Tag Archives: Serendipity

‘Struggle with a vixen’

“Paternity Concealed & Revealed: The Case of Julia Smith of Rutland, Vermont,” published in American Ancestors, recounts one of my wildest rides in Vermont research.[i] Why did Julia Smith of Rutland hide her true identity? My investigation proved that Julia was the daughter of English convict Emanuel Abrahams, a London Jew, who spent two decades in Queen Victoria’s prisons. After emigrating to Vermont in the late 1870s, Emanuel assumed the name John Smith and married Mary Dougherty, an Irish Catholic, twenty-five years his junior—theirs an unlikely union for that time, with disparities of culture, religion, and age. Continue reading ‘Struggle with a vixen’

Finding Ma

Ma Seal revealed. Images by Lora Webb Nichols, courtesy of the University of Wyoming

“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life.[1] I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Sealcame into our lives. Ma Seal,[2] for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma

Logic problems

The dovecot at Corstorphine. Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland

If A is the son of B, and C is the grandson of B, and C’s father is D and mother is E, then how is E related to A…?

In addition to the main allied families in the Livingston project — Douglas of Dalkeith, Fleming of Wigtown, Hepburn of Bothwell, Menteith of Kerse, and Bruce of Airth — there are others that recur, either as ancestors of Livingston spouses or kin of kin in some way. One of the most prevalent is the Forrester family of Corstorphine, Torwood, Garden/Carden, and Nyddrie/Nidrie/Nithrie. Without even including the later Lords Forrester, I can easily count eight instances of Forresters in concert with other families to be covered in the Livingston book. Continue reading Logic problems

View from the dog house

Our family has an historic heirloom, a microscope that originally belonged to [Heinrich Hermann] Robert Koch (1843-1910), the famous German bacteriologist, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries related to the causative agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. The microscope came into our family by virtue of his cousin, my great-great-grandfather, Ernest Wilhelm Eduard Koch (1827-1903), who was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, about 30 miles from Clausthal, the birthplace of Robert Koch. After moving to the United States, great-great-grandfather went by “Edward,” but usually was referred to by the family as E.W.E.

E.W.E. was a highly educated man and was an “1848er,” one of many who emigrated from Germany after the 1848-49 revolutions there. Continue reading View from the dog house

Churchill’s Mayflower line

Sir Winston Leonard (Spencer-) Churchill (1874-1965)

Last year I made a post teasing about an upcoming article I had written that showed, with the assistance of Y-DNA evidence, a Mayflower descent for Prime Minister Winston Churchill (among other notable figures). The journey began in 2017 when I was at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. When at our booth, we get a chance to meet lots of genealogists, members of American Ancestors and non-members alike. It is always a fun chance during some down time to discuss problems or recent findings. Continue reading Churchill’s Mayflower line

Notorious

There are some great lines in one of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey stories about the way his “persistent and undignified inquisitiveness,” his “habit of asking silly questions,” leads him to pursue anomalies to a conclusion. In this story, “The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question,” he is hunting for a jewel thief in the drawing rooms of Mayfair, and he ends the story both in triumph and in trouble: Continue reading Notorious

Outdoor classroom: Part Two

It was a glorious late October day in Plymouth. If only that could be said without qualification but, alas, we are still in the midst of Covid … mandatory face mask zones and digital signs warning of fines for scofflaws. But the sun was shining and a fresh breeze wafted in from the harbor as I resumed my lessons in the outdoor classroom, determined, as I have been all year despite the restrictions, to make the most of the Mayflower quadricentennial.

There has been something of a silver lining with the virus in that the explorations that might have taken me farther afield have kept me close to home. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part Two

Tethered branches

The other day, while rolling about in a school bus through the streets of our fair town, my co-worker – a vociferous and practical-minded young woman we’ll call Cathy – chided me, saying, “Why that’s just impossible! You think you are related to everyone!” Well, I have to admit, I stammered a bit at this, and wasn’t quite sure what to say. Cathy’s no-nonsense attitude made what I wanted to extol, an overly simplified explanation of “We are all possibly related to each other – it’s just a matter of proving how,” feel a bit too dumb in the moment. Continue reading Tethered branches

A genealogy of a pizza

Gus Guerra at Cloverleaf.

I love learning about the history of food. Just as genealogy does, learning about the evolution of food and food culture feeds my desire to fully understand how the people who came before us lived on a day-to-day basis. Recently, I did a deep dive into one particular food after my boyfriend and I got take-out pizza from Avenue Kitchen + Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. We ordered one of their “Detroit-style” pizzas, which neither of us had ever heard of. We were absolutely blown away by how insanely delicious it was. This, of course, necessitated a whole deep dive into figuring out what exactly a Detroit-style pizza is. The descriptions we found online aligned with our own dining experience: thick-crusted, chewy, rectangular pizza, topped with cheese and pepperoni, drizzled with sauce, featuring crispy, crunchy edges. When I read that Detroit-style pizza could be traced back to one man, I was thoroughly intrigued, and immediately felt the need to set down my dinner plate and learn more. Continue reading A genealogy of a pizza