Slave surnames

Eyre Crowe, “Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Surnames of formerly enslaved people can add a lot of confusion when trying to piece together families. Many enslaved individuals were denied an official surname prior to emancipation, and the adoption of surnames following freedom did not follow any prescribed method. In some cases, the surname of the former slave owner was either adopted by choice or assigned to them in the first records in which they appear as free individuals. Continue reading Slave surnames

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

Finding Irish relatives: Part Two

Part 1 of this series discussed how civil registration records can be used to locate the townlands and families of Irish immigrant ancestors, and how to use both civil records and church registers to trace their families backward and forward. While relying on civil vital records may succeed, the method can be time-consuming, especially for individuals like Michael Spellman who were born before civil registration commenced in 1864. As I learned the hard way, using church records is more likely to produce results, perhaps immediately. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Two

The Iconography of Manhattan

Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes by John Singer Sargent. Courtesy of Wikipedia

One of my favorite sources for Manhattan research is The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867-1944). This six volume set was published between 1915 and 1928 and chronicles the history of Manhattan from the fifteenth century to the early twentieth century. The publication not only records the vast history of Manhattan, it also provides beautiful illustrations and maps.

The volumes most relevant to my own family research are the first and second volumes, which highlight the Dutch period (1609-1664); both volumes have helped me to uncover new information about my family. Most importantly, from this source, I have learned where my Dutch ancestors held property or lived in lower Manhattan during the seventeenth century.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with historical landscapes. How has this property changed over the years? What did this street look like 200 years ago? Continue reading The Iconography of Manhattan

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

A Massachusetts matrilineal line

The death of Alma Wahlberg, aged 78, mother of actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg (also both known for their earlier musical careers in New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, respectively), was announced last month. I had worked on the Wahlbergs’ ancestry several years ago as a surprise for Gary Boyd Roberts, who has been a longtime Mark Wahlberg fan. Years later, when Gary was at Wahlburgers in Boston, noticing numerous pictures of the Wahlberg family as well as those of Mark’s movie career, Gary told his waitress, “This place needs a little less Mark Walhberg and a little more Marky Mark!” To Gary’s amazement, the teenaged waitress said she did not know who “Marky Mark” was! Continue reading A Massachusetts matrilineal line

‘A very aged man’

The most recent sketch posted for the Early New England Families Study Project is for George Blake of Gloucester and Boxford, Massachusetts, and his family.[1]

George Blake is another of those men who left little record. We do not know where he came from nor who his parents were. We know neither the maiden name nor parentage of his wife Dorothy. He served one term as a selectman in Gloucester, belonged to the established church, served on juries, and stayed out of trouble, himself, although his daughter Rebecca (Blake) Eames was imprisoned for seven months as an accused witch. Continue reading ‘A very aged man’