Tag Archives: African American Research

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

Slave surnames

Eyre Crowe, “Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Surnames of formerly enslaved people can add a lot of confusion when trying to piece together families. Many enslaved individuals were denied an official surname prior to emancipation, and the adoption of surnames following freedom did not follow any prescribed method. In some cases, the surname of the former slave owner was either adopted by choice or assigned to them in the first records in which they appear as free individuals. Continue reading Slave surnames

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

King George I of the Hellenes. Carte de visite by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri; Scott C. Steward collection

To mark the second birthday of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and with the imminent birth of his younger sister, Christopher C. Child and I have continued our (occasional!) series on Archie’s ancestry. The first segment, covering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, appears here.

This generation of great-great-great-grandparents includes the origins of the surnames Mountbatten and Windsor. The name Mountbatten derives from Archie’s father’s father’s father’s mother’s father, the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven; the name Windsor — also the house name of the current British Royal Family — comes via Archie’s father’s father’s mother’s paternal grandfather, King George V. Just over 100 years after the Princes of Battenberg became Mountbattens and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha adopted (in England) the surname Windsor, a descendant bears both names, marking the 1947 marriage of Lord Milford Haven’s grandson Philip to King George’s granddaughter Elizabeth. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

‘Even birds want to be free’

This photograph shows Hiram Overton (ca. 1835-1911) and his wife, Evelyn Overton (1841-1917), my great-great-great-grandparents. We opened Black History Month at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology with a call to share personal stories highlighting our family connections to the African-American heritage we celebrate for these 28 days. I’m joining in the effort by sharing and honoring the story of Hiram and Evelyn Overton. Together they are the foundations of my maternal lineage, lovers of kin and country, survivors of slavery and institutional racism, keepers of the flame and inspiring #BlackEntrepreneurs. Continue reading ‘Even birds want to be free’

Mayors of Boston

With Boston mayor Marty Walsh expected to be confirmed as United States Secretary of Labor, our city will have a new acting mayor with our city council president Kim Janey, who will be the first female and African-American to serve in this position (acting or otherwise). This prompted me to look at her ancestry, as well as all mayors of Boston since the position was created in 1822. Boston counts 54 mayoral administrations between 46 men. (Six mayors served non-consecutive terms; this number includes five who served two terms. James Michael Curley served four non-consecutive terms, including a portion of his last term in prison.) Continue reading Mayors of Boston