Tag Archives: African American Research

Sold for a song

“You know, there is a shortage of beautiful, old theaters left in this country and this is one of them…” – Daryl Hall

 At some point during the first decade of 2000s, I went to see Hall and Oates at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. They were on a tour to promote a Christmas music album they released earlier that year, but I don’t think I knew that and I don’t know that many people in the audience did either. I went there to see Sarah Smile performed live, just like everyone else. When they were about to start their fifth consecutive Christmas folk song of the night, the entire theater whined in unison, and Daryl Hall was not amused. A known curmudgeon, he motioned for the band to stop playing before he disembarked the clown car of complaints about the esthetic and operational state of the theater. He said that he had seen quite a few such old auditoriums, that the one we were all together in at that moment was one of the most beautiful, and what a shame for the current owners not to value its charm and elegance. Continue reading Sold for a song

Curiouser and curiouser

The interior side of the Hancock Mansion’s front door, preserved in the Massachusetts Old Statehouse. This is the side that Cato Hancock would have known well.

I truly went down a rabbit hole recently, and all the credit goes to NEHGS’s Chief Genealogist, David Allen Lambert. He recently reported in Vita Brevis that his second academic sabbatical was spent transcribing the 1800 “Taking Books” (tax records) for Suffolk County, Massachusetts. I commented then that I looked forward to checking out this new database, and recently I got around to doing so.

I’d already discovered my ancestor, George Athearn, in Boston city directories for 1798, 1800, 1803, 1805, 1806, and 1807, but it was still fun to check out his entry in the Taking Books. I noted wryly that his surname and that of his business partner, Stephen Fales, were both misspelled; additional notes were “Merch[an]t: ½ Store on Spears W[harf], partners w[ith] Fails, Large Ho[use]” with real estate valued at $3,000. Continue reading Curiouser and curiouser

2018: the year in review

As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.

Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review

Challenging modern records

A record generated for Meghan Markle’s great-grandmother.

In my post earlier this year, regarding preliminary research into the future Duchess of Sussex’s matrilineal ancestry, I indicated that I had ordered several additional twentieth-century records that might lead to corrections or additions. Fortunately, none of the new records seriously affect the lineage I presented, but obtaining one record was not so straightforward. Continue reading Challenging modern records

Meghan Markle’s maternal family

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

With Mother’s Day last Sunday and the wedding tomorrow of Miss Meghan Markle and Prince Harry of Wales, I thought I would write a post on some of her maternal ancestors. Often on Mother’s Day, genealogists consider their matrilineal ancestry as a way to honor their female ancestors.

The chronology of Meghan’s maternal grandmother was a challenging one. Reflecting modern life, over the course of a few generations women were married multiple times; sometimes their daughters’ surnames changed to those of their stepfather (sometimes much later in life!), and mothers’ maiden surnames were sometimes listed under their mothers’ later husbands’ names. I have summarized the line below with the relevant facts and sources. All ancestors are listed as black on the records when asked. The earliest generations of this family would have been enslaved until the end of the Civil War. Continue reading Meghan Markle’s maternal family

‘All in the dark’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Boston’s sultry summers made seaside resorts appealing, but each year Regina Shober Gray[1] struggled to find her family attractive rooms in likely houses outside the city.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 June 1865: Our summer plans are still in abeyance. Dr. & Fred. Gray[2] went down to see what could be done for us at Pigeon Cove,[3] and came back entirely dissatisfied with the place. The best houses there are kept by Mrs. James Edmonds, Mrs. Elisha Edmonds, Mrs. Story, & Mrs. Babson. [The] rooms are small, the terms high, no beach for bathing – bathe in holes off the rocks, and hold on by ropes!! Mrs. Morland,[4] who has boarded at Marion, says it is very hot & sultry there.

I have written to Mrs. Martin at Manchester – but I know she will not take us, and if she does … she will starve us; but that we can bear, I suppose, and guard against. Her house is charming – and I would gladly risk the table for the sake of getting a place for Mary Shober[5] on that lovely Manchester shore; and I think the boys would have a good time too, though they do say Manchester is “played out.” Continue reading ‘All in the dark’

Skipped out

“Icon” of Fred Rogers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Nantucket.

This is a big year for honoring Fred McFeely Rogers, who – if not a family member – was a virtual neighbor to millions of us. The United States Postal Service is issuing a stamp in his memory this week, and I was touched to discover that an “icon” honors him near the pew he habitually occupied in a church my great-great-great-great-grandparents inadvertently helped found in 1838.

However, this story is about a very different Mr. Rogers, the first husband of the second wife of my great-grandmother’s sister’s first husband. Got that? I’ll rewind and explain: my great-grandmother’s sister, Kate Bottomes, married a man named William H. Rardon in 1891. By the 1900 census, Kate was divorced from Mr. Rardon; he married Lillian Vestalina (Roberts) Rogers in 1908. In August 1912, Lillian Rardon got some very interesting news: her first husband, James Wood Rogers, had been killed by government soldiers in Belgian Congo, on 8 October 1911. Continue reading Skipped out

Hard to love

I want to love the husband of my favorite ancestor, Hepsibah, as much as I love her … but I can’t. When I first began researching George Athearn,[1] he seemed to be the very model of an eighteenth-century gentleman: a 1775 graduate of Harvard and judge of probate in his hometown. I was proud to have him as an ancestor, ecstatic to stay five nights in his former home, and diligent in finding out everything I could about him. Continue reading Hard to love

Genealogical lessons

A poster dated April 24, 1851, warning colored people in Boston to beware of authorities who acted as slave catchers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many genealogists will tell you that they get absorbed into the world of the ancestors they are researching. Often one can’t help but recreate their environment and the things they experienced while seeking out documents that help piece together that puzzle. Due to the nature of my work, for me this means coming face to face with the realities of slavery and colonization nearly every day.

Slavery research can be difficult logistically as I try to piece together the lives of ancestors where little documentation exists. The harder aspect of the work is emotional, particularly when it means going page by page through slavery registers of children to find an ancestor recorded among them. Regardless of the challenges, it is important work that has provided me with a much deeper understanding of our past as a nation and the continuing implications of that history on our present. Continue reading Genealogical lessons

Haitian ancestors

Telésforo Ramírez, son of Jacinto Peltan/Ramírez. Courtesy of nbaje.com

A few months ago I posted that, in tracing my wife’s ancestors, I had yet to find an ancestor who was born anywhere but in the Dominican Republic. This all changed within the last few days, thanks for a few detailed records, some very useful DNA matches, a detailed history of my mother-in-law’s hometown, and some luck! I now have three other places of birth for my wife’s ancestors, two within the Caribbean and one back to Europe – and not in Spain!

This started when I found the civil death record of my wife’s great-great-great-grandfather Jacinto Ramírez (1824–1910) of Santiago, Dominican Republic. This record not only listed Jacinto’s parents but also his place of birth, which was quite a surprise: Continue reading Haitian ancestors