Over the holidays, my boyfriend’s father and I delved into his family’s genealogy. John has a rich treasure trove of family documents that have been scanned, including an 1885 narrative of the life of Stephen Thomas Acres, his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I immediately fell in love with Acres’ florid writing style, and his family story traces an interesting pattern of migration from Ireland to Spain to Gibraltar to Iowa. He begins thusly, “Deeming it my duty to place on record, such incidents of my being as will enable my children to know their lineage and descent, and in accordance with their desire so expressed, I now proceed without ostentation, and in the fear of God, to discharge that duty as truthfully as my memory and my own knowledge will enable me to do so.” Continue reading ‘Our new Eden’
“As the flood itself has receded in Boston’s collective memory, so, too, have the players in this tragedy” – Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide
As genealogists, we build relationships with the dead. We see them in our minds as we peel back the layers of their lives. We absorb details about the environments where they lived and worked, and whether or not they had any time to play. Sometimes researching is like looking for a needle in a haystack; other times it’s like picking wildflowers in a field. When we have enough evidence, we write the stories of people we never knew. Continue reading Collective memory
When people ask me which DNA test I recommend, I turn around and ask them some questions. If what they are after is taking is an “autosomal DNA test,” I may tell them different reasons to take a test with Ancestry or 23andme (and then usually recommend they also upload their Raw DNA onto GEDMatch, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage to connect with more matches). While I have had many examples of successful connections with the first four sites, I had not any significant breakthroughs with MyHeritage until very recently. Continue reading A family thicket
One of my sons discovered last month that we had an opportunity to view Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary constructed from World War I motion picture footage owned by the Imperial War Museum in London. The movie was shown on only two dates in December, but apparently will be released more generally beginning in January, so all is not lost if you missed seeing it.
The film’s premise is to restore the humanity of men who, up until this time, have been caught in a silent world of flickering black-and-white images. Modern digital techniques allowed Jackson’s crew to rebalance the density/lighting and speed of the film, and – in some footage – to add realistic color. Continue reading ‘They shall not grow old’
In May of 2017 I had the privilege of visiting Italy with my siblings and parents. It was the first time we had all visited Italy together, and we had a full itinerary. Yet as delightful as Rome and Amalfi are, particularly for anyone who loves history, I was most thrilled (unsurprisingly) by our road trips to the countryside, where we visited our ancestral towns.
I could write ad nauseam about the experience – about the unparalleled hospitality of distant cousins and family friends; the bottomless jugs of homemade wine and never-ending courses of local dishes; the ancient, gnarled olive trees and cobblestone streets that glow and delight the eye in the evening sunset. And for the genealogist, there is a distinct benefit to walking in the footsteps of your ancestors – nearly every road will lead to the town hall, where decades, sometime centuries, of vital records sit at your fingertips. Exploring the details of these original records, rather than extracts, certified copies, or indexes, is the subject of this post. Continue reading It’s all in the details
As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.
Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:
A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review
When Isaac Gordon and his two younger brothers – Aron and one whose name is unknown – left their village in Poland and fled from the Nazis into the woods, it must have felt like stepping into another world. Polish resistance to the Nazis was fierce during World War II, and the dense Polish forests would be the training grounds, staging areas, and headquarters for all types of partisan groups and underground fighters. Isaac, a cattle-dealer in his early thirties from Vilna (Vilnius), could hardly have felt prepared for the type of life that he and his brothers would be embarking upon when they joined the resistance movement. Continue reading Notes from the underground
In response to my query, an eminent genealogy colleague once advised me that there is little point in publishing information on families with no living descendants. My example here, I hope, counters that point. Tracing the provenance of an inherited mantle clock led me to the Philip O’Dwyre family of Willimantic, Connecticut.
Born in Kilchrohane Parish, County Kerry, Ireland about two hundred years ago, Philip O’Dwyre, a true Famine refugee, fled his homeland in 1851. Leaving his infant son Philip and pregnant wife Julia in Ireland, he established a foothold in Willimantic before sending for his family. Philip kept a job working for the railroad and became, as Philip “Daware,” an American citizen in 1856. Willimantic censuses and baptismal and marriage registers from St. Joseph’s Church document the remaining eight children born to the couple. Philip bought several tenements on Valley Street, and the neighborhood became a mecca for other Kerry immigrants. Continue reading An ‘extinct’ family
I am not sure why my family decided to elect me – maybe because I majored in History? – but I am the “family archivist.” What does that entail exactly? I have the responsibility to decide what is kept and what is thrown away in the box of family photographs, letters, and journals. I organize this material in a way that makes the most sense to me, so future generations of the Cann family can look at them and understand their history. Continue reading The family archivist
Sometime in 2014 in eastern Finland, Toivo “Topi” Pränny was researching his great-great-grandfather, Juho Matalamäki. As a boy, Topi lived in what was once Juho’s house and had heard many stories about him, passed down from his grandmother, Lempi (Saksa) Riihimäki. Googling Juho’s name, Topi saw a photo he had never before seen, showing a white-haired man with a straggly beard sitting on his front stoop, wearing traditional boots called lapikkaat. The photo accompanied an English-language article by someone searching her Finnish roots.
Juho was my great-grandfather, and I am the author of that article, which appeared in American Ancestors magazine in 2013. Continue reading Finding Lempi’s ring