Tag Archives: Beacon Hill

‘Decidedly frosty’

Researchers unfamiliar with the history of the New England Historic Genealogical Society may assume women have been members since the organization’s founding in 1845. In fact, for the first fifty years, women were denied membership. In 1894, some members began to propose opening membership to women: “The reaction was haughty and dignified, if not decidedly frosty.” Women quietly persisted in submitting their applications to male members courageous enough to offer women’s names for election. When a woman’s name was read, though, it was greeted by silence. Several men went so far as to argue that “membership was limited to persons,” and women could not join because they were not “persons.” In early 1897 the issue was put to a vote by special ballot and passed, 451 in favor and fifty opposed, with thirteen offering qualified approval. On 2 February 1898, thirty-six women were nominated, twenty-nine accepted membership — and a new chapter began at NEHGS.[1] Continue reading ‘Decidedly frosty’

Salient points

Mrs. A. C. Burrage Jr. and Mrs. C. F. Ayer, ca. 1915.

One of my great-grandmothers[1] was a penniless orphan, the kind found in storybooks: beautiful and, secretly, a dispossessed member of a once proud family. As often happens when a child’s parents die young, much of this background was lost: my grandmother’s mother, born Sara Theodora Ilsley in Newark, was the daughter of a composer (and member of a distinguished family of musicians), granddaughter of one of the men who owned the yacht America,[2] and the descendant of a notable set of families along the Eastern Seaboard, including the first Congressman from New York City (and an aide-de-camp to General Washington)[3] and the Attorney-General of the Colony of Pennsylvania.[4]

Her descendants knew almost nothing of this when I was growing up, perhaps because of that break occasioned by Theodora’s father’s death in 1887 and her mother’s death in 1895, when she was fourteen. Continue reading Salient points

In the beginning

Shortly after the founding of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845, the first issue of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register was published. The Register first appeared in January 1847 and was the visionary work of the Society’s first president, Charles Ewer. Mr. Ewer envisioned a society made up of hundreds of members, offering a physical library to house thousands of volumes of books, where a publishing program would expand upon the work of John Farmer’s Genealogical Register.

Mr. Ewer’s goal was to create a quarterly journal of history and genealogy that “would give members of the Society a further vehicle for research, discussion, and writing about New England’s Puritan fathers as well as fill a deficiency in historical literature by providing information on families.”[1] Additionally, he wanted to rescue records that were being destroyed in public offices and present them as transcribed and printed resources for future research.[2] Continue reading In the beginning

The start of something big

Boston in 1846. Courtesy of the Harvard University Library

When the five founders of the New England Historic Genealogical Society met in January 1845 for the first meeting of the board of their new society, life in the city outside their windows was on the precipice of colossal change.

As Charles Ewer and his cohort were establishing NEHGS 175 years ago, Boston was a city on the rise. Already a celebrated international trade port, Boston saw an economic boom in the 1840s as it welcomed a busy new network of railroads and thoroughfares which further accelerated industry and commerce in the area. By 1845 Boston was one of the largest and wealthiest manufacturing cities in the country, and still growing at a swift rate. Continue reading The start of something big

2019: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about the first six months of 2019 as reflected through Vita Brevis posts. Herewith, the rest of 2019:

In July, Jan Doerr – whose family has long been settled in the area around Augusta, Maine – reflected on the uses of old business records:

I wanted to know how my late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century ancestors interacted with the people of the Fort Western Settlement every day, what they traded or bought from the Howard store, and why. I have no primary source material from those Fisher, Williams, or Read families, and only a few pieces from my side of the Coney family. Fortunately, other residents weren’t as reticent as my family (or as inclined to paste newspaper clippings over old account book pages!). Continue reading 2019: the year in review concluded

Boston’s African Meeting House

Boston's African Meeting House
Interior of African Meeting House where Frederick Douglass once spoke.

Nestled in a corner of Beacon Hill is an extraordinary center of history, influence, and revolution. The African Meeting House is known for being the oldest black church building in America, but I learned during a recent visit that it is also where the civil rights movement arguably began. Continue reading Boston’s African Meeting House