Monthly Archives: July 2015

State of the art

Hancock broadside
R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS

[Editor’s Note: As part of the Society’s commitment to serving as a repository of original documents, preserving (and, when necessary, conserving) them for future generations in all their forms, NEHGS has a state of the art document conservation laboratory about which both Jean Maguire and Deborah Rossi have written for the blog.]

From Conserving an historic family tree by Deborah Rossi:

“NEHGS is always looking to acquire family trees to add to our collection. They come to us through donation or purchase, and their condition on arrival varies from pristine and framed to dirty and frayed. Many a family tree crosses the threshold of the Society’s new Conservation Lab, where it is cleaned and repaired, resulting in a piece which can be safely stored or displayed. Continue reading State of the art

The Experts’ Choice series

NE Captives-27962At first glance, the titles that comprise our Experts’ Choice series of books might seem a little randomly selected. We’ve got everything from collections of information on the earliest settlers of New England – Pioneers of Massachusetts, Pioneers of Maine and New Hampshire, and The First Puritan Settlers of Connecticut – to a guide book on the location and condition of Massachusetts public records in the nineteenth century, to an accounting of soldiers and officers who fought in King Philip’s War. All are tied by a common thread, however: these books are ones that NEHGS staff turn to over and over again when helping our members with their research. Continue reading The Experts’ Choice series

The scope of the Gray diary

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

For the last six months or so, I have been engrossed in the daily diary of Hedwiga Regina (Shober) Gray (1818–1885), a Philadelphia-born Boston lady who wrote about her family, her household, and the larger world between 1860 and 1884. In almost a dozen blog posts I’ve quoted Mrs. Gray on contemporary celebrities (Mrs. Jack Gardner’s behavior merits a scolding for being “fast”; the diarist’s children see Tom Thumb perform and are “much pleased & amused”); on the danger of fire in the household (Mrs. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is burned to death, while Eliza Winthrop survives a mattress fire); and on the painful grief associated with settling a beloved sister’s estate as relationships degrade between Mrs. Gray, her surviving sisters, and their younger brother. Continue reading The scope of the Gray diary

The Stratton Files

Penny at podium_cropped[Editor’s Note: Penny Stratton is one of the most prolific and popular bloggers at Vita Brevis. The following are some excerpts from her posts between January 2014 and February 2015.]

From Capturing the Recent Past: As I revise the new NEHGS Guide to Genealogical Writing (2014), I’ve been thinking ahead to a future project of my own: writing my family’s history. Having edited and produced a number of compiled genealogies at NEHGS, I have the genealogical format down cold. That’s the easy part. But what will I include for narrative information, to help bring the stories to life? Continue reading The Stratton Files

Heraldry and coats of arms

Garceau achievement for VB
Images courtesy of

When researching a family name, one of the elements that most researchers seek is the family’s “coat of arms.” While the term coat of arms is often used to describe the inherited emblem of a family awarded to ancestors and carried on by descendants, this term only refers to the design on the shield (known as an Escutcheon). The complete display of heraldic components is known as a heraldic achievement.

The first detected use of a heraldic symbol appeared in 1127, when King Henry I of England knighted his son-in-law Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou. Upon knighting Geoffrey V, contemporary accounts record that Henry I placed a shield painted with golden lions on Geoffrey’s neck.[1] In 1484, King Richard III established the College of Arms, which still operates today, to act as an authority in the awarding of arms.[2]  Continue reading Heraldry and coats of arms

In search of family photos: Part Two

Child photo 3
Four generations in the late 1920s. From left: in his father’s arms, Gilbert Wayne Helman III (1926-2010); Gilbert Wayne Helman, Jr. (1906-1985); Gilbert Wayne Helman, Sr. (1882-1945); and Herbert Heath Helman (1854-1931).

As a personal challenge, after seeing a few genealogist friends on Facebook post ancestor charts with photographs of their ancestors back to (in many cases) their great-great-grandparents, I decided to see how “complete” my collection of ancestral photos was.

Turning my attention to photos of my paternal grandmother’s family, I contacted several cousins and arranged to meet my second cousin in Pennsylvania. He also had several photos which he allowed me to take back to Boston. Unfortunately, most of these were not identified. We were able to identify our great-great-grandfather, Herbert Heath Helman, as he posed in a picture with this cousin’s father as a baby in the late 1920s. Continue reading In search of family photos: Part Two

New voices at Vita Brevis

The Apprentices
Giuseppe Sarni with some of his apprentices.

A number of new bloggers made their début on Vita Brevis during the first half of 2015. Tricia Labbe, of the Society’s Membership Services team, wrote in February about breaking through a brick wall on her father’s mother’s family, the Dionnes:

“When I began working at NEHGS in 2014, I realized that staff experts might help me uncover questions relating to my Dionne family line. Continue reading New voices at Vita Brevis

In search of family photos: Part One

Child photo 1
Click on the image to expand it.

As a personal challenge, after seeing a few genealogist friends on Facebook post ancestor charts with photographs of their ancestors back to (in many cases) their great-great-grandparents, I decided to see how “complete” my collection of ancestral photos was. I have quite a few photos myself and have scanned many that other relatives have had over the years. This has often been a result of contacting second or third cousins, usually with around a 5-10% success rate when a relative actually turns out to have photographs of our common ancestors. Continue reading In search of family photos: Part One

International research posts at Vita Brevis

From Eileen Pironti’s post on “Reconnecting with family” in January.

Every so often it seems worthwhile to look back over the wide range of Vita Brevis posts and bring some related ones together in one spot. Now that we are half way through the calendar year, some posts on international genealogical research merit a second look. In January, Eileen Pironti wrote about “Reconnecting with family”: in her case, her Irish family in County Roscommon: Continue reading International research posts at Vita Brevis

Early New England Families Study Project update

Alicia Crane WilliamsFive new sketches have been posted in the Early New England Families Study Project database:

Nathaniel Bacon (c. 1621–c. 1673) married Hannah Mayo, dau. of Rev. John Mayo; settled in Barnstable, tanner, 8 children.

Joshua Holgrave (c. 1615–c. 1643), son of John and Elizabeth (––) Holgrave (covered in the Great Migration series, or GM), married Jane Conant (see below), to New England about age 18 with parents and younger siblings; settled in Salem, 2 children. Continue reading Early New England Families Study Project update