Tag Archives: Serendipity

A letter to Paul

Paul Charles Doerr, 1931-1985

Dear Paul,

As far as letters go this won’t be much of one. After all, it’s a bit unusual to write letters to the dead; still, there seems much to say. I just wanted them to know who you were, Paul. I hope you can forgive me this along the way…   

Jeff

*

In the summer of 1968, my parents were well on their way to what would otherwise be an amicable divorce. Continue reading A letter to Paul

ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series

[Editor’s note: This series of posts originally appeared in Vita Brevis in June 2021.]

My maternal grandmother

While recently reviewing family research that I have been doing for some time, I came to the realization that I had learned some valuable lessons during that process. These lessons are not unique to me, but the circumstances surely are. The first lesson relates to family stories.

The availability of online records has greatly increased our ability to find information from past generations, mostly in the form of facts and the information related to them. What it has not done, and can never do, is retrieve those family stories that have died with those ancestors. How many people have said “I wish I had asked my grandfather about…”? I am one of those who have lamented lost opportunities. We cannot make up for the past, but we can ensure that does not happen to the family stories that we have tucked away in our memories. Do not wait to be asked, record those stories! Continue reading ICYMI: Lessons in genealogical research series

Not all is changed

The Samoset House in Plymouth, from Atlas of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, 1879.

A few years ago, PBS began airing the BBC travel documentary series Great American Railway Journeys, with host Michael Portillo, a British journalist, broadcaster, and former government official. Mr. Portillo traveled across the United States and Canada, mostly by train, his journeys informed by the 1879 Appleton’s Railway Guide to the United States and Canada, originally published in two volumes and usually referred to simply as Appleton’s Guide.[1] Continue reading Not all is changed

Things that scream DNA!

An occasional series in The American Genealogist (TAG) is called “Enigmas,” which often concern clues or possible kinships that are not entirely proven, with varying levels of uncertainty. A recent comment on my post about Christopher Christophers recalled me to one such enigma – Hannah, wife of Daniel2 Geer (ca. 1673-1749) of Preston, Connecticut. Continue reading Things that scream DNA!

Wanderings

Copy of a copy of the framed original image of Latu.

Sometimes Real Truth jumps out from the first line of a Vita Brevis post and slaps me with a “duh” moment, although I think “wander” might be a slight understatement suggesting a lack of speed or single tracks. My mind has been wandering through some of the family stories as I try to decide how best to preserve them, lacking any hope of documentation as proof. Such stories have a habit of becoming altered, embellished, or denied by those who weren’t present at the first instance as they are passed through multiple generations. Lacking any audio recordings of my family storytellers, I’ve decided to write down as many as I can as I’ve heard them or experienced them to create an “oral” history in print. I could record myself telling them, but I believe, even in this digital age, that paper will last longer than the current technology. (Carving in stone might last longer, but that’s far beyond my ambitions.) I began my wandering through stories and random titles: Continue reading Wanderings

Do over

It is coming up on ten years since I began writing the Early New England Families Study Project sketches. A lot of things are changing. As an example, I wrote the sketch for Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester in 2018, and at the time it was as complete as I could make it given the limitations on access to digital images of original records. Recently, reader Ben Moseley sent in some corrections and additions to the sketch he had found when comparing to his own work on the family. As I began cross-checking, I realized there was an important record collection I had not included in my research – the Suffolk County Probate copy books – because in 2018 I did not have access to the digital images online, or maybe I had just not learned how to access them yet. Today, I know how to see all Massachusetts probate images, including original documents and copybooks, through Ancestry.com, using their database “Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991.” Continue reading Do over

Child cooks

Throughout my childhood, I was frequently asked if I was related to the famous chef Julia Child. Until I was in high school, my family had a summer home in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard. Our driveway from the main road, which was out of sight of the house, had an unassuming white sign saying “Child” and a similarly identified mailbox. While we lived there, my father learned that tour buses would occasionally claim that our home was that of Julia Child and her husband Paul, who had a house somewhere else on the island! Continue reading Child cooks

Finding Charles Taylor

“The Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers Leaving Jersey City R.R. Depot, To Defend The Capitol, at Washington, D.C., April 18th, 1861,” published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1861.

When researching the American Civil War, battles and generals are often discussed in depth and the individual everyday stories and struggles of the common soldiers can be neglected in the larger story of the war. A story of particular interest to me is the story of Charles Taylor, a 25-year-old private from Massachusetts, who is often cited as the first soldier killed in the Civil War.

At approximately 4:30 in the morning of 12 April 1861, Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina. Although neither side sustained casualties during the battle, this event is widely regarded as the start of the American Civil War. Continue reading Finding Charles Taylor

Family lore

Images courtesy of Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday, 22 February 1891.

After my son was born, I developed an interest in finding out more about his father’s surname, Sadler. Not much was known about the origins of the Sadler line, since my boyfriend and his siblings did not grow up knowing their father. From time to time I would get asked to explore this family line. At some point, there was even a tale that perhaps the Sadlers were related to James Thomas Sadler, of Whitechapel district in the east end of London, who was accused of being the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper! Continue reading Family lore

Introducing Martha

“Only trust your heart,” ca. 2010, courtesy of the artist Martha Wakefield

I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha. She’s my best friend of sorts, both before and after there was ever anything of me to call a life of my own. She certainly knows me very well, or at least half of everything, anyway. Thinking about it, I can’t say as she hasn’t heard all of my innermost thoughts and confessions. And while I don’t always heed her counsel or advice, I always feel it in my bones. Hers is a great concern for my well-being and survival. Truth be told, Martha is in the deepest recesses of my ancestry. Oh, she can be a bit shy and defiant, and it’s true that she often thinks she’s a lot funnier than she actually is. Yes, I’ve been wanting to tell you about Martha, and just what Martha means to me. Continue reading Introducing Martha