Tag Archives: Photographs

Uncovering a Lesser-Known Roosevelt Legacy

Photo postcard sent by Philip James Roosevelt, 1915. From the collections of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, recently digitized by American Ancestors/NEHGS.

Unlike the old-world monarchies of Europe, the United States has no hereditary titles. Even so, some families have become political dynasties. We can count the Roosevelts as one such family. Along with the Adamses, Harrisons, and Bushes, the Roosevelts have produced two presidents. Indeed, in the twelve elections from 1900 to 1944, a Roosevelt appeared on eight ballots for president or vice-president. Theodore and Franklin are the most recognizable Roosevelts, but the family’s roots and branches extend from the 17th-century Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to the present day.

Despite their public image, tracing the family history has been exceedingly difficult. The early Roosevelt family left few records. Like other immigrants who came to the United States in the colonial period, the reasons they left Europe are hazy, and the jobs they took up varied. Not all Roosevelts were aldermen and wealthy tycoons, and not all Roosevelts settled in New Amsterdam. They strayed to Pennsylvania, Delaware, the Carolinas and Georgia. Continue reading Uncovering a Lesser-Known Roosevelt Legacy

The Brief Life of NEHGS’ Youngest Founding Member

Framed photograph of George E. HenshawOn my first day working at New England Historic Genealogical Society, I noticed a collection of framed ambrotype photographs of founding members of NEHGS, taken in the 1850s. While the vast majority of the men in the photographs were in their older years, one man was visibly younger than the rest—he seemed to be in his early 20s, with dark hair and a tilted bow tie. Under his image was the name George E. Henshaw. When I got home that night, still curious, I looked to see what information I could glean about this young founder. To my surprise, I found a detailed biography of George E. Henshaw’s life in Volume 5 of the Memorial Biographies of New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1853-1855. Continue reading The Brief Life of NEHGS’ Youngest Founding Member

Saving Grace

Photo of Grace Dixon with her three childrenSometimes it starts with that picture in the attic. It falls out of its black corners and yellow cellophane as if to say, look at me, I’m here for a reason—challenging you to rediscover its past, to make the voice of its subject heard.

I think it must have happened this way for my sister, as she explored the small attic of our mother’s house a few months ago. Here among the musty bric-a-brac and old pictures, a single photograph shook itself free. Mrs. Grace Dixon: a woman none of us in the family had laid eyes on before, waiting buried deep within our archives for one of us to uncover her story.

Sis called me right away, and indeed, I was impressed with her find. I’d first heard of Mrs. Grace Dixon1 years ago, not through any family member, but rather via a brief biographical sketch in Phillip Judd and his descendants.2 At that time, I’d attempted to explore some of the facets of Grace’s life, and I admit that I’d given into genealogy’s worst enemy: assumption. Seeing her there in that old photo with her children, I winced at some of my previous speculations. My sister’s discovery became my opportunity to revisit Grace, and reevaluate what I thought I knew. Continue reading Saving Grace

Booties from Chief BlackHawk

Photo of beaded bootiesI recently read New Yorker article about the complicated status of Black members of Native American nations, which stirred my memory and prompted me to research a Native American family I once knew.

Over fifty years ago on an autumn Sunday, I met formally with Chief BlackHawk of Tiverton, Rhode Island. My visit had been arranged through the chief’s sons, Algoma “Goma” Clarke (1926–1980) and Watacee “Tecee” Clarke (1934–1975), master carpenters who built my father’s office in 1964 and remained family friends. Tall and spare, with graying hair combed straight back and hazel eyes, Chief BlackHawk looked like he could have stepped out of an Edward Curtis photograph. He presented me with these booties, which I kept atop my bedroom dresser ever since, until they made their way into a display case with other cherished mementoes. Continue reading Booties from Chief BlackHawk

Discovering Caleb Dyer, the Only Shaker Ever Murdered

Caleb Dyer ca. 1863, via Enfield Shaker Museum

Plenty of people own Shaker furniture or have heard of Shaker-style craftsmanship, but it’s less common to find someone with Shaker ancestry. There’s good reason for that: the Shakers, or the United Society of Believers, were a Christian religious sect that believed in gender equality, pacifism, and complete celibacy—no marriage or children. They first arrived in the U.S. from England in 1774 and settled in villages throughout the Northeast and Midwest, where they lived communally, kept separate from “the world” of nonbelievers, and worshipped through song and dance.

Shakers didn’t hold with violence, so I was intrigued to come across the story of Caleb Marshall Dyer, believed to be the only Shaker murder victim in history. A respected leader in his community, he was killed in a dispute with a local man over custody of the man’s daughters, who had been entrusted to the Shakers of Enfield for a period of time. Ironically, I only became aware of Caleb Dyer because of his involvement in an earlier custody dispute—that time not as a community leader, but as one of the children in question. Continue reading Discovering Caleb Dyer, the Only Shaker Ever Murdered

Discovering the first life of my second-great-grandfather

Jacob Spuhler, his second wife Johanna Weigert, and their five children

As family historians, we often feel inexplicably drawn to certain ancestors in our family trees. Sometimes it’s clear why we are drawn to a particular individual—other times, it’s harder to say. One such ancestor for me is my second-great-grandfather, Jacob Spuhler. While I thought I knew quite a bit about him at the start, as I researched the details of his life, I soon discovered a hidden piece of family history I had not expected.

Jacob Spuhler was an immigrant from Germany who arrived in New York City in October 1884. Lucky for me, the name of his hometown—Alsenz—was passed down to me through the generations. Already having a crucial piece of the puzzle did not deter me from delving deeper, and as I researched Jacob’s life, I found plenty more to learn. Continue reading Discovering the first life of my second-great-grandfather

All these lines

Every time when I look in the mirror/All these lines on my face getting clearer. ~ Aerosmith, 1973

Like a thief in the night, old age has claimed me. I’m not sure when that ignoble laird decided to vandalize me, but it’s certain I wasn’t paying very close attention. I expect it happened in the usual way, though I never expected to be harpooned by fishy-sounding Beta-blockers or riddled with Star Wars-like statins. And while I can’t see “the sunset” just yet, I can tell you that some of those evening stars have indeed arrived. Continue reading All these lines

What they looked like 2

My father

My earlier post, featuring my parents and both sets of grandparents, sought photographs of these relatives from early adult life – I am fortunate to have a number of such images for all six from which to choose!

Looking for photos of my eight great-grandparents is more challenging. Continue reading What they looked like 2

What they looked like

Click on the images to expand them.

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

1777 Chester County Property Atlas

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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