I grew up surrounded by my father’s family, but at something of a distance. Looking back on it, I trace my parents’ incuriosity about these relatives – generally described as “Oh, he’s a cousin … somehow” – to my grandfather’s self-protective stance when he married into the sprawling Ayer family: he focused on his own friends (and a handful of his relatives) while maintaining a cool remove from his in-laws. (The one exception was his wife’s uncle, General George S. Patton Jr., a near neighbor and a man it was hard to ignore.)
So it was something of a surprise one summer’s day, out sailing with my father and a friend, for my father to point out a house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as belonging to “our kooky cousin the Countess.” Even as a child, a keen reader of histories and romances, the word Countess – applied to a resident of Essex County, Massachusetts – piqued my interest; and I was still of an age where adult foibles (particularly those noticed by other grown-ups) were fascinating glimpses into adult life. Continue reading The better part of valor→
After working directly with physical collections in the library for more than twenty years, when we began telecommuting due to COVID-19 I could not even imagine how to do it from home or what work would be best to do. My position is with the Library Collection Services team, and some of my at-home work is indeed related to library collections, but my knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian has allowed me to be helpful to other areas of NEHGS as well. Occasionally over the years I have translated some records for genealogists, but now I do translation daily and work on several documents at once, such as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society documents for the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC), guides and brochures for the Education team and JHC, and descriptions of the art objects on display in our building – and more documents are on the way. Continue reading Translating from home→
In July 1385, King Richard II of England led an army on an ultimately unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. While the invasion itself would play a role in British history, it was a chance meeting – beginning on the battlefield – that resulted in one of the first known trials involving heraldic law. In the end, the case of Scrope v. Grosvenor would result in major changes in how heraldry was interpreted. Continue reading Scrope v. Grosvenor→
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 Plagues are personal→
My great-grandfather was born in Wisconsin in 1901, just about a year after his parents and older sisters immigrated from Norway. His father, a sailor who was once “honored by the King of Norway,” settled the family on the shores of Lake Michigan and began a long career with the U.S. Life Saving Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. Though this man, my great-great-grandfather Søren “Sam” Carlsen, died in 1955, long before I was born, he has always been a central figure in the family lore. His portrait is displayed proudly and prominently at my grandpa’s house, and many of my grandpa’s childhood stories feature “Grampa Carlsen” swooping in to save the day. Continue reading A walk in their footsteps→
In my last post (in a footnote), I gave a summary of presidents with Mayflower ancestry. Readers called attention to the fact that some of the presidents were grouped by descent from a male passenger, while in some of these groupings the male passenger’s wife was also a passenger. The footnote was meant to be brief, and referred to pages in Ancestors of American Presidents, which had more specific information (including all passengers, female and male, within a family from which each president descended).
While I was not specifically leaving out female passengers (other Mayflower passengers who were themselves children of named passengers were also omitted), the comments clearly spoke to the often “male-preferred” nature of how genealogies are frequently summarized, leaving out or minimizing female ancestors. Continue reading Patriarchs and matriarchs→
For the past year I’ve been focusing more on researching in old newspapers, and have had some amazing luck. Recently, newspapers led me to a collection of records that, while small, could be invaluable to anyone researching Irish ancestors who lived in Boston, Massachusetts.
My great-grandparents, J. Frank Doherty and Harriett Storen, were born in Montreal where they married and had three children. After the death of their oldest child in 1905, the family moved down to Boston where they had six more children, including my grandmother. Frank, who was a self-employed realtor, died suddenly in 1923 at age 47. By all accounts from my grandmother and her siblings, Frank’s death left the family really struggling, and all the children who were old enough to get jobs went to work to help support the family. The children ranged in age from 4 to 19 when he died. Continue reading Catholic Association of Foresters→
As one of the few remaining staff members from NEHGS Sesquicentennial in 1995, I thought I would share my memories as we celebrate the next quarter century. My journey at NEHGS began in 1986, as a high school student. I would make frequent visits to research my New England and Atlantic Canadian ancestry at 101 Newbury Street. An article about my research as a “Student Member” appeared in the NEHGS news magazine NEXUS (the acronym for New England Across the U.S.) in 1987. Later that year I would meet my future bride Anne-Marie and we both traveled into Boston to research together. Continue reading From the age of dial-up→
A few years ago, I stumbled on an amazing resource: the Zamrsk Regional Archive in the Czech Republic. This archive, which manages records from the region of Eastern Bohemia, has been working on digitizing all of the church register books in its collection and making them available for free through their website. All you need to use them is a little patience and a lot of free storage space on your computer. Continue reading Bohemian church registers online→
We are not far removed from a time when parents, as a matter of course, endured the loss of one or more of their children. In fact, each of my grandparents had a sibling who died in infancy or early childhood. Some years ago, as part of a field study in a local cemetery, one of my students, obviously struck by the number of children’s graves, asked me: “Do you think parents back then just didn’t get attached to their children because they knew some of them would die?” My answer to this question has deepened over the years as I have listened to family stories and discerned poignant signs of remembrance. Continue reading Childhood mortality→