Tag Archives: Family stories

Fire and ice

The fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Photo by Arnold Genthe, courtesy of the Library of Congress

After my parents were married, my maternal grandmother[1] gave my mother a dowry of a kind, one suited to her new life in New England: the gift of Boston cousins. My mother’s family was both Southern in background and, given my grandfather’s service in the Navy, coastal by experience, so the notion that my mother had Glidden cousins in Boston appealed to her. As it happens, other than her grandmother’s family in Baltimore, the sprawling Glidden family (originally from Maine) makes up the largest part of my mother’s near kin. Continue reading Fire and ice

The silver lining

Positive graffiti adorns the protective plywood at our 97 Newbury Street building.

We are well into our fourth month of isolation here in Boston in order to fight back against the Covid-19 virus. During this time, I think it’s fair to say people have been experiencing many emotions, most of them negative—fear, grief, hopelessness, anxiety, doubt, outrage, exhaustion, anger, sadness, stress, loneliness… I have felt these things myself, but there have been several instances when I was reminded that, even in extremely difficult situations, there can be moments of positivity.

The first person I heard use the term “silver lining” was my boss, Executive Vice President and COO Ryan Woods, someone I consider a wise and level-headed person. He said that, although the pandemic forced him to be at home while doing the difficult job of navigating our organization through an unprecedented crisis, he was happy to be able to spend so much time with his wife, young child, and new baby—an opportunity that he never would have had otherwise. Continue reading The silver lining

Playing Pilgrims

For me and my friends growing up on Cape Cod, the story of the Mayflower voyage took on a mythical quality. It felt significant to us to be walking the land that the Pilgrims saw after that long and perilous voyage. Our frequent field trips to Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II provided fuel for our imaginations, and through the long New England winters we played Pilgrim in our houses. My mother let us empty out a large closet, and my friends and I would gather some blankets and toys and munch on stale bread in the dark, pretending we were in cramped quarters on the Mayflower with our children. In the summer we gathered wildflowers for our forest fort – our version of a Plimoth Plantation cottage. I had no ancestral connection to the Mayflower, but I was drawn to the idea of a seafaring adventure and of reinventing oneself in a new land. Continue reading Playing Pilgrims

Ten years of JHC

As the commemorations continue for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival and the 175th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), I also want to acknowledge and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) in 2020.

Formerly known as the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archive, the JHC and NEHGS launched a collaboration in 2010 to enhance Jewish historical and genealogical research and the continued collection and preservation of Jewish history. Five years later, the collaboration was further strengthened when JHC’s archives became permanently deposited at NEHGS. In 2018, the center was named for Justin and Genevieve Wyner in recognition of their longstanding support and advocacy. Continue reading Ten years of JHC

South Carolina leaders

Montage created in 1876 showing the “Radical Members” of the South Carolina Legislature. (Click on images to expand them.) Courtesy of facinghistory.org

I recently watched comedian Dave Chappelle’s powerful Netflix special 8:46, remarking on the death of George Floyd and several other recent events. During the performance, Chappelle mentioned that President Woodrow Wilson received a delegation of African Americans from South Carolina after a black man was lynched in that state. This delegation was led by the comedian’s great-grandfather, William David Chappelle (1857-1925), born enslaved, the 37th Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dave Chappelle also mentioned this ancestor’s wife was the woman Dave’s father called out to on his deathbed, and how that memory reminded him of when George Floyd called out to his mother knowing his death was imminent.

I had worked on the genealogy of Dave Chappelle over a decade ago, and biographies of Bishop William David Chappelle appear in Who Was Who and Who’s Who in the Colored Race. Continue reading South Carolina leaders

Phantom faces

On a glorious late spring afternoon, just days before the solstice and the return of summer, I should have been jostling with the crowds on my visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I should have been standing on the hot pavement waiting my turn to see the sanctuary of the beautifully restored First Parish Church in Town Square. Should have been in a long line snaking its way to the pavilion to get a glimpse of Plymouth Rock, after which I should have been climbing the hill for a tour of the eighteenth-century Edward Winslow House, built by the great-grandson of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, and now the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. I should have been among the throngs visiting the humble thatched homesteads of the Pilgrims at the recreated Plimoth Plantation, watching them cultivate their gardens and listening to them recount stories of their first years in the New World. Continue reading Phantom faces

First person singular

Henry Coffin (1807-1900)

Well, for what looked like it was going to be an awesome year … even in Roman numerals (MMXX) … 2020 is set to go down in history as one of the most trying ever! When so much of what we typically learn about history is painted by textbooks in wide, sweeping gestures, it can be illuminating to read the granular experiences of individuals. I’ve seen several small museums publishing requests for their patrons to keep diaries now, and sharing items online from their collections illustrating the importance of first-person history. In this spirit, I thought I would share a few accounts written by my own ancestors who lived through momentous events. Continue reading First person singular

Some Back Bay houses

121-129 Commonwealth Avenue, ca. 1875, viewed from the steeple of the Brattle Street Church. (The house into which the family moved in 1922 was just around the corner on Dartmouth Street.) Courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

When my grandmother[1] was a girl, she could walk down the front steps of her parents’ house in Boston and along Commonwealth Avenue into the houses of her paternal grandparents and her father’s sisters nearby. Using the Back Bay Houses database, I can trace the staggered arrivals of her father’s family in Boston; in the process, I find I’m encountering a number of family and contemporary friends.

My great-grandfather[2] seems to have been the first member of the Ayer family to move to Boston, soon after his graduation from Harvard in 1887. Next came his father (my great-great-grandfather) and stepmother, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Ayer of Lowell,[3] who rented 232 Beacon Street in 1899-1900[4] while building their new house at 395 Commonwealth Avenue.[5] The family[6] was occupying the house by the end of 1900, although it appears that work continued for sometime thereafter. Continue reading Some Back Bay houses

A genealogy of churches

Courtesy of findagrave

My recent post about distant Child cousins living in the Boston area who were early members of NEHGS reminded me of another genealogical (and geographical) connection. Near my home in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, there is a very small cemetery—known as the Walter Street Burying Ground—within the Arnold Arboretum (leased from the City of Boston and maintained by Harvard University) that only has ten stones standing. Frequently friends and colleagues who notice these graves will see the “twin stone” at left, of Benjamin and Grace Child, and ask me if there is any relation. Why, yes, there is!

Continue reading A genealogy of churches

Remember the Mavericks

Boston Massacre, engraving with watercolor by Paul Revere, 1770. Both photos courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Later this year, I will be giving a talk as part of Salem Ancestry Days in Salem, Massachusetts, entitled “Remember, Remember: Exploring Salem’s Mayflower Connections.” While Salem was only 80 miles north of Plymouth, the two early settlements had very little interaction. Still, there were at least four Mayflower families with a connection to Salem:

    • Richard More, Mayflower passenger and resident of Salem as early at 1637; he died in Salem in the 1690s;
  • Remember Allerton, Mayflower passenger and member of the Salem church in 1637 with her husband Moses Maverick; Remember’s father Isaac Allerton (Mayflower passenger) joined the church in 1647;
  • Elizabeth Turner, daughter of Mayflower passenger John Turner, was living in Salem by 1651;
  • Benjamin Vermayes (later the son-in-law of Mayflower passenger William Bradford) joined the Salem church in 1642.[1]

Continue reading Remember the Mavericks