Tag Archives: African American History

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

Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part One

One of my favorite shows of the last few years has been the FX Original Pose, chronicling the lives of LGBTQ people of color in the ballroom culture of New York City during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s. With its amazing cast of talented actors, one of my favorite characters was Pray Tell, portrayed by the actor Billy Porter, who is known for his earlier work in Kinky Boots and more recently as the fabulous godmother in a remake of Cinderella. With Pose ending its season earlier this year, and Porter releasing his memoir Unprotected this month, I decided to explore the actor’s ancestry and found two very different stories, certainly representative of the variety of the African American experience over the centuries. Continue reading Ancestors of Billy Porter: Part One

Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

My recent post on the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment also touched upon the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and a recent book I had read – Thunder at the Gates – about the black regiments of Massachusetts that served in the Civil War. Another genealogical connection to these regiments concerned Civil War soldiers from Mashpee, Massachusetts treated in recent articles in the Mayflower Descendant. Continue reading Civil War soldiers of Mashpee

The 29th Connecticut

Last Memorial Day, after writing a post on my great-great-great-uncle John Merrick Paine of Woodstock, Connecticut, a lieutenant in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment, I became interested in researching other soldiers in this regiment also from northeastern Connecticut. Several of them were from families I had researched previously, with one surprising connection to a colleague here at NEHGS. Continue reading The 29th Connecticut

Beautiful Jim Key

My childhood friends and I are all turning 60 this year. I purchased matching birthday cards for them with this horse on the front. Of course I had to find out his story!

Beautiful Jim Key was a famous horse born in 1889 and owned by the former slave, self-trained veterinarian, and patent medicine salesman William Key. William was a skilled horseman who rescued an Arabian mare, a badly abused former circus horse, and bred her to a Standardbred stallion. Continue reading Beautiful Jim Key