Tag Archives: African American History

Mrs. Frank Leslie

In early July I was given the opportunity to attend an online educational event, “Women in the Gilded Age,” with guest speakers Laura Thompson and Betsy Prioleau, part of the American Inspiration series at NEHGS. The draw was my interest in women’s history, and this event sparked my interest further and provided me with a newfound love of the history of the Gilded Age of New York (1870–1910), a captivating era of growth, greed, and deep cultural changes.

I became truly fascinated by one woman in particular, Miriam Leslie, known in her day as Mrs. Frank Leslie. What intrigued me about Mrs. Leslie was the way in which she challenged the societal norms of the time; in a time that expected women to be homemakers, she stepped up, challenged misogyny, and worked her way to success as a professional businesswoman, taking over the publication business of her late husband, Frank Leslie, and inspiring women who sought more than domesticity. Continue reading Mrs. Frank Leslie

Hall of Famer

On 24 July 2022, the National Baseball Hall of Fame celebrated the induction of the newest class headlined by Boston Red Sox great David Ortiz. In honor of one of baseball’s more cherished events, we will be looking back at the family history of one of the sport’s greatest players, who broke ground and paved the way for so many who came after him, Jackie Robinson.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in the small town of Cairo in Grady County, Georgia on 31 January 1919 to Jerry and Mallie (McGriff) Robinson; he was the youngest of the couple’s five children. Continue reading Hall of Famer

“The dream and the hope”

History was made on Thursday, 7 April 2022, when the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th associate justice of the Supreme Court. She will be the first Black woman and the first public defender to serve on the court. Several months later, on Thursday, 30 June 2022, Judge Jackson took the oath as the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court.[1] Continue reading “The dream and the hope”

Remembering Robert Gould Shaw (all of them)

The Shaw Memorial overlooking Boston Common.

Robert Gould “Bob” Shaw, a longtime staff member at NEHGS, passed away last month at the age of 82. Bob had worked in several positions at NEHGS, including associate editor of our magazine NEXUS, assistant editor of our magazines New England Ancestors and American Ancestors, and for many years as archives assistant in the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. Bob was also interested in his own genealogy; an amusing anecdote arose when a member asked what Shaw family he descended from, and Bob replied “the right one.” Continue reading Remembering Robert Gould Shaw (all of them)

Genealogical tangents

A genealogist’s mind can wander infinitely. The inspiration for this post was recent news stories regarding text messages from the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; an odd place to start for sure. Where did I go from there?

Twenty-four years ago, NEHGS published Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts, 1742-1998 by Franklin A. Dorman. I have written about families treated here before, including the family of civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter. Continue reading Genealogical tangents

Ancestors of J. Michelle Childs

I’ve gotten a handful of messages recently asking if I have any relationship to U.S. District Judge Julianna Michelle Childs, who is among those President Joe Biden is considering for nomination to the United States Supreme Court. I’ll point out first that her surname is Childs and not Child, but I noted recently how adding an s to my surname was not entirely uncommon. Are we related? Probably not, but I traced her African American Childs/Chiles ancestry nonetheless! Continue reading Ancestors of J. Michelle Childs

Outside the lines

“In the vain laughter of folly wisdom hears half its applause.” ~ George Eliot

Aaron Merritt Clark

From the days of hungry lions in the Colosseum to Keeping up with the Kardashians, the world of entertainment has always been a curious mix. In historical terms, and carrying over into genealogical ones, what constitutes “entertainment” isn’t always an easy place to re-visit or understand. It can be difficult to research persons, places, or anything of a ‘Thespian nature’ (sans those lions) without using modern-day judgments or, at the very least, a ‘present tense lens.’ One could say that the evolution of civilization demands this, that the value in what’s found to be ‘entertaining’ must also evolve. It could also be said that it’s much easier to stand on a moral high ground when looking backward. The implication here is that what’s moral in entertainment isn’t always static, but something that must necessarily change and improve. While I guess there isn’t any way that this can’t be true, at this juncture, the outcomes of such future changes and/or musings must be left to persons far better and wiser than I. Continue reading Outside the lines

2021: the year in review

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse – it’s certainly an exhausting way to go through life. As 2021 rolls over to 2022, here is a look back at 2021 in Vita Brevis:

In January, Ann Lawthers urged genealogists visiting cemeteries to apply some of the insights garnered from their research, in this case about how the changing cultural norms around death translated into stone: Continue reading 2021: the year in review

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

Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two

Continuing  with the ancestry of actor Billy Porter, the story of note I found in the actor’s maternal ancestry was more immediate and quite tragic. Porter’s mother Cloerinda Jean (Johnson) (Porter) Ford was the daughter of James and Martha (Richardson) Johnson, and granddaughter of Thomas H. and Mary (Hines) Richardson. Thomas H. Richardson (1889-1923), a native of Cumberland County, Virginia, moved to Pittsburgh by 1910. Thomas and Mary had three children, and Thomas worked as a packer in a steel mill and as a plasterer. Thomas died young, at thirty-three, on 26 May 1923. However, the cause of death on his death certificate prompted me look at his life further – “Shock Hemorrhage following Gun Shot Wound Through right Breast.” Continue reading Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part Two