Observance of Memorial Day always compels me to think about the members of my extended family from Block Island who served in the Civil War, and the long-term effects of the war on their lives. This carte-de-visite photo of eighteen-year-old George Albion Paine, taken in the spring of 1866, belies his turbulent experiences.1
In September 1862, when he was not quite 15, George volunteered to serve for nine months in the 12th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. Patriotic fervor must have swept over the island, because George’s paternal uncle, Alvin Hollis Paine, his maternal uncle Lewis N. Hall, and his uncle-by-marriage, John Thomas, all joined him in the same regiment.2 Barely two months into his service, George was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, spending time in hospital. Comparison with later records shows that George had not yet reached his adult height at this time. He was discharged from the army in July 1863 and re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a landsman on ships Savannah and Constitution until discharge in 1866. Continue reading George Albion Paine: A Teenage Civil War Veteran→
When I was growing up, my father would sometimes solemnly remind me to remember Francis Ward Lewis. I would just nod absentmindedly in response. I don’t recall him explaining who this man was or why he was important—I’m not sure that he even knew himself. But for some reason, it was vital to him that I remember and honor this name.
Later, when I was in my forties, my paternal grand aunt Em causally mentioned that Francis Ward Lewis (17 July 1817¬-9 November 1906) was her grandfather. Finally, I knew how he and I were linked. She recounted that on the Fourth of July, he would march in his uniform in the local parade in Concord, California, and then return home to set off a canon from the roof of his home. He did sound like an interesting individual. So, when I began my genealogy research, he was naturally the first relative I sought out.
As I researched my paternal great-great-grandfather, I was surprised to encounter some of his other descendants, previously unknown to me, who had also been told to “remember Francis Ward Lewis.” Despite the shared family mythology, none of us knew much about him. Together, we eagerly shared our clues and combined our research to discover his identity and his importance in our lives. Cousin Paul shared a note that his mom had written, stating that at one time he had sailed on the brig Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she did not list a source for this information. Pam Lewis, a cousin by marriage, uncovered his “Reminiscences” in the California State Library, which he had written shortly before his death in 1906. The fourteen-page memoir recounted his life following his 1846 arrival in California. Lucky for us, it included his photograph as an old man. As we read his thoughts, it seemed as though we were sitting at the knee of a fascinating, kind elder as he reflected on his adventures and times past. Continue reading Finding Francis Ward Lewis→
On November 2, 2022, my husband and I welcomed our first child: a son, named Jack William for his great-grandfathers. Several weeks after Jack’s birth, I requested a copy of his birth certificate from the town offices, an errand which immediately reminded me of submitting vital records requests for genealogical research. Obtaining my son’s birth record was far simpler—I only had to wait a few minutes—and I left the town offices that same day with the record in hand. I looked down at the certificate, with all the fields neatly filled out, and realized genealogical researchers are perhaps the only people who wouldn’t take this record for granted.
Vital records are often the first and best places to check when seeking information about our ancestors. But what is a researcher to do when a vital record simply doesn’t exist, or provides minimal information? In a previous blog post, I discussed the usefulness of family Bibles as vital records substitutes. There are numerous other record types that link parents and their children, with baptismal records and wills being the next best options. Other records that can identify the names of an ancestor’s children include the following types: Continue reading Linking Parents and Children—Without the Help of Vital Records→
A recent series of posts on lodgers who are possibly relatives hit close to home in my search for information about my wife’s great-grandfather. In three consecutive Scotland census reports he is listed first as boarder, then as son, and finally lodger. It took some digging to sort this out.
John Faulds (1870-1951) emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1893. The passenger list for his arrival in New York from Glasgow shows that he was a baker. No doubt he entered that profession when he settled in the Chicago area. However, his interests soon turned to the equipment side of the baking industry, and he went to work for the Middleby Marshall company, which was founded in 1888 in Chicago to make commercial bake ovens and equipment.1 Credited along with John Marshall, a licensed engineer, John Faulds received U.S. patents for improvement in bake oven designs in 1900 and 1909. The first patent was filed in 1899, only six years after John arrived in the United States. In 1932, he used his expertise in equipment and mechanical design to launch his own company, the Faulds Oven and Equipment Co. His continued oven improvements resulted in five more patents, in his name only, for bake oven designs. The company stopped making ovens in the 1970s, but as of 2016, there were at least eleven Faulds ovens still in use in Chicago, and several in Washington State.2 Many of these in are in pizzerias due to the fact that they can hold thirty pizzas at a time, using a stack of revolving oven trays similar to a Lazy Susan. Continue reading Identifying Another “Boarder”→
My grandfather, Salvador Sanchez, was born 15 February 1921 in Mexico. It was there that he met my grandmother, Rosa Fonseca, and started a family before immigrating to the United States in 1957.
Belo, as we called him, worked for the railroad in Gary, Indiana and stayed there until he retired. Before starting a family, he had traveled to the states for seasonal work. I don’t know what my grandfather did during his trips. Unfortunately, he died in 2002, when I was only nine years old. He didn’t talk to his children about his life before them, and I wasn’t old enough to ask questions when we lost him, so much of my grandfather’s life is a mystery to me.
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→
On 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→
Sometimes 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→
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→
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→