Tag Archives: Family stories

A president’s origins

Chester Alan Arthur. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Given the growth and proliferation of twenty-four-hour news networks offering instantaneous political commentary, nearly every American adult is likely aware of the (demonstrably false) allegation that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As many also know, President Obama was easily able to provide records which thoroughly debunked the baseless narrative. This was not, however, the first time a United States president was faced with questions about his origin which were dispelled by supporting records.

Beginning in late 1880, then Vice President-elect Chester A. Arthur was alleged to be a native of Canada, and, therefore, ineligible to hold the office to which he had been elected. Continue reading A president’s origins

In praise of maiden aunts

Sally Leeds. Author’s collection

As most genealogists focus their in-depth research on direct ancestors, I have adopted the term “genealogical orphans” for persons with no living descendants to take an interest in researching them. While we usually document the births of all known children in a family, and sometimes their marriages and deaths, we less frequently go beyond the basics to learn about their lives. We have been encouraged to investigate family, associates, and neighbors (the “FAN club”), but often do so only in search of evidence to document a hard-to-prove family relationship. Yet I have found that these maiden aunts, bachelor uncles, and childless couples often have fascinating stories, and sometimes had profound impact on our ancestors. Continue reading In praise of maiden aunts

ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 April 2014.]

In December 1648, Lucy (Winthrop) Downing sent her nephew John2 Winthrop a letter full of family news: her husband, Emmanuel Downing, had been at the birth of John’s baby half-brother, Joshua, the week before, and “I belleeue our cosen Dorithe Simonds is nowe wonne and weded to Mr. Harrison the Virginia minister.” Sounding at once like a modern-day gossip and a character in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Downing also noted that her daughter Lucy would probably soon marry: she “was a little [while ago] goeinge to be maryed to Mr. Eyers sonne Thomas I meane, but he had not yet art enough to carye his [court]ship, so they turnd backe, and nowe wee are apon an earnest motion with Mr. William Norton. The man is verye fayer, but she hath not yet forgotten Mr. Eyers his fresh red [sic] but hath goten some obiections concer[n]inge Mr. Norton, which are nowe sent to be answeered by [William’s brother] Mr. Jhon Norton…”[1] Continue reading ICYMI: A New England love quadrangle

A problem in perspective

Culter Kirk. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle. Continue reading A problem in perspective

Finding Clifford

Clifford and Alta Dixon

We are often ‘best known’ by the mementos we leave behind. After we’ve passed, an old picture book, pocket knife, glass dish, or a diary may be all that’s left to provide any clue as to who we were in life, or what may have mattered to us. As years go by, and that old picture book gets torn apart, or Cousin Johnnie misplaces the pocket knife and Niece Mary gives the glass dish away at a bake sale, well, there often isn’t much ‘left’ of anyone or even anything left to tell. While we are all so much more than just the sum total of our possessions, it can be a harder story to tell once those pieces may have lost their meaning or become scattered. It’s even more difficult when there weren’t very many to start with. Continue reading Finding Clifford

The language of genealogy

Over the last few months, any number of Vita Brevis posts have pointed out the frustrations of relying on public trees and trying to sort through the “dross of Internet information” that does little but “cause trouble for everyone else.” Those who try very hard to get it right, who quibble over trifles and worry about the minor details are, it seems to me, in the best sense of the word, genealogical pettifoggers.[1]

Accuracy does matter. Chronology matters. Details matter. In fact, the tiniest detail can be the clue that turns a theory on its head or knocks down a brick wall. Details, however minor (and one can certainly make the argument that there are no minor details in genealogy), can also bring a story alive. Continue reading The language of genealogy

Looking for earlier marriages

When editing an article for the Mayflower Descendant, I try to look for references the author might have missed, which, in turn, can sometimes lead down a rabbit hole of further information only tangentially related to the article at hand. The following concerns an upcoming article in our Winter Issue by Rich Hall on the Mayflower ancestry of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. The article is quite interesting, as it adds an additional generation on Senator Duckworth’s lineage for which she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.[1] The Senator’s line has a number of generations of people marrying several times, with spouses who were also married several times. The following is one such example. Continue reading Looking for earlier marriages

‘Even birds want to be free’

This photograph shows Hiram Overton (ca. 1835-1911) and his wife, Evelyn Overton (1841-1917), my great-great-great-grandparents. We opened Black History Month at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology with a call to share personal stories highlighting our family connections to the African-American heritage we celebrate for these 28 days. I’m joining in the effort by sharing and honoring the story of Hiram and Evelyn Overton. Together they are the foundations of my maternal lineage, lovers of kin and country, survivors of slavery and institutional racism, keepers of the flame and inspiring #BlackEntrepreneurs. Continue reading ‘Even birds want to be free’

The family christening gown

Most families use a new christening gown with each baptism, each family, or each generation. My family used one gown from 1858 through at least 1990. I know because my mother made a list.

The gown was made by my mother’s mother’s father’s[1] mother Laura Matilda (Henshaw) Crane for his older brother, Charles, in 1857. It was then worn by my great-grandfather at his baptism in Bainbridge, Indiana, in 1858 – a ceremony at which his grandfather, Rev. Silas Axtell Crane, officiated – and by a younger brother, Clarence, in 1861. Continue reading The family christening gown

Mayors of Boston

With Boston mayor Marty Walsh expected to be confirmed as United States Secretary of Labor, our city will have a new acting mayor with our city council president Kim Janey, who will be the first female and African-American to serve in this position (acting or otherwise). This prompted me to look at her ancestry, as well as all mayors of Boston since the position was created in 1822. Boston counts 54 mayoral administrations between 46 men. (Six mayors served non-consecutive terms; this number includes five who served two terms. James Michael Curley served four non-consecutive terms, including a portion of his last term in prison.) Continue reading Mayors of Boston