Monthly Archives: February 2016

Family traditions

Julia and Edward Deane 1955
My great-grandparents, Julia and Edward Deane, ca. 1955.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about my Irish great-grandparents raising their children in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Yet as I began sorting through my genealogical research in preparation for NEHGS’ upcoming Irish Family History Day on March 6, I began to think more about their decision to leave Ireland in the first place.

My Nana’s parents, Julia and Edward Deane, left their home in the village of Geesala in County Mayo for America in 1909, when they were 28 and 31 years old. Julia would often recall her difficult journey across the Atlantic, plagued by terrible sea-sickness, travelling on the Titanic as she used to say. “Mama, it was the Teutonic! The Titanic sank!” my Nana used to correct her. Continue reading Family traditions

Probate records: Part Three

[Editor’s Note: Alicia’s series began here and continues here.]

Dixon ContestContested will

It is not often that a will is contested, but in the case of John Dickson, we have a nice, brief example.

John died on 22 March 1736/37, and by 4 April 1737 a formal petition had been submitted to the judge of the probate court by Samuel Carter, John Green, and Joseph Holden claiming that “their Father in Law Mr John Dickson late of Cambridge Decd Died Seised of an Estate Worth About four Thousand Pounds and his three sones namely John, William & Edward have Presented to your honr an Instrument in Writing Call[ed] their Father John Dickson[‘s] Last Will & Testament for Proof.… Continue reading Probate records: Part Three

Updating “My ancestor was born … where?!”

Saint Helena map 1906
Map of Saint Helena, 1906. Courtesy of

In September of 2014, I wrote a blog posted entitled “My ancestor was born … where?!” about my family’s unexpected ties to Saint Helena, a remote volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean. My great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte (Sears) Legg, was born on the island of Saint Helena in 1808. She married Henry William Legg, and after his death, settled on Martha’s Vineyard with her children. This discovery fascinated me, and since then, I have resolved to learn more about Charlotte and her family. But ultimately, I hoped to learn why my ancestors had settled in such a far-flung locale. Were they soldiers of the British military or members of the East India Company? Sailors who tired of the sea? Or did they simply settle here seeking a better life? Continue reading Updating “My ancestor was born … where?!”

An untapped genealogical resource

Courtesy of The Patten Lumbermen's Museum
Courtesy of The Patten Lumbermen’s Museum

Long before I loved genealogy, I fell head-over-heels for oral history. My great-grandfather, Everett Eames, died in 2005. By that time, I was nineteen, and had been regaled with stories of his years in the logging camps of northern New Hampshire and Maine for over a decade. Everett had a long, colorful life. After working in the lumber camps, he opened Eames Garage in Errol, New Hampshire, before working in the shipyards of Bath, Maine, during World War II. Continue reading An untapped genealogical resource

A game of telephone

1860 Fed Copy- Washington MEHave you ever played the game telephone? If you don’t know the game, it is when one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. If you have, then I am sure you discovered that it is almost impossible to keep the story intact from beginning to end. The game is an interesting teaching tool, as it shows children (and adults) how easily and unreliably gossip can spread.

As a historian and genealogist, I often reminisce about the telephone game, because it was my first encounter with record assessment. Even as a young child, it was clear to me that the closer one was to the original source, the more reliable the information.  And, as I grew up and began working with historical documents, this lesson continued. Continue reading A game of telephone

“On the most reasonable terms”

Full monument_2
The main monument in the Boucher plot at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore County. Photo courtesy of Constance Burch McGrain

A recent Google search brought me to a page of links to various Baltimore city directories, and I thought it might be useful to make some notes sorting out my Baltimore great-great-grandfather William Boucher Jr. (1822–1899) and his father, E. W. Boucher. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my mother’s stories on the Bouchers tended to dwell on their descent from the court painter François (1703–1770), but in fact the Baltimore Bouchers were musicians before they were painters, and the mid-nineteenth-century father and son were businessmen as much as they were artists.[1]

In 1845, Wm. Boucher’s music store is found at two addresses on Holliday Street, but it appears (from the directory’s “Removals, Alterations, Additions” page) that the reference is to one man, first at 11 and then at 4 Holliday Street. Continue reading “On the most reasonable terms”

Probate records: Part Two

Alicia Crane WilliamsPart One appears here. 

The parts of a will

Identification of testator: The first sentence will state the testator’s name, residence, and occupation. There is usually a comment about being old and weak, but of sound mind – for those who might argue otherwise [and later in this example we will see some arguments about just that], plus general religious sentiments appropriate to the time. In the case of our example of the will of John Dickson:[1] Continue reading Probate records: Part Two

Crawley root tea

Winifred Sturgis Lee Church
My grandmother Winnie

Whenever I, in another frenzy of research, dive into the bins of my family documents, artifacts, heirlooms, and memorabilia, I usually know what I’m looking for with little idea of what I’ll actually find, like my paternal grandmother’s herbal “recipes.” While there are more musicians in my family than medicine men or women, no one ever sang “A spoonful of sugar” to me as a child when I had to swallow my grandmother’s concoctions, decoctions, teas, infusions, tonics, and “prescriptions.” That I now remember crawley root tea in particular is evidence that it has indeed scarred me for life. Continue reading Crawley root tea

Baseball’s Biography Project

Courtesy of

A total of 18,337 men have taken the field throughout the history of Major League Baseball (18,663 if the National Association is counted as major league, a point of contention among baseball historians).[1] Under their “Baseball Biography Project,” the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has sought “to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.”[2] Thus far, researchers for SABR have completed 3,591 biographies, a significant number when one considers that historians still do not know the place of birth for 72 players throughout the history of baseball.[3] Continue reading Baseball’s Biography Project

Another brick in the wall

J Frank Bell
J. Frank Bell (1878-1944), Justice of the Peace and son of John Francis Bell (1839-1905).

As I’ve mentioned before, genealogical research favors the resourceful — and the patient. One of my outstanding brick walls, a man who has defeated generations of researchers in my mother’s family, is my great-great-grandfather John Francis Bell (1839–1905). Now, while nothing I’m going to say here will provide anything so pleasing as a breakthrough on this mysterious fellow, I think (and hope) there will be value in the journey, in advance of reaching some sort of destination.

I have written elsewhere about strategies for Google searches and the uses of periodic name searches (under every conceivable name variant) when dealing with recalcitrant relatives. Continue reading Another brick in the wall