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’→
Something happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t wanted to say anything to you about it, as, well, it’s tough to admit one’s own genealogical shortcomings. And, yes, I haven’t wanted to appear more naff than usual, but the truth is that I recently had to “do” genealogy the old-fashioned way, and I was a bit (no, really, quite) unsure whether or not I was still capable of doing just that. You see, for the last couple of years or so I’ve been whisking around my genealogical exercises a lot like George Jetson, and the thought of getting back to basics – and maybe even using some of those old SASEs – was a bit daunting. Continue reading Legwork→
The Jeopardy question/answer would be: What do Cupid and the French Foreign Legion have in common.
The answer/question would be: Who is Vincent Allemany?
I wanted to find out if the stories Husband related about his step-grandfather’s life were true. Indeed, I wanted to verify what little we knew about him. What I found was an individual who as a youth had found adventure first and troubles later. Continue reading Love and the French Foreign Legion→
During the late summer of 2011, having then recently been afflicted with genealogy fever, I found myself day after day at the Massachusetts State Archives in front of a microfilm reader. I’m one of those lucky descendants whose ancestors, for the most part, were born in Massachusetts and remained rooted in Massachusetts, so I quickly amassed a binder full of vital records and began learning details about my great-great-greats. Continue reading My day in court→
Lightning has struck twice! More than a year ago, I wrote about my surprise (and slight suspicion) when someone contacted me seeking information about the Rev. Moses Marcus. As I wrote at that time, “In case another soul on the planet ever wants more information, I periodically check to see if I can find anything new about Moses Marcus.” It turns out that at least one other soul was interested!
I was contacted in March by a professional genealogist who had seen a query on JewishGen seeking information about Moses’s younger brother, Henry Robert Marcus. The genealogist found Henry in my online tree and wondered whether I might be able to help. Continue reading Lightning has struck→
We hear so often about how uncivil the public discourse has become. Everyone is talking past one another and no one seems to be listening. No one understands, or tries to understand, the other. Our collective manners leave much to be desired and grace seems to have taken a holiday. (This is not a political screed, I promise!)
Perhaps, then, it is a most apropos moment for a relic of the Catholic Church to be making a national tour of the United States. Though I was raised in the Catholic faith, I confess that I am ignorant about much of Church ritual, in particular the veneration of relics and their miracle healing. I had mostly understood the word relic (or relict) in the context of early cemeteries. From the Latin word reliquiae, relic means remains, or left behind. Continue reading Heart of a priest→
In my work on the current “Watertown Cluster” for the Early New England Families Study Project, I am getting a heavy refresher course in the records of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. In the olden days, I would get on the Green Line and go to the Middlesex County Court House in Cambridge to access probate records. Today, I find online access is both a blessing and a curse.
AmericanAncestors.org has images of Middlesex County probate files, but in my search on William Parry/Perry of Watertown, I found that the image of his original will from these files is indecipherable (to me, at least). In such cases, the next step is to access the copy book versions of the records, images of which are accessible on FamilySearch.org.Continue reading Ease of use→
Over time and practice a family historian develops an instinct for when a recorded fact does not make sense. The following examples may serve as illustrations of genealogy as more art than science.
Thirty-seven years ago, my uncle-by-marriage, Bill Shea, made an ancestral pilgrimage to Ireland in pursuit of his County Cork great-grandparents, Dennis Shea and Eva Bard. He did not find them. Later I commented to Bill that Eva Bard was not an Irish name and seemed an unlikely match with Dennis Shea in Catholic Ireland during the last third of the nineteenth century. “How do you know her name was Eva Bard?” He replied, “That’s the name of the mother on grandfather’s death certificate.” Continue reading Genealogical instincts→