One of the frustrations of genealogical research can be the absence of images of our forebears and relatives; the dry account offered by (precious) vital and other records may render an ancestor doubly unknowable. Often the images that do survive fall towards the end of a lifetime, when financial resources will stretch to a trip to the photographer — or a portrait by an accomplished painter. I often feel that those artistically valuable images overlay the youthful portrait — the one we all carry inside of us — with a misleading patina: one of age, no doubt, but also one that buries features that may be seen in present-day descendants. Continue reading What they looked like
My father, Frank Dwyer, spent three happy years as a fellow in cardiology at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. It was a special treat when my mother brought me there for a visit. I remember being fascinated by the ashtray behind Dad—press a button and the cigarette butts disappeared! Continue reading Inside the cap
If your ancestor lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania in the months leading up to the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777, you have the unique opportunity to explore the 1777 Chester County Property Atlas, an on-going historical research project made possible by the Chester County Archives. Continue reading 1777 Chester County Property Atlas
[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]
While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.
The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series
The slides my father took on my First Communion Sunday, 15 May 1966, in Fall River, Massachusetts, serve as a colorful time capsule of a bygone era. Sacred Heart Church, now closed, once covered the largest geographical parish in the center of the city. On that morning, more than 60 children, girls in white and boys in black, having fasted for twelve hours in preparation for communion, processed into church with disciplined precision. We returned to church in the afternoon to receive scapulars, prayer books, and rosaries, and then processed out of the church east along Pine Street for the May crowning. Continue reading A fresh look at Linden Street
One of the greatest, worst movies of all time is National Treasure. The plot is insane, the historical accuracy is mezza mezza, and it stars Nicolas Cage, so it’s not winning any Oscars. That said, it is one of my guilty pleasures – just the thought that some of the “treasure” at the end of the movie contained scrolls from the Library at Alexandria is the stuff of dreams. Continue reading ‘National Treasure’ time
It sat there like the apparition of a chad from some long-ago election. I stared at the blank lines somehow expecting immediate changes to the record of his life, changes I’d reckoned should be there. There were none. What the heck? Couldn’t they see that all the information they had about Frank was wrong?
I had reached out to them the moment I first saw mention of Cousin Frank: Hey, Frank didn’t die in ‘29. He’d lived, disappearing into a simple and solitary life. Further, he’d somehow put into motion posthumous wishes to be buried under the name of Tom nearly fifty years later. Yep, old Frank; he’d simply ghosted them all. Then at this, at my notion to reach out and tell the family about Frank, his descendants simply did the same thing. They ghosted me. Continue reading Ghosted
The greatest achievement of the release of the 1950 Census is not the records themselves, but the technology used to index the records. On April 1, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration released the census on a dedicated website using a unique optical character recognition (OCR) software designed to translate the handwritten names into text that can be searched online. This made 6.4 million digitized pages of the 1950 Census immediately available. Think about that – immediately available…?! It seemed too good to be true. Continue reading OCRing the 1950 census
In my recent post on the Round family of Swansea, Massachusetts, I noted that the forename of my ancestor Renew (Carpenter) Round, was frequently repeated (or renewed). Renew was named for her paternal grandmother, Renew (Weeks) Carpenter, who died in 1703, and was buried in a part of Swansea that is now in Barrington, Rhode Island. She was “Renew the first,” and after my last post I learned from Nathaniel Lane Taylor, editor of The American Genealogist, that her footstone has a story of its own. Continue reading Renew and Return
I am continually struck by the effects of happenstance in genealogy. Because I was putting together notes on my grandmother’s family, I went looking for a source on the Gates family of Worcester, Massachusetts; because my eye was caught by the next entry to one for my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother; because I remembered enough of my eighteenth-century art history to recognize the artist Ralph Earl (or Earle) as both an ancestral uncle (by unhappy marriage) and a cousin, I have found a family painter who might almost stand in for the even more famous François Boucher, a forebear my grandmother’s family has had to give up. Continue reading An artist’s ambition