Seven hundred thirty-eight pounds of pork, 152 bushels of corn, 65 heads of cabbage, 3 tons of oats, and 60 gallons of cider – and, no, this isn’t a farmer’s market. These items represent just a sampling of the produce sold in 1895 by the town asylum of Scituate, Rhode Island. The whole summary of the institution’s annual revenue and expenses may be found at the North Scituate Public Library’s local history room.
I came across these documents while researching a family living in Scituate. The 1870 federal census showed a traditional family unit living alongside what appeared to be ten strangers. Continue reading Complicated responsibilities→
Last month my sons Oliver and Charlie each received a postcard from their grandparents—Grandpa Bill and Oma—in Michigan. My husband Tom and I were slightly mystified because the postcards were from Boston and Cambridge and had seemingly traveled through time from the past. The Boston skyline didn’t look quite right. And who talks about beans anymore? Even the style of the fonts and the graphic design are extinct. Continue reading Postcards from the past→
Last year when I wrote about zinc headstones for Vita Brevis, I mentioned that after seeing my very first example of “white bronze,” I began seeing them regularly in various cemeteries. What were the odds, I asked? Well, it turns out that once we have been made aware of something, that something pops up frequently because our brains are unconsciously in search of another example. It’s called frequency illusion.
Which brings me to the recent daylong seminar at NEHGS – “Seventeenth-Century English Research with the Society of Genealogists UK” – that I had the pleasure of attending. Continue reading A colonial goldmine→
When this blog was still fairly new, Christopher Carter Lee did a great post on discovering the political leanings of one’s ancestors. Since this is not only a presidential election year, but also the centennial of the first such election in which females could participate, I thought it would be fun to share a little tidbit I gleaned from my great-grandfather’s reminiscences. Yes, I do know how blessed I am to have such a document in my possession, even if it’s a very blurry copy of a fourth carbon copy. I will let him tell the story in his own words: Continue reading Worth listening to→
A few years ago, I stumbled on an amazing resource: the Zamrsk Regional Archive in the Czech Republic. This archive, which manages records from the region of Eastern Bohemia, has been working on digitizing all of the church register books in its collection and making them available for free through their website. All you need to use them is a little patience and a lot of free storage space on your computer. Continue reading Bohemian church registers online→
Large, dusty, and certain to leave an indelible brown smudge if allowed to touch your clothing, handling the fourteen volumes ofAlbany 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.)
[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.