Tag Archives: A Genealogist’s Diary

In pencil

Daniel Jackson Steward (1816-1898)

On occasion I look around my living room, at the lovingly collected and curated family photos on (almost) every flat surface, and wonder how I will pass along the identifying information on the subjects. (No unidentified photos for me! But the identification resides in my head…)

I don’t worry so much about the ones of my parents and grandparents, although in due course they will all pass into history. The multitude of photos of them, at each stage of their lives, here and in other family houses, argues for some chance that they will be recognized and remembered by future generations. Continue reading In pencil

Research strategies for 2021

E. H. Glidden’s Wendell Mansions in Washington, D.C.

A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?

As the editor at Vita Brevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading Research strategies for 2021

2020: the year in review concluded

Detail of Leiden map, ca. 1600, a hand-colored engraving created by Pieter Bast, showing the Pieterskerk and surrounding area. Courtesy of Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken (Heritage Leiden and Region)

[Author’s note: Part One appears here.]

In July, Tamura Jones collated the references to important dates in the Mayflower’s journey to New England to sort out when the Julian calendar is meant and when the Gregorian calendar is used. In the process, he pointed out that 31 July 2020 was the four hundredth anniversary of the Pilgrims’ departure from Leiden:

“The Mayflower Pilgrims left Leiden on 21 July 1620 of the Julian calendar. Commemorating that on 21 July 2020 of the Gregorian calendar makes no sense. You just cannot mix and match dates and calendars like that.

“There are two obvious candidate dates for the quadricentennial. If we were still using the Julian calendar, we would surely commemorate the departure on 21 July 2020 of the Julian calendar. Continue reading 2020: the year in review concluded

2020: the year in review

Plymouth Harbor. Photo courtesy of James Heffernan

As we reach the end of this extraordinary year – one marked by titanic public stresses and private losses – it is time to review a few of the blog posts that appeared in Vita Brevis in 2020. Most posts, of course, concerned genealogical pointers and results, but some addressed the current moment, when so much of our time was spent solitary and in front of a computer screen.

Of course, at the start of 2020 the blog – and NEHGS – focused on twin anniversaries: the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, in 1620, and the 175th birthday of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, in 1845. Continue reading 2020: the year in review

Logic problems

The dovecot at Corstorphine. Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland

If A is the son of B, and C is the grandson of B, and C’s father is D and mother is E, then how is E related to A…?

In addition to the main allied families in the Livingston project — Douglas of Dalkeith, Fleming of Wigtown, Hepburn of Bothwell, Menteith of Kerse, and Bruce of Airth — there are others that recur, either as ancestors of Livingston spouses or kin of kin in some way. One of the most prevalent is the Forrester family of Corstorphine, Torwood, Garden/Carden, and Nyddrie/Nidrie/Nithrie. Without even including the later Lords Forrester, I can easily count eight instances of Forresters in concert with other families to be covered in the Livingston book. Continue reading Logic problems

Fireside stories

Corstorphine Old Parish Church, near Edinburgh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

As a kind of sequel to my post on “kinbot,” the medieval Scottish practice of making amends after slaying a kinsman, I can offer two stories of Livingston family murderesses … and the very different impression their acts made upon their contemporaries. The first took place more than a century after Sir John Bruce was “slaughtered” by his Menteith kinsmen and concerns the Livingstons of Dunipace, from which family the Rev. John Livingston’s mother was descended. Continue reading Fireside stories

Historical relations

One of a set of watercolors depicting the Eglinton Tournament of 1839 by James Henry Nixon, inspired by an earlier time. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As I work on a genealogy of the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I am roughing out appendices covering the family of the 4th Lord Livingston, the Livingstons of Dunipace and Kilsyth, and the Fleming and Hamilton families in seventeenth-century Edinburgh: this is the family circle around the Rev. John Livingston (1603-1672), whose son and grandson emigrated to New York later in the century. All of this is meant to answer the questions, To what extent did the Livingstons feel connected to their Scottish kin, and are there clues to be found in some of these connections? Continue reading Historical relations

The boy around the corner

127 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. (The Ayer family also owned 125, at right.) Photo by Bainbridge Bunting. Courtesy of Back Bay Houses/The Gleason Partnership

My grandmother[1] and her sister[2] grew up in the country, and both considered themselves countrywomen, devoted to family and animals, later managing farms on the North Shore of Boston, on Long Island, and in Virginia. (My great-aunt, who left New England for Virginia, had much the most significant spread, on land near Middleburg, acquired years before the development of Dulles Airport made the neighborhood a commuting town for Washington, D.C.)

They also grew up in the city. While both were born in their parents’ summer homes in the country, Theo and Anne Ayer were brought up at 161 Bay State Road, 127 Commonwealth Avenue, and, finally, 315 Dartmouth Street in Boston, from which house Aunt Theo was married in 1928. My grandmother married a New Yorker, with some Boston connections, but Aunt Theo married, one could say, “the boy next door.” Continue reading The boy around the corner

Kinbot, and friendship

Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

As part of my research on the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I have been looking at allied families – who sometimes turn out to be Livingstons themselves. One such case is John Bruce of Stenhouse (Airth), sometimes Sir John, who married Elizabeth Menteith,[1] the daughter of William Menteith of Kerse and Helen Livingston, a daughter of Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar.[2] John and Elizabeth’s daughter, in turn, married William Livingston, younger of Kilsyth, a descendant of Sir Alexander’s half-brother, also William.[3] Eventually these three Livingston lines united in the marriage of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, grandson of the 4th Lord Livingston, and Barbara Livingston of Inches (a descendant of Callendar as well as a cadet line of Kilsyth).[4]

John Bruce died in circumstances I have yet to work out. Suffice it to say that he was “slain” by his wife’s brothers, the Menteiths, but what happened after the “slaughter”[5] is somewhat surprising. Continue reading Kinbot, and friendship

The devil’s Mr. Gideon

Torphichen Preceptory, where Henry Livingston was preceptor in 1449. Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America.[1] His volume on the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, in introducing the Scottish ancestry of the American immigrants, glides right by the siblings of “Worthy famous Mr. John Livingston” – father and grandfather of two Robert Livingstons – remarking that John was the “only child [of his parents] we need take any notice of.”[2]

Brave words! As it happens, though, a series of biographical volumes on Scottish ministers fills in the names of the children of the Rev. William Livingston and two of his three wives, and in the biographies of the ministers who married John Livingston’s sisters there are indeed stories on which to linger.[3] John Livingston’s sister Anna married the Rev. Thomas Vassie (or Wassie), later of Torphichen, in 1627; their half-sister, Jean, married the Rev. Gideon Penman, a widower, in 1651.[4] Both the Vassies and the Penmans figure in questions of witchcraft – even as the three brother ministers were involved in the religious and political ferment of the period. Continue reading The devil’s Mr. Gideon