Tag Archives: Spotlight

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

ICYMI: Rules of engagement

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 18 January 2019.]

Like Alicia Crane Williams, I have been inspired by the fifth anniversary of Vita Brevis to think about the writing of essays. When I first began contributing to this blog, I wasn’t sure if I really had anything to say – and, if I did, whether I could say it within the allotted word count.

As it turned out, I have come to relish the discipline of writing to the suggested 400- to 500-word count. I now recommend it to anyone who wants to get started in family history writing: pick some aspect of your family history and write 400–500 words on the topic. It’s only about a page to a page and a half of text. Continue reading ICYMI: Rules of engagement

Evaluating DNA matches: Part Two

Catedral Santa Ana in San Francisco de Macoris. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

My last post discussed how corresponding with autosomal matches may add additional ancestors to your research when family names or places have been forgotten. This post builds on that idea with how you might be able to assist others in adding ancestors to their family tree.

Responding to messages from autosomal matches can have their frustrations. I manage over sixty accounts and frequently the messages I receive do not indicate which account they match. Frequently the amount of shared DNA is simply too small for me to be able to provide any meaningful assistance. (I’ll respond as best I can.) Continue reading Evaluating DNA matches: Part Two

Evaluating DNA matches: Part One

Last November, I participated in an online panel discussion – Discussing DNA: Finding Unexpected Results – with authors Libby Copeland and Bill Griffeth, talking about some of the ramifications of genetic surprises that have come about from commercial DNA testing. I probably learn about these more than others, given my profession, and my own family is no exception.[1] However, your autosomal DNA matches also have the ability to find genealogical connections when someone’s recent family history has been lost, perhaps owing to family members dying young and later generations not learning of certain details to help find their ancestors in available records. These tests can sometimes be a time-saving genealogical shortcut in such cases. Continue reading Evaluating DNA matches: Part One

A brief history

As we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of NEHGS during 2020, I wanted to explore the history and present of our website, AmericanAncestors.org. I can’t cover the entire history of the our website in one brief post, but as I spoke to my colleagues who have worked at NEHGS for many more years than I, I found many parallels between our work today and the website of the past. Continue reading A brief history

The ‘Magee storm’

As 2020, the year commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing in the New World, comes to a quiet end we can, with hopefulness, look forward in 2021 to making up for all the 2020 cancellations by commemorating the quadricentennial of many first-year Mayflower milestones. The “Winter of Death” and the death of the colony’s first governor, John Carver, were despairing events, but other milestones, including the treaty signed with Massasoit in March 1621, the first marriage in the Pilgrim village in May, and the harvest feast in late October lifted the colony’s hopes. The year 2021 should, in more ways than one, be recognized as the year of survival. Continue reading The ‘Magee storm’

Ten questions for your Zoom holiday

This year promises to be one unlike any other for the holidays. Many families will get together virtually this season, an unfamiliar way to gather for many of us. Despite the different circumstances, this season can still be a time to share stories of family history. Here are ten questions to ask relatives during this year’s Zoom holiday. Continue reading Ten questions for your Zoom holiday

Ghost towns

In genealogy, it is not unusual for individuals or families to simply disappear from all records without a trace. Entire towns falling off the map, however, is a far less common occurrence. Occupying nearly 3.8 million square miles, it is hardly surprising that a large portion of the United States is uninhabited, but over the course of the last four centuries there have been many communities that were once populated, only to be abandoned for any number of reasons. The people who lived in these communities often found themselves relocating to other towns, bringing the memories of their former home with them. Continue reading Ghost towns