1839, but he somehow managed to restore his collection to an impressive level before a visit from members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society the following year. In order to gain a better understanding of why Wilder was so interested in camellias and pears, I decided to examine some of the symbolism of the fruit and flower to see if it provided any insight into Marshall’s wider interests, most notably genealogy and family history. Continue reading Tenacious roots

Laura Ann

(Author’s note: The following is an interpretive account of the life of Leah Ann Rickards (ca. 1836–1913), my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record’s sister. This account is presented in three parts, and is based on family papers and letters, along with vital and census records as available. These posts are my attempt at giving Leah a voice. Please forgive any historical inaccuracies, misrepresentations or presumptions, literary license, or otherwise.)

“Annie, Annie… Wake-up Annie…” Those words called out to her in her sleep. Leah had been lost in her fancies and reveries, so very tired, with those words only making distant purchase in her mind. These days, more often than not, she dreamt of John Stack, and of her sweet boy Levin, now both gone to their long home. Continue reading Laura Ann