Tag Archives: Object Lessons

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

Seasonal compromises

Trinity Church lit for the Christmas season.

“…as close to heaven as human hands and voices have ever crafted. To be amid people in a room so full and so fully at peace. This is the Christmas of dreams.” – Amy Traverso, Yankee Magazine.[i]

There are multiple reasons why the holidays are challenging for many people; this year there is an added feature putting stress on the season. Many of the parties and events we have built traditions around are inaccessible, while others are simply not possible. Continue reading Seasonal compromises

Body unknown

I climbed to the Harrisville Cemetery in Burrillville, Rhode Island, from the hill at its back. While preparing to put our canoe in at the boat access on Mill Pond, my dad had pointed up the forested slope and told me that the old graveyard was just through the woods. There are few things I love more than old cemeteries, and this one held an interesting connection to one of my particular historic interests – transit during the nineteenth century.

Towards the center of the cemetery, I came across the Bryant and Remington family plot with its large granite marker for 27-year-old Clarence S. Remington, “lost from the steamer Narragansett.” Continue reading Body unknown

Finding Ma

Ma Seal revealed. Images by Lora Webb Nichols, courtesy of the University of Wyoming

“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life.[1] I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Sealcame into our lives. Ma Seal,[2] for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma

The Churchill letter

Click on image to expand it.

My wife’s maternal grandmother, Lydia (Woliung) Faulds (1896-1939), was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was a blacksmith with family roots in Alsace. Her mother was a recent immigrant from Germany. The family later moved to Matoon, in Coles County, Illinois, where Lydia graduated from high school. After receiving a diploma from Eastern Illinois State Normal School in 1914, she taught school in the Oak Park (Illinois) school system for several years. In 1918, in recognition of her academic abilities, especially in mathematics, Lydia was elected to a position on the staff of the Lincoln School of the Teachers College within Columbia University, in New York City. Set up the year before, the Lincoln School was created to conduct “experiments in modern education.” Her assigned subjects were geography and mathematics. She resigned after one term in the expectation of the imminent return of her fiancé from war duty in France; they planned to get married back in Illinois and make a home there. He arrived as expected, but was debilitated from being gassed on the battlefield and spent most of the next year in a New York hospital. Lydia stayed in New York and was employed that year as a governess for the Rockefeller family. Continue reading The Churchill letter