Tag Archives: Family Heirlooms

Mitochondrial prospects

My mother’s great-grandmother Mary Bethiah Paine (1848–1933).

With the new start of a new year (and decade), I always make genealogical resolutions. Often these renewed exercises in persistence focus on long-standing unsolved puzzles. At the top of my list, my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Jane Durin. Inspired by several articles in Nexus almost twenty years ago that outlined various contributors’ matrilineal ascents, I worked out my own matrilineal line that hit the brick wall with Jane’s marriage in 1667. My documentation for each successive generation looked reliable, especially since most of the marriages were recorded in town vital or church records: Continue reading Mitochondrial prospects

View from the dog house

Our family has an historic heirloom, a microscope that originally belonged to [Heinrich Hermann] Robert Koch (1843-1910), the famous German bacteriologist, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries related to the causative agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. The microscope came into our family by virtue of his cousin, my great-great-grandfather, Ernest Wilhelm Eduard Koch (1827-1903), who was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, about 30 miles from Clausthal, the birthplace of Robert Koch. After moving to the United States, great-great-grandfather went by “Edward,” but usually was referred to by the family as E.W.E.

E.W.E. was a highly educated man and was an “1848er,” one of many who emigrated from Germany after the 1848-49 revolutions there. Continue reading View from the dog house

Rooted in history

A detail of the Clapp pear tree

As a genealogist, when I hear the word “tree” I typically think of family trees, not the outdoor variety used for shade on a sunny day. However, I came across an interesting newspaper article about a gentleman named James Raymond Simmons who gave a lecture on trees at the New England Historic Genealogical Society one hundred years ago. Simmons, who served as secretary-forester of the New York State Forestry Association and assistant state forester of Massachusetts, described trees as “the oldest living witness of our past history.”[1] He compiled a list of Massachusetts trees and their connection to people and historic events, which he included in his book The Historic Trees of Massachusetts.[2] Although a few of his examples have tenuous connections, I appreciate the message Simmons attempted to convey to his audience. Continue reading Rooted in history

ICYMI: Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

[Editor’s note: The following blog post appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 December 2019.]

Having been occupied with a project these last few months, not only have I been away from Vita Brevis for far too long, but I’ve allowed issues of the Weekly Genealogist to pile up in my in box. In truth, I do open them each week to add my vote to the survey, but until the other day I had not had the opportunity to read them start to finish. While each issue is always brimming with interesting things, I particularly enjoy the Stories of Interest. And so, as I binged on my backlog of six weeks, a story from October 2 about the town of Ashland, Massachusetts recovering its long lost Boston Post cane caught my eye. Continue reading ICYMI: Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

‘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…’

Family Treasures: View from the index

For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index

Tenacious roots

Courtesy of Wikipedia.com

There have been many interesting characters associated with NEHGS, but one president in particular holds my attention. Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1798–1886), the eighth president of the society (for the long period 1868–86), held many posts other than his presidency at NEHGS, including service as president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and as a trustee of the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Wilder was also a dedicated horticulturist himself and grew many hybrids of camellias and pear trees. Tragically, he lost 798 specimens of the 800 camellias in his collection in a greenhouse fire in 1839, but he somehow managed to restore his collection to an impressive level before a visit from members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society the following year. In order to gain a better understanding of why Wilder was so interested in camellias and pears, I decided to examine some of the symbolism of the fruit and flower to see if it provided any insight into Marshall’s wider interests, most notably genealogy and family history. Continue reading Tenacious roots

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

Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

Having been occupied with a project these last few months, not only have I been away from Vita Brevis for far too long, but I’ve allowed issues of the Weekly Genealogist to pile up in my in box. In truth, I do open them each week to add my vote to the survey, but until the other day I had not had the opportunity to read them start to finish. While each issue is always brimming with interesting things, I particularly enjoy the Stories of Interest. And so, as I binged on my backlog of six weeks, a story from October 2 about the town of Ashland, Massachusetts recovering its long lost Boston Post cane caught my eye. Continue reading Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

The saga of a family Bible

John George Lea with his wife Harriet Ann (Wilkinson) Lea and their children Mary Olive (Lea) Rogers and John Samuel Lea, ca. 1906.

Since 1993, I have read countless family records within the pages of old family Bibles for colleagues and patrons at NEHGS. I have been fortunate to share in many moments of discovery. The moment when patrons discover we have their family Bible is priceless 

However, until recently I had never experienced this same moment of discovery for myself. Of course, I always hoped that one day I would walk into an archive, historical society, or a relative’s home and miraculously discover an old family Bible relating to my branch of the family. Most of the time this was simply a lovely ending to a genealogical day dream. 

A few years ago, I was reviewing copies of letters between my great-aunt Mary Olive (Lea) Rogers (1899–1995) and her cousin Florence Newton written during the 1960s. In one of those letters her cousin asked: “Do you still have that large family bible that sat on the little table in Toronto your dad owned?” I paused and considered that a family Bible for my great-grandfather John George Lea (1876–1953) might actually exist. Then I realized this is the same man who received a trunk of family papers and photos from his late brother in England, decided they smelt funny, and tossed in a match! And, so, up in smoke went any hope that my family history had survived. I tried not to think of what might have been in the trunk, let alone what became of this old Bible.  Continue reading The saga of a family Bible