Tag Archives: Serendipity

An alter-ego’s tale

Groucho Marx:”Well, whaddya say girls? Are we all gonna get married?”

Woman: “All of us? But that’s bigamy!”

Groucho: “Yes, and it’s big-a-me, too.

Researching the collateral relatives of my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record has brought a host of complicated characters. From “liars, whores, and thieves”[1] and murdering wives,[2] to throat-slashing cousins[3] and snake oil salesmen[4] alongside lawyers for the KKK,[5] to the accompanying tragedies of kidnapping and allegations of rape,[6] it’s no wonder that some of them ran off to join a traveling theater,[7] or, oddly enough (and contrary to all other indications), the police force.[8] Yes, my folks from Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Del Marva peninsula were a colorful bunch to say the least. Continue reading An alter-ego’s tale

Mrs. Frank Leslie

In early July I was given the opportunity to attend an online educational event, “Women in the Gilded Age,” with guest speakers Laura Thompson and Betsy Prioleau, part of the American Inspiration series at NEHGS. The draw was my interest in women’s history, and this event sparked my interest further and provided me with a newfound love of the history of the Gilded Age of New York (1870–1910), a captivating era of growth, greed, and deep cultural changes.

I became truly fascinated by one woman in particular, Miriam Leslie, known in her day as Mrs. Frank Leslie. What intrigued me about Mrs. Leslie was the way in which she challenged the societal norms of the time; in a time that expected women to be homemakers, she stepped up, challenged misogyny, and worked her way to success as a professional businesswoman, taking over the publication business of her late husband, Frank Leslie, and inspiring women who sought more than domesticity. Continue reading Mrs. Frank Leslie

One more for the road

When Scott Steward told me about his forthcoming departure from NEHGS, he asked if I could send him one more Vita Brevis post “for the road.” The posts I have written have largely been when I need a mental break from whatever genealogy I am working on or go down a rabbit hole on a minor problem within a project; they are sometimes inspired when I am engaged in other forms of entertainment outside of work. While I had one such post “in the cupboard” for Scott to publish, I thought a more appropriate final post under Scott’s editorship would be reminiscing about the many projects we have worked on together for more than fifteen years! Continue reading One more for the road

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

Road lines

True love comes in the strangest ways.

It was, for me, not exactly love at first sight. There were those who said I was wasting my time with her; that she didn’t come from good lines and that her family was nothing but a bunch of hot heads or, worse, nouveaux riches. Still, I persisted. I mean it wasn’t like she’d been omitted from any of the more recent lists of Who’s Who in the appropriate Blue Books,[1] right? After all, what more could they want from her? Her family had indeed built skyscrapers;[2] in later years some of her adopted kin even became synonymous with our efforts during the last World War.[3] Perhaps in spite of all these things, or because of them, she rather captivated me, and I must confess that I quickly fell in love with her. Continue reading Road lines

Bessie’s story

The thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities.” – Jeremy Hardy[1]

Remember that children’s game of Telephone (or Gossip) in which a message is passed on in a whisper to each of several people, so that the end version is often distorted from the original? Family stories are like that old game and can be even more distorted depending on how many narrators related the story to how many listeners. I recently found one example in Husband’s maternal family history concerning (ahem) One Child Left Behind.

The story was that Husband’s maternal grandmother, Catherine (Hrabal) Samson (1906-1987), had emigrated in 1910 as a child with her family from Czechoslovakia (or Czechia, Bohemia, Austria, or Moravia, depending on which U.S. Census you want to believe and what the international politics were at the time). Continue reading Bessie’s story

This can’t work

I have posted a few times about going back to the original records after looking at transcriptions. Sometimes you may have multiple versions of later transcriptions, or an uncited genealogy may have read the records more correctly than the published transcription, or the original record had a small smudge that has confused later transcribers. While there is certainly value to looking at the original records as they are written, it is good to keep in mind that the original records themselves may also be wrong. Continue reading This can’t work

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

Inside the cap

The Dwyer family at Doctors’ Library, Rhode Island Hospital, fall 1963.

My father, Frank Dwyer, spent three happy years as a fellow in cardiology at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. It was a special treat when my mother brought me there for a visit. I remember being fascinated by the ashtray behind Dad—press a button and the cigarette butts disappeared! Continue reading Inside the cap

So much Crimson

Ketanji Brown Jackson (Harvard 1992 and 1996), Patrick Graves Jackson (Harvard 1991), and Stephen G. Breyer (Harvard 1964).

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Boston Globe on the ancestry of Dr. Patrick Graves Jackson, husband of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court. My colleague Sarah Dery has been working on Justice Jackson’s ancestry for some time, and the Globe article discussed both of their ancestries.

Sarah recently wrote a post about Justice Jackson’s ancestry, and a longer article she wrote will be published in our next issue of American Ancestors magazine. Continue reading So much Crimson