The ‘Magee storm’

As 2020, the year commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing in the New World, comes to a quiet end we can, with hopefulness, look forward in 2021 to making up for all the 2020 cancellations by commemorating the quadricentennial of many first-year Mayflower milestones. The “Winter of Death” and the death of the colony’s first governor, John Carver, were despairing events, but other milestones, including the treaty signed with Massasoit in March 1621, the first marriage in the Pilgrim village in May, and the harvest feast in late October lifted the colony’s hopes. The year 2021 should, in more ways than one, be recognized as the year of survival. Continue reading The ‘Magee storm’

Ten questions for your Zoom holiday

This year promises to be one unlike any other for the holidays. Many families will get together virtually this season, an unfamiliar way to gather for many of us. Despite the different circumstances, this season can still be a time to share stories of family history. Here are ten questions to ask relatives during this year’s Zoom holiday. Continue reading Ten questions for your Zoom holiday

Ghost towns

In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns

Seasonal compromises

Trinity Church lit for the Christmas season.

“…as close to heaven as human hands and voices have ever crafted. To be amid people in a room so full and so fully at peace. This is the Christmas of dreams.” – Amy Traverso, Yankee Magazine.[i]

There are multiple reasons why the holidays are challenging for many people; this year there is an added feature putting stress on the season. Many of the parties and events we have built traditions around are inaccessible, while others are simply not possible. Continue reading Seasonal compromises

Body unknown

I climbed to the Harrisville Cemetery in Burrillville, Rhode Island, from the hill at its back. While preparing to put our canoe in at the boat access on Mill Pond, my dad had pointed up the forested slope and told me that the old graveyard was just through the woods. There are few things I love more than old cemeteries, and this one held an interesting connection to one of my particular historic interests – transit during the nineteenth century.

Towards the center of the cemetery, I came across the Bryant and Remington family plot with its large granite marker for 27-year-old Clarence S. Remington, “lost from the steamer Narragansett.” Continue reading Body unknown

‘Struggle with a vixen’

“Paternity Concealed & Revealed: The Case of Julia Smith of Rutland, Vermont,” published in American Ancestors, recounts one of my wildest rides in Vermont research.[i] Why did Julia Smith of Rutland hide her true identity? My investigation proved that Julia was the daughter of English convict Emanuel Abrahams, a London Jew, who spent two decades in Queen Victoria’s prisons. After emigrating to Vermont in the late 1870s, Emanuel assumed the name John Smith and married Mary Dougherty, an Irish Catholic, twenty-five years his junior—theirs an unlikely union for that time, with disparities of culture, religion, and age. Continue reading ‘Struggle with a vixen’

Finding Ma

Ma Seal revealed. Images by Lora Webb Nichols, courtesy of the University of Wyoming

“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life.[1] I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Sealcame into our lives. Ma Seal,[2] for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma

The Churchill letter

Click on image to expand it.

My wife’s maternal grandmother, Lydia (Woliung) Faulds (1896-1939), was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a blacksmith with family roots in Alsace. Her mother was a recent immigrant from Germany. The family later moved to Matoon, in Coles County, Illinois, where Lydia graduated from high school. After receiving a diploma from Eastern Illinois State Normal School in 1914, she taught school in the Oak Park (Illinois) school system for several years. In 1918, in recognition of her academic abilities, especially in mathematics, Lydia was elected to a position on the staff of the Lincoln School of the Teachers College within Columbia University, in New York City. Set up the year before, the Lincoln School was created to conduct “experiments in modern education.” Her assigned subjects were geography and mathematics. She resigned after one term in the expectation of the imminent return of her fiancé from war duty in France; they planned to get married back in Illinois and make a home there. He arrived as expected, but was debilitated from being gassed on the battlefield and spent most of the next year in a New York hospital. Lydia stayed in New York and was employed that year as a governess for the Rockefeller family. Continue reading The Churchill letter

Finding confirming information

Researching someone with a common name can be challenging. Sometimes you will find too many records, and without more identifying information it can be almost impossible to determine which is the correct record. Or, if you do find a promising record, how do you know if it is for the person being researched or someone else with the same name? To overcome these problems, you need to find enough information to come to a solid conclusion.

I had this problem recently while researching Charles McDermott, who lived in New York City. I found a possible naturalization record for Charles in 1896. The record showed this Charles was about the right age and had immigrated around the right year. Continue reading Finding confirming information