With good weather and summer’s long-awaited arrival, many of us will be traveling near and far to new and exciting places. Traveling today is still frustrating, even with fast transportation and constant access to technology, so I was very curious to find out what obstacles our ancestors faced centuries ago.
Many diaries have been digitized and added to the NEHGS Digital Collections on the American Ancestors website. In this new grouping I found two travel diaries that sparked my interest on what the similarities and differences of the diarists’ travels in the nineteenth century and my own in the twenty-first century might be. Continue reading Time travelers→
My great-grandfather was a man of few words, at times, as when he made his sole reference to a new office: “Elected to the [Norfolk] City Council tonight.” A more typical effusion occurs nine days later, when he notes the “Early cabbage [is] looking good.”
1 April: Bought an Overland car.
3 May: Went with Hotel Ass[ociatio]n to Cape Henry for Oyster Roast.
My second-ever Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather became a stationmaster for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. On the morning of 8 December 1941 (on his side of the International Date Line), Papi oversaw the departure of a Pan Am Clipper flying boat from Noumea, New Calendonia, which would immediately thereafter enter aviation history by flying “the long way” back to New York over uncharted routes. At almost the exact same time (on the American side of the International Date Line), a young man named Joe Pease was at the dock of Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor facility, awaiting the arrival of another Clipper. Needless to say, Joe had the more exciting morning! Continue reading Stubborn facts→
‘What’s in a name?’ asked Juliet of Romeo, concluding that the name of something does not define what it really is. A rose, after all, by any other name would smell as sweet, but for family genealogists, a rose by any other name can become an obstacle to progress and success. Naturally, we go in search of a name as we expect it to be, as we’ve always known it to be and, in doing so – in not considering all the possible variations or that any given spelling may not necessarily be the “correct” spelling – we may overlook vital clues and new pathways for our research. I suspect that most family genealogists who stay at their research beyond the “low hanging fruit” stage, who don’t give up too soon, eventually double back and realize their earlier oversights. Continue reading What’s in a name?→
I have a vivid memory as a boy of the time my mother’s father showed me a healed wound in his leg. While he was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, with the Purple Heart (among other medals) to show for it, this scar – deep enough for a child probe with a finger – came from a shooting accident when he was not much older than I. The idea that my grandfather had ever been an unruly boy – his childhood inconceivably remote in the early 1970s – fascinated me, and, anyway, boys love the squeamish and the gross: this evidence of time’s passage, long-healed, formed a Proustian memory, sending me back to a hot summer’s day and a moment’s connection with my beloved grandfather. Continue reading ‘Planting watermelon’→
I have been exploring the ancestry of the twenty-plus 2020 presidential candidates. Although I will likely wait some time until the number is reduced before reporting on most of them, I was recently surprised to find in the ancestry of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, via a small amount of his New England ancestry, connections to two prominent figures in the United Kingdom! Continue reading Mayor Pete’s cousins→
My grandmother Anne (Cassidy) Dwyer never met her father, Patrick Cassidy, who was killed in a Fall River (Massachusetts) mill seven months before her birth, but from the Cassidy side of the family, she knew a dozen or more Irish-born first cousins. Six sisters from one family alone came to Fall River to escape the grinding poverty of rural Ireland. Agnes Horan, a favorite cousin, arrived at age 20 in 1908. Agnes’s elder sister, Annie Driscoll, paid for her passage. Agnes, in turn, brought over the next sister. In 1919, after working ten years as a domestic servant, Agnes married Joseph Bento, son of Azorean immigrants. Agnes died in 1930, leaving her husband and four small children. For the rest of her life, Nana Dwyer nonetheless maintained contact with Agnes’s children. Long after my grandmother’s death, I renewed acquaintance with the Bento family, sharing genealogical information and photographs. Continue reading Cousin confusion→
Of my four grandparents, it is my maternal grandfather whose background seems most mysterious. He and his parents duly appear in Norfolk (Virginia) city directories and censuses, but much of the personal – the quirks and the quotidian – seems missing from the life he led before he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1919.
His father, J. Frank Bell (John Francis Bell, 1878–1944), has, if anything, been more of a cipher. It was his father, also John Francis Bell (1839–1905), who appears out of thin air, hailing from Isle of Wight County and establishing himself as a contractor in Richmond. Frank Bell went south to Norfolk, where he met and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Estelle Jackson (1876–1935). Frank Bell seems as solid as Estelle’s father, the roguish O.D. Jackson, proved transient, and he became a leading figure in Norfolk, managing hotels, winning election to the City Council, and helping to found the Rotary Club. Continue reading The weekend farmer→
As I mentioned in my last Vita Brevis post, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Europe this past March. Like any good vacation, my travels were filled with historical and genealogical research. After a wonderful stay in Rome and having thoroughly (re)explored its ancient history, I made my way to the Tiburtina Terminal in the northeastern part of the Eternal City to board a bus and pursue what historians and genealogists alone would consider recent history: nineteenth-century records.
As any Italian genealogist knows, many records that have been digitized are available on FamilySearch.org and the Italian Antentati (i.e. “ancestors”) site. The digitization process is far from complete, however. Continue reading Coming home→
Discovering details from the past that bring events to life is one of my favorite parts of genealogical research. Finding a passenger arrival record is great, but it doesn’t give you any idea of what the journey was like. I always want to know more. Recently, my quest for additional information turned up more than I could ever have hoped for. It all started with a Boston Pilot newspaper notice for the ship Thalia, which arrived in Boston from Cork, Ireland, on 14 April 1848. Continue reading ‘A short allowance’→