Tag Archives: Boston

Mr. John Griffin and the Boston Common Treasure

Detail of 1814 map of Boston Common by John Groves Haley.

As anyone who as ever spent time doing genealogical research can tell you, searching through historical records can oftentimes feel like a little bit of a treasure hunt. When I noticed an unusual headline printed in The Boston Statesman on October 4th, 1852, I found myself immersed in a real-life treasure hunt.1 The article read:

Treasure Buried on Boston Common- A Mr. John Griffin petitioned the city government yesterday for permission to dig a hole on Boston Common six feet in diameter for the purpose of obtaining $1000 which he asserts his father, John Griffin, who served in the war of the Revolution, secreted during the “Troubled Times” preceding the war. Griffin says he is poor and wants the money bad. The petition was referred to the Committee on the Common.

Continue reading Mr. John Griffin and the Boston Common Treasure

Continuing the search for the first Boston Marathon winner: we want your help!

John J. McDermott, winner of the first Boston Marathon. Boston Sunday Journal, 1 May 1898.

Scott Steward, founder and editor of Vita Brevis, retired last month. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet for all of us at American Ancestors/NEHGS, allowing me space to vent about research projects, share what I’ve learned about certain record collections, and manipulate a genealogical theme just enough to warrant another post about Harry Potter.

But the most satisfying, miraculous, and fulfilling posts that I’ve written were about the first winner of the Boston Marathon, John J. McDermott—and we still don’t have an answer to our mystery yet. But you could help!

To summarize:

On April 20, 2015, I wrote the first of my posts ( Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go? ) in which I lamented the difficulty of locating a person with a very common name in a very large place. According to period newspapers, John J. McDermott, the winner of the first Boston Marathon in 1897, was an avid long-distance runner from the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City. John was born about 1880, immigrated from Ireland, and worked as a lithographer in New York. While McDermott should have been a celebrity of his time, newspapers and marathon histories neglected to report any information about his personal life: no date of birth, date of death, or names of his wife, children, or other family members. Continue reading Continuing the search for the first Boston Marathon winner: we want your help!

So much Crimson

Ketanji Brown Jackson (Harvard 1992 and 1996), Patrick Graves Jackson (Harvard 1991), and Stephen G. Breyer (Harvard 1964).

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Boston Globe on the ancestry of Dr. Patrick Graves Jackson, husband of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court. My colleague Sarah Dery has been working on Justice Jackson’s ancestry for some time, and the Globe article discussed both of their ancestries.

Sarah recently wrote a post about Justice Jackson’s ancestry, and a longer article she wrote will be published in our next issue of American Ancestors magazine. Continue reading So much Crimson

Pension record insights

Before joining NEHGS as a researcher, I worked with the National Parks of Boston researching patriots of color from Massachusetts who served during the Revolutionary War. While doing this research, I spent time looking through pension records to gain an understanding of these soldiers’ experiences during and after the war. I did not initially know what to expect from these records, but I quickly realized that they can be a treasure trove of information. Continue reading Pension record insights

Remembering Robert Gould Shaw (all of them)

The Shaw Memorial overlooking Boston Common.

Robert Gould “Bob” Shaw, a longtime staff member at NEHGS, passed away last month at the age of 82. Bob had worked in several positions at NEHGS, including associate editor of our magazine NEXUS, assistant editor of our magazines New England Ancestors and American Ancestors, and for many years as archives assistant in the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. Bob was also interested in his own genealogy; an amusing anecdote arose when a member asked what Shaw family he descended from, and Bob replied “the right one.” Continue reading Remembering Robert Gould Shaw (all of them)

Do over

It is coming up on ten years since I began writing the Early New England Families Study Project sketches. A lot of things are changing. As an example, I wrote the sketch for Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester in 2018, and at the time it was as complete as I could make it given the limitations on access to digital images of original records. Recently, reader Ben Moseley sent in some corrections and additions to the sketch he had found when comparing to his own work on the family. As I began cross-checking, I realized there was an important record collection I had not included in my research – the Suffolk County Probate copy books – because in 2018 I did not have access to the digital images online, or maybe I had just not learned how to access them yet. Today, I know how to see all Massachusetts probate images, including original documents and copybooks, through Ancestry.com, using their database “Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991.” Continue reading Do over

JHC year in review

JHC archivist Lindsay Sprechman Murphy with Debbie Kardon Schwartz, Executive Director of Action for Post-Soviet Jewry.

It was a busy and exciting year for the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC). In a belated celebration of the eight nights of Hanukkah, which began November 28 and ended on December 6, here are our top eight achievements for the year!

1. After the pandemic postponed what was meant to be the first annual conference in March 2020, the JHC hosted an online event to launch the New England Jewish History Collaborative in January 2021. A partnership between Jewish history organizations in all six New England states, including the JHC, the collaborative created a website and resource guide for researchers interested in New England Jewish history. Visit the website and stay tuned for more programming in 2022.

Continue reading JHC year in review

St. Augustine Cemetery: resources for research

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Known as the oldest Catholic cemetery in Boston, Saint Augustine Cemetery in South Boston will celebrate its two hundred and third anniversary in 2021. Built in 1818 by the first Catholic Bishop of Massachusetts, Fr. John Louis Ann Magdalen Lefebvre de Cheverus (1768-1836), the cemetery’s first burial was that of  Fr. Francis Anthony Matignon, one of the first Catholic priests in Massachusetts. Less than a year later, on 4 July 1819, the Saint Augustine Chapel was inaugurated as a mortuary chapel to honor Fr. Matignon. The Saint Augustine Chapel is, to this day, the oldest surviving Catholic church and Gothic Revival church in Massachusetts.[1] Continue reading St. Augustine Cemetery: resources for research

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

ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 July 2020.]

Façade of 9 Ashburton Place, NEHGS headquarters in 1920.

During this 175th anniversary year, I wondered how we marked an earlier NEHGS milestone, one hundred years ago. To learn about the state of the Society in 1920, I looked at Boston newspapers online and NEHGS Proceedings and a scrapbook in our R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

On Thursday, 18 March 1920, NEHGS celebrated its 75th anniversary of incorporation—to the day—and recognized the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. From 2 to 6 p.m. that day, the Society welcomed the public to an open house at “its spick and span headquarters,” then located at 9 Ashburton Place in Boston, near the Massachusetts State House. Guides greeted the visitors and introduced them to the Society and its collections. Tea was served. Continue reading ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920