Tag Archives: Object Lessons

ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 July 2020.]

Façade of 9 Ashburton Place, NEHGS headquarters in 1920.

During this 175th anniversary year, I wondered how we marked an earlier NEHGS milestone, one hundred years ago. To learn about the state of the Society in 1920, I looked at Boston newspapers online and NEHGS Proceedings and a scrapbook in our R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

On Thursday, 18 March 1920, NEHGS celebrated its 75th anniversary of incorporation—to the day—and recognized the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. From 2 to 6 p.m. that day, the Society welcomed the public to an open house at “its spick and span headquarters,” then located at 9 Ashburton Place in Boston, near the Massachusetts State House. Guides greeted the visitors and introduced them to the Society and its collections. Tea was served. Continue reading ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

View from the dog house

Our family has an historic heirloom, a microscope that originally belonged to [Heinrich Hermann] Robert Koch (1843-1910), the famous German bacteriologist, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries related to the causative agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. The microscope came into our family by virtue of his cousin, my great-great-grandfather, Ernest Wilhelm Eduard Koch (1827-1903), who was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, about 30 miles from Clausthal, the birthplace of Robert Koch. After moving to the United States, great-great-grandfather went by “Edward,” but usually was referred to by the family as E.W.E.

E.W.E. was a highly educated man and was an “1848er,” one of many who emigrated from Germany after the 1848-49 revolutions there. Continue reading View from the dog house

Our family album

As we close out our 175th anniversary year, I was struck by the wealth of our own history as I worked along with Cécile Engeln on The Family Album: A Visual History of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1845–2020. I have been an employee of NEHGS for only four years, so I didn’t really know many of the details about our past history myself. Continue reading Our family album

Monumental plans: Part Two

One of the earliest designs for the Pilgrim Monument. Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy Salvador Vasques, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection

Fifteen years after the second effort to build a monument in Provincetown had been abandoned and three years after Plymouth dedicated its National Monument to the Forefathers, there was another initiative to commemorate the First Landing of the Pilgrims at Provincetown. On 29 February 1892, a group of civic-minded citizens – James H. Hopkins, James Gifford, Artemas P. Hannum, Moses N. Gifford, Howard F. Hopkins, Joseph H. Dyer, and their associates and successors – were made a corporation, the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA), by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. Later that year an appeal for funds was circulated to the general public and a request for funding was made to the Massachusetts Legislature. Not only did CCPMA members see their mission as building an appropriate monument to commemorate the arrival of the Mayflower at Provincetown, they were determined, too, to recognize other significant events in Provincetown’s Pilgrim history, including the Signing of the Mayflower Compact, the birth of Peregrine White, and the death of Dorothy May Bradford. Continue reading Monumental plans: Part Two

Monumental plans: Part One

Plymouth Rock canopy, ca. 1880. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

What does it take to build a monument, a lasting legacy, to the First Landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown? Determination and persistence and, of course, money, not to mention years of territorial squabbles and skirmishes. Finally dedicated in 1910, Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument has a story that may be said to have begun ninety years earlier across the bay in Plymouth.

Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, ca. 1860. Stereograph, courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

With its roots in the Old Colony Club, founded in 1769, the Pilgrim Society was formally organized in Plymouth in 1820, the bicentennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims. Its mission was to perpetuate the memory of the Mayflower Pilgrims, specifically with the goal of building appropriate monuments, the first of which was Pilgrim Hall, whose cornerstone was laid in September 1824.[1] Continue reading Monumental plans: Part One

He said. She said

Click on images to expand them.

At our dinner table recently, talk turned to a discussion of family stories, specifically the story that our great great-great-great-grandfather, George Read, refused to paint his chimneys white in the English style because he was so opposed to British oppression. Son, He of the Flypaper Mind (everything sticks to it!), challenged the origin of the tale, asking “How do you know that? Do we have any documents he wrote about it, or his diary, for instance?” At something of a loss given his significant lack of respect for The Family Story, I turned to Husband, a retired attorney, for his input and support, but got the legal definition of “hearsay” instead. Continue reading He said. She said

‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

“I might understand if only you wouldn’t explain.”[1]

The contours of this year’s two hundredth anniversary of Maine’s statehood have been undeniably unexpected. Most anniversary celebrations here were cancelled or postponed, leaving most Mainers “celebrating” from the comfort of their homes. I began to think about the convergence of ancestral factors in my family history, Spanish Flu and Covid-19 aside.

My cousin Asa Williams, the builder of Our Old House, came to Maine about the same time and from a nearby Massachusetts town as my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read, with their wives (who were third cousins and stepsisters), settling at the Fort Western Settlement, the area’s trading post, bank, and social venue, the center of the tiny community’s daily life. Continue reading ‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

Mother Orange

Courtesy of Chico News and Review

The skies are orange here today. Words like “contained” and “perimeter,” along with phrases like “mandatory evacuation” and “defensible space,” float through the smoke-laden air. The smoke curls indolently outward, towards the Golden Gate, and flies up against the back of Yosemite’s Half Dome. It accumulates against every horizon, much like the ash that is, well, everywhere, and leaving its not-so-subtle reminder of the destruction. No pictures of that destruction are needed here to tell the fires’ tales… Continue reading Mother Orange

Rooted in history

A detail of the Clapp pear tree

As a genealogist, when I hear the word “tree” I typically think of family trees, not the outdoor variety used for shade on a sunny day. However, I came across an interesting newspaper article about a gentleman named James Raymond Simmons who gave a lecture on trees at the New England Historic Genealogical Society one hundred years ago. Simmons, who served as secretary-forester of the New York State Forestry Association and assistant state forester of Massachusetts, described trees as “the oldest living witness of our past history.”[1] He compiled a list of Massachusetts trees and their connection to people and historic events, which he included in his book The Historic Trees of Massachusetts.[2] Although a few of his examples have tenuous connections, I appreciate the message Simmons attempted to convey to his audience. Continue reading Rooted in history

Making plans

Plan of Boston surveyed by Osgood Carleton, dated 1795. Courtesy of digitalcommonwealth.org

Whenever I find myself doing Massachusetts research that predates 1800, I return to a collection of early town plans, 1794-1795, that are as much a documentary source as they are an aesthetic pleasure. Housed at the Massachusetts State Archives, a division of the Secretary of State, the original collection consists of sixteen volumes which were digitized in June 2017.[1]

In the post-Revolution years, it fell to the individual states to produce accurate maps to facilitate governmental administration, develop transportation networks, and encourage settlement. Continue reading Making plans