With the recent return of the second season of White Lotus, a few friends have asked me if the actress Jennifer Coolidge is related to President Calvin Coolidge. While this was a kinship I had discovered years ago (back when she appeared in the American Pie movies during my college years), I thought it would be interesting to discuss the Coolidge family of New England and some of their well-known descendants.
In middle school I would visit NEHGS with my aunt, traveling about ninety minutes from northeastern Connecticut, going on Saturdays or other days I had off from school. One such day was on November 11, 1993. I had the day off from school for Veterans Day, and I asked my aunt if we could go to NEHGS. We didn’t call ahead (that was long distance!), and when we arrived the doors were closed because of the holiday. We looked up and saw that the lights were on from the top floor, and saw that the side door was open. We decided to go up and see if the staff might allow us to stay. There was one older gentleman up there with several books around him. My aunt said we had traveled from Connecticut and wondered if it might be possible for the two of us to stay. The man replied that he did not work for NEHGS, either, and that he had hired a librarian to work with him for the day; the librarian was getting books for him from another floor, so we would have to wait and ask him. My aunt and I started to work on our genealogy and a bit later, the librarian, who I would soon learn was Gary Boyd Roberts, returned. My aunt made the plea again if we could stay, and Gary kindly replied sure, and the two of us went back to our research. Continue reading Coolidge Connections→
As a student of family history, I’ve learned that “old white guys” like me generally know next to nothing about African American ancestry. This isn’t to say that we can’t follow a census record, collect a newspaper clipping, or attempt to extrapolate the identities behind the well-hidden faces in the 1850 Slave Schedules. But let’s face it: that’s about where it stops. White researchers often fail to grasp a true understanding of the Black American experience (or of any people of color). In terms of genealogical research, this becomes especially relevant with the addition of oral histories and the role they play in uncovering historical truth.
The importance of oral histories and the truths they contain became very clear to me recently, when I was asked to delve into a friend and co-worker’s very unknown family tree. My co-worker (we’ll call her Colette for privacy’s sake) is of mixed race, and knew little abouther ancestry on any side. She made it clear to me, however, that she wasn’t really all that curious about her white ancestry. Rather, Colette wanted me to focus on her enslaved ancestors and find any possible connections to free persons of color. Enter one Old White Guy trying to figure things out. Continue reading Truth in Oral Histories→
Situated in Boston’s Back Bay is a particularly unique and beautiful building known by a few different names. I know it as the Armory—to others, it’s the Castle at Park Plaza. It sits at the intersections of Columbus Ave and Arlington St, looking like a relic of the past: a medieval fortress surrounded by tall office buildings, skyscraping hotels and trendy restaurants (looking at you, Salt Bae). Today, the building is lost in the skyline. When it was built in 1897, however, it stood proud and at attention for the cadets who used it.
The Armory (or Castle) was originally constructed as the headquarters for the First Corps of Cadets of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. If you have never heard of this before, it is because it no longer exists as it once did. The corps was reorganized and ultimately became part of the U.S. military—a relic of a bygone era. Continue reading The Armory: The Story Behind a Unique Boston Landmark→
In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.
Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.
As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley(1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood. Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)→
We frequently encounter “lodgers” or “boarders” living with our ancestral relations in 20-century U.S. census records. If you’re like me, you probably don’t pay much attention to them. However, as I recently discovered twice while researching the lives and descendants of Irish immigrant Bostonians Edward J. Costello (1866-1926 [?]) and Mary Josephine Maloney (c. 1872-1943), these oft-disregarded “lodgers” or “boarders” can turn out to be your relatives after all. Both cases led to interesting discoveries, but recounting them together would far exceed the average length for posts on this site—so I offer them in two parts.
Our first case of a misidentified relative, 11-year old “lodger” George Stepper, was encountered in the January 1920 census enumeration of the household of Joshua and Mary Harron at 149 Bellingham Ave, in the coastal Beachmont neighborhood of Revere, Massachusetts.
On 11 October 1776, 23-year-old Jemima Wilkinson lay close to death in her bed in Cumberland, Providence, Rhode Island, suffering from a fever, possibly typhus. Much to her family’s relief, instead of dying, she awoke and rose from her bed, alive but forever changed. She announced to those around her that she was no longer Jemima Wilkinson, who had died. Her soul had gone to heaven, and in its place, God had sent down a divine spirit charged with preparing his flock for the coming millennium. This holy messenger, neither man nor a woman, was to be known as the “Public Universal Friend.”
The Public Universal Friend lived during a time of widespread religious fervor known as the Great Awakening, which began in colonial America in the early 18th century and continued in successive waves up to the late 20th century. In reaction to the ideas of the Enlightenment and Calvinist theology, the evangelical movement of the 18th century emphasized free will, the possibility of universal salvation, and a personal relationship with God. Continue reading The Public Universal Friend→
There are no right answers here, but my choice for the greatest Christmas movie of all-time is A Christmas Story. You can’t convince me otherwise. I love it so much that I bought a leg lamp for our front window. Every year, even before we’ve purchased a tree, the leg lamp makes its appearance—and we have copious amounts of glue, should anything happen.
Beyond nostalgia and tradition, the subtle one-liners are the movie’s greatest strength. Some of my favorites, in no particular order:1
“In our world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims.”
“Adults loved to say things like that, but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.”
“In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity, that as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”
“Some men are Baptists, others Catholics; my father was an Oldsmobile man.”
“Randy lay there like a slug. It was his only defense.”
“He looks like a deranged Easter bunny.”
I can’t remember the first time I saw A Christmas Story, but after the fourth or fifth time watching it, the word “deranged” became part of my vocabulary. I didn’t look up the definition, but from context clues I knew it meant “wacky,” “silly,” “insane,” or something to that effect. So, when I started work on a project for the Society of the Cincinnati—the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army who served together in the American Revolution—I was surprised to see the word “deranged” used as a description of one’s military service. Continue reading “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny…”→
African Founders , a recent publication by David Hackett Fischer, discusses Anthony Jansen van Salee (1607-1676), known as the “Black Mohammedan.” His mother was of African origin, and his father was Jan Jansen van Haarlem, known as Reis Mourad the Younger, a highly successful Dutch pirate in Algeria and Morocco. Anthony and his brother or half-brother, Abram Jansen van Salee (d. 1659), were early settlers in New Amsterdam, now New York City. Their surname “Van Salee” refers to their origin in the Republic of Salé in modern Morocco. Anthony had considerable landholdings in Manhattan and later, after some disputes with other Dutch settlers, in Brooklyn near Coney Island. Abram lived in Brooklyn as well. Anthony’s descendants largely married into other Dutch families of the area, while Abram’s descendants largely married other people of African descent. Continue reading Van Salee Descendants→
Massachusetts made history with the recent victory of state Attorney General Maura Healey as our next governor, becoming both the first elected female governor in the bay state and the first openly lesbian governor in the United States.1 When Healey became the nominee for her party earlier this year, I started to look at her ancestry, and found many families in common that I had recently researched for who will be her gubernatorial predecessor, Gov. Charlie Baker.
Earlier this year in April, Governor Charlie Baker was our speaker and guest at our Family History Benefit Gala “A Boston Homecoming” where Brenton Simons presented the governor with a handbound genealogy of his family. His mother’s ancestors largely went back to Scotland and Ireland via Ohio and Canada, while his paternal grandfather was born in New York City with a lot of ancestry in Steuben County, New York, and some earlier ancestors in New England. The ancestry that was in the same community for the longest time was the ancestry of his paternal grandmother, Eleanor Johnson (Little) Baker (1886-1983), herself a genealogist and member of NEHGS, whose ancestors largely went back to several families (often many times over) in colonial Newbury and Newburyport, Massachusetts.2Continue reading Governors of Massachusetts→
Have you ever wondered exactly how Scrooge McDuck is related to Donald Duck? Or where Huey, Dewey, and Louie fit into the equation? And what of Donald’s second cousin, the little-known Gus Goose?
Donald Duck may be a fictional character, but his ancestry can be traced back several generations through hints and clues provided in comic books, television shows, and a wide array of other media. The main source of our knowledge of Donald’s kin is A Duck Family Tree by comic book author Don Rosa. Since the book’s publication in 1993, additional details have come to light, allowing us to expand upon our understanding even further.
Based on an analysis of the available resources, we can confidently place thirty-five of Donald’s relatives.