The conversations at my family dinner table usually center around daily activities: what the kids did at school, which beach are we going to this weekend, whose pool can we finagle an invitation to – normal things. Recently, while my kids and I visited with my older brother, we showed them some pictures of the two of us growing up in the 1980s. They were particularly interested in the pictures seen at left (and below), of my brother and me at the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Questions flew, such as: “Wow, dad, is that a real cannon?” “Does it still work?” and “Can we go there someday so I can sit on the cannon?” Continue reading Still relevant today
With all of their ‘lives’ so scattered about, I really had nowhere to run and certainly nowhere to hide. There were papers and pictures everywhere, and in the midst of the fray of utter ancestry I caught my grandmother “Miss Ogle” (no pun intended…) staring back at me. Carefree and young in her photograph, she ‘watched’ as I rifled through my great ‘genealogical reduction.’ Her gaze appeared to crisscross over all those lives, and over the hodgepodge of paperwork connecting me to a host of pilgrims and witches … and other assorted knuckleheads. From her grainy Kodak vantage point, Miss Ogle seemed to smirk in humorous disbelief at my genealogical disarray as if to say “Well, isn’t that just the living end…” The only thing I could think in reply to the memory of her long-ago voice in that near-forgotten photo was“Sorry grandma. I need to. It’s time.” Continue reading ‘Pruning the tree’
Two years ago, I described several gifts that Genealogy Santa had brought me for Christmas. In that post, I hinted at a forthcoming, very juicy story about a family member, but I have failed to follow through thus far. Then a few weeks ago, Jeff Record virtually threw down the gauntlet in search of family bank robbers … and tagged me in his post to boot! Challenge accepted.
First, a little backstory. Continue reading Good neighbors
Back in 2018, when I had the good fortune to be added to the Vita Brevis family of writers, one of my first posts was about my maternal grandfather, John Joseph Osborne, and the seven-year journey I had taken to learn about this man who had, we were always told, grown up an orphan.
Because I was starting with nothing more than my grandfather’s death certificate (which, fortunately, included his birthplace and parents’ names), I knew that my research would likely be a journey of discovery and, indeed, there were many revelations. Continue reading Into the ether
Recently, I wrote about the search for my great-great-great-aunt Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox, and the rewards and pitfalls of what I like to call those Delayed Messages from “beyond.” While I was happy to put the mystery of Minnie to rest (and to collaborate with my new almost-a cousin-in-law Tom), the rest of my family didn’t seem all that enthused to learn the tale and final resting place of Aunt Minnie. Heck, even my clan’s most ardent family history aficionados seemed numb to the small cache of findings about Minnie. The only thing I can say here is that I’m hopeful that their nonchalance about Minnie was just in deference to (and disapproval of) her curmudgeon of a husband, Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox. My great-great-great-uncle Billy probably should have been a 1920s-style “poster husband” for spousal abuse. This isn’t to say that I didn’t hear from “da folks” with regard to Tom’s and my discoveries about Minnie (or Billy). Only to say that by and large I heard from those polite branches, and they for the most part, are distant from ye olde trunk. Continue reading Not a gangster in the bunch
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
As a kind of sequel to my post on “kinbot,” the medieval Scottish practice of making amends after slaying a kinsman, I can offer two stories of Livingston family murderesses … and the very different impression their acts made upon their contemporaries. The first took place more than a century after Sir John Bruce was “slaughtered” by his Menteith kinsmen and concerns the Livingstons of Dunipace, from which family the Rev. John Livingston’s mother was descended. Continue reading Fireside stories
At our dinner table recently, talk turned to a discussion of family stories, specifically the story that our great great-great-great-grandfather, George Read, refused to paint his chimneys white in the English style because he was so opposed to British oppression. Son, He of the Flypaper Mind (everything sticks to it!), challenged the origin of the tale, asking “How do you know that? Do we have any documents he wrote about it, or his diary, for instance?” At something of a loss given his significant lack of respect for The Family Story, I turned to Husband, a retired attorney, for his input and support, but got the legal definition of “hearsay” instead. Continue reading He said. She said
As part of my research on the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I have been looking at allied families – who sometimes turn out to be Livingstons themselves. One such case is John Bruce of Stenhouse (Airth), sometimes Sir John, who married Elizabeth Menteith, the daughter of William Menteith of Kerse and Helen Livingston, a daughter of Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar. John and Elizabeth’s daughter, in turn, married William Livingston, younger of Kilsyth, a descendant of Sir Alexander’s half-brother, also William. Eventually these three Livingston lines united in the marriage of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, grandson of the 4th Lord Livingston, and Barbara Livingston of Inches (a descendant of Callendar as well as a cadet line of Kilsyth).
John Bruce died in circumstances I have yet to work out. Suffice it to say that he was “slain” by his wife’s brothers, the Menteiths, but what happened after the “slaughter” is somewhat surprising. Continue reading Kinbot, and friendship
The Livingston family genealogist devoted two large volumes to a painstaking account of the Livingstons in Scotland and America. 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.”
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. 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. 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