Monthly Archives: December 2015

2015: the year in review

Meeting cousins in County Roscommon.

Vita Brevis recently marked a milestone, with the publication of its five-hundredth blog post. Early in January 2016, the blog will celebrate its second birthday, and, in a tradition started last year, today and tomorrow I will write about twelve representative posts published in the blog in 2015. With about 250 posts in both 2014 and 2015, Vita Brevis holds a lot of material for readers to sample, and I urge the curious to wend their way through the blog using authors, categories, or tags to navigate.

On 23 January, Eileen Pironti wrote about finding some of her Irish cousins in County Roscommon: Continue reading 2015: the year in review

Maine deeds online: a rich resource

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The deed naming Moses True as the son of Winthrop True (and grandson of Israel True). Image courtesy of Cumberland County Registry of Deeds

A happy discovery in my genealogical research was the online availability of deeds for the state of Maine. The Maine Registers of Deeds Association provides links to each Maine county website. Users can download up to 500 pages per calendar year for free. As Lindsay Fulton wrote in her April post 8 More Vital Record Alternatives, deeds are often an acceptable source for proving specific relationships between family members. And if you haven’t gone hog wild and used up your quota already, you can stay in during this snowy end of the year downloading just about every mention of your Maine ancestors in these deeds.

The site for Cumberland County is a particularly rich example of this resource’s offerings. While other counties may only have a few decades of digitized deeds, Cumberland County has put up online records from 1753 to December 2015! Furthermore, it is especially valuable for Cumberland County researchers, as probate records for this area before the 1908 fire in Portland are (ahem) toast. Deeds for this county are currently not online at FamilySearch nor are they available on microfilm at NEHGS. Continue reading Maine deeds online: a rich resource

Chaos in the streets

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Moving Day, 1831. Images courtesy of

As many genealogical researchers know, tracing your ancestors in major metropolitan areas can prove difficult, thanks to the use of similar names, confusing address patterns, and, often, changing locations. In New York City, residents changed addresses rather frequently, making it challenging to place them in any one location for an extended period. Interestingly, residents in New York City often relocated around the same time each year due to a long-standing tradition, Moving Day. Continue reading Chaos in the streets

Multiple searches for a New Jersey marriage

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Click on images to expand them.

While editing the Winter 2016 issue of Mayflower Descendant, I searched the draft articles for additional genealogical facts for the families presented. Christopher Carter Lee’s article – “Elizabeth (Briggs) Shippey and her husband Ishmael of Raritan Landing, New Jersey, and their descendants through Specimens of Josiah Shippey” – traces several generations of John Alden descendants in New Jersey and New York. As surviving vital records for those two states are often scattered in various places, this article is a great example of gathering records from genealogy and newspaper websites, national genealogical repositories, and local libraries and genealogical societies. Continue reading Multiple searches for a New Jersey marriage

The Philadelphia box

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

In 1860, when Regina Shober Gray began keeping her diary, gift-giving was spread between Christmas and New Year’s Day: indeed, the latter day was the more important of the two in the eyes of the Gray children. For at least the period of the Civil War, the Gray family of Boston impatiently awaited the arrival of “the Philadelphia box” – containing presents from Mrs. Gray’s siblings[1] – with shipment timed for the days around January 1. Continue reading The Philadelphia box

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!”

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Virginia O’Hanlon (1889-1971)

As a child I always looked forward to the Christmas season: a time for family and friends, Christmas tree decorating, and candle light services at my church in Stoughton, Massachusetts. At the end of 1979, when I was ten years old, I was given a chance to write a report for extra credit for my fifth grade teacher. The topic, for our history/social studies class, was up to me. I had already been doing genealogy for a couple years at that point and wanted to solve mysteries. What about Santa Claus? Was he a myth? as I was beginning to suspect.

Warming to the subject, I canvassed my classmates. Some were disbelievers; others knew that Santa was real. My teacher overheard me and told me that a little girl named Virginia once wrote a letter to the newspaper with an inquiry like mine. I figured my teacher was pulling my leg, and that she made it up. Continue reading “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!”

A Victorian Christmas album

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My grandmother Lula. Click on the images to expand them

Searching for anything in My Old House carries certain risks, usually in the form of an interesting distraction (corsets, small bones I still refuse to discuss, or shoe lasts). My latest search turned up my maternal grandmother’s greeting card album, so I’ve completely forgotten what it was I initially sought! The album is a treasure of illustrated birthday and calling cards from friends and relatives, small “reward of merit” cards presented by her teachers, Valentine’s Day cards, Easter cards, and, of course, Christmas cards.

Lula Atlant Roberts McLeod (1876–1958) was a teacher in the schools of central Aroostook County, Maine, before her marriage in December 1899. Christmas cards had gained popularity from their beginnings in the 1850s, and by the 1890s, when my grandmother was teaching, cards with silk fringes were offered. She signed hers “Lula Roberts, Teacher.” Continue reading A Victorian Christmas album

Making time to talk

Building_exterior_night 076Genealogy, like the study of history in general, aims not only to identify the names of a particular individual’s ancestors, but also to reconstruct the details of that ancestor’s life. Driven by natural curiosity and a desire to connect with those of the past, genealogists and family history researchers strive—as best as they can—to understand who a person was and what he or she did. To accomplish this, a number of sources are typically consulted, including obituaries, biographical reviews, town histories, family letters, and (un)published genealogies. Another important method for obtaining information on the lives of our ancestors—and perhaps the most enjoyable one—is interviewing or asking family members about their family history. Continue reading Making time to talk

Research in organizational records

Temperance signOne of my recent research cases involved searching for information within societies and organizations. It began with searching in newspapers for an 1849 obituary in order to gather more biographical information about my research subject, but I also looked for any references to him in articles and classifieds ads. I first located his death notice, and learned that he was a printer – a compositor of the Boston Transcript. Continue reading Research in organizational records

Deeds: Part Three

Alicia Crane WilliamsFollowing up on my previous post, Jerry Anderson reminds me that some colonies did not require a wife to sign a deed releasing her dower rights. This just emphasizes the complexity of the subject of land records and the fact that you will need to learn all the ins and outs that apply to the records you are searching – not exciting stuff, but necessary. I am not up to speed on current genealogy how-to publications, so perhaps readers can chime in here. The old classic I used was Val D. Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. I just looked it up online and it is still available – a copy in “acceptable” condition can be bought for $1.99 at! If you happen to find a copy in your library, check it out. Of course, it will be out of date regarding technology, but basic research information never changes. Continue reading Deeds: Part Three