Tag Archives: Object Lessons

OCRing the 1950 census

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

Renew and Return

Courtesy of Nathaniel Lane Taylor

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

An artist’s ambition

Major General the Baron von Steuben, by Ralph Earl. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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;[1] 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

A ray of light

Click on images to expand them.

One of the places I have been researching is the townland of Kilcruaig in Kilflyn parish, County Limerick. My husband has ancestors from Kilcruaig who were born there in the early 1800s. However, it has been difficult to learn much about these families. The local Catholic records did not begin until 1853 and the people I want to research were born much earlier. And almost all died before civil registration began in 1864. The area felt like a bit of a black hole. Continue reading A ray of light

The Harvard Polo Club

My grandmother [Anne Steward] with her father-in-law Campbell Steward, on the steps of the Steward house in Goshen, New York.
File this one to “You never know what you might find…”

I have written before about my great-grandparents’ house in Goshen, New York, built on land that had belonged to the Steward family since the eighteenth century. In the course of collecting family photos – generally, groups of (likely) house guests gathering on the front steps to be photographed – I’ve become familiar with some of the house’s features. At this point, I might be one of the very few who could look at a photo and say “Oh! the Steward house in Goshen.”

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the book I was paging through was my great-great-uncle’s history of the Harvard Polo Club. Amos Tuck French[1] was one of the founding members of this iteration of the club, and he begins engagingly: “Polo was started at Harvard in 1883, many years before it was even thought of at any other college. In fact it was not generally understood what the game was, for we received a challenge from Yale to play a match and discovered on enquiry that the Elis wanted to play hockey on roller skates!”[2] Continue reading The Harvard Polo Club

Tips for preserving family papers

Courtesy of the National Archives

Genealogical research is possible because people preserved their family papers and photographs, allowing us to use them ten, twenty, even hundreds of years later to piece together their lives. Preservation of these items can seem a daunting task, filled with pitfalls, expensive materials, and hours and hours of time. However, it doesn’t have to feel so tough, and here are some basic tips to get started!

The first thing about preserving your family history is to think about where you are storing the materials. It can be hard to find a good location to keep them within your house. Continue reading Tips for preserving family papers

Tree begone

As a custodian of Our Old House, I’m always conscious of how to maintain it and still make twenty-first-century changes without drastically altering or (gasp) destroying the historic integrity of the property. Making those decisions is not always easy, especially when there is clearly no choice in the matter. Cue the drafty ancient windows, the continually-aging floorboards, the old garage with the “waving roof,” and the 90-foot rotting maple trees.

We still deal with the windows and the floors (not a level inch anywhere in this house!), but the garage is gone, and so are the trees, those huge maple trees that graced the front of the property, blocking dust, noise, snow, wind, and the hot summer sun while shading the front rooms. They provided sap for maple syrup and sugar for even the earliest generations of my family, bushels of leaves for mulch, and perches for multiple varieties of birds. Continue reading Tree begone

2021: the year in review

“May you live in interesting times” is supposed to be a curse – it’s certainly an exhausting way to go through life. As 2021 rolls over to 2022, here is a look back at 2021 in Vita Brevis:

In January, Ann Lawthers urged genealogists visiting cemeteries to apply some of the insights garnered from their research, in this case about how the changing cultural norms around death translated into stone: Continue reading 2021: the year in review

A Christmas anachronism

Like so many people during this season, I’ve been (slowly) decorating Our Old House for Christmas. As I arranged the mini-“Dickens Village” on the kitchen hearth today, I realized that it was more than a little anachronistic. This old Maine farmhouse, built in 1788/89 by American Patriots, would never have seen such a British or Victorian display of Christmas! Continue reading A Christmas anachronism