Tag Archives: Spotlight

The Iconography of Manhattan

Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes by John Singer Sargent. Courtesy of Wikipedia

One of my favorite sources for Manhattan research is The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867-1944). This six volume set was published between 1915 and 1928 and chronicles the history of Manhattan from the fifteenth century to the early twentieth century. The publication not only records the vast history of Manhattan, it also provides beautiful illustrations and maps.

The volumes most relevant to my own family research are the first and second volumes, which highlight the Dutch period (1609-1664); both volumes have helped me to uncover new information about my family. Most importantly, from this source, I have learned where my Dutch ancestors held property or lived in lower Manhattan during the seventeenth century.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with historical landscapes. How has this property changed over the years? What did this street look like 200 years ago? Continue reading The Iconography of Manhattan

The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

King George I of the Hellenes. Carte de visite by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri; Scott C. Steward collection

To mark the second birthday of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and with the imminent birth of his younger sister, Christopher C. Child and I have continued our (occasional!) series on Archie’s ancestry. The first segment, covering parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, appears here.

This generation of great-great-great-grandparents includes the origins of the surnames Mountbatten and Windsor. The name Mountbatten derives from Archie’s father’s father’s father’s mother’s father, the 1st Marquess of Milford Haven; the name Windsor — also the house name of the current British Royal Family — comes via Archie’s father’s father’s mother’s paternal grandfather, King George V. Just over 100 years after the Princes of Battenberg became Mountbattens and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha adopted (in England) the surname Windsor, a descendant bears both names, marking the 1947 marriage of Lord Milford Haven’s grandson Philip to King George’s granddaughter Elizabeth. Continue reading The ancestry of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor

Retroactive surnames

Geoffrey “Plantagenet,” Count of Anjou

Following up on my prior post on retroactive suffixes, I’ll now discuss the other practice of retroactive surnames. This frequently occurs in publications relating to royalty in the medieval period, the best example being the “surname” Plantagenet. Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (1113-1151), had Plantagenet as an epithet or nickname, but this was not used as a surname by himself or his children. His son Henry II became King of England in 1154 as the first Angevin monarch, as Geoffrey was a member of the House of Anjou. Three centuries later, Geoffrey’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Richard, 3rd Duke of York (1411-1460), adopted “Plantagenet” as his family name. The surname Plantagenet was even used by two illegitimate children of Richard’s son King Edward IV. However, Richard’s male line soon died out in the aftermath of the Tudor conquest of England in 1485. The last living legitimate male born with the surname Plantagenet was Richard’s grandson, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, who was beheaded in 1499, and King Edward IV’s illegitimate son Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, died in 1542. Continue reading Retroactive surnames

Retroactive suffixes

An occasional question I receive relates to two practices used in publications by my longtime friend and colleague, Gary Boyd Roberts, that I would summarize as retroactive suffixes and surnames. The latter is used in many other genealogical compendia, largely in relation to royal genealogy (which I’ll discuss in part two of this post), while the former is perhaps less common, and used more often in identifying Americans after 1620. I would identify Gary as belonging to “Team Present,” in terms of using a modern genealogical naming system for past eras, while Vita Brevis editor Scott Steward would belong to “Team Contemporary” in trying to identify people by the names they used in their lifetimes. I would put myself in “Team Whatever,” usually omitting suffixes entirely, except when their contemporary identification is useful to determine how they might fit genealogically into a family. Continue reading Retroactive suffixes

Heartbeat of the Revolution

With Patriots’ Day almost upon us, I feel especially lucky to be working remotely from my historic hometown of Lebanon, Connecticut. While many New England towns have their own history during the Revolutionary War, Lebanon to this day is still very much defined by its patriotic past. Although large in acreage, Lebanon has one of the smaller populations. As a small town in eastern Connecticut, Lebanon consists primarily of farms, rural roads, historic homes, and a deep-rooted patriotic history.[1] Continue reading Heartbeat of the Revolution

The language of genealogy

Over the last few months, any number of Vita Brevis posts have pointed out the frustrations of relying on public trees and trying to sort through the “dross of Internet information” that does little but “cause trouble for everyone else.” Those who try very hard to get it right, who quibble over trifles and worry about the minor details are, it seems to me, in the best sense of the word, genealogical pettifoggers.[1]

Accuracy does matter. Chronology matters. Details matter. In fact, the tiniest detail can be the clue that turns a theory on its head or knocks down a brick wall. Details, however minor (and one can certainly make the argument that there are no minor details in genealogy), can also bring a story alive. Continue reading The language of genealogy

ICYMI: Title trouble

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 10 May 2019.]

Sunday night’s interview with Oprah Winfrey included statements by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their son Archie’s title usage. As I note in the post, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor should be entitled to the rank of the eldest son of a non-royal duke. It was understood in 2019 that the decision to dispense with the title was made by his parents, not that the title itself could be bestowed or withheld following the baby’s birth.

Punch cartoon from 1917. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The birth of Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth great-grandchild – the first child of HRH Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex,[1] and the former Meghan Markle – offers a 2019 gloss on names and titles in the British royal family.

During the First World War, the rulers of Germany and Great Britain were first cousins – and King George V of Great Britain had no agreed-upon surname. Whatever the family name was, it was German. This situation led to a wholesale renaming of the royal family (as the House of Windsor) and the ceding of assorted German titles for equivalents in the British peerage system. Continue reading ICYMI: Title trouble

Black families of Great Barrington

Reading Rufus Jones’s recent post discussing buying the home of James Weldon Johnson in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, reminded me of past research I had done on two other prominent African Americans with genealogical connections to that town. The first was the well-known historian and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt [known as W.E.B.] Du Bois (1868-1963), who was born and raised in Great Barrington. I minored in African-American/African Studies in college (although I took enough courses for a double major had that been offered), and read several works by Du Bois. One of my college professors from Ghana had written a book on his country’s revolutionary leader Kwame Nkrumah, who invited Du Bois to Ghana in what ended up being the latter’s last few years of life writing the Encyclopedia Africana.[1] Continue reading Black families of Great Barrington

“Along this way”

James Weldon Johnson at his writing cabin in western Massachusetts. Courtesy Yale Beinecke Library James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

In 2000, I was asked to co-produce the James Weldon Johnson Medal ceremony under the guidance and leadership of the late Dr. Sondra Kathryn Wilson at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. My wife, Jill Rosenberg Jones – the other producer – was my intended wife during that summer of 2000, and she was passionate about James Weldon Johnson – and because I intended to marry her, I thought it made sense for me to be passionate about James Weldon Johnson, too. Fast forward to June 2016, when we established the James Weldon Johnson Foundation to honor Johnson’s life through historic preservation and educational, intellectual, and artistic works that reflect the contemporary world and exemplify his enduring contributions to American history and worldwide culture. Continue reading “Along this way”

Research strategies for 2021

E. H. Glidden’s Wendell Mansions in Washington, D.C.

A new year offers a new chance to look at old problems with a fresh eye – and to consider fresh methods for breaking through well-established brick walls. Here is a chance to put the word out: What are your favorite approaches to beginning new research or to resolving long-standing problems?

As the editor at Vita Brevis, it is my job to write up my own research successes (and failures), and to edit the similar – but invariably different – accounts of travails and victories from the blog’s 100+ contributors. Over the years I have recommended a variety of hints and how-tos, starting with pointers on how best to utilize Google searches. Continue reading Research strategies for 2021