Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Genealogy chaos

There is a great deal of irony here. Having spent 45 years practicing genealogy, I have just had a very rude shock.

The first official genealogy in our family was collected and typed in the 1950s using a manual typewriter and four carbon copies (one for each of her four grandchildren) by my mother’s mother, Alice Mason Crane Hawes. Alice had inherited all the family “stuff” from both her own ancestors and and those of her husband, so she had a rich trove to use that included Bibles, photographs, letters, and much more. Gram had just about all the information she needed from family sources, plus published works in the New England Historic Genealogical Society to fill in eight or more generations of ancestors on my mother’s fan chart. When Gram died in 1962 my mother gathered the papers with the intention of carrying on and, eventually, dumping (er, passing) them on to me. Continue reading Genealogy chaos

Lost in the census

Bethiah (Phinney) Hall (1795–1884), full-plate ferrotype, ca. 1860.

Recently, as I completed my Census 2020 information online, I wondered how many people like my elderly mother – who has never been online – would bother to complete their questionnaire if they did not have someone to do it for them. Without the personal contact of past censuses, how many people will be missed?

Right after the release of the last two censuses, 1930 and 1940, I asked friends and family recorded in their youth if they would like to see how they appeared. Sometimes what they saw was expected; other times it jogged a long dormant memory: “Oh, I had forgotten that Uncle Henry was living with us at that time.” Nonetheless, we all have our own examples of lost relatives in censuses. Were some of our ancestors truly not recorded? Did they slip through the cracks? Or is it that we just have not looked hard enough? Continue reading Lost in the census

Naming patterns

A map of Huron County, Ohio. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sometimes, our ancestors were not the most creative people. This is particularly true when it came to naming new settlements. Throughout the history of the United States, many towns have been named after one of the following: a founder or influential early settler, a figure from American history (i.e., Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, etc.), or a famous foreign leader (Guilford, Vermont, and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire). There are other methods for community-naming, including one which can be extremely helpful to genealogical researchers: reusing the name of a town in another state where many early settlers originated. Continue reading Naming patterns

Before the Mayflower

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, “The First Thanksgiving, 1621.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A popular image exists of Native Peoples meeting the passengers of the Mayflower as a first contact scenario where the indigenous populations in what would become New England saw Europeans for the first time. This is a romantic myth designed to create warm feelings of a cooperative relationship leading to the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Native populations in New England had already met European fishermen and traders nearly a century before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth and their interactions with Europeans made them wary of the newcomers.[1] Continue reading Before the Mayflower

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