Tag Archives: Serendipity

Magic of the attic

The Whorfs’ house in Provincetown.

While admiring April’s Super Pink Moon – and contemplating what the man up there must be thinking as he looks down on Earth’s current woes – the notion of the slingshot effect popped into my head. As someone who, as a kid, took great fascination in the Apollo program, I remember this term being used, described as a maneuver using gravity to change the speed or direction of the spacecraft. That’s as far as I will venture into the science of it, lest I earn the ridicule of all the scientists out there, but the term seemed an apt metaphor for my latest genealogical wanderings. We’ve all had those moments. We are on our way somewhere and then, in a sudden shift in trajectory, we are flung in another direction. Continue reading Magic of the attic

Bright Legacy

John Quincy Adams by Matthew Brady. Courtesy of NARA

When I read a news article about congressional testimony from Dr. Rick Bright, my mind immediately went to genealogy, thinking of my colonial ancestor Henry Bright of Watertown, and one of his genealogist descendants, Jonathan Brown Bright, an early member of NEHGS, who set up a rather specific scholarship for students attending Harvard College.

When I worked in Research Services from 1997 to 2002, we would get occasional requests on ancestry-based scholarships. I learned that Harvard University has a small number of these scholarships, listed here. The majority of these are very specific; probably the most broad are for descendants of Massachusetts Bay Governor Thomas Dudley (1576-1653) and New Haven Colony settler Robert Pennoyer, the last one established in 1670 by Robert’s brother William. Continue reading Bright Legacy

Enduring mysteries

Ida Mary Way, age 3-4, ca. 1866, Berkeley County, West Virginia.

My first visit to NEHGS was with a now-deceased friend and former coworker and her husband in a February in the mid-1980s. This was also my first visit to New England. We drove up for a genealogy-related purpose: Sally was picking up a melodeon, a reed organ, from a cousin of hers in Dedham. While in the Boston area, we went downtown, ate at Durgin Park, visited Goodspeed’s Book Shop, and, of course, went to NEHGS for a few hours. It is a far different place now than it was 35 or so years ago. I still remember some of the look of the place, especially where the microfilm used to be on the level between the two of the floors, along with most of the rest of the public areas. Continue reading Enduring mysteries

The better part of valor

Courtesy of forgottenoperasingers.blogspot.com.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s family, but at something of a distance. Looking back on it, I trace my parents’ incuriosity about these relatives – generally described as “Oh, he’s a cousin … somehow” – to my grandfather’s self-protective stance when he married into the sprawling Ayer family: he focused on his own friends (and a handful of his relatives) while maintaining a cool remove from his in-laws. (The one exception was his wife’s uncle, General George S. Patton Jr., a near neighbor and a man it was hard to ignore.)

So it was something of a surprise one summer’s day, out sailing with my father and a friend, for my father to point out a house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as belonging to “our kooky cousin the Countess.” Even as a child, a keen reader of histories and romances, the word Countess – applied to a resident of Essex County, Massachusetts – piqued my interest; and I was still of an age where adult foibles (particularly those noticed by other grown-ups) were fascinating glimpses into adult life. Continue reading The better part of valor

Mayflower kin: Part Two

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the Mayflower descents of Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul and The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon announcer Steve Higgins. Fairly soon after that post, I got an interesting e-mail from Paula Petry of New Mexico, whose son Ben Petry played Jake Pinkman, brother of Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, on Breaking Bad. She let me know that her son Ben, through her husband’s ancestry, was also a Mayflower descendant, and that a few months prior, she had done done some genealogical research and connected back with Mayflower passengers Stephen Hopkins and his daughter Constance, William and Mary Brewster, and Thomas Rogers and his son Joseph. Continue reading Mayflower kin: Part Two

In praise of tax lists

Courtesy of NARA

One of my personal “Great Moments in Family History Research” occurred several years ago in the town hall of Pomfret, Connecticut. I was immersed in a volume of early Pomfret land records at a small table set aside for researchers, when I happened to ask a former town clerk in passing whether any of the town’s early tax lists had survived. Without a word, she disappeared into the town hall’s records vault and emerged carrying a large cardboard box filled with original copies of eighteenth-century local tax lists.

I hadn’t really worked with tax lists before, but I knew that they were supposed to be a useful source of information for family history research. From an early date, American towns large and small annually assessed the value of their residents’ property holdings for tax purposes. Continue reading In praise of tax lists

Scrope v. Grosvenor

In July 1385, King Richard II of England led an army on an ultimately unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. While the invasion itself would play a role in British history, it was a chance meeting – beginning on the battlefield – that resulted in one of the first known trials involving heraldic law. In the end, the case of Scrope v. Grosvenor would result in major changes in how heraldry was interpreted. Continue reading Scrope v. Grosvenor

Anne Cassidy, district nurse

Annie and Anne Cassidy in 1916.

The coronavirus crisis has inspired me to think of past health heroes. My paternal grandmother, Anne P. (Cassidy) Dwyer (1892–1964) of Fall River, Massachusetts, immediately comes to mind. As a first-generation American, daughter of an Irish widow, Anne overcame adversity through drive and determination. She worked ten years in the cotton mills to put her brother through school before she enrolled at St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Providence. When she graduated in the spring of 1917, the United States had entered World War I. Some of her classmates volunteered for service in France, but Anne’s mother vigorously dissuaded her from going. One of those nurses, Henrietta Drummond of Pawtucket, perished in a mustard gas attack.[1] Continue reading Anne Cassidy, district nurse

‘A remarkable old lady’

When I joined NEHGS with my aunt in 1992, we were the first members of our family to join this organization. While several members of our family had an interest in genealogy, no one was near enough to the Boston area to join NEHGS. (Now, of course, with our vast online presence, physical proximity to our library is less essential, and a few family members across the U.S. are members.) As this year marks the 175th anniversary of NEHGS’s founding in 1845, a new database of membership applications, “1847-1900,” has gone online, and I was curious to search it to see if more distant cousins were members in the past.

The earliest cousin I found was Isaac Child (1792-1885) of Boston, a life member admitted on 9 June 1846, one year before the founding of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. His was the thirteenth membership file for 1846, and as there are 88 files for 1845 (the Society’s inaugural year), I could say Isaac Child was our 101st member, although the files appear to be in alphabetical order by year! Continue reading ‘A remarkable old lady’

Gone to the dogs

My daughter adopted her first dog back in July. Emje is a 9-year-old, 78-pound creature who curls up in your lap like a cat. His papers say he is a Pit Bull, but he has an unusually shaped body that got us thinking he may be a mixed breed. To find out for sure, we did an Embark canine DNA test.

Embark offers a Breed Identification Kit that identifies your dog’s breed back four generations, or a more expensive Breed + Health Kit that, in addition to breed, identifies a predisposition for certain diseases and gives interesting detail on which genes result in which physical traits. Continue reading Gone to the dogs