Tag Archives: Serendipity

O Columbia!

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Just the other day, I found myself humming something that felt like an almost-forgotten song. As I hummed along (mindful of anyone thinking me completely bonkers), the tune brought me to a place I hadn’t expected to arrive. One couplet in particular tripped me up:

O Columbia! The gem of the ocean,

The home of the brave and the free…[1]

As I mulled through the verses of that old patriotic song, one word continually stood out. That word was “Columbia,” and I wondered to myself: “Where did that word come from?” Just who was Columbia? Had she fallen off the boat along with Christopher? (I mean, we Mayflower descendants understand all too well the “falling off” of boats, don’t we, John Howland?) Continue reading O Columbia!

Preserving collections

Bookplate, Hinman’s Letters from the English Kings and Queens… (1836).

As the conservator at American Ancestors and NEHGS, I spend much of my time conserving our book and paper-based collections while also devoting a little bit of time to thinking about the future preservation of these items. This leaves relatively little time to reflect on past efforts by the organization to preserve these collections, but there is evidence that those efforts were considerable.

Preservation was a major part of the reason for founding the New England Historic Genealogical Society, as outlined in the original Charter.[1] Collecting and preservation have always been tied together; if you are going to collect books and manuscript materials, efforts will need to be taken to make sure they will be available for future generations – particularly important for a genealogical society, where generations really matter. Continue reading Preserving collections

Research via Wikimedia Commons

The database team here at NEHGS posts information on updates to our databases on our blog, dbnews.americanancestors.org. In each post, we try to give you a little information about the database, the new records, and provide some sort of visual.

So I’m always looking for images in the public domain that pertain to various towns and other locations around New England. For some of our ongoing projects like Historic Catholic Records Online or Early Vermont Settlers, it can become difficult to find a new image to illustrate each post, and I have to keep track of what I’ve already used! Continue reading Research via Wikimedia Commons

Mayflower family traditions

Following the author’s wedding to Ian Holland at Old South Church in Boston in 1991.

With all the excitement about the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, I’ve been looking for my own Pilgrim ancestors. While my maternal side is mostly nineteenth-century German and English immigrants, my paternal side does have deep New England roots. So far, I haven’t found anyone who came over on the Mayflower in my family tree. Yet, I still feel a connection to those feisty Pilgrims. Their religious beliefs have rippled down through the centuries, with a few embellishments and changes, but are still flowing strongly in me and my family today.

The Pilgrims were a radical group of Puritans labeled as Separatists. While the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England, the Pilgrims wanted to take it a step further and separate themselves into their own congregations. They wanted no church hierarchy and no one telling them what their congregation could or could not do. Plymouth Colony was founded on these principles in 1620. Continue reading Mayflower family traditions

The youngest volunteer

Those of us who love the informalities and irregularities of older cemeteries know that there are surprises and delights at every turn. On our rambles (mine, at least), progress is slow as we meander, waylaid and stopped in our tracks by the transcendent folksy beauty of carvings; by messages of remembrance, love, and loss; by wisdoms, life philosophies, and, occasionally, a mischievous bit of humor that momentarily lifts us from our solemnity.

In the older cemeteries, even when we’ve seen the classic motifs a hundred times before, or feasted on the opulence of Victorian-era monuments, there is always another example that seems to swallow our attention from a distance. We make a beeline to it, certain that it is the headstone of all headstones, the pièce de résistance, only to have another one come along that sets the bar even higher. Continue reading The youngest volunteer

Low ceilings

Mayflower II. Courtesy of Plimoth Plantation

I’ve always had a fascination with tall ships and antique sailing vessels. I like to think my interest is ingrained, coming genetically from my Norwegian seafaring ancestors. And I don’t mean Vikings, though it’s fun to think about those. I mean my oceanographer grandfather, Navy Lieutenant Commander great-grandfather, and sailor-turned-Coast Guard captain great-great-grandfather. Continue reading Low ceilings

College records

Harvard 1921 and Columbia 1873

In the books I have written (or co-authored) in the last twenty years or so – on the Thorndike, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, and Winthrop families – I have usually noted the academic histories of family members as well as the more usual genealogical data. I’m occasionally asked why, and until recently I didn’t really have an answer.

While I generally answered that college and university records could help flesh out a sparse biographical narrative for someone treated in one of these books, I would now add that, often, they help keep the genealogist honest. After all, someone born in 1940 wouldn’t be likely to graduate from college in 1954, while a late graduation date begs further study. At the very least, a focus on filling in this area helps distinguish Charles Smith from Chad Smith – not to mention Charles Chad Smith! Continue reading College records

The power of one volunteer

Early in the process.

Large, dusty, and certain to leave an indelible brown smudge if allowed to touch your clothing, handling the fourteen volumes of Albany County, New York Deeds, 1630-1894 was my first assignment after I became an NEHGS volunteer in 2005. With ancestors who settled near Fort Orange (present-day Albany) in 1650, I had a personal interest in helping to bring this collection to a broader audience. These early land records represented some of the few city and county records that had not been destroyed or damaged during the disastrous 1880 fire at Albany City Hall.    Continue reading The power of one volunteer

An elegant resolution

When I first began to explore my family tree, I asked my mother what she knew about her ancestors. She pulled out some old typewritten papers and documents that contained most of the information the family knew, and I pored over them. One of the family lines that caught my attention was my great-great-grandfather Henry John Dauber. He was born 23 October 1834 in New York City. The family notes even specified he was born on Delancey Street, near the police station. But there was no mention of his parents, either in the notes or on his death certificate. Continue reading An elegant resolution

A foolish boy

Last month I shared the story of my ancestor Francis Billington “discovering” the Billington Sea. This story is relayed in the 1622 publication known as Mourt’s Relation. The second story on Francis Billington from this work could have had very dire consequences for the new settlement. This event occurred on 5 December 1620, a few weeks before his “discovery” of the Billington Sea: Continue reading A foolish boy