Tag Archives: Family stories

A different path

William Henry Rhodes, photographed in 1911.

More than fifty years ago, when I first saw the musical Oliver!, I could not have imagined the discovery of an ancestor living in a Victorian-era workhouse in England. Robert Rhodes, my great-great-great-grandfather, died of “old age” on 23 May 1873 aged 78 at the Newton Abbot Union Workhouse. The same day, Robert’s grandson William Henry Rhodes (1854–1941) embarked on a journey that took him to the United States. Juxtaposing these events clearly demarcates two different life stories and the events that set them in motion.

Robert Rhodes’s entry as a pauper in the 1871 England Census provides a snapshot of life in this institution, a place of last resort where he was counted among 306 inmates, slightly more men than women, ranging in age from 4 to more than 80. Continue reading A different path

“Cousins by affection”

Umbrellas hanging over a street in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. Author’s photo

First, I have to give my mother full credit for coining the term “cousins by affection.” The definition is: non-relatives in your life who are a part of your family.

For my family, we have four different families we consider cousins by affection. They are more than just friends—they are family, even though they are not blood-related. I even call some members of those families “aunt,” “uncle,” “my second mother,” etc. Continue reading “Cousins by affection”

Good neighbors

The Pacific Bank on Nantucket’s Main Street. The entrance to the cashier’s dwelling was accessed through the door with fan-light, at left, and the building as originally constructed ended at the downspout one window down from that door.

Two years ago, I described several gifts that Genealogy Santa had brought me for Christmas. In that post, I hinted at a forthcoming, very juicy story about a family member, but I have failed to follow through thus far. Then a few weeks ago, Jeff Record virtually threw down the gauntlet in search of family bank robbers … and tagged me in his post to boot! Challenge accepted.

First, a little backstory. Continue reading Good neighbors

Super Bowl surprise

Courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

Sometimes my Vita Brevis posts take time to develop. I started this post last year after the then-recent Super Bowl victory of the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers, prompting me to look at the ancestry of the team’s quarterback and the game’s MVP, Patrick Mahomes. With Mahomes and his team heading to the Super Bowl again this year, I finally decided to complete this post. Continue reading Super Bowl surprise

Daniel Axtell, the regicide

One of my ancestors was named Daniel Axtell. Until recently, I understood that he was Daniel Axtell the regicide. A regicide is one who kills a monarch; in this context, the regicides were the 59 judges who signed the death warrant for the execution of King Charles I in 1649, and those who supported them.[1] They were able to enjoy the next eleven years in peace under Cromwell and the Commonwealth, but much to their chagrin in 1660 the king’s son, King Charles II, was restored to the throne. Many people who had been involved in the civil war against King Charles I were granted amnesty, but not everyone – 104 men were specifically excluded from reprieve. Twenty-four of these, including Cromwell, had already died, but their remains were dug up, hanged and beheaded, and, well, had lots of nasty stuff done to them. Continue reading Daniel Axtell, the regicide

Into the ether

Ether Day by Robert C. Hinckley. Courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University

Back in 2018, when I had the good fortune to be added to the Vita Brevis family of writers, one of my first posts was about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and the seven-year journey I had taken to learn about this man who had, we were always told, grown up an orphan.

Because I was starting with nothing more than my grandfather’s death certificate (which, fortunately, included his birthplace and parents’ names), I knew that my research would likely be a journey of discovery and, indeed, there were many revelations. Continue reading Into the ether

Research strategies for 2021

E. H. Glidden’s Wendell Mansions in Washington, D.C.

A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?

As the editor at Vita Brevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading Research strategies for 2021

Parallel Patricks

Three generations, 1937: Patrick Dwyer, grandson Francis Dwyer (my father), son Michael F. Dwyer. My grandmother captioned this one “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

My father’s Irish-born grandfathers, Patrick Dwyer of Newport, Rhode Island, and Patrick Cassidy of Fall River, Massachusetts, had much in common besides their first names. They left behind parents, emigrated in their early twenties, arrived in New York within a year of one another, quickly became United States citizens, joined fraternal organizations, and purchased homes. Their exact birthdates are approximated because although baptismal records have been found for other siblings, records for the two Patricks fall in the gaps of Catholic registers. And in another coincidence, they were married by brother Roman Catholic priests, Thomas and Philip Grace.[1]

Patrick Cassidy, ca. 1885

Paternal grandfather Patrick Martin [middle name added later] Dwyer (ca. 1862–1945), a native of Dreenauliff, County Kerry, had a lifetime job as a blacksmith with the New England Steamship Company in Newport. Past 80, he died from injuries sustained from crossing a busy street without looking. By contrast, maternal grandfather Patrick Cassidy (ca. 1862–1891), a native of Cloonierin, County Mayo, dead at 29, supports the chilling statistic that about one-fifth of Irishmen died in their prime, usually from work-related accidents. Continue reading Parallel Patricks

Not a gangster in the bunch

Recently, I wrote about the search for my great-great-great-aunt Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox, and the rewards and pitfalls of what I like to call those Delayed Messages from “beyond.” While I was happy to put the mystery of Minnie to rest (and to collaborate with my new almost-a cousin-in-law Tom), the rest of my family didn’t seem all that enthused to learn the tale and final resting place of Aunt Minnie.[1] Heck, even my clan’s most ardent family history aficionados seemed numb to the small cache of findings about Minnie. The only thing I can say here is that I’m hopeful that their nonchalance about Minnie was just in deference to (and disapproval of) her curmudgeon of a husband, Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox. My great-great-great-uncle Billy probably should have been a 1920s-style “poster husband” for spousal abuse. This isn’t to say that I didn’t hear from “da folks” with regard to Tom’s and my discoveries about Minnie (or Billy). Only to say that by and large I heard from those polite branches, and they for the most part, are distant from ye olde trunk. Continue reading Not a gangster in the bunch

Evaluating DNA matches: Part One

Last November, I participated in an online panel discussion – Discussing DNA: Finding Unexpected Results – with authors Libby Copeland and Bill Griffeth, talking about some of the ramifications of genetic surprises that have come about from commercial DNA testing. I probably learn about these more than others, given my profession, and my own family is no exception.[1] However, your autosomal DNA matches also have the ability to find genealogical connections when someone’s recent family history has been lost, perhaps owing to family members dying young and later generations not learning of certain details to help find their ancestors in available records. These tests can sometimes be a time-saving genealogical shortcut in such cases. Continue reading Evaluating DNA matches: Part One