In the last post about our family christening gown, I mentioned that my “middle” brother, John Winthrop Williams, was not christened in the gown. John was born 5 October 1941 (two months and two days before Pearl Harbor) at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Massachusetts.
Dad was a Corps of Engineers combat engineer stationed at Trinidad, British West Indies. Mom and David, their firstborn, were living with her parents in Natick, Massachusetts, with plans to join Dad in Trinidad once the baby was born. Continue reading Trinidaddy→
Most families use a new christening gown with each baptism, each family, or each generation. My family used one gown from 1858 through at least 1990. I know because my mother made a list.
The gown was made by my mother’s mother’s father’s mother Laura Matilda (Henshaw) Crane for his older brother, Charles, in 1857. It was then worn by my great-grandfather at his baptism in Bainbridge, Indiana, in 1858 – a ceremony at which his grandfather, Rev. Silas Axtell Crane, officiated – and by a younger brother, Clarence, in 1861. Continue reading The family christening gown→
On occasion I look around my living room, at the lovingly collected and curated family photos on (almost) every flat surface, and wonder how I will pass along the identifying information on the subjects. (No unidentified photos for me! But the identification resides in my head…)
I don’t worry so much about the ones of my parents and grandparents, although in due course they will all pass into history. The multitude of photos of them, at each stage of their lives, here and in other family houses, argues for some chance that they will be recognized and remembered by future generations. Continue reading In pencil→
I recently discovered an online app. that allows me to scan my photographs. As I like to be able to refer to a record of my collection (still somewhat maddening if I forget the subject’s name), this has been a revelation. One of the vernacular photos I bought some time ago shows a cheerful group of four young men standing in front of a large building, perhaps a school. On the reverse, the four have signed their names. So who are they?
The clearest signature belongs to Henry Angiola, and a check of Ancestry.com’s databases yields Henry Angiola, a student at Belmont High School in Los Angeles. The cryptic S ’42 next to Sinn Lew’s signature is seen on Henry’s yearbook page, and all four may be found in the Campanile, Belmont High’s class of 1942 yearbook. Continue reading Belmont High School, 1942→
I grew up surrounded by my father’s family, but at something of a distance. Looking back on it, I trace my parents’ incuriosity about these relatives – generally described as “Oh, he’s a cousin … somehow” – to my grandfather’s self-protective stance when he married into the sprawling Ayer family: he focused on his own friends (and a handful of his relatives) while maintaining a cool remove from his in-laws. (The one exception was his wife’s uncle, General George S. Patton Jr., a near neighbor and a man it was hard to ignore.)
So it was something of a surprise one summer’s day, out sailing with my father and a friend, for my father to point out a house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean as belonging to “our kooky cousin the Countess.” Even as a child, a keen reader of histories and romances, the word Countess – applied to a resident of Essex County, Massachusetts – piqued my interest; and I was still of an age where adult foibles (particularly those noticed by other grown-ups) were fascinating glimpses into adult life. Continue reading The better part of valor→
Many years ago, as a graduate student in English, I discovered, to my surprise, how fascinating it was to read the sermons of early Puritan American ministers as works of literature. I’ve since come to appreciate that in addition to their literary value, sermons also provide snapshots of the historical moments from which they emerge. The best ones have staying power long past their delivery, as both spiritual meditation and historical document. This was brought home for me recently as I was looking through the papers of Rabbi Albert Gordon housed in the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center’s archives. Continue reading Timeless and Timebound: High Holiday Sermons as Historical Documents→
As many of you may have concluded through your research or education, primary sources are incomparable when it comes to understanding events and information. They often hold truths about which we can otherwise merely speculate. It is a success when just a few pages of a primary source are discovered, so imagine my disbelief when I found myself leafing through boxes upon boxes of living history which make up the Francis de Marneffe Family Collection at NEHGS. Continue reading Francis de Marneffe Family Collection at NEHGS→
My second-ever Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather became a stationmaster for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. On the morning of 8 December 1941 (on his side of the International Date Line), Papi oversaw the departure of a Pan Am Clipper flying boat from Noumea, New Calendonia, which would immediately thereafter enter aviation history by flying “the long way” back to New York over uncharted routes. At almost the exact same time (on the American side of the International Date Line), a young man named Joe Pease was at the dock of Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor facility, awaiting the arrival of another Clipper. Needless to say, Joe had the more exciting morning! Continue reading Stubborn facts→
I have a vivid memory as a boy of the time my mother’s father showed me a healed wound in his leg. While he was a decorated veteran of the Second World War, with the Purple Heart (among other medals) to show for it, this scar – deep enough for a child probe with a finger – came from a shooting accident when he was not much older than I. The idea that my grandfather had ever been an unruly boy – his childhood inconceivably remote in the early 1970s – fascinated me, and, anyway, boys love the squeamish and the gross: this evidence of time’s passage, long-healed, formed a Proustian memory, sending me back to a hot summer’s day and a moment’s connection with my beloved grandfather. Continue reading ‘Planting watermelon’→
Joseph Kenny was a soldier in the 169th infantry, 43rd Infantry Division, during the Second World War. He was born in 1910 in Rhode Island, one of the nine children of Michael and Catherine (Mangan) Kenny – both Irish immigrants. My great-uncle Joseph died on 11 August 1944 in the Philippine Islands.
He was stationed at Fort William McKinley. Although we don’t know much about how Joseph died in combat, we do know a lot about the after effects of his death from the telegrams and letters written by the Kenny family to the Army for more than a year – all trying to learn about Joseph’s last days on Earth. Continue reading Row on row→