Monthly Archives: June 2014

Calculating age at death – and why

Gravestone illustration
Griffith Thomas’ gravestone in the Ebenezer Baptist Church Cemetery, Bluemont, Loudoun County, Virginia

Instead of identifying a person’s date of birth, death certificates and gravestones sometimes identify the deceased person’s age in years, months, and days. But what is the purpose of giving an exact age rather than a birth date, and how is this age determined? Are there any consistent rules for this process?

In Colonial America it was traditional practice to inscribe a tombstone with the deceased’s age in years, months, and days. For example, the cemetery marker for Griffith Thomas was inscribed with the following: “In Memory of Griffith Thomas who departed this life October 25th 1800 Aged 58 years, 9 months and 10 days.” Continue reading Calculating age at death – and why

Online family histories, old and new

SearsTitlePage_EditedThe NEHGS Digital Library and Archive has a growing collection of family histories, covering a wide range of subjects and surnames. Roughly three quarters of the 137 titles currently in the collection are older books from the stacks of the NEHGS Library – usually published before 1923, and now free from copyright restrictions – which have been digitized and put online.  Examples of materials that have been digitized from our collection so far include: Continue reading Online family histories, old and new

Family centenarians

Frederick Ayer
Frederick Ayer (1822-1918)

From time to time I undertake some light housekeeping on my genealogical notes, and lately I have focused on collecting stray family names and dates. My flirtation with Google continues, since an organized approach to entire family groups has yielded great dividends. I’ve also spent time on exploring the (often unsourced) family trees, ones kept by my distant cousins or their cousins, which can provide clues about what became of an uncle’s widow once she remarried and moved beyond the ken of the record-keepers on my side of the family. Continue reading Family centenarians

The Horace Augustus Knowles Papers

Knowles chart detailThe “Manuscripts@NEHGS” column in the Spring 2014 issue of American Ancestors contains extracts from each of the three collections processed by interns for the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections during the Fall of 2013. The collections were the Burnham Family Papers (Mss 1120), Charles Harold Floyd Family Papers (Mss 1118), and the Walker Family Papers (Mss 1119). While interns were working on these collections, the Special Collections staff began processing a fourth collection, the Horace Augustus Knowles Papers. This collection also contains interesting personal accounts, similar to those highlighted in the magazine article. Continue reading The Horace Augustus Knowles Papers

Excerpts from Martha Anne Kuhn’s diary, 1836

Martha Anne Kuhn 2
Martha Anne Kuhn’s diary, 1836

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

So begins Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, whose opening lines have always stuck in many readers’ minds, including my own.  When reading Little Women as a young man, I was unaware that I would one day find a manuscript that mentions her controversial father, Bronson Alcott, who was a teacher, philosopher, and creator of the Temple School in Boston, Massachusetts, in the early nineteenth century. Continue reading Excerpts from Martha Anne Kuhn’s diary, 1836

Tiptoe through the tombstones

1904 Circular on Epitaphs p1
Click on the images to expand them

When I first began researching at the NEHGS Library, I was drawn to the wide array of cemetery records that could be found in published books and donated manuscripts. It’s not by choice that I spend time locating cemetery records; it is because many family members had the ‘misfortune’ of living in New York State, where, outside of New York City, vital records registration did not start until 1881. Instead of using cemetery records to supplement birth and death dates, they often represent the only vital information on my ancestors. Continue reading Tiptoe through the tombstones

Ear marks and horse censuses

Alicia Crane WilliamsIn the days when livestock mostly roamed loose in New England towns, it was critical that farmers could identify which animals belonged to them – to avoid disputes, identify stolen property, or recover damages if your crops were ruined by the neighborhood’s hogs.  While branding with a hot iron was done, mostly the system they used involved nicks, slits, or holes, etc., cut into the animal’s ears (similar to humans piercing their ear lobes), called “ear marks.” The types of cuts and patterns were registered with the town clerk and sometimes would be inherited from father to son. I think some of these farmers were far more assiduous in recording their animals’ ear marks than they were in recording their children. Continue reading Ear marks and horse censuses

Another family mystery

J Frank Bell
J. Frank Bell

My mother’s parents were from Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland. From a grandchild’s perspective, they were Southerners, but as I grew up and became interested in genealogy, I noticed another strain: my grandfather’s mother and grandmother’s father were natives of Ohio, and it turned out that the Jacksons and Gliddens had New England forebears. A more recent insight, I blush to say, is that both my maternal grandfather and his father married women from Indianapolis, and at the end of his life my grandfather’s companion (a native of Boston) had Indianapolis connections as well. Continue reading Another family mystery