Tag Archives: Family stories

‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

“I might understand if only you wouldn’t explain.”[1]

The contours of this year’s two hundredth anniversary of Maine’s statehood have been undeniably unexpected. Most anniversary celebrations here were cancelled or postponed, leaving most Mainers “celebrating” from the comfort of their homes. I began to think about the convergence of ancestral factors in my family history, Spanish Flu and Covid-19 aside.

My cousin Asa Williams, the builder of Our Old House, came to Maine about the same time and from a nearby Massachusetts town as my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read, with their wives (who were third cousins and stepsisters), settling at the Fort Western Settlement, the area’s trading post, bank, and social venue, the center of the tiny community’s daily life. Continue reading ‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

The devil’s Mr. Gideon

Torphichen Preceptory, where Henry Livingston was preceptor in 1449. Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America.[1] His volume on the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, in introducing the Scottish ancestry of the American immigrants, glides right by the siblings of “Worthy famous Mr. John Livingston” – father and grandfather of two Robert Livingstons – remarking that John was the “only child [of his parents] we need take any notice of.”[2]

Brave words! As it happens, though, a series of biographical volumes on Scottish ministers fills in the names of the children of the Rev. William Livingston and two of his three wives, and in the biographies of the ministers who married John Livingston’s sisters there are indeed stories on which to linger.[3] John Livingston’s sister Anna married the Rev. Thomas Vassie (or Wassie), later of Torphichen, in 1627; their half-sister, Jean, married the Rev. Gideon Penman, a widower, in 1651.[4] Both the Vassies and the Penmans figure in questions of witchcraft – even as the three brother ministers were involved in the religious and political ferment of the period. Continue reading The devil’s Mr. Gideon

None too delicate

Tomb of the 5th Earl of Douglas in St. Bride’s Church, Douglas, Lanarkshire. Courtesy of Lori Huey Hebert/Findagrave

The executions of the Earl of Douglas,[1] his brother David Douglas, and Sir Malcolm Fleming[2] for treason in November 1440 mark an important moment in the early reign of King James II.[3] A boy of ten under a regency – the Douglases’ father,[4] who died in 1439, was James’s first regent; the king’s guardian in 1440 was Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar – James II was already sadly familiar with unrest among the Scottish nobility, and the execution of his Douglas second cousins and their advisor Fleming of Cumbernauld was by no means the last such event in his short reign. The fall of the Douglases, following the events leading up to Livingston becoming the de facto regent, set the stage for the Livingston family’s own spectacular downfall in 1449-50, although Sir Alexander and his elder son James would survive the worst of it. Continue reading None too delicate

‘Discredited descendants’

Recently a colleague was interviewed for a UK radio show concerning his Mayflower ancestor Governor William Bradford and noticed an entry on a Wikipedia page regarding William Bradford’s descendants. I have long been aware of Hugh Hefner’s Mayflower line, as this has been mentioned in most of his biographies, and he even named his youngest child Cooper Bradford Hefner. Gary Boyd Roberts included the line (see below) in his recent publication, The Mayflower 500. Looking at the line over the years, I have never seen anything wrong with it. Continue reading ‘Discredited descendants’

ICYMI: Four hundred years local

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2020.]

Plymouth Harbor at dusk

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading ICYMI: Four hundred years local

‘Ye olde pandemic life’

My old Scottish home?

Now that a few of our shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, my wife Nancy and I have started to get back to the more ‘normal’ side of life. I have to admit, it’s been pretty nice not having to treat toilet paper like some new form of currency, and truly heartwarming to only Zoom with the grandkids for fun. Indeed, the pandemic life has reminded me of what’s most precious in life, i.e., family. Interestingly enough though, it’s also played an important part in helping me to find out just who I am – at least in ancestral terms. Yes, ye olde pandemic life has also taught me a thing or two outside of ‘the norm.’ And along with its implied “six degrees of separation,”[1] this period has reminded me about some ancestral ties I scarcely knew I had. Continue reading ‘Ye olde pandemic life’

ICYMI: Plagues are personal

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 28 April 2020.]

Baptismal record for Laers, son of Truels Laersen, living at Bruk 4 of Broe, from the Kirkebok for Rennesøy Palm Sunday 24 March 1771.

While I was researching and writing “The Early Years” segment of the book I have been writing about my great-great-great-grandfather Nils Trulsen Bru, I needed to look at his family of origin. What could be learned about his parents and siblings which might shed light on the course his life followed?

I had previously recorded data about his parents and the names and dates for his sister Malena and for two brothers, both named Lars. I knew that the first “Lars” died as a baby and that it was fairly common practice in those days to name a later child after one which had been lost. In fairness, I had never paid much attention to the death of the older Lars, who was baptized 24 March 1771 and buried later that year (on 10 November). Continue reading ICYMI: Plagues are personal

The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part Two

Governor Joseph Wanton (1705-1780), by an unknown artist.

For much of the eighteenth century, the political landscape of Rhode Island was shaped by a single family. Between 1732 and 1775, four descendants of Edward Wanton served as the governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and another would act as deputy governor. The run of Wantons serving as the chief executive of the colony began when two of Edward’s sons, William and John, served consecutive tenures between 1732 and 1740; it came to an end when William’s son, Joseph, was removed from office at the start of the Revolutionary War after he opposed the formation of an army out of loyalty to the crown. While there have been many fathers, sons, and brothers who have held the same office at different times throughout American history, the story of the Wanton family is interesting for the number of individuals connected to the family who held prominent positions.

Gideon Wanton (1693-1767)

Five years after the death of his uncle, Governor John Wanton (1672-1740), Gideon Wanton became the next member of his illustrious family to serve in the same position. Continue reading The Wantons of Rhode Island, Part Two

Near neighbors

Small world. All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of backbayhouses.org

My grandfather[1] came from New York, and when I was growing up it was understood that the Stewards were from New York and the Ayers (my grandmother’s family) were from Boston. A little digging suggests a more complicated picture – my grandfather’s mother-in-law[2] came from Newark, and his maternal grandmother[3] had only New England ancestry – while there is also an interesting collateral connection, somewhat obscure to later generations of the family. Continue reading Near neighbors

A family of strong women

Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, circa 1910. Used with permission from the Durand Family Archives
This month marks one hundred years since passage of the United States Constitution’s Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote across the country. Some of my female ancestors[1] were able to vote many years earlier, however, including my great-great-grandmother, Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, whom I wrote about late last year. Recently a fellow descendant sent me scans of scrapbook pages and family photos, which imparted more interesting details about this indomitable ancestress.

I already knew that Aurelia was a strong woman. She gave birth to her second daughter while traveling by wagon train from Hopkins County, Texas, to Southern California. According to the recently shared newspaper clippings, she usually drove the wagon’s team while her husband attended to other duties … but I guess even she had to take a break from that during the baby’s delivery!

Around the time of my great-grandmother’s birth in March 1878, Aurelia and John Thomas Bottoms divorced. Continue reading A family of strong women