Monthly Archives: May 2014

Organizing a family reunion: Part Four

Frances Giles Boucher
Frances Giles Boucher


One of my sisters recently asked me if we might be related to a friend of hers named Boucher, and I explained that we almost certainly were not, as the surname died out with our great-great-aunt Florence Estella Boucher (1879–1972). Our great-great-grandfather Boucher had eleven sons, only three of whom married. The youngest, Emile Gabriel Boucher (1886–1950), had no children, while the son of Louis Albert Boucher (1871–1914?) changed his first name and adopted his stepfather’s surname; only Francis Xavier Boucher (1854–1927) had Boucher sons, Milton and Edward, and only Milton married. I am unaware of any descendants of either brother. Continue reading Organizing a family reunion: Part Four

Why They Came

CharlestownCoverWhy most people went to Charlestown during the seventeenth century we can only guess. Individuals were usually far too occupied during preparation, emigration, and plantation to record their reasons for undertaking this life-threatening ordeal. We can only adduce possible factors from the heart-searchings of such (hardly typical) emigrants as Governor Winthrop, and from the prevailing conditions in emigrant areas of England. Continue reading Why They Came

The Percy Brand Papers

Percy BrandThe life of Percy Brand, whose papers are held by the American Jewish Historical Society–New England Archives, sounds like a plot from a movie. Born Peretz Brand in Liepaja, Latvia, in 1908, Brand began studying violin when he was ten years old. By the time he was 33, he had become concertmaster of the Latvian Symphony Orchestra in Riga. In that year, 1941, the Germans took control of the Baltic countries. Brand’s wife Sara and their children Mendel and Judith Basya were killed. Brand himself was sent Buchenwald in Germany. Continue reading The Percy Brand Papers

Trust in a reputable firm

Alicia Crane WilliamsI own some shares in mutual funds and have a basic understanding of the stock market, but I am in no way, shape, or form the person you want to talk to about investing your money. When I am trying to figure out how to invest my money, I face the same kind of information overload that a beginning genealogist faces. In both industries there are cautionary tales about not trusting everything that one reads. So who does one trust?

One piece of universal advice is to trust “reputable firms.” In the case of investments, that might be called an oxymoron, but in genealogy we soon pick up on names of researchers and authors who have good reputations. As human beings, none are perfect, but because of their “best practices” some have gained our trust. Continue reading Trust in a reputable firm

Preparing your genealogical project for publication

Building_exterior_night 076As I prepare for this week’s Writing and Publishing Seminar in Boston, I am reflecting on that challenging moment for genealogists when research gives way to writing. It’s important, at this stage, to begin thinking about the potential article or book as something quite distinct from the research project it has been until now.

Research is messy and enthralling; good articles and books may well be enthralling, but they are not . . . messy. Research notes record the thrill of the chase; at times, they can be a forum for reflection. They are not, as a rule, a summary or a reasoned argument. Continue reading Preparing your genealogical project for publication

Early Charlestown companies

CharlestownCoverThe “Great Migration” of as many as 20,000 people to New England during the 1630s was, in its long-term effects, the most important event in English seventeenth-century history. It has been depicted as a farther-reaching extension of an already mobile English population, though I have argued elsewhere that many emigrants to New England came from long-settled backgrounds. What distinguished the Great Migration was its family nature, as compared to the settling of the Chesapeake or the Caribbean, where individual young men predominated. Moreover, many arrivals in Salem, Charlestown, or Boston were members of “companies” – interrelated clans, or followers of gentlemen or ministers. Continue reading Early Charlestown companies

Organizing a family reunion: Part Three

Constance Boucher -young woman600 cropped_3My cousin Connie recently sent me a photo of a young woman and asked me if I thought it might show her grandmother (and my great-great-aunt) Constance Boucher Burch (1887–1977). I’m inclined to think it does, given the provenance as well as the (rather unscientific) fact that this young woman has a family look: in features and coloring she reminds me of my grandmother Pauline Glidden Bell (1903–1968). (Click on images to expand them.) Continue reading Organizing a family reunion: Part Three

The Great Migration Study Project: a primer

Alicia Crane WilliamsIt is amazing to realize that the Great Migration Study Project is twenty-five years old.  Part of my fifteen seconds of fame is that I was in the room when Great Migration Begins was chosen as the title for the first series of books! It is nice to see how many new researchers are getting a glimpse of the project through Vita Brevis.

Robert Charles Anderson conceived the project as a modern “genealogical dictionary” of settlers who came to New England during the period we call the Great Migration, from 1620 through 1640. The project began as a consolidation and correction of material in print but soon expanded to include original research in New England and Old England. Continue reading The Great Migration Study Project: a primer

A considerable legacy in genealogy

Drake coverSamuel Gardner Drake was not a likely candidate to become the author of a multitude of historical works. Born on a farm in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, in 1798, he was not an eager pupil in his youth. “His aversion to school, when a little urchin,” as John H. Sheppard put it, “was particularly strong.” Drake recalled his initial dread of the school room: “My first impressions of that school were anything but pleasant. Being naturally very timid, I was sadly frightened at the stern look of the master. To learn my lessons seemed a desperate undertaking, and it was a long time before I could believe and feel I was not in danger of being annihilated.” Continue reading A considerable legacy in genealogy

Family plots

Full monument_2A colleague and old friend delights in killing people off: that is, finding the death and burial information of ancestors and other family members. When we are content to list a relative as having been born and later married, with no end date or place in our record-keeping, we are forgoing  information that might explain biographical mysteries. By focusing on our direct ancestry without sparing a glance to collateral relatives or unexplained members of a household, we might well be overlooking the answer to an intractable research problem. I recently made the rounds of many of the cemeteries where my relatives are buried, but one that I did not visit this winter led me, years ago, to a break-through on my matrilineal line. Continue reading Family plots