Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Four hundred years local

Plymouth Harbor at dusk.

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading Four hundred years local

The start of something big

Boston in 1846. Courtesy of the Harvard University Library

When the five founders of the New England Historic Genealogical Society met in January 1845 for the first meeting of the board of their new society, life in the city outside their windows was on the precipice of colossal change.

As Charles Ewer and his cohort were establishing NEHGS 175 years ago, Boston was a city on the rise. Already a celebrated international trade port, Boston saw an economic boom in the 1840s as it welcomed a busy new network of railroads and thoroughfares which further accelerated industry and commerce in the area. By 1845 Boston was one of the largest and wealthiest manufacturing cities in the country, and still growing at a swift rate. Continue reading The start of something big

Christmas for the horses

Photos courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The other night I tuned into one of my favorite programs, the always interesting and informative American Experience. I’ve been a devotee for most of the 30 years that the series has been produced. Taken as a whole, the series reminds me of one of those exquisite, perfectly-put-together album quilts of yesteryear, made by many hands, each block of eye-catching fabric elaborately designed, intricately sewn, and an expression and remembrance of the world as it was. Continue reading Christmas for the horses

Top 10 published resources

In August I had the pleasure of conducting a webinar entitled “Top 10 Published Resources for Early New England Research.” Given the tremendous genealogical interest in this time period and for this geographic area, I thought Vita Brevis readers might enjoy a series of posts based on the content of the webinar.

This first post on the topic addresses the criteria for being considered a top resource and includes a synopsis of one of the “Top 10s” on our list. Future posts will include the other publications on the “Top 10” list and conclude with an Honorable Mention list. Continue reading Top 10 published resources

Understanding Leaf Hints

Franklin Pierce (1804–1869).

A leaf hint on Ancestry can often lead one to additional records of the person you are researching. Other times, it might lead to interesting “near” matches, while occasionally it may lead you down an entertaining, but wild goose chase of a false match. This is one such recent example. Continue reading Understanding Leaf Hints

Remembering Alma Rhodes and a Haunting Family Tragedy

Alma Rhodes, age 11 in 1934, sitting with her grandfather, William H. Rhodes, age 80.

The last of grandmother’s first cousins, Alma Rhodes of Westerly, Rhode Island, died on 4 August 2019 at the age of 96. She belonged to that increasingly rare group of individuals who lived in the house where she was born well into her nineties and worked for the same bank (albeit with multiple mergers) for 49 years.

She was a portal to the early world of my grandmother, née Lois Rhodes, and passed along family letters and stories to me, thereby giving me a perspective that never could have come from public records alone. Alma visited her grandfather, William Henry Rhodes (1854–1941), almost every day and listened to his reminiscences, preserving them for another generation.

 

Alma was a portal to the early world
of my grandmother.

Continue reading Remembering Alma Rhodes and a Haunting Family Tragedy

Lost Towns of the Quabbin

Atkinson’s Hollow, ca. 1910, Prescott, Mass.

If you live in the Greater Metropolitan area of Boston, your water travels a long way to get to your tap. And your palate thanks you! Boston water has a reputation for being straight from the spigot drinkable. Its origin is located 70 miles west of the city in a fresh water source known as the Quabbin.

The controversial Quabbin Reservoir project was roughly a 40-year effort, spanning from the 1890s to the near mid-century. The construction phase occupied the darkest years of the Great Depression. Continue reading Lost Towns of the Quabbin

A Tale of Two Parades

Anders Norander, ca. 1902.

For many of us, Labor Day is synonymous with the last celebration of summer—a time for cookouts, sporting events, and a final day off before the school year begins and autumn arrives. The very existence of the federal holiday (established in 1894) reflects the successes of America’s labor movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Labor federations such as the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, were founded in the 1860s to champion the common interests of America’s workforce: better wages, a regulated work week, safe working conditions, and restrictions on child labor. These organizations, however, did not always present a united front—something that was evident in Boston at the turn of the twentieth century and a truth that became personal when researching my great-great grandfather Anders Gustavus Norander. Continue reading A Tale of Two Parades

Richard Mitchell & Co.

The grave of Richard Mitchell Sr. in Nantucket’s Prospect Hill Cemetery, draped with his company’s house flag.

One of the many benefits of pursuing genealogy is the chance to meet long-lost family members. In addition to the possibility of finding old photographs, documents, and family stories through them, the acquaintance itself can be a blessing. This past month, Oregon became the final state in “the lower forty-eight” that my fifth cousin once removed visited, and I was excited to host him and his wife for a couple of days.

My husband and I first met Cousin Dick last September when he led a tower climb at Washington National Cathedral. Once the climb was over, Dick pointed out a few details in the cathedral connected to our shared family legacy on Nantucket, and I was able to give him a Richard Mitchell & Co. flag, which I’d recreated from old paintings. You see, Dick is the sixth man in a row[1] to be named Richard Mitchell, so it only seemed right that he should be able to fly the old “house flag.” In days of yore, each whaling ship flew a flag identifying the house (company) it belonged to, as well as a unique flag identifying the ship by name. Continue reading Richard Mitchell & Co.

Following the Paper Trail: Southern New England

Following the Paper Trail
Ann Cestor at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Sometimes we need to follow, quite literally, the paper trail when we want to learn more about a particular family group. Even in this digital age, not everything can be accessed from a computer. Perhaps the key to the story can be found in manuscripts kept safe in historical societies, archives, and libraries. This new series of blog posts—Following the Paper Trail—will provide guides for visiting each state historical society (or equivalent), region by region, across the eastern United States. Continue reading Following the Paper Trail: Southern New England