Tag Archives: Critical Analysis

Finding Irish relatives: Part One

John Ryan arrives in New York. Click on images to expand them.

In a previous Vita Brevis piece, I discussed the challenges faced in finding the immigration record of my great-grandfather Gerardo Smaldone, who emigrated to New York City in 1887 from the town of Potenza, Italy. In retrospect, that was a cinch compared to the search for the immigration of my Irish grandfather John Joseph Ryan.

I did find him after a daunting and tedious search, earning an unexpected bonus: his Ellis Island record revealed that an older sister was already here: Winifred Ryan had married Michael H. Spellman and had six children, with another on the way, when John arrived in late 1904. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part One

Burdens of proof

Click on images to expand them.

As a long-suffering amateur genealogist (cue violins!), I suspect there are others like me who find themselves burdened by the proof required in matters genealogical. For me, I admit that is not unique to genealogy – back in the day, I declined to complete work for a second degree, eschewing the rigor of thesis requirements!

Like all genealogists, I have my brick walls, some of them without even a hint of where to go from here. Others, however, have ample circumstances to suggest the likely leap, but are simply unyielding in hard facts to prove my speculation. Continue reading Burdens of proof

A Massachusetts matrilineal line

The death of Alma Wahlberg, aged 78, mother of actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg (also both known for their earlier musical careers in New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, respectively), was announced last month. I had worked on the Wahlbergs’ ancestry several years ago as a surprise for Gary Boyd Roberts, who has been a longtime Mark Wahlberg fan. Years later, when Gary was at Wahlburgers in Boston, noticing numerous pictures of the Wahlberg family as well as those of Mark’s movie career, Gary told his waitress, “This place needs a little less Mark Walhberg and little more Marky Mark!” To Gary’s amazement, the teenaged waitress said she did not know who “Marky Mark” was! Continue reading A Massachusetts matrilineal line

‘A very aged man’

The most recent sketch posted for the Early New England Families Study Project is for George Blake of Gloucester and Boxford, Massachusetts, and his family.[1]

George Blake is another of those men who left little record. We do not know where he came from nor who his parents were. We know neither the maiden name nor parentage of his wife Dorothy. He served one term as a selectman in Gloucester, belonged to the established church, served on juries, and stayed out of trouble, himself, although his daughter Rebecca (Blake) Eames was imprisoned for seven months as an accused witch. Continue reading ‘A very aged man’

ICYMI: Mapping the Great Migration

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis 12 April 2019.]

In early 2015 I had just completed work on The Great Migration Directory: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1640, with abbreviated entries for each known head of household or isolated individual participant in the Great Migration. The result was an alphabetical listing of about 5,700 families or individuals. Each entry included last name, first name, English origin, year of migration, first residence in New England, and a brief listing of the best primary and secondary sources available for each. For about 1,800 of the entries, the English origin (defined as the last known residence in England before migration) was known. Continue reading ICYMI: Mapping the Great Migration

‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

In the telling of family history, it’s become quite hard for me to stay away from the same old story. Too often, as I comb through ye olde branches, it feels as if I’m only supposed to talk about those somehow-notable persons (or events) and rarely (if ever) tell the tale of “an ordinary life.” Because of this, it’s gotten difficult for me to tell any tale, or indeed to know just whose life into which to delve. I’m left wondering if someone (or anything) of ‘ordinary ways’ will be of enough interest to anyone else on-down-the-line. Continue reading ‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

Real world uses

Ramona Quimby statue in Portland. Photo by Lori Collister

When children’s book author Beverly Cleary died this year on March 25 — just weeks before her 105th birthday — I was a bit surprised to see so many of my friends, near and far, share their feelings about her on social media. It was gratifying to see how many people loved her work, but I have to confess that I felt a tiny bit of proprietary jealousy, since I grew up in the same neighborhood where several of her most popular characters “lived.”

When my brother and I were quite small, we walked with our Grammy along a street that was entirely wooded on the north side for a block or so. We called it The Quiet Peaceful Street, and only found out years later that its real name was Klickitat Street … the same street where Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, and neighboring sisters Ramona and “Beezus” Quimby lived. Continue reading Real world uses

Retroactive suffixes

An occasional question I receive relates to two practices used in publications by my longtime friend and colleague, Gary Boyd Roberts, that I would summarize as retroactive suffixes and surnames. The latter is used in many other genealogical compendia, largely in relation to royal genealogy (which I’ll discuss in part two of this post), while the former is perhaps less common, and used more often in identifying Americans after 1620. I would identify Gary as belonging to “Team Present,” in terms of using a modern genealogical naming system for past eras, while Vita Brevis editor Scott Steward would belong to “Team Contemporary” in trying to identify people by the names they used in their lifetimes. I would put myself in “Team Whatever,” usually omitting suffixes entirely, except when their contemporary identification is useful to determine how they might fit genealogically into a family. Continue reading Retroactive suffixes

Philatelic genealogy

All stamps from the author’s collection.

While watching the recent broadcast of “Atlantic Crossing,” it took me a minute or two to remember the parentage of protagonist Crown Princess Martha of Norway as well her siblings. Making those connections began with stamps. My childhood world blossomed when a family friend gave me a postage stamp album for my eighth birthday. The package came with an assortment of world stamps, and stamp hinges with which to fix the stamps to the illustrations in the album. A new hobby soon became an absorbing passion. Continue reading Philatelic genealogy

An introduction to nicknames

Rotundo, Barbara. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Concord, Mass.) gravestone: Nellie, February 1989. Barbara Rotundo Papers (PH 050). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

As a genealogist, I often get questions from patrons about differences in given names. For example, are Ellen Turner and Nellie Turner the same person? What was her “real” name? What about Ann Coe and Nancy Coe? (The answer, in both cases, is yes, they were the same person.)
Continue reading An introduction to nicknames