Tag Archives: Object Lessons

NEHGS in 1920

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 NEHGS in 1920

Some Back Bay houses

121-129 Commonwealth Avenue, ca. 1875, viewed from the steeple of the Brattle Street Church. (The house into which the family moved in 1922 was just around the corner on Dartmouth Street.) Courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

When my grandmother[1] was a girl, she could walk down the front steps of her parents’ house in Boston and along Commonwealth Avenue into the houses of her paternal grandparents and her father’s sisters nearby. Using the Back Bay Houses database, I can trace the staggered arrivals of her father’s family in Boston; in the process, I find I’m encountering a number of family and contemporary friends.

My great-grandfather[2] seems to have been the first member of the Ayer family to move to Boston, soon after his graduation from Harvard in 1887. Next came his father (my great-great-grandfather) and stepmother, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Ayer of Lowell,[3] who rented 232 Beacon Street in 1899-1900[4] while building their new house at 395 Commonwealth Avenue.[5] The family[6] was occupying the house by the end of 1900, although it appears that work continued for sometime thereafter. Continue reading Some Back Bay houses

ICYMI: “Socially, she is not received”

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 25 March 2016.]

Oscar Wilde by Sarony. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

A frequent theater-goer and enthusiastic pedestrian in the 1860s, by the early 1880s – following the death of her husband – Regina Shober Gray was going out rarely, and only to the houses of relatives and close friends. This does not mean that she lost her interest in the goings-on around Boston or, indeed, among the celebrated and notorious people of her day.[1]

1 Beacon Hill Place, Boston, Wednesday, 8 February 1882: Laura Howe[2] has sent Mary[3] a most humorous parody ‘After Oscar Wilde.’[4] She says she and Harry [Richards] agreed that the only thing to be done with his book of poems was to burn it, that there were some pretty things amid the filth! The ‘Swinburne’[5] School of poetry is certainly open to reprobation in the matter of good taste & pure morals! Continue reading ICYMI: “Socially, she is not received”

‘The more things change…’

Charles and Harriett Saunders, ca. 1872-97.

Shortly after the Covid-19 stay-at-home order was implemented in Maine, Son remarked that living in My Old House, now known as Our Old House, is like living in two centuries at once, the eighteenth, nineteenth, or twentieth centuries – as well as the twenty-first.

In the eighteenth century, when this house was built, my ancestors’ daily lives as farmers were “at home.” Now, as the prodigal farmers’ daughter living in their house during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve planted a small garden and signed on with local farmers for the vegetables, dairy, and meat supplies I either decline to produce on my own or lack the wherewithal to grow. Continue reading ‘The more things change…’

ICYMI: ‘If space allows’

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 5 January 2017.]

Thanks to a timely message alerting me to a collection of letters for sale at eBay, I recently acquired one side of the genealogical correspondence between Regina Shober Gray[1] and the Rev. Richard Manning Chipman, author of The Chipman Lineage (1872). Mrs. Gray, so expansive in some areas of her diary, is comparatively terse with regard to the beginning of the correspondence: Continue reading ICYMI: ‘If space allows’

The power of a mark

Petition to the Ipswich selectmen, 12 April 1686. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

History came vividly alive for me on a cold December day ten years ago in Salem, Massachusetts. For a retired historian, the Phillips Library of Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum was the perfect place to enjoy a brief respite from winter’s doldrums by indulging in the quiet pleasures of archival research. Housed in an elegant, mid-nineteenth-century Italianate townhouse brimming with antiques and historical artifacts, the library’s reading room was warm, intimate, and inviting – its library tables and comfortable Windsor chairs surrounded by bookshelf walls filled with classic reference works on New England history. Above them, original portraits and busts of prominent Massachusetts Bay colonists gazed down on the reading room’s patrons – who, on the day in question, consisted of a few family history gray-beards like myself and a young doctoral candidate or two engaged in dissertation research.[1] Continue reading The power of a mark

Magic of the attic

The Whorfs’ house in Provincetown.

While admiring April’s Super Pink Moon – and contemplating what the man up there must be thinking as he looks down on Earth’s current woes – the notion of the slingshot effect popped into my head. As someone who, as a kid, took great fascination in the Apollo program, I remember this term being used, described as a maneuver using gravity to change the speed or direction of the spacecraft. That’s as far as I will venture into the science of it, lest I earn the ridicule of all the scientists out there, but the term seemed an apt metaphor for my latest genealogical wanderings. We’ve all had those moments. We are on our way somewhere and then, in a sudden shift in trajectory, we are flung in another direction. Continue reading Magic of the attic

For the future

Walter Hoganson’s 1917 letter, as placed in Abraham C. Ratshesky’s scrapbook.

Two weeks after an explosion leveled parts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in December 1917, a survivor named Walter Hoganson wrote a letter to a friend in Stoughton, Massachusetts. In the letter, Hoganson provides a harrowing first-person narrative of the events that occurred the morning of December 6, from the initial blast to the arrival of the Massachusetts Relief Expedition. At the end of his letter, he extols the virtues of the Expedition’s Commissioner-in-Charge, Abraham Ratshesky; Hoganson’s letter was placed with care in Ratshesky’s scrapbook, part of his papers in the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS.

First-person narratives are archives’ most enduring materials – they provide those of us in the present with a keener understanding and empathy for those in the past. Continue reading For the future

A family treasure

The Parker Richardson house in Methuen. All images courtesy R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

Several years ago, long before the online catalogue, I spent time going through the NEHGS card catalogue looking for materials related to my Richardson ancestors. I came across the card for a manuscript compiled by William S. Richardson. As it turned out, he was related: he’s my second cousin four times removed. We descend from William Richardson of Newbury, Massachusetts, through his great-grandson, Parker Richardson, Sr. Continue reading A family treasure

Scrope v. Grosvenor

In July 1385, King Richard II of England led an army on an ultimately unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. While the invasion itself would play a role in British history, it was a chance meeting – beginning on the battlefield – that resulted in one of the first known trials involving heraldic law. In the end, the case of Scrope v. Grosvenor would result in major changes in how heraldry was interpreted. Continue reading Scrope v. Grosvenor