Tag Archives: Serendipity

The devil’s Mr. Gideon

Torphichen Preceptory, where Henry Livingston was preceptor in 1449. Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America.[1] His volume on the Livingstons of Livingston Manor, in introducing the Scottish ancestry of the American immigrants, glides right by the siblings of “Worthy famous Mr. John Livingston” – father and grandfather of two Robert Livingstons – remarking that John was the “only child [of his parents] we need take any notice of.”[2]

Brave words! As it happens, though, a series of biographical volumes on Scottish ministers fills in the names of the children of the Rev. William Livingston and two of his three wives, and in the biographies of the ministers who married John Livingston’s sisters there are indeed stories on which to linger.[3] John Livingston’s sister Anna married the Rev. Thomas Vassie (or Wassie), later of Torphichen, in 1627; their half-sister, Jean, married the Rev. Gideon Penman, a widower, in 1651.[4] Both the Vassies and the Penmans figure in questions of witchcraft – even as the three brother ministers were involved in the religious and political ferment of the period. Continue reading The devil’s Mr. Gideon

ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2019.]

Eva Rhodes Clancy, posed in a photo booth.

My great-grandfather John W. Rhodes lived in Wareham, Massachusetts for most of his life. Though I remember him well, I knew nothing of his extended family. His 1966 obituary named Eva (Rhodes) Clancy of Westerly, Rhode Island, as a surviving sister. Sixteen years later, I hoped some members of the Rhodes family still lived there as I prepared for my first of many trips to Westerly. Continue reading ICYMI: A rehabilitated marriage

ICYMI: Four hundred years local

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2020.]

Plymouth Harbor at dusk

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading ICYMI: Four hundred years local

‘Ye olde pandemic life’

My old Scottish home?

Now that a few of our shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, my wife Nancy and I have started to get back to the more ‘normal’ side of life. I have to admit, it’s been pretty nice not having to treat toilet paper like some new form of currency, and truly heartwarming to only Zoom with the grandkids for fun. Indeed, the pandemic life has reminded me of what’s most precious in life, i.e., family. Interestingly enough though, it’s also played an important part in helping me to find out just who I am – at least in ancestral terms. Yes, ye olde pandemic life has also taught me a thing or two outside of ‘the norm.’ And along with its implied “six degrees of separation,”[1] this period has reminded me about some ancestral ties I scarcely knew I had. Continue reading ‘Ye olde pandemic life’

Near neighbors

Small world. All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of backbayhouses.org

My grandfather[1] came from New York, and when I was growing up it was understood that the Stewards were from New York and the Ayers (my grandmother’s family) were from Boston. A little digging suggests a more complicated picture – my grandfather’s mother-in-law[2] came from Newark, and his maternal grandmother[3] had only New England ancestry – while there is also an interesting collateral connection, somewhat obscure to later generations of the family. Continue reading Near neighbors

Omission vs. commission

Detail of Lippitt manuscript, 2020

When I “hand-off” a genealogical manuscript, it can be some time before the work is handed back to me with queries from the copyeditor. Occasionally in that time, more resources may emerge (or become more accessible), and my own choices might have evolved with regard to ways of “ending” research where no solution was found.

While I will look at online trees for possibilities, and may put clues in brackets, my general practice is to remove them later on if I can find no supporting documentation. In a roundtable discussion when asked about this, Robert Charles Anderson said he would prefer to “commit the sin of omission versus the sin of commission.” Continue reading Omission vs. commission

A family of strong women

Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, circa 1910. Used with permission from the Durand Family Archives
This month marks one hundred years since passage of the United States Constitution’s Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote across the country. Some of my female ancestors[1] were able to vote many years earlier, however, including my great-great-grandmother, Aurelia Jane (Hargrave) (Bottom[e]s) Corker, whom I wrote about late last year. Recently a fellow descendant sent me scans of scrapbook pages and family photos, which imparted more interesting details about this indomitable ancestress.

I already knew that Aurelia was a strong woman. She gave birth to her second daughter while traveling by wagon train from Hopkins County, Texas, to Southern California. According to the recently shared newspaper clippings, she usually drove the wagon’s team while her husband attended to other duties … but I guess even she had to take a break from that during the baby’s delivery!

Around the time of my great-grandmother’s birth in March 1878, Aurelia and John Thomas Bottoms divorced. Continue reading A family of strong women

In the neighborhood

The Fensgate, today’s Charlesview Condominium. All images courtesy of backbayhouses.org

Real estate transactions might not seem very romantic, or as offering much in the way of narrative, but sometimes proximity and dates can signal ongoing relationships. One in my own family comes to mind: in 1899, my Ayer great-great-grandparents[1] moved from Lowell to Boston, initially renting a house on Beacon Street while they planned to build a new home on Commonwealth Avenue.

At the same time, my great-great-grandfather’s sister-in-law, the former Mary Hascall Wheaton,[2] was living in a house on Beacon Street while planning her own new house, just two doors down. Of all these houses, only Aunt Minnie Kittredge’s former home has been torn down, to make way for The Fensgate at the corner of Beacon Street and Charlesgate East. And while the street addresses don’t hint at it, the Kittredge and Ayer houses were just two blocks apart. Continue reading In the neighborhood

Group photos

Julie Haydon photographed for “Shadow and Substance” (1938). Proof by Alfredo Valente; author’s collection

Much like genealogical research, photo collecting can be a serendipitous process – sometimes one finds answers, and interesting ones at that, when least expected. From time to time I have focused my efforts on one photographer or another, collecting everything available for sale at a given moment. One such photographer is Alfredo Valente (1899-1973), whose handsome portraits of Broadway stars (and others) give me joy.

I like to buy photographs where the subject is known, although a bit of detective research doesn’t trouble me. In the course of purchasing a Valente proof of Julie Haydon (Donella Donaldson, 1910-1994),[1] I came across an attractive proof of Miss Haydon (and, so I understood, Martha Scott, 1912-2003[2]) as part of a quartet, also by Valente, so I bought it, too. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what show these four women had appeared in, and came up with the note (to myself) that Miss Haydon and Miss Scott had done some summer stock in 1937-38… Continue reading Group photos

Researching the Negro Baseball Leagues

Courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Baseball is back! As someone who has always loved baseball, I could not be more excited to see the players return to the diamond. Although the game might not look exactly like it did last year, these differences simply remind us of how baseball has changed over the years, and how it will continue to do so in the future.

Growing up in eastern Connecticut, an allegiance to the Boston Red Sox has deep roots in my family. In fact, many of them still talk about that fateful Game 4 in 2004, when the curse of the Bambino was broken for good.[1] Personally, baseball has always meant something special to my father’s family. As my paternal grandfather died long before I was born, he was always the biggest question mark on my family tree. Before I began doing research of my own, the only fact I knew about my grandfather was that he played in the Negro Baseball Leagues. Continue reading Researching the Negro Baseball Leagues