Tag Archives: Object Lessons

Facing death

Deathbed portrait of Elizabeth Royall, attributed to Joseph Badger, ca. 1747. NEHGS Fine Art Collection, photograph by Gavin Ashworth

Unfortunately, over the last month I had to visit a few different funeral homes. On one visit, my husband asked why funeral homes always resembled a house. Knowing a bit about the evolution of how we handle death in America, I explained that it is because a wake or viewing used to take place within the person’s home. Funeral “parlors” or “homes” are intentionally designed to resemble the parlors in homes where we once laid out our dead for visitation.

This question led me to revisit some of my old studies about death in America and how handling the dead went from being a very personal and hands-on experience for the survivors to something that is handled by professionals outside of the home. Continue reading Facing death

As the crow flies

Rand McNally map of St. Clair County, Michigan, 1911. Courtesy of genealogyhound.com

In my mind’s eye there’s always a crow, a silly old crow really. It follows me as I search after forgotten things, and spies out the burial place where my ancestor, Erastus Lee, ought to be – but isn’t.[1] Indifferently, that darn crow watches me, as my mind traverses the Wolverine State landscape of St. Clair County and the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, there, in Wales Township.[2] Like me, the old crow knows that, lost or not, this is where Erastus’s grave surely has to be. True enough, too, the crow knows that Wales Township is a place that neither of us (unless it’s the old crow) will ever get to explore. And, as much as it chagrins me to say, I’ve come to accept that there will always be “those places” in family research that many of us will never get to see. Places remaining only approachable in the mind’s eye – and visited on occasion by that old crow.

My own phantom bird travels there, northeast to Wales Township, revealing peaceful surroundings but few possibilities about the grave of Erastus Lee. Continue reading As the crow flies

Sold for a song

“You know, there is a shortage of beautiful, old theaters left in this country and this is one of them…” – Daryl Hall

 At some point during the first decade of 2000s, I went to see Hall and Oates at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. They were on a tour to promote a Christmas music album they released earlier that year, but I don’t think I knew that and I don’t know that many people in the audience did either. I went there to see Sarah Smile performed live, just like everyone else. When they were about to start their fifth consecutive Christmas folk song of the night, the entire theater whined in unison, and Daryl Hall was not amused. A known curmudgeon, he motioned for the band to stop playing before he disembarked the clown car of complaints about the esthetic and operational state of the theater. He said that he had seen quite a few such old auditoriums, that the one we were all together in at that moment was one of the most beautiful, and what a shame for the current owners not to value its charm and elegance. Continue reading Sold for a song

Desired havens

Rev. Ichabod Wiswall’s gravestone.

Before she married my grandfather, my paternal grandmother was Vivienne Isabel Wing. Born in Rumford, Maine in 1903, six generations after Simeon Wing (1722–1794) and his family had traded Sandwich, Massachusetts for the wilderness of New Sandwich, Maine (incorporated as Wayne in 1798), my grandmother was proud of her Wing ancestry; at times, she lamented that as an only female child she would be the last in her long line to bear the name.

Had my grandmother not been a woman of a certain generation she might have at least “kept” her name. Continue reading Desired havens

A gift for archivists

The recent news that a leak at the National Archives in Boston damaged about 300 hundred cubic feet of records during the government shutdown was hard to hear for many of us who work with records collections as caretakers and researchers.[1] While I immediately thought about the loss of the 1890 census in 1921 and the fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973, I was relieved to hear that most of the damaged records only need to be air dried and rehoused in new folders and boxes.  This reminded me of a fascinating tool created by Suzanne Morgan, a conservator at Arizona State University to help archivists and conservators find the perfect container for any item they might encounter. Continue reading A gift for archivists

Presidents’ Day reflections

I am not sure where my fascination with the personal histories of American presidents began. Maybe it was the long road trip I took with my family in 2003 when we listened to David McCullough’s John Adams on audio book or my earliest visits to Washington, D.C. and Mount Vernon when I was even younger.

I do remember that after that road trip, I demanded a visit to Quincy to visit Adams National Historic Park and Peacefield. This spark of curiosity came full circle in the summer of 2016 when I was a graduate fellow at United First Parish Church in Quincy, aka the Church of the Presidents, the final resting place of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams. Continue reading Presidents’ Day reflections

The Ghost of Failures Past

Click on image to expand it.

I have a ghost standing at my shoulder, pointing a skeletal finger at my family history “to do” list to remind me of my deficiencies. This ghost arrives at year’s end when The Weekly Genealogist arrives with a survey asking if I’ve completed my genealogical goals, and then asking what my goals are for the coming year.

Wait! There’s a difference? Continue reading The Ghost of Failures Past

Preventative measures

Nancy de Freitas, aged 8.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a woman curious to know why her grandmother was in my online family tree. This is hardly a unique occurrence, since I enjoy tracking down fairly distant family connections. In this case, however, our connection was very close (at least by my standards): her mother was the great-aunt of my first cousin’s husband. I even personally saw my correspondent’s first cousin at my cousin’s wedding!

My husband, father, and I were able to represent the Mainland contingent of our family at her wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a fascinating experience, complete with island customs such as leis,[1] a whole pig roasted in an imu,[2] poi,[3] and miniature kahilis[4] as party favors. Continue reading Preventative measures

‘They shall not grow old’

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

One of my sons discovered last month that we had an opportunity to view Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary constructed from World War I motion picture footage owned by the Imperial War Museum in London. The movie was shown on only two dates in December, but apparently will be released more generally beginning in January, so all is not lost if you missed seeing it.

The film’s premise is to restore the humanity of men who, up until this time, have been caught in a silent world of flickering black-and-white images. Modern digital techniques allowed Jackson’s crew to rebalance the density/lighting and speed of the film, and – in some footage – to add realistic color. Continue reading ‘They shall not grow old’

The Great Molasses Flood

As slow as cold molasses.”

I’ve heard the adage about the substance probably more often than I’ve tasted it. I’ve never used the phrase, or typed it … until now. The expression, however, does make logical sense. Molasses is slow. I’ve made my share of gingerbread, and using molasses is a bit of a battle. The amount of waste is astounding. You have to make sure you allocate more than what the recipe calls for because it will cling to the measuring apparatus and mixing utensils creating an epic cleanup. In appearance, molasses seems predictable. I mean, you know molasses. Right? But how slow would 10 gallons of molasses be? Or 100? Continue reading The Great Molasses Flood