Tag Archives: American History

Van Salee Descendants

Reis Mourad the Younger

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

Governors of Massachusetts

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.2 Continue reading Governors of Massachusetts

Tracing the Ancestry of Donald Duck

Donald Duck character stamps from Albania, 2000. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Visualized family tree of Donald Duck Continue reading Tracing the Ancestry of Donald Duck

Meet the Ghosts who Haunt our History (Part I)

Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband Abraham Lincoln behind her, circa 1872. Photo by William H Mumler.

Thank you to everyone who answered our call for submissions! I had so much fun going through the treasure trove of strange, poignant, and even funny stories you sent in. Ghosts abound in the history and popular lore of the United States—and as the selection of highlights I’ll be sharing illustrates, our ghosts have everything to do with our family histories, and our collective past as a country.

Modern ghost stories owe many of their common tropes to Spiritualism —a popular movement which arose during the mid-19th century in the U.S. and England, centered around the belief that the spirits of the dead can be communicated with by the living. Most accounts of the beginnings of Spiritualism point to the 1848 incident of Maggie and Kate Fox: teenage sisters from Hydesville, NY, who claimed they could communicate with a ghost in their home through a series of mysterious “rapping” sounds, and became known as the first Spiritualist mediums. Well-known figures of the 19th century, such as Mary Todd Lincoln and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were staunch believers in Spiritualism, and while popularity has declined, Spiritualist ideas remain embedded in our culture today.

Given this context, I was thrilled to receive a submission from genealogist Jerry Carbone of Brattleboro, VT, about a Spiritualist artifact he discovered in his research: letters written to a man named Edward Edwards from his deceased wives and relatives , as transcribed by mediums. Whether these letters represent genuine contact with the beyond or not, they clearly seem to have brought their recipient comfort. They contain reassurances that he is being watched over and guided, that his two deceased wives get along with each other, and even that his family members have come around to his Spiritualist beliefs, as in this message from Edwards’ brother:

“My Dear Brother, We are nearly all over here you are not coming to a lonely place/ Your two wifes seem to be so happy together. I do not know which will be the one who will be chosen to walk through spirit life with, but—I do know—they both care for you. Father laughs about the old ideas of religion.”

Continue reading Meet the Ghosts who Haunt our History (Part I)

Discovering Caleb Dyer, the Only Shaker Ever Murdered

Caleb Dyer ca. 1863, via Enfield Shaker Museum

Plenty of people own Shaker furniture or have heard of Shaker-style craftsmanship, but it’s less common to find someone with Shaker ancestry. There’s good reason for that: the Shakers, or the United Society of Believers, were a Christian religious sect that believed in gender equality, pacifism, and complete celibacy—no marriage or children. They first arrived in the U.S. from England in 1774 and settled in villages throughout the Northeast and Midwest, where they lived communally, kept separate from “the world” of nonbelievers, and worshipped through song and dance.

Shakers didn’t hold with violence, so I was intrigued to come across the story of Caleb Marshall Dyer, believed to be the only Shaker murder victim in history. A respected leader in his community, he was killed in a dispute with a local man over custody of the man’s daughters, who had been entrusted to the Shakers of Enfield for a period of time. Ironically, I only became aware of Caleb Dyer because of his involvement in an earlier custody dispute—that time not as a community leader, but as one of the children in question. Continue reading Discovering Caleb Dyer, the Only Shaker Ever Murdered

California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot

Promotional photo of Cass Elliot from 1972Even the smallest bit of nostalgia can set me off down a new genealogical rabbit hole. The other day, when I heard Cass Elliot singing Make Your Own Kind of Music1 in a car commercial on television, I knew right away that I was in trouble. Wouldn’t it be incredible to discover a genealogical connection with that legendary 1960s chanteuse? Okay—maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but for this aging flower-child, the thought of it was uber-cool. Curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to dig deeper.

Almost immediately, I saw that Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941, was Jewish by way of both her parents.2 Let’s face it—unless I’m ever able to find a 14th-century synagogue on the Orkney Islands , I have little chance of finding any similar lines here. This was disappointing, but I figured there had to be more to the story. I began to wonder who Cass had married, and if she had any children to whom I could establish a connection. Continue reading California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot

Jeffrey Dahmer and Other Infamous Mayflower Descendants

A friend relayed to me this episode: an older individual was leaving a research facility when security, per policy, asked to inspect their bag. The individual declared to my friend working at the reception desk: “I find it insulting that security asked to check my bag, because I’m a Mayflower descendant!”

Aware that one’s ancestry has very little to do with one’s potential to commit a crime, my friend wanted to know if there were any Mayflower descendants with a well-known criminal record who they could have brought up in response. Indeed, there are plenty! Continue reading Jeffrey Dahmer and Other Infamous Mayflower Descendants