One of my great-grandmothers was a penniless orphan, the kind found in storybooks: beautiful and, secretly, a dispossessed member of a once proud family. As often happens when a child’s parents die young, much of this background was lost: my grandmother’s mother, born Sara Theodora Ilsley in Newark, was the daughter of a composer (and member of a distinguished family of musicians), granddaughter of one of the men who owned the yacht America, and the descendant of a notable set of families along the Eastern Seaboard, including the first Congressman from New York City (and an aide-de-camp to General Washington) and the Attorney-General of the Colony of Pennsylvania.
Her descendants knew almost nothing of this when I was growing up, perhaps because of that break occasioned by Theodora’s father’s death in 1887 and her mother’s death in 1895, when she was fourteen. Continue reading Salient points→
Last year when I wrote about zinc headstones for Vita Brevis, I mentioned that after seeing my very first example of “white bronze,” I began seeing them regularly in various cemeteries. What were the odds, I asked? Well, it turns out that once we have been made aware of something, that something pops up frequently because our brains are unconsciously in search of another example. It’s called frequency illusion.
Which brings me to the recent daylong seminar at NEHGS – “Seventeenth-Century English Research with the Society of Genealogists UK” – that I had the pleasure of attending. Continue reading A colonial goldmine→
Did I say television? The boob tube? Is that possible? Well, actually, before I learned about the Mayflower on TV, I was taught the story of the Pilgrims in various elementary school Thanksgiving pageants. They were quite inspiring, if not downright fanciful. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, an extremely interesting read that I highly recommend. It tells a story that is much more accurate than the one in the pageants, and thus, much more bleak, if not tragic. Continue reading Everything I learned about the Mayflower→
When this blog was still fairly new, Christopher Carter Lee did a great post on discovering the political leanings of one’s ancestors. Since this is not only a presidential election year, but also the centennial of the first such election in which females could participate, I thought it would be fun to share a little tidbit I gleaned from my great-grandfather’s reminiscences. Yes, I do know how blessed I am to have such a document in my possession, even if it’s a very blurry copy of a fourth carbon copy. I will let him tell the story in his own words: Continue reading Worth listening to→
Some of you may know of Herbert Brutus Ehrmann. A Harvard-educated attorney born in Louisville, Kentucky, he is most known for serving on the defense team for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of (and later executed for) murdering a paymaster at a shoe company during an armed robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1930. The JHC has a collection of his materials.
His wife Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann was equally well-known in the Boston community. Also born in Kentucky, she was raised in Rochester, New York, and married her husband in 1917. Partially in response to the injustice she saw in the case against Sacco and Vanzetti, she devoted her life to fight against capital punishment. Continue reading Lost in the mountains→
Sometimes, our ancestors were not the most creative people. This is particularly true when it came to naming new settlements. Throughout the history of the United States, many towns have been named after one of the following: a founder or influential early settler, a figure from American history (i.e., Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, etc.), or a famous foreign leader (Guilford, Vermont, and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire). There are other methods for community-naming, including one which can be extremely helpful to genealogical researchers: reusing the name of a town in another state where many early settlers originated. Continue reading Naming patterns→
A popular image exists of Native Peoples meeting the passengers of the Mayflower as a first contact scenario where the indigenous populations in what would become New England saw Europeans for the first time. This is a romantic myth designed to create warm feelings of a cooperative relationship leading to the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Native populations in New England had already met European fishermen and traders nearly a century before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth and their interactions with Europeans made them wary of the newcomers.Continue reading Before the Mayflower→
As one of the few remaining staff members from NEHGS Sesquicentennial in 1995, I thought I would share my memories as we celebrate the next quarter century. My journey at NEHGS began in 1986, as a high school student. I would make frequent visits to research my New England and Atlantic Canadian ancestry at 101 Newbury Street. An article about my research as a “Student Member” appeared in the NEHGS news magazine NEXUS (the acronym for New England Across the U.S.) in 1987. Later that year I would meet my future bride Anne-Marie and we both traveled into Boston to research together. Continue reading From the age of dial-up→
My maternal grandmother Sylvia was the youngest of seven children born to Rufus Herman Bailey of Windham, Rockingham County, New Hampshire and his wife Mina P. Watson of Boston, Massachusetts. Her Bailey lineage traces back to immigrant Richard Bailey, who died in Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1647. My grandmother was a definite survivor. She lost her twin sister at eight months. She was hit by a car in 1920 at the age of 18. She lost her first daughter to scarlet fever when Shirley was just shy of her fourth birthday. Sylvia epitomized New England stoicism. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution so that she could volunteer at the General John Stark house, which was just a block from her home in Manchester, New Hampshire. Continue reading Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry→
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:
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!→