A slave in Vermont

New England Congregational church minute books from the nineteenth century abound in routine facts: admissions, dismissals, committee reports and the like that do not make for compelling reading. Ivy Dixon, historian of the Pittsford Congregational Church, found this remarkable episode appearing intermittently from 1842 to 1850. Long forgotten, this story of one expatriate church member has undercurrents that still haunt us today.

Pittsford Congregational Church, founded in 1784. The present structure, overlooking the village green, dates from 1837.

Hannah Weed Hitchcock (1815–1898), daughter of John Hitchcock (1760–1836) and his second wife Lucy Ripley, later Manley (1789–1865), became a member of the church in 1834. Hannah’s father served as a soldier in the American Revolution. She was named for John Hitchcock’s first wife, Hannah, who died in 1814, having given birth to nine babies, all of whom died in infancy! Hitchcock’s second family had exceptional educations for the times: sons William graduated from Andover Theological Seminary, and John Hitchcock, dead at 25, attended Middlebury College but left for a stint in Alabama to improve his health. Continue reading A slave in Vermont

Marriage-go-round

Anna of Bohemia, Queen of Hungary. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Sometimes – as Chris Child and Jeff Record know – one gets drawn back to the same subject matter only to find new patterns. (I would venture to say many other genealogists know this dynamic well.) For me, in this example, it is an interest in matrilineal lines, a favorite subject of my colleague Julie Helen Otto; lately, this interest has taken shape around the progeny of Anna of Bohemia, Queen of Hungary, whose husband later succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor. To look at her daughters’ daughters (and daughters’ sons) is to enter a thicket of queens and kings, empresses and princes. Famously, both Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great descend from Anna through the female line – a subject for another post, perhaps? Continue reading Marriage-go-round

The Donner party

Route taken by the Donner party. The trees have been cut at the height the snow reached in 1846-47.

Growing up in a suburb outside San Francisco, my family vacationed in Lake Tahoe every summer.  I remember driving by Donner Lake and driving over Donner Pass. I believe I was about eight years old when my mom gave me the book Patty Reed’s Doll, which I still have today. The book details the experience of the Donner Party getting snowbound at Donner Lake. I became fascinated by the story. It wasn’t long before I was reading everything I could get my hands on about them, another fact that continues today. Continue reading The Donner party

Flower power

The author’s cousins in Potenza, Italy: standing (l-r), Angela Tolve, her daughter Rosa Mancinelli, and niece Antonella Tolve; seated, Angela’s husband Antonio Mancinelli.

If you have ever tried to track down distant cousins, especially in foreign countries, you know how difficult it can be, and that you will have to be resourceful. I’ve used different approaches in different circumstances in Ireland and Italy, and sometimes succeeded. But occasionally sheer serendipity works its magic. This account is particularly touching for me because I met my elderly Italian cousin unexpectedly, thanks to a confluence of fortuitous circumstances, as I neared the end of an unproductive week seeking cousins in southern Italy. But this happy-ending story also holds some tips and lessons that may help you as well. Continue reading Flower power

Moved by religion

When I have given lectures and consultations on migrations into and out of New England, a frequent topic of discussion regards the question of whether the migration was religiously or economically motivated. For the period of The Great Migration into New England from 1620-1640, the settlements by the English Separatists and Puritans were overwhelmingly religious (not for religious freedom, but to practice their religion the way as they wanted). Several “second-generation” settlements like Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, and even migrations out of New England to Dorchester, South Carolina, were also religiously motivated, following a minister to a new town. By the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth century, migrations out of New England were largely economically motivated for cheaper land and other factors. Still, occasionally a religiously motivated migration occurs, and sometimes they are at first difficult to spot. Continue reading Moved by religion

“Miss Winters in the drawing room”

The drawing room in question.

Several months back, Chris Child and I started playing a game we’ve dubbed “Genealogical Clue.” Playing a good game of it can be quite fun and challenging. Largely, it’s a game whereby we attempt to locate an individual in our respective family trees with a first name that resembles or is near identical to their surname. From this jumping-off point, the post or story is then titled by how we “place” those individuals in a Clue game-like situation. Keeping up with a master player like Chris hasn’t been easy, though. I’ve really had to dig deep to find some of my better “game board connections.” Sadly, most of my potential protagonists never seem to quite cut the ‘Colonel’ Mustard. (lol) Continue reading “Miss Winters in the drawing room”

Finding Francis

Finding Aaron, it turned out, meant finding Francis, a family connection in my own backyard. I’ve written several posts about my genealogical journey to learn about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and, in the course of that journey, I discovered ancestral roots in the ancient colony of Acadia in Nova Scotia; family members accused during the Salem Witchcraft hysteria; a great-great-great-grandfather who was one of the first patients to be operated on using ether; and a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Aaron Osborn (the older version of the surname was spelled without the last e), who set out with his fellow Danvers militiamen on the morning of 19 April 1775 to answer the Lexington Alarm. Continue reading Finding Francis

ICYMI: Of Plimoth Plantation

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 August 2020.]

Watching the videos of Mayflower II being escorted through the Cape Cod Canal brings weird thoughts to my mind. What if there had been a canal in 1620? Would “Plimoth Plantation” have been “Long Island Plantation”? Things would have been different, but since there was no canal, that stray thought is of no importance. Continue reading ICYMI: Of Plimoth Plantation

Here be dragons

If Our Old House builder, Asa Williams, had recently awakened from his 201-year eternal sleep, he would have seen, with fascinated but utter panic, the thunder of dragons that crawled up my driveway. (I think the blacksmith in Asa would find any fire-breathing dragons very useful … eventually.) As a patriot and devout Christian, he might have thought that Satan disguised as  King George had unleashed his “great red dragon” on him personally. Continue reading Here be dragons

Schools for architects

Several years ago, as part of an effort to find an image of my great-grandfather Edward Hughes Glidden (1873-1924), I set myself the goal of tracking down as many of his architectural commissions as I could. A relatively late convert to Facebook, I used my Facebook page and its album function to create miniature accounts of Glidden’s projects, with images and notes on the date of commission, any partners (he had several over the course of his career), and any notable owners or tenants of the resulting buildings. (Grandparents of family friends as well as the future Duchess of Windsor lived in Glidden’s Baltimore apartment buildings a century ago.)[1] Continue reading Schools for architects