Tag Archives: Spotlight

South Carolina leaders

Montage created in 1876 showing the “Radical Members” of the South Carolina Legislature. (Click on images to expand them.) Courtesy of facinghistory.org

I recently watched comedian Dave Chappelle’s powerful Netflix special 8:46, remarking on the death of George Floyd and several other recent events. During the performance, Chappelle mentioned that President Woodrow Wilson received a delegation of African Americans from South Carolina after a black man was lynched in that state. This delegation was led by the comedian’s great-grandfather, William David Chappelle (1857-1925), born enslaved, the 37th Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dave Chappelle also mentioned this ancestor’s wife was the woman Dave’s father called out to on his deathbed, and how that memory reminded him of when George Floyd called out to his mother knowing his death was imminent.

I had worked on the genealogy of Dave Chappelle over a decade ago, and biographies of Bishop William David Chappelle appear in Who Was Who and Who’s Who in the Colored Race. Continue reading South Carolina leaders

Phantom faces

On a glorious late spring afternoon, just days before the solstice and the return of summer, I should have been jostling with the crowds on my visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I should have been standing on the hot pavement waiting my turn to see the sanctuary of the beautifully restored First Parish Church in Town Square. Should have been in a long line snaking its way to the pavilion to get a glimpse of Plymouth Rock, after which I should have been climbing the hill for a tour of the eighteenth-century Edward Winslow House, built by the great-grandson of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, and now the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. I should have been among the throngs visiting the humble thatched homesteads of the Pilgrims at the recreated Plimoth Plantation, watching them cultivate their gardens and listening to them recount stories of their first years in the New World. Continue reading Phantom faces

The last founder

In researching the origins of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I came across an article about the Society’s fiftieth anniversary in the Boston Post dated 20 April 1895, which omitted the names of founders Charles Ewer, Lemuel Shattuck, Samuel Gardner Drake, and John Wingate Thornton, but credited the efforts of William H. Montague specifically.[1] Surely the Post had a reason to single out Montague; though he had died by 1895, he was the last surviving founder of NEHGS. Continue reading The last founder

ICYMI: “Socially, she is not received”

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 25 March 2016.]

Oscar Wilde by Sarony. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

A frequent theater-goer and enthusiastic pedestrian in the 1860s, by the early 1880s – following the death of her husband – Regina Shober Gray was going out rarely, and only to the houses of relatives and close friends. This does not mean that she lost her interest in the goings-on around Boston or, indeed, among the celebrated and notorious people of her day.[1]

1 Beacon Hill Place, Boston, Wednesday, 8 February 1882: Laura Howe[2] has sent Mary[3] a most humorous parody ‘After Oscar Wilde.’[4] She says she and Harry [Richards] agreed that the only thing to be done with his book of poems was to burn it, that there were some pretty things amid the filth! The ‘Swinburne’[5] School of poetry is certainly open to reprobation in the matter of good taste & pure morals! Continue reading ICYMI: “Socially, she is not received”

The Grim Reaper

Four hundred years after Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, in September 1620 with 102 passengers, we cannot pretend to know all that they endured. These souls had stepped onto an over-crowded ship to sail across thousands of miles of ocean and establish a colony from the ground up in what might very well be a hostile land. They were fully aware there was every likelihood they would disappear into the sea or perish on land, never to be heard of again. Many had faith in their Lord, while others did not, but their sacrifices ended up being the same. While we had plans to celebrate their achievements this year, that will wait for another day. In today’s world, though, it seems even more appropriate to remember their sacrifices. Continue reading The Grim Reaper

‘From whence emigrated’

A page from the Davis article.

Census records are obviously an essential resource for genealogical research. Until recently, my understanding was that the first U.S. census to provide a place of origin was the 1850 census. Beginning in 1850, the census began to include the names of all family members, ages, and place of birth, among other information. This contrasted with earlier census records that only provided the name of head of household and a broad age range for each family member.  However, while doing some recent case work on a Snow line in Hancock County, Maine around 1800, I came across an article by Walter Goodwin Davis published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1951. In this article, entitled “Part of Hancock County, Maine in 1800,” Davis called attention to the 1800 census for Hancock and Kennebec Counties (at that time part of Massachusetts) which actually had a column labeled, “from whence emigrated.”[1] Continue reading ‘From whence emigrated’

Lucky Essex County

I have always suspected that people with ancestors in Essex County, Massachusetts, do not know how lucky they are. I used to enviously wander among the stacks of published Essex County records at the NEHGS library – probates, court, town, church, deeds. Wow, Essex County has it all.

At the core of this treasure trove was the Essex Institute in Salem, which between 1859 and 1993 published 130 volumes of the Essex Institute Historical Collections [EIHC] – but the material in each volume varies widely from issue to issue resulting in information from the same record sets being spread among many years of issues. Continue reading Lucky Essex County

Gone to the dogs

My daughter adopted her first dog back in July. Emje is a 9-year-old, 78-pound creature who curls up in your lap like a cat. His papers say he is a Pit Bull, but he has an unusually shaped body that got us thinking he may be a mixed breed. To find out for sure, we did an Embark canine DNA test.

Embark offers a Breed Identification Kit that identifies your dog’s breed back four generations, or a more expensive Breed + Health Kit that, in addition to breed, identifies a predisposition for certain diseases and gives interesting detail on which genes result in which physical traits. Continue reading Gone to the dogs

Built environment

Today, the NEHGS headquarters at 99—101 Newbury Street stands eight stories tall, several stories higher than the neighboring buildings. However, the present building at 99—101 Newbury was not always the tallest on the block. It began as a three-story bank building.

After the Back Bay was filled in during the second half of the nineteenth century, a new neighborhood sprang up, filled by desirable Victorian brick rowhouses. Newbury Street was no different. It had been built up by 1890 and families had moved in. Numbers 99 and 101 Newbury Street were two separate residences (though attached, like all the other row homes in the area) which faced the Massachusetts Institute of Technology buildings across the street. Continue reading Built environment

Complicated responsibilities

Cover for the 1895 Treasurer’s Report: Scituate, Rhode Island (Providence: J. R. Day Printer, 1895).

Seven hundred thirty-eight pounds of pork, 152 bushels of corn, 65 heads of cabbage, 3 tons of oats, and 60 gallons of cider – and, no, this isn’t a farmer’s market. These items represent just a sampling of the produce sold in 1895 by the town asylum of Scituate, Rhode Island. The whole summary of the institution’s annual revenue and expenses may be found at the North Scituate Public Library’s local history room.

I came across these documents while researching a family living in Scituate. The 1870 federal census showed a traditional family unit living alongside what appeared to be ten strangers. Continue reading Complicated responsibilities