Tag Archives: Brick Walls

The weekend farmer

Of my four grandparents, it is my maternal grandfather[1] whose background seems most mysterious. He and his parents duly appear in Norfolk (Virginia) city directories and censuses, but much of the personal – the quirks and the quotidian – seems missing from the life he led before he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919.

His father, J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944), has, if anything, been more of a cipher. It was his father, also John Francis Bell (1839–1905), who appears out of thin air, hailing from Isle of Wight County and establishing himself as a contractor in Richmond. Frank Bell went south to Norfolk, where he met and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935). Frank Bell seems as solid as Estelle’s father, the roguish O.D. Jackson, proved transient, and he became a leading figure in Norfolk, managing hotels, winning election to the City Council, and helping to found the Rotary Club. Continue reading The weekend farmer

Coming home

Standing in front of the town flag at town hall. With, from left to right, Cristina Colella (town assessor), Massimo Colangelo (mayor), and Giovanni Presutti (vice mayor).

As I mentioned in my last Vita Brevis post, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Europe this past March. Like any good vacation, my travels were filled with historical and genealogical research. After a wonderful stay in Rome and having thoroughly (re)explored its ancient history, I made my way to the Tiburtina Terminal in the northeastern part of the Eternal City to board a bus and pursue what historians and genealogists alone would consider recent history: nineteenth-century records.

As any Italian genealogist knows, many records that have been digitized are available on FamilySearch.org and the Italian Antentati (i.e. “ancestors”) site. The digitization process is far from complete, however. Continue reading Coming home

Legwork

Something happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t wanted to say anything to you about it, as, well, it’s tough to admit one’s own genealogical shortcomings. And, yes, I haven’t wanted to appear more naff[1] than usual, but the truth is that I recently had to “do” genealogy the old-fashioned way, and I was a bit (no, really, quite) unsure whether or not I was still capable of doing just that. You see, for the last couple of years or so I’ve been whisking around my genealogical exercises a lot like George Jetson,[2] and the thought of getting back to basics – and maybe even using some of those old SASEs – was a bit daunting. Continue reading Legwork

Love and the French Foreign Legion

The Jeopardy question/answer would be: What do Cupid and the French Foreign Legion have in common.

The answer/question would be: Who is Vincent Allemany?

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I wanted to find out if the stories Husband related about his step-grandfather’s life were true. Indeed, I wanted to verify what little we knew about him. What I found was an individual who as a youth had found adventure first and troubles later. Continue reading Love and the French Foreign Legion

My day in court

During the late summer of 2011, having then recently been afflicted with genealogy fever, I found myself day after day at the Massachusetts State Archives in front of a microfilm reader. I’m one of those lucky descendants whose ancestors, for the most part, were born in Massachusetts and remained rooted in Massachusetts, so I quickly amassed a binder full of vital records and began learning details about my great-great-greats. Continue reading My day in court

Lightning has struck

Insignia of the London and North Western Railway.

Lightning has struck twice! More than a year ago, I wrote about my surprise (and slight suspicion) when someone contacted me seeking information about the Rev. Moses Marcus. As I wrote at that time, “In case another soul on the planet ever wants more information, I periodically check to see if I can find anything new about Moses Marcus.” It turns out that at least one other soul was interested!

I was contacted in March by a professional genealogist who had seen a query on JewishGen seeking information about Moses’s younger brother, Henry Robert Marcus. The genealogist found Henry in my online tree and wondered whether I might be able to help. Continue reading Lightning has struck

Finding Eddie

One of the biggest challenges in my family tree has been discovering information about my maternal great-grandfather, Eddie Gail. I had no information on his parents, and I don’t think he had any siblings. I knew he was a jewelry engraver in New York City and married my great-grandmother Mollie Siegel. He was an immigrant, but my family wasn’t sure which country he was from. I met him on his 100th birthday – I wish now I had asked him questions before he passed away at 102, particularly about his parents. Continue reading Finding Eddie

The Jeffers Engine

The Jeffers Engine sits in the basement of Station 2 of the Woonsocket Fire Department, covered in dust and surrounded by workout equipment. Built by William Jeffers of Pawtucket, pulled first by hand, then by horse, and now missing its pump, the first steam fire engine the department purchased in 1872 is a far cry from the massive engines in the garage above.[1] Something in the large red wheels and the big dull water drum shares their spirit, though. It too once raced through the streets of Woonsocket towards scenes of danger, carrying fire fighters just as determined to save lives and livelihoods as those who serve today. Continue reading The Jeffers Engine

White bronze

During a walk in the historic cemetery in my town, I spied a headstone perched at the edge of one of the steep terraced slopes. It caught my attention not only because it seemed ready to topple over the edge, but also because it was different: it appeared to glow with a bluish color in the spring sunlight. With a kind of eagerness, I suspected that it might be one of the “trendy” monuments that I had read about and that had had a brief popularity during the Victorian Era.

I made my way up the hill, reached the monument, and proceeded to apply the proof test by knocking on the surface (hoping and praying that no one would knock back!) and, indeed, it was hollow. I had found, quite inadvertently, my first example of a grave marker made of cast zinc. Continue reading White bronze

Ease of use

In my work on the current “Watertown Cluster” for the Early New England Families Study Project, I am getting a heavy refresher course in the records of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In the olden days, I would get on the Green Line and go to the Middlesex County Court House in Cambridge to access probate records. Today, I find online access is both a blessing and a curse.

AmericanAncestors.org has images of Middlesex County probate files, but in my search on William Parry/Perry of Watertown, I found that the image of his original will from these files is indecipherable (to me, at least).[1] In such cases, the next step is to access the copy book versions of the records, images of which are accessible on FamilySearch.org.[2] Continue reading Ease of use