The truth is, I’ve rewritten this post about five times. Who really wants to lead with an image of a German royal in official Nazi dress? What could a guy like this possibly have to say? Lately, though, I have been looking for something bigger in the “unusual connections” department. I’ve been wanting one of those Paul Harvey moments, in which a family connection leads you to a broader perspective on the world—something that reveals “the rest of the story.”1
Recently, while watching a randomly stumbled-upon TV program, I learned about diamonds stolen during World War II. These particular diamonds were purloined by American service personnel from members of German royalty with Nazi connections. The story piqued my interest, and I had to wonder—could I have any genealogical connection to this fairly recent history of stolen diamonds, some “likely Nazis,” and the German royal family? Continue reading A Kingdom of No Ends→
I recently visited the Boston City Archives, located near the Charles River in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. The city archives house city departmental records, school records, city census records, jail records, and more. For anyone with ancestors who lived in Boston during and after the 19th century, it’s a valuable repository for in-depth research.
Perhaps you can relate: the other day, when Google flashed up their daily doodle with an homage to a lady by the name of Barbara May Cameron, I was prepared to ignore it completely. I don’t usually pay much attention to the headlines of the day—for me, today’s “news cycle” just has a way of making everything way too complicated. However, perhaps it was the artwork, or what’s left of this old curmudgeon’s curiosity, but I decided to go back and take a second look. Just who was Barbara May Cameron, and why did I need to know about her?
I admit, I was surprised to learn about the life of a rather incredible person, who clearly made a great impact on the communities she championed during the course of her short life. Barbara May (Lind) Cameron (22 May 1954—12 February 2002) was a writer, artist, and activist. A Hunkpapa Lakota from the Fort Yates band of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she worked at the intersection of her Native American and lesbian identities. She advocated for LGBTQ+ acceptance in Native American communities, and spoke out against racism within LGBTQ+ spaces.1 It’s easy to see why she deserved the respect she garnered. However, I wanted to know more about her than what might have appeared in the media—and as you may be able to predict, I found myself curious about her ancestry. Continue reading Crossing Barriers: Barbara May Cameron→
My interest in genealogy sprouted at an early age, when my father would tell me stories he heard as a child about my great-great-grandfather, Christopher McNanny. He recounted that Christopher served as a drummer boy during the Civil War, and endured the amputation of both his legs due to wounds sustained during battle. As I got older and more serious about genealogy, I found out that Christopher was not actually a drummer boy, but a private who served in Company G of the 106 th New York Infantry Regiment. He also only had one of his legs amputated.
Before enlisting, Christopher resided in Madrid, New York, and was the husband of Margaret White. Christopher and Margaret had four children before the Civil War, including my great-grandmother Sarah McNanny, who eventually came to Brookline, Massachusetts in the 1870s. According to Christopher’s pension file, he mustered into Company G on 19 August 1862, at Camp Wheeler in Ogdensburg, New York. Company G was composed of men from Madrid as well as nearby Stockholm, New York, and took part in battles such as the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Cold Harbor, the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Battle of Summit Point.
My fascination with Christopher grew, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about his service to the country. I scoured various websites dedicated to the 106 th Regiment. However, while many of these websites detailed the campaign and battles of the 106th, I yearned for more specific information on Christopher’s personal experience. One of my first sources was Christopher’s obituary, published in The Madrid Herald on 8 April 1909, which provided a high-level overview of his service, though with some errors.
I decided to try to connect with experts on the 106th, to see if they could offer any information or steer me in the right direction. I found an expert through a website I discovered via a Google search, and sent an email requesting any information on Christopher. Later that same night, I received a bizarre response that left me astounded. Continue reading The Tale of Christopher McNanny’s Left Foot→
While reviewing my family records recently, I found myself remarking to my wife how interesting it was that my grandmother’s baptism record from St. Ambrose Church in Albion, Rhode Island, was written in French—despite the fact that, as far as I knew, my grandmother did not speak the language. I knew my family had deep French-Canadian roots, and I was well aware that the Blackstone Valley, where my grandmother’s family had lived, was a popular destination for French-Canadian immigrants. Further research revealed exactly why Woonsocket bills itself as La Ville la Plus Française aux États-Unis—the most French city in the United States. Continue reading Woonsocket, Rhode Island: The Most French City in the United States→
Observance of Memorial Day always compels me to think about the members of my extended family from Block Island who served in the Civil War, and the long-term effects of the war on their lives. This carte-de-visite photo of eighteen-year-old George Albion Paine, taken in the spring of 1866, belies his turbulent experiences.1
In September 1862, when he was not quite 15, George volunteered to serve for nine months in the 12th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. Patriotic fervor must have swept over the island, because George’s paternal uncle, Alvin Hollis Paine, his maternal uncle Lewis N. Hall, and his uncle-by-marriage, John Thomas, all joined him in the same regiment.2 Barely two months into his service, George was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, spending time in hospital. Comparison with later records shows that George had not yet reached his adult height at this time. He was discharged from the army in July 1863 and re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a landsman on ships Savannah and Constitution until discharge in 1866. Continue reading George Albion Paine: A Teenage Civil War Veteran→
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)→