Large, dusty, and certain to leave an indelible brown smudge if allowed to touch your clothing, handling the fourteen volumes of Albany County, New York Deeds, 1630-1894 was my first assignment after I became an NEHGS volunteer in 2005. With ancestors who settled near Fort Orange (present-day Albany) in 1650, I had a personal interest in helping to bring this collection to a broader audience. These early land records represented some of the few city and county records that had not been destroyed or damaged during the disastrous 1880 fire at Albany City Hall. Continue reading The power of one volunteer
Twelve years ago, my family moved back to Salem, Oregon – the city where my husband had gone to college, and where we spent the first three years of our married life together. As the movers hauled furniture into our new home, we were welcomed with fresh bread and warm greetings by our new next-door neighbors. My husband recognized Tom right away as his former economics professor, which seemed like a lovely coincidence.
At some point over the years, we discovered that Tom had attended Pomona College, which my father also attended, but their years hadn’t quite overlapped. Then last year Tom and Priscilla hosted a bon voyage party just before our sabbatical trip, inviting everyone on the email list I’d used to send our itinerary to family and neighbors. My mother recognized Tom as a high school classmate, and we thought that was another fun coincidence … though in a school with 2,200 students, that didn’t mean they’d rubbed elbows frequently. Continue reading Small world
My great-great-grandfather John Francis Bell (1839–1905) is largely a mystery: he appears unheralded in Richmond, Virginia, in the mid-nineteenth century; his son’s 1915–37 journal makes no reference that I can find to any family on the Bell side. (My great-great-grandmother, known after her marriage as Bell Bell, was Isabella J. Phillips, of a large family centered in Henrico County; I have yet to see any mention of her cousins, some of whom my grandfather knew well.)
Almost all references to family in J. Frank Bell’s journal, then, are to his wife, his children, or to members of the extended Jackson and Eggleston families to which my great-grandmother’s parents belonged. Continue reading Far-flung relations
[Editor’s note: We mourn with the nation the passing of the distinguished journalist, historian, and bestselling author Cokie Roberts. We fondly recall her presence with us in 2016 as we honored her with the NEHGS Lifetime Achievement Award in History and Biography at a memorable NEHGS Family History Benefit Dinner in Boston. On that occasion we presented her with a detailed genealogy, researched by our staff, noting that her family included “valiant women, presidents, and kings.” With her passing today, notables recall her as a “trailblazer” and “pioneering journalist.” To those tributes, we’re proud to add “friend.”
This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 31 October 2016.]
On October 27, NEHGS hosted a Family History Benefit Dinner featuring Bill Griffeth and Cokie Roberts, both accomplished news commentators and authors. Whereas Bill has written of his experiences with unexpected DNA results concerning his paternal side, Cokie has made a career of highlighting the lives of women in American history.
In honor of her accomplishments, the Society presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for History and Biography and a beautifully hand-bound book of her ancestors. As I compiled her robust genealogy, I worked to include the kinds of stories that would interest an author of female biographies. Continue reading ICYMI: The Other Half
It is interesting to see the spread of a new technology reflected in my great-grandfather’s journal: in this case, the electrification of the Bells’ farm in Kempsville, near Norfolk, Virginia. A little less than a century ago, this was a project one could undertake oneself.
9 October: Bought truck today for $793 and turned in the old one for $200.
Estelle and I bought light fixtures today for the new Delco system which we installed this week.
23 October: Turned on electric lights tonight. Continue reading ‘Lots of company’
With good weather and summer’s long-awaited arrival, many of us will be traveling near and far to new and exciting places. Traveling today is still frustrating, even with fast transportation and constant access to technology, so I was very curious to find out what obstacles our ancestors faced centuries ago.
Many diaries have been digitized and added to the NEHGS Digital Collections on the American Ancestors website. In this new grouping I found two travel diaries that sparked my interest on what the similarities and differences of the diarists’ travels in the nineteenth century and my own in the twenty-first century might be. Continue reading Time travelers
There are those theorists who say that time is a river with many bends, and that if we could look back around one of those bends, we’d see the past. I think of that whenever I cross the Kennebec River here in Augusta on my way to Old Fort Western. If I could see around the river’s bend, would I see my ancestor, the Pilgrim John Howland, arriving to establish the Cushnoc Trading Post for the Plymouth Colony in 1628? I might find my house-builder cousin, Asa Williams, on his way to the Fort in 1777, or his brother Seth trading at the S. & W. Howard store in 1790. Maybe my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read would be galloping by to call the midwife Martha Ballard to help deliver his first child, or perhaps I’d see that same midwife on her way to view an autopsy in Eunice (Fisher) Williams’s kitchen. Continue reading The occasional cognac
My great-grandfather was a man of few words, at times, as when he made his sole reference to a new office: “Elected to the [Norfolk] City Council tonight.” A more typical effusion occurs nine days later, when he notes the “Early cabbage [is] looking good.”
1 April: Bought an Overland car.
3 May: Went with Hotel Ass[ociatio]n to Cape Henry for Oyster Roast.
This past week I began to explore the large collection of Bible records on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website, and I was expecting to find just ordinary records, not anything surprising. What I uncovered, however, is just how helpful these records and registers can be in understanding your family history. While the records typically convey very simple information to the reader, such as births, deaths, and marriages, they sometimes contain other information that can result in a “light-bulb” moment when you are piecing together your genealogy. NEHGS has digitized a series of Bible records and family registers, and continues to add new records regularly, creating a selection of nearly 300 so far in the Digital Collections. Continue reading A light-bulb moment
The Civil War was a time of conflict and distress. While we often hear stories of the courageous men who fought the bloody battles of a terrible and long war, the battles did not stop on the fields. Citizens from all states and backgrounds gathered strength and stepped into positions they never thought possible, including Betsey Jennings Nixon, who discovered fresh reserves of strength as the war progressed.
The NEHGS Library holds the diary of Betsey Jennings Nixon in its R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. The diary has been digitized and is available on the American Ancestors Digital Collections website. Betsey, the daughter of William and Louise (Sheldon) Nixon, was born in 1839 and grew up in Ohio, living in several neighboring states before eventually moving to Colorado where her sons had settled. Continue reading ‘Eyes dry as dust’