Tag Archives: Family stories

‘Christopher Christophers in the library’

Jeff Record’s recent post on his relative Evan Evans reminded me of similarly named persons in colonial Connecticut aptly named Christopher Christophers. While I am not related to these individuals, the fact that these men shared my first name twice is surely a reason I was interested in them. For seventeenth-century New England, Christopher was a rare first name, as it tended to be a name amongst Catholics, with Pilgrims and Puritans rarely using it at the time. Within my own direct ancestry for sixteen generations, I have only found three ancestors named Christopher – two being Germans in eighteenth-century Virginia (Christopher Blankenbecker and Christopher Shake) – and one in colonial New England – Christopher Peake (ca. 1612-1666) of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Continue reading ‘Christopher Christophers in the library’

Finding Irish relatives: Part Three

[Editor’s note: This series began with Part 1 and Part 2.]

Until recently, unless you were lucky enough to know the names of your immigrant Irish ancestors’ parents and/or the place(s) where they were born or resided in the Emerald Isle, such information was often difficult if not impossible to find in American records. That imposing brick wall remained unassailable for many seeking to pursue their ancestral connections in Ireland … until now. During 2015-2016 digitized troves of the two most significant sources for Irish family history – Catholic church registers and civil vital records – were released online, freely accessible on any internet-enabled device. Like the notorious Berlin Wall, that longstanding, insurmountable impediment to discovering Irish ancestry crumbled almost overnight. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Three

Barbara’s story

When I began researching my paternal ancestors as a high school student, I had many questions about Barbara Shakshober, the oldest sister of my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Shakshober. Because the 1860 and 1870 censuses report her birthplace as New York,[1] I concluded she must have been born in or near New York City, her parents’ port of arrival to the United States. Finding Barbara’s birthplace might lead to the discovery of her parents’ neighborhood, and perhaps other ancestors with their elusive, often corrupted surname. Continue reading Barbara’s story

Civil War memories

Following on my previous post on Paines of northeastern Connecticut, this post relates to the most recent relative of mine with the Paine surname, Lieut. John Merrick8 Paine (John7-6, Daniel5-4, Samuel3, Stephen2-1), a Civil War veteran, who has a more immediate and tragic memory in our family. His second wife, Florence Augusta Child (1858-1950), was the younger sister of my great-great-grandfather.

My great-aunt, Florence Augusta (Child) Young (1910-2003), whom I remember fondly from my youth, was named for her own great-aunt Florence Child Paine. Continue reading Civil War memories

‘Not a very tall man’

The Battle of Plattsburg. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“He was not a very tall man”: words I read in a message associated with my great-great-great-grandfather Henry Poor of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Henry was born in Newbury on 20 June 1769, a son of Captain Jonathan and Sarah (Dole) Poor. His father led a company of the 2nd Essex Regiment on the Alarm of 19 April 1775 and served at various times during the war. I often wondered what young Henry knew about his father’s service that was lost in our family traditions. Continue reading ‘Not a very tall man’

Slave surnames

Eyre Crowe, “Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Surnames of formerly enslaved people can add a lot of confusion when trying to piece together families. Many enslaved individuals were denied an official surname prior to emancipation, and the adoption of surnames following freedom did not follow any prescribed method. In some cases, the surname of the former slave owner was either adopted by choice or assigned to them in the first records in which they appear as free individuals. Continue reading Slave surnames

Timekeepers

Once rumored to have been Aunt Jennie, her image has gazed back at me for years. Certainly she was Jennie Sage – or so Nana had said before several strokes took hold of Nana’s memories and clutched them tight within her. Jennie gazed out from her oubliette of a broken pocket watch, watching us as if we were playing that age-old genealogical game of Can you guess who I am? Indeed, she’s ‘stayed’ Aunt Jennie for years now, though at the time how my grandmother knew this with any certainty was lost on me. Yes, lost, not unlike Nana’s evaporated memories, and with the question of how my grandmother had come to have the old pocket watch in the first place never resolved. Continue reading Timekeepers

Finding Irish relatives: Part Two

Part 1 of this series discussed how civil registration records can be used to locate the townlands and families of Irish immigrant ancestors, and how to use both civil records and church registers to trace their families backward and forward. While relying on civil vital records may succeed, the method can be time-consuming, especially for individuals like Michael Spellman who were born before civil registration commenced in 1864. As I learned the hard way, using church records is more likely to produce results, perhaps immediately. Continue reading Finding Irish relatives: Part Two

Philippian mysteries

With Prince Philip’s recent death, several colleagues shared with me the story that recalled how in 1993 the Duke of Edinburgh had helped solve a Russian Romanov murder mystery. This was one of the earliest high profile uses of mitochondrial DNA to confirm historic remains, and something I frequently talked about in my early talks on using DNA in genealogy.[1] I gave two lectures at NEHGS while I was still in college in the early 2000s, the first one on Abraham Lincoln’s maternal ancestry (which I also discussed as having a possible mtDNA component, utilized nearly two decades later) and the other on DNA. These were also the only talks I made using overhead projector transparencies, before finally switching over to PowerPoint. They also both showed how designing charts has always gone hand-in-hand with my genealogical interests. Continue reading Philippian mysteries

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