[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 4 June 2020.]
“Goodbye Helsinki,” Anni Virta wrote in July 1960, “our trip to the west has started and the point of the dream has become a reality.” Anni was a cousin by marriage. An English translation of her diary came to me recently through a serendipitous connection.
Anni’s nephew, Antti Virta of Helsinki, had written to the daughter of one of my cousins, making the connection via WikiTree, asking for information about his aunt Mary Rajasilta, wife of my mother’s brother, George Isaacson. Busy with an ailing mother, my cousin’s daughter bounced Antti’s request to me. I looked up some information about Aunt Mary in American records for Antti. And there began a pleasant correspondence. Continue reading ICYMI: Icing on the cake→
A few weeks ago, after presenting a talk (“Adventures in DNA”) at the Shrewsbury (Vermont) Community Meeting House for the Ann Story Chapter of the Vermont DAR, I stopped in the kitchen and asked longtime acquaintance and former regent Julanne Sharrow for a drink of water.
She asked, “Do you think DNA results can really knock down brick walls?”
Robert Gould “Bob” Shaw, a longtime staff member at NEHGS, passed away last month at the age of 82. Bob had worked in several positions at NEHGS, including associate editor of our magazine NEXUS, assistant editor of our magazines New England Ancestors and American Ancestors, and for many years as archives assistant in the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. Bob was also interested in his own genealogy; an amusing anecdote arose when a member asked what Shaw family he descended from, and Bob replied “the right one.” Continue reading Remembering Robert Gould Shaw (all of them)→
Sometimes Real Truth jumps out from the first line of a Vita Brevis post and slaps me with a “duh” moment, although I think “wander” might be a slight understatement suggesting a lack of speed or single tracks. My mind has been wandering through some of the family stories as I try to decide how best to preserve them, lacking any hope of documentation as proof. Such stories have a habit of becoming altered, embellished, or denied by those who weren’t present at the first instance as they are passed through multiple generations. Lacking any audio recordings of my family storytellers, I’ve decided to write down as many as I can as I’ve heard them or experienced them to create an “oral” history in print. I could record myself telling them, but I believe, even in this digital age, that paper will last longer than the current technology. (Carving in stone might last longer, but that’s far beyond my ambitions.) I began my wandering through stories and random titles: Continue reading Wanderings→
After my son was born, I developed an interest in finding out more about his father’s surname, Sadler. Not much was known about the origins of the Sadler line, since my boyfriend and his siblings did not grow up knowing their father. From time to time I would get asked to explore this family line. At some point, there was even a tale that perhaps the Sadlers were related to James Thomas Sadler, of Whitechapel district in the east end of London, who was accused of being the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper! Continue reading Family lore→
I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha. She’s my best friend of sorts, both before and after there was ever anything of me to call a life of my own. She certainly knows me very well, or at least half of everything, anyway. Thinking about it, I can’t say as she hasn’t heard all of my innermost thoughts and confessions. And while I don’t always heed her counsel or advice, I always feel it in my bones. Hers is a great concern for my well-being and survival. Truth be told, Martha is in the deepest recesses of my ancestry. Oh, she can be a bit shy and defiant, and it’s true that she often thinks she’s a lot funnier than she actually is. Yes, I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha, and just what Martha means to me. Continue reading Introducing Martha→
The slides my father took on my First Communion Sunday, 15 May 1966, in Fall River, Massachusetts, serve as a colorful time capsule of a bygone era. Sacred Heart Church, now closed, once covered the largest geographical parish in the center of the city. On that morning, more than 60 children, girls in white and boys in black, having fasted for twelve hours in preparation for communion, processed into church with disciplined precision. We returned to church in the afternoon to receive scapulars, prayer books, and rosaries, and then processed out of the church east along Pine Street for the May crowning. Continue reading A fresh look at Linden Street→
To keep the momentum going on middle names amongst presidential families, I’ll discuss one of the more confusing cases, regarding President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885). The contemporary reporting on his actual name varied considerably and gets repeated even amongst organizations that should have had a more direct relationship with Grant or his descendants.
This past couple of weeks a lot of the old ghosts have decided to haunt me. Just when I think I’ve got them all figured out (especially a significant one like that of my paternal great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record), a surprise comes along to teach me that I still have much to learn. Now, I’ve studied John Henry’s ancestry until I’m blue in the face. I’ve looked at journals and notes handed down from his daughter Grace to her daughter Barbara. I’ve studied Civil War era pension files and been privy to deathbed letters from his mother Susanna to his brother George. But a few weeks ago, something very rare and unexpected showed upending most of what I thought possible to know or discover about my Record family. I happened to stumble upon Maggie. Continue reading Picturing Maggie→
Soon after my recent post on the fictional middle name of Theodore Roosevelt’s brother Elliott was published, I was pleasantly surprised to see his fake middle name starting to go away, and I learned of a few other places where that the error had been repeated, most of which were also being corrected.