Tag Archives: Brick Walls

NEHGS in 1920

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 NEHGS in 1920

The trouble with Jimmie

Albert James Lefurgey (1901-1948), Folsom State Prison 1928

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I work on family history I get bored. After all, how long can one be expected to stare at the same old brick walls, or to wonder why researching on Rootsweb these days feels more like your worst blind date ever? I guess you could say that this sort of ennui has gotten me into a bit of trouble, as in the absence of anything interesting in my own family tree I start looking for ways to escape the solitary confinement of (what I like to call) my own little “genealogical slammer.” I know it’s a bit dangerous to go on the lam like this but, hey, I think you’ll agree that, genealogically speaking, you truly can meet a lot of interesting people along the way. Continue reading The trouble with Jimmie

Some Back Bay houses

121-129 Commonwealth Avenue, ca. 1875, viewed from the steeple of the Brattle Street Church. (The house into which the family moved in 1922 was just around the corner on Dartmouth Street.) Courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

When my grandmother[1] was a girl, she could walk down the front steps of her parents’ house in Boston and along Commonwealth Avenue into the houses of her paternal grandparents and her father’s sisters nearby. Using the Back Bay Houses database, I can trace the staggered arrivals of her father’s family in Boston; in the process, I find I’m encountering a number of family and contemporary friends.

My great-grandfather[2] seems to have been the first member of the Ayer family to move to Boston, soon after his graduation from Harvard in 1887. Next came his father (my great-great-grandfather) and stepmother, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Ayer of Lowell,[3] who rented 232 Beacon Street in 1899-1900[4] while building their new house at 395 Commonwealth Avenue.[5] The family[6] was occupying the house by the end of 1900, although it appears that work continued for sometime thereafter. Continue reading Some Back Bay houses

Pop quiz

Research Problem 1

Courtesy Groton.org

After tracing your family line as far back as possible, you have run into the inevitable brick wall. You should: (a) persevere in your research and hope for an eventual breakthrough; (b) claim that you are a direct lineal descendant of Alexander the Great or King Arthur, acknowledging that your evidence is open to differing interpretations; or (c) give up and accept your failure as a genealogist.

ANSWER: (a), unless you’re like 27 percent of the amateur genealogists posting family trees on the internet, in which case the correct answer is (b). Continue reading Pop quiz

‘The more things change…’

Charles and Harriett Saunders, ca. 1872-97.

Shortly after the Covid-19 stay-at-home order was implemented in Maine, Son remarked that living in My Old House, now known as Our Old House, is like living in two centuries at once, the eighteenth, nineteenth, or twentieth centuries – as well as the twenty-first.

In the eighteenth century, when this house was built, my ancestors’ daily lives as farmers were “at home.” Now, as the prodigal farmers’ daughter living in their house during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve planted a small garden and signed on with local farmers for the vegetables, dairy, and meat supplies I either decline to produce on my own or lack the wherewithal to grow. Continue reading ‘The more things change…’

The name’s the same

Click on images to expand them.

There’s something that happens when researching genealogy and family history. It’s actually a lot like a trip to the House of Mirrors or the “Ye Olde Fun House.” It’s one of those things that occur when you’ve examined someone’s life but find there’s something that you still can’t quite resolve. I mean, it’s not exactly a brick wall – as everything else about the subject’s life in question will look “just fine” – “but.” Really, all the pieces of the puzzle go together perfectly … or do they? It seems that there is always one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit quite right.

So we genealogists dance around the puzzle. For me, I like to use words and phrases like “probably, likely, could-a-been, might-a-been,” and my all time favorite, without a doubt. We might even build a sketch of the person’s life, ever careful not to disturb the tenets of our research, all the while practicing a little bit of the X Files mantra that “the truth is out there.” Continue reading The name’s the same

Flushed with pride

In this period of self-isolation, the imagination of genealogists will likely extend significantly. Frequent Vita Brevis writer Jeff Record recently shared with me an online tree that purportedly gave a Mayflower line back to Seth Wheeler (1838-1925) of Albany, New York, known as the creator of perforated paper, who obtained the earliest patents for toilet paper and dispensers in 1883. The tree depicted a descent from Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke by calling Francis the father Henry Cook of Salem, Massachusetts! Francis did not have a son named Henry, and the origins of Henry Cook (who was in Salem by 1638) are unknown. So, unfortunately, I had to tell Jeff that the Mayflower line was worthless, but at least we can thank Wheeler for toilet paper! Continue reading Flushed with pride

ICYMI: ‘If space allows’

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 5 January 2017.]

Thanks to a timely message alerting me to a collection of letters for sale at eBay, I recently acquired one side of the genealogical correspondence between Regina Shober Gray[1] and the Rev. Richard Manning Chipman, author of The Chipman Lineage (1872). Mrs. Gray, so expansive in some areas of her diary, is comparatively terse with regard to the beginning of the correspondence: Continue reading ICYMI: ‘If space allows’

Magic of the attic

The Whorfs’ house in Provincetown.

While admiring April’s Super Pink Moon – and contemplating what the man up there must be thinking as he looks down on Earth’s current woes – the notion of the slingshot effect popped into my head. As someone who, as a kid, took great fascination in the Apollo program, I remember this term being used, described as a maneuver using gravity to change the speed or direction of the spacecraft. That’s as far as I will venture into the science of it, lest I earn the ridicule of all the scientists out there, but the term seemed an apt metaphor for my latest genealogical wanderings. We’ve all had those moments. We are on our way somewhere and then, in a sudden shift in trajectory, we are flung in another direction. Continue reading Magic of the attic

Enduring mysteries

Ida Mary Way, age 3-4, ca. 1866, Berkeley County, West Virginia.

My first visit to NEHGS was with a now-deceased friend and former coworker and her husband in a February in the mid-1980s. This was also my first visit to New England. We drove up for a genealogy-related purpose: Sally was picking up a melodeon, a reed organ, from a cousin of hers in Dedham. While in the Boston area, we went downtown, ate at Durgin Park, visited Goodspeed’s Book Shop, and, of course, went to NEHGS for a few hours. It is a far different place now than it was 35 or so years ago. I still remember some of the look of the place, especially where the microfilm used to be on the level between the two of the floors, along with most of the rest of the public areas. Continue reading Enduring mysteries