Tag Archives: Family stories

2019: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about the first six months of 2019 as reflected through Vita Brevis posts. Herewith, the rest of 2019:

In July, Jan Doerr – whose family has long been settled in the area around Augusta, Maine – reflected on the uses of old business records:

I wanted to know how my late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century ancestors interacted with the people of the Fort Western Settlement every day, what they traded or bought from the Howard store, and why. I have no primary source material from those Fisher, Williams, or Read families, and only a few pieces from my side of the Coney family. Fortunately, other residents weren’t as reticent as my family (or as inclined to paste newspaper clippings over old account book pages!). Continue reading 2019: the year in review concluded

2019: the year in review

In January 2019, Vita Brevis marked its fifth anniversary with a series of posts, among them one on the blog “By the numbers.” After listing a number of statistics about the blog to that point, I made the following comments:

[But] Vita Brevis is more than the numbers, the percentages, the ongoing series. It is meant to educate; it is meant to entertain. Like P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, it aims to guide its readership – gently, with carrots, not sticks – to the right path, toward genealogical breakthroughs. How? By breaking down the thought processes that successful genealogists use to undertake fresh research, building upon previous work when assessing a new genealogical problem. Continue reading 2019: the year in review

The great “Billington Sea”

My ancestor Francis Billington is never mentioned by name in William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. Francis’s first name is given in Bradford’s list of the Mayflower passengers, and in Bradford’s subsequent notes on passengers’ fates written in 1650, Francis is only referred is as John’s second son.

I am reading the 1952 edition of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, with notes and an introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison. On page 79, concerning early relations with Native Americans, Morison notes that Mourt’s Relation provides more details, along with Morison’s own description of Francis Billington as Mayflower’s “bad boy.” Continue reading The great “Billington Sea”

Holiday spirits

Christmastime in Germany is magical. Winter is generally a cold, dark season, but for most of November, and all of December, it seems like every open square in large towns and cities all over the country is taken over by holiday spirits as the Weihnachtsmärkte and Christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets) are built. Wooden stalls go up, and decorations adorn the streets. At night, twinkle lights go on, braziers are lit, and the Glühwein starts flowing. In the absence of a national holiday in November, Germany and neighboring countries like the Netherlands and Austria devote the late fall and early winter exclusively to Christmas, building up to Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve. Continue reading Holiday spirits

Riot girls

The newest issue of American Ancestors magazine prominently features women: how to trace them, their accomplishments in the field of genealogy, and even their role “hiding in plain sight” with infants in early photographs. It seems appropriate, therefore, to share something surprising that I discovered this past summer about one of my great-great-grandmothers.

I have spent countless hours tracking down genealogical material in old newspapers, but in this case, exciting information was handed to me on a virtual silver platter through a hint on Ancestry.com. Continue reading Riot girls

Long settled

The Benjamin Lincoln House in Hingham.

Twenty or so years ago a lady who exuded friendliness came strolling along the Bathing Beach in Hingham where I have been a daily summer swimmer for the better part of thirty years. Back then, as one of several dozen regulars who called ourselves “Beach Bums,” we congregated at high tide to collectively share that little slice of sand and salt water, each enjoying it in our own way. With her folded towel tucked under her arm, the lady approached us, clearly ready for a swim, and introduced herself as Rosie. It wasn’t long before she was a beloved member of the group, a group that has now sadly dwindled. Rosie and I, and two or three others, are the last regulars. Continue reading Long settled

Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

Having been occupied with a project these last few months, not only have I been away from Vita Brevis for far too long, but I’ve allowed issues of the Weekly Genealogist to pile up in my in box. In truth, I do open them each week to add my vote to the survey, but until the other day I had not had the opportunity to read them start to finish. While each issue is always brimming with interesting things, I particularly enjoy the Stories of Interest. And so, as I binged on my backlog of six weeks, a story from October 2 about the town of Ashland, Massachusetts recovering its long lost Boston Post cane caught my eye. Continue reading Provincetown and the Boston Post canes

American inspiration

As a relatively new staff member at American Ancestors, I am on uncertain ground writing about the art of family history research.  I was schooled in and have worked many years in the literary and performing arts, at various times in book publishing, financial services, and journalism. For past employers, I’ve tracked and reacted to current trends and preferences, and culled business leaders’ insights on the financial markets and documented their current projects and projections. Most recently, I’ve pursued and presented today’s most sought-after authors and their books. Continue reading American inspiration

‘Of the dead, say nothing’

Herb Morse, ca. 1885

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum. Since learning this saying in high school Latin class – “Of the dead, say nothing unless good” – I have heeded it as good advice for writing family history. If anything, many past genealogists exaggerate the virtues of forebears they never knew. With Edwin Herbert Morse of Wareham, Massachusetts (1849–1923), known as Herb, my great-great-grandfather, I had the opposite problem: no one among family or acquaintances had much good to say about him. And so, for more than three decades, I have struggled with whether I should pass on how Herb was remembered. Of course, had he been recalled with great fondness, I would have written his story long before now. Continue reading ‘Of the dead, say nothing’

Leah

Marshyhope Creek. Courtesy of Zillow.com

(Author’s note: The following is an interpretive account of the life of Leah Ann Rickards (ca. 1836–1913), my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record’s sister. This account is presented in three parts, and is based on family papers and letters, along with vital and census records as available. These posts are my attempt at giving Leah a voice. Please forgive any historical inaccuracies, misrepresentations or presumptions, literary license, or otherwise.)

Leah Stack stood at the top of the stoop, gazing out toward the upper reaches of the Marshyhope.[1] Her husband had gone off with Mr. Lincoln’s Federals, and she came here most days awaiting his return.[2] But as with yesterday and each day before that, John Stack had not come home. Continue reading Leah