Tag Archives: Object Lessons

‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

In the telling of family history, it’s become quite hard for me to stay away from the same old story. Too often, as I comb through ye olde branches, it feels as if I’m only supposed to talk about those somehow-notable persons (or events) and rarely (if ever) tell the tale of “an ordinary life.” Because of this, it’s gotten difficult for me to tell any tale, or indeed to know just whose life into which to delve. I’m left wondering if someone (or anything) of ‘ordinary ways’ will be of enough interest to anyone else on-down-the-line. Continue reading ‘Evan Evans with a candlestick…’

‘In memory of the dead’

A grave marker at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. Photo by Claire Vail Photography

American Ancestors recently announced a new database: Massachusetts: Catholic Cemetery Association Records, 1833-1940. This partnership between NEHGS, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCA) makes available newly-digitized lot sale and burial records as well as cemetery maps to aid researchers. The records of thirteen cemeteries are currently available to search, with more cemeteries to be added to this database throughout the year. Continue reading ‘In memory of the dead’

Trinidaddy

In the last post about our family christening gown, I mentioned that my “middle” brother, John Winthrop Williams, was not christened in the gown. John was born 5 October 1941 (two months and two days before Pearl Harbor) at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts.[1]

Dad was a Corps of Engineers combat engineer stationed at Trinidad, British West Indies. Mom and David, their firstborn, were living with her parents in Natick, Massachusetts, with plans to join Dad in Trinidad once the baby was born. Continue reading Trinidaddy

Cats and dogs

Courtesy of the Berkshire Eagle

For those of you who are familiar with the Berkshires, you will recognize this statue of a cat and dog spitting at each other as the centerpiece of an iconic fountain in downtown Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The statue sits in the intersection of South and Main Streets and entices travelers to explore beyond the famed Red Lion Inn. The sculpture has had a number of meanings attached to it over the years and has become a piece of Stockbridge history. Continue reading Cats and dogs

‘All these many years’

“I have saved this book all these many years. Think and read before you destroy it. Thought and prayer my darling,” Love, M… – 1835

There’s an antique hymnal tucked away in the wilds outside Boise, Idaho. The pages are jaundiced and “crackled,” and they seem to move away from the hinges and endbands as if by design. Inside this venerable old book, there’s an inscription…

Varicolored inks recede from the well-penned markings along the ancient pastedown. It’s here against the board where her message is. She writes in a tone of loving admonition; her “voice” inviting her darling to “thought and prayer” before it fades into a signature of murky identity. Continue reading ‘All these many years’

The family christening gown

Most families use a new christening gown with each baptism, each family, or each generation. My family used one gown from 1858 through at least 1990. I know because my mother made a list.

The gown was made by my mother’s mother’s father’s[1] mother Laura Matilda (Henshaw) Crane for his older brother, Charles, in 1857. It was then worn by my great-grandfather at his baptism in Bainbridge, Indiana, in 1858 – a ceremony at which his grandfather, Rev. Silas Axtell Crane, officiated – and by a younger brother, Clarence, in 1861. Continue reading The family christening gown

Mice tracks

While we at Our Old House maintain a certain amount of “isolation” during this pandemic, we have walked or snowshoed our property for exercise, noting as we passed the tracks the local wildlife has made. Coyotes, deer, rabbits, bobcats, foxes, and others roam our “back forty.” I began to think about the same tracks Our Old House builder Asa Williams would have encountered in the late eighteenth century, along with the occasional bear or wolf, hopefully not in the front yard. Grizzlies on the lawn? No thanks! Continue reading Mice tracks

“Along this way”

James Weldon Johnson at his writing cabin in western Massachusetts. Courtesy Yale Beinecke Library James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

In 2000, I was asked to co-produce the James Weldon Johnson Medal ceremony under the guidance and leadership of the late Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. My wife, Jill Rosenberg Jones – the other producer – was my intended wife during that summer of 2000, and she was passionate about James Weldon Johnson – and because I intended to marry her, I thought it made sense for me to be passionate about James Weldon Johnson, too. Fast forward to June 2016, when we established the James Weldon Johnson Foundation to honor Johnson’s life through historic preservation and educational, intellectual, and artistic works that reflect the contemporary world and exemplify his enduring contributions to American history and worldwide culture. Continue reading “Along this way”

Stories in stone

When the genealogy bug hits, one of the earliest field trips a budding genealogist makes is to a cemetery. Cemeteries are rich in history. The grave marker inscriptions reveal our ancestor’s death date, and perhaps age at death or date of birth. If we are fortunate, we also learn the names of spouses, maiden names, and names of children in a cemetery.

But how many of us pay attention to the grave markers themselves? There are substantial differences in the markers of the colonial period and the stones of later centuries. Continue reading Stories in stone

In pencil

Daniel Jackson Steward (1816-1898)

On occasion I look around my living room, at the lovingly collected and curated family photos on (almost) every flat surface, and wonder how I will pass along the identifying information on the subjects. (No unidentified photos for me! But the identification resides in my head…)

I don’t worry so much about the ones of my parents and grandparents, although in due course they will all pass into history. The multitude of photos of them, at each stage of their lives, here and in other family houses, argues for some chance that they will be recognized and remembered by future generations. Continue reading In pencil