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.” 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. 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
[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
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…’
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
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
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
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
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
For many of us, Labor Day is synonymous with the last celebration of summer—a time for cookouts, sporting events, and a final day off before the school year begins and autumn arrives. The very existence of the federal holiday (established in 1894) reflects the successes of America’s labor movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Labor federations such as the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, were founded in the 1860s to champion the common interests of America’s workforce: better wages, a regulated work week, safe working conditions, and restrictions on child labor. These organizations, however, did not always present a united front—something that was evident in Boston at the turn of the twentieth century and a truth that became personal when researching my great-great grandfather Anders Gustavus Norander. Continue reading A Tale of Two Parades
Well, if there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that “I don’t do dishes.” Now don’t get me wrong, I always try to help set or clear the table come suppertime, and I’m never really opposed to that age-old argument of “who will wash and who will dry.” But past this, I’ve never had much, if any, interest in dishes themselves. And while I’ve always known that my adoptive great-grandmother’s Blue Willow plates were to be treasured (and to be regarded as something more than just “plates”), as a kid I never figured them to be much good at all, since you couldn’t ever touch them or use them to serve up a big piece of birthday cake. I mean seriously, what good are dishes that just gaze out at you from a glass cabinet or scowl indifferently from the dining-room wall? Continue reading ‘I don’t do dishes’