Tag Archives: Serendipity

Here be dragons

If Our Old House builder, Asa Williams, had recently awakened from his 201-year eternal sleep, he would have seen, with fascinated but utter panic, the thunder of dragons that crawled up my driveway. (I think the blacksmith in Asa would find any fire-breathing dragons very useful … eventually.) As a patriot and devout Christian, he might have thought that Satan disguised as  King George had unleashed his “great red dragon” on him personally. Continue reading Here be dragons

Finding Anastasia

The Mack family of Holbrook, Massachusetts, ca. 1925, with matriarch Bridget (Mahoney) Mack (1845–1927) at its center. Her granddaughter Therese (Mack) Doherty (1928–2020) helped me re-establish ties among lost branches of our family in Newport, Rhode Island.

This tale began with a headline – “Fatally Stricken While in Bank” – in the Newport Daily News on 5 January 1965 that described the sudden demise of Anastasia Dwyer, age 76 [sic]. A reserved, quiet, unmarried woman, “Stacia” always came to family wakes and sat alone. My Newport Dwyer relatives, with roots in County Kerry, Ireland, assumed she belonged to our clan but did not know any details. Stacia’s death certificate presented the first of many puzzles, beginning with the names of her parents: father — Dwyer, Patrick later inserted, and mother Abbie Mahoney [sic]. Informant: Patrick Mack of Holbrook, Massachusetts. Who was he? It struck me as odd that none of the Newport Dwyers supplied that information. Stacia had lived with her mother, Abbie Dwyer, until the latter’s death in 1946. Abbie Dwyer’s death certificate indicated her maiden name was Sullivan, the names of her parents unknown. A death notice in the Newport Mercury offered no additional information, but her funeral notice disclosed Patrick Mack as one of her pallbearers. Continue reading Finding Anastasia

Fractured fairy tale

The occasion for my visit that day was not Heidi’s death.[1] I’d traveled far to get there, and next to her sole surviving kin (a sister by adoption), I was the only other person that day who might give some sort of testimony to her life. Still, I had the strange feeling that I didn’t belong at her memorial. She’d been dead so long. Wasn’t there some sort of rule about having a service this many years after the fact? What can I say? I guess the existential genealogist in me was having trouble with all this ex-post mourning business. My mind reeled in search of some forgotten Mayflower mourning etiquette,[2] all of this brainstorming no more than an attempt to assuage the grief I felt for the loss of my friend. Continue reading Fractured fairy tale

Shared DNA

Click on image to expand it.

While I’ve talked about examples of sharing DNA through two (unrelated) parents, which can occur frequently when one’s ancestors lived in the same area for generations, this example involved a DNA match my father had through both of his parents, who are from different geographic and ethnic backgrounds. Continue reading Shared DNA

Peart’s Elixirs

The rasp of her son’s cough hadn’t stopped for a fortnight, and it seemed (as Mrs. Hatton would later write) that there was “no medicine on earth that could reach his disease.”[1] It was terrible to watch him wasting in his struggles. There certainly was no ease or comfort for the boy. There appeared to be no cure.

The doctors the Hattons had called upon at Baltimore lauded the Playfair method for flushing his lungs.[2] Good Lord, his mother had thought, he is but two years old! Continue reading Peart’s Elixirs

Anna’s origins

According to family stories, my great-great-grandmother Anna Elisabeth Mohrmann emigrated in 1864 from Germany to Cleveland, Ohio. She was supposedly about 17 and came with other young women from her community to marry men who had preceded them to America. For some reason Anna and her intended husband did not marry. There has been a lot of speculation in my family about why the marriage did not occur. Maybe her betrothed was dead? Maybe he had married someone else? Maybe Anna called off the marriage?

In any case, soon after her arrival Anna met my great-great-grandfather Henry Dauber, a “perfect stranger,” and supposedly married him after three days. Continue reading Anna’s origins

Uncertain immigration

I do a lot of lectures, courses, and online webinars about immigration, with my favorite period concentrating on the 1882 to 1924 period. This isn’t so much because of the improvement of the passenger lists, but more as a result of the many changes to the immigration laws in this period that began to limit what was considered an “acceptable” immigrant. Physical limitations, inability to get a job, and certain “loathsome and contagious” diseases were just some of the reasons an immigrant could have traveled all the way from their old country to America only to find that they wouldn’t be admitted. Continue reading Uncertain immigration

Beaver Hill miners

The yards at Beaver Hill mines. Courtesy of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Last fall I was asked to do some research for a local historical society called Oregon Black Pioneers about a group of coal miners recruited to work in Coos County, Oregon, at the end of the nineteenth century. The project was entirely open-ended, so I decided to present it in two main sections: an organized compendium of newspaper articles about the Black miners at Beaver Hill, Oregon, and an attempt to trace the history and descendants of every Black miner in Coos County who appeared in the 1900 census. Continue reading Beaver Hill miners

What’s in a name?

Although these three girls’ names – Mary, Marcy, and Mercy – are similar, they are distinct names, often (and mistakenly) intermingled. Mingling similarly spelled names is usually a result of misinterpreting seventeenth-century handwriting, which is exacerbated for us today when we do not have access to original records. You ask “What’s the harm?” The following case story shows how old genealogists get older because of indiscreet mingling.

A Mayflower line has long been accepted by the Society that claims descent through Mary Medbury/Medbery, daughter of John Howland descendant Benjamin Medbury and his wife Martha Harris. Continue reading What’s in a name?

The wrong Blood!

My recent post on “Philoprogenitive ancestors” resulted in several comments from readers about their own ancestors with many children. I mentioned my ancestor Simon Willard, and one reader also noted him as her own ancestor through his daughter Elizabeth. I was planning to comment back to the reader with my full line of descent (also going through Elizabeth, wife of Robert Blood), but before doing so I did a quick verification of the lineage as I had it. Long story short, Simon Willard can now be classified as one of my Former Ancestors. Continue reading The wrong Blood!