Monthly Archives: January 2016

The name’s the same

Edward and Julia Deane- 1940s
My Nana’s parents, Edward and Julia Deane, in Holyoke ca. 1940.

When I first began working on my genealogy, I quickly had aunts and uncles setting me to work on brick walls that had stumped them for decades. Overwhelmed by distant dates and unfamiliar names, I instead began with what seemed to me the simplest place to start: my maternal grandparents, Mary Deane and Walter Griffin.

I lived just a short bike-ride away from my Nana and Papa’s house, so I spent many afternoons seated at their kitchen table with a bowl of Jell-O as they sipped coffee and told me about their childhoods. I was fascinated by their stories of being raised by Irish immigrants in the tenements of Holyoke, Massachusetts, in the 1910s and ‘20s. Continue reading The name’s the same

Bible studies

Doerr 1One of the resources every family historian hopes to find and treasure is a family Bible full of handwritten notations of births, marriages, and deaths. These Bibles are often beautiful in themselves for their illuminated pages, or for the well-worn leather covers molded by devoted hands. Not to be overlooked, however, are the enclosures some owners pressed between those pages, enclosures which might yield some of the basic data always sought, and which might also give insight into the owners’ personalities and the events of their daily lives. Continue reading Bible studies


Alicia Crane WilliamsYikes! Just as I was starting to write this post following-up on the discussion engendered by my penultimate post, I learned that I made an egregious (and embarrassing) mistake regarding Mayflower passengers in the sketch on Samuel Maverick – I made the mother of Rebecca Allerton, who married Sam’s brother Moses Maverick, her step-mother, Fear (Allerton) Brewster. This is the second time I’ve done something like this – the first was back in the beginning of the project when I made Samuel Fuller’s uncle his father. After forty years of working with Mayflower families, I used to know all of this like the back of my hand, but the backs of my hands these days are getting wrinkly and veiny, and clearly the back of my mind has had to shed some information to make room for all the new material coming in from the Early New England Families Study Project. I just have to remember to remember that. Continue reading Catch-22s

ICYMI: Why they came

[Editor’s note: The post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 15 May 2014.]

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.

Charlestown was settled by striving young Bristolians and Londoners driven to escape the frustrating economic conditions at home. Historians of early seventeenth-century London and Bristol emphasize the power of privileged corporate groups like the East India Company, the Levant Company, and the London and Bristol Merchant Adventurers over traditional links with the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Far East. Continue reading ICYMI: Why they came

ICYMI: Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 25 April 2014. Today, AJHS-NEA is known as the Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS.]

garner-400As the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) has only recently formed a strategic partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), anyone interested in New England Jewish history or genealogy may want to know about several databases and collections that might be specifically useful for genealogical research. They include the following:

The Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston (HIAS). The Boston office of HIAS was chartered in 1904 and operated autonomously from the national office in New York, even after their merger in 1916. Continue reading ICYMI: Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

“A handsome woman in elaborate dress”

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

For the last year or so, I’ve been immersed in the diary of Regina Shober Gray (1818–1885), a Philadelphian who lived on Beacon Hill in Boston for more than forty years. During my sabbatical in 2015, I read Bob Shaw’s transcripts of the diary for the 1860s and early ‘70s; later, I reviewed PDFs of the diary volumes for the last decade of Mrs. Gray’s life. At some point in the process, I became aware that the Maryland Historical Society had a photo of Mrs. Gray, but it was only a looming American Ancestors cover story deadline that reminded me that it might be nice to see an image of the diarist.

Given my fascination with Mrs. Gray, I really cannot account for my lack of curiosity! Continue reading “A handsome woman in elaborate dress”

ICYMI: The earliest mass migration of the Irish to America

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 March 2014.]

Scotch Irish Pioneers coverIn Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, his classic study of the eighteenth-century “Scots-Irish” exodus from Ulster to America, Charles Knowles Bolton cites court records, newspapers, correspondence and other primary sources. The book provides specific details about immigrant communities in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, and lists many immigrants and their origins in Ulster.

In a time before microfilms, scanned newspapers, and Internet searches, Bolton culled through early American newspapers to locate the arrival of ships from Ireland bearing passengers for New England. He combed state and local archives, viewed correspondence, and reviewed town records to assemble his data. Continue reading ICYMI: The earliest mass migration of the Irish to America

A significant anniversary in genealogy

ASG coverThe American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was founded on 28 December 1940 in New York City as an independent society of leading published scholars in the field of American genealogy. An honorary society, ASG is limited to fifty lifetime members designated as Fellows, who may use the initials FASG (see the ASG website,, for lists of Fellows past and present). In 1940 nothing existed to honor significant achievement in the field of genealogy or to identify competent genealogists. The three founders of ASG – Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Meredith B. Colket, Jr. – wanted to change that situation.

From the outset, ASG was (and still is) dedicated to (1) advancing genealogical research methods and encouraging publication of the results, and (2) securing recognition of genealogy as a serious subject of research in the historical and social science fields of learning. Continue reading A significant anniversary in genealogy

ICYMI: Tips for online genealogical research

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 February 2014.]

007_HaleIndexI frequently encounter eighteenth- or nineteenth-century dates, especially on the migration trail, that are not cited and which often derive from “online trees,” usually the FamilySearch Ancestral File, Rootsweb WorldConnect, or Ancestry World Tree. These days, I find it easier to determine whether any of the information is valid thanks to the many works and databases indexed at Google and Google Books. The following case suggests the variety of trails the researcher must be prepared to follow, from unverified online trees (which may hold important clues) to books and newspapers contemporary with the events mentioned (and which are sometimes flawed). Continue reading ICYMI: Tips for online genealogical research

Proofing your family history

Penny at podium_croppedThe Grammarly blog ( recently had a post on proofreading your own writing. Among the suggestions it makes are two that I’ve made myself over the years:

  • Read it multiple times.
  • Read it tomorrow.

These recommendations are particularly apt for family histories, which are chock full of names, dates, place names, abbreviations, and special formatting that just cry out for at least several thorough reads. When I am editing or proofing a family history – mine or someone else’s – I often read through it once for sense and grammar, and then skim through once each for the following: Continue reading Proofing your family history