Monthly Archives: February 2016

General Grant in Singapore

An autograph letter from former president Ulysses S. Grant[1] is a completely unexpected treasure in my grandfather’s box of family papers. The envelope holding the letter is not in Grant’s hand; evidently Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen (1819?–1898), to whom Grant wrote it in April 1879, handed it on to one of my grandfather’s relatives – at a guess, my great-great-uncle Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866–1935), then a boy of thirteen. Coincidentally, another family connection mentioned in the letter is my great-grandfather Steward’s kinsman, Rear Admiral William Edgar Le Roy (1818–1898).

The letter itself is rather a travelogue, although General Grant is at pains to explain his apparent discourtesy to Richard Wigginton Thompson, the Secretary of the Navy. An interesting postscript is Grant’s compliment to Admiral Ammen on his “paper on the [Nicaraguan] Inter-Oceanic canal”[2]: the Panama Canal would not be built for another quarter-century. Continue reading General Grant in Singapore

Coming home

Durling 3
The area around Tufts College in Medford, 1889.

Recently, I moved from my hometown of Dedham to Medford, Massachusetts. I never really thought about it, but I had always assumed my family had no connections to places north of Boston. My mother and her siblings grew up in Needham (in Norfolk County), and my maternal grandfather and grandmother were raised in Dorchester and Roslindale, respectively. Continue reading Coming home

Know your suffixes

Moses Lyon
Moses Lyon (3d, 2d) of Woodstock

In writing about the marital travails of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Moses Lyon (1793–1865), I was reminded of another topic that comes up frequently in consultations with NEHGS members: the use of suffixes such as Jr., 2nd, 3rd, etc. Today most people named Jr. are the child of someone with that name, and suffixes such as III , IV, or V usually denote a descent from an earlier ancestor with that name. It is often assumed that this was the practice in earlier times, which was not the case at all, even a century or more ago.

Usually the notation “Jr.” or “2nd” just meant that someone else with the same name lived in the same town and was older. That was really all there was to it. They could be father and son, uncle and nephew, first cousins, or not related at all. Continue reading Know your suffixes

Probate records: Part One

Click on images to expand them.

It has taken me a while to find a short and simple enough example of a will to use for this basic introduction to probate records. The will of John Dickson of Cambridge, yeoman, illustrated here, meets the short qualification although it has an interesting complication. The full probate file can be seen on under Middlesex County, MA, Probate File Papers, 1648-1871, Case #6264, John Dixson-Dickson-Dikson. There are 28 papers in the file.

Testate Estate: Where someone has written or dictated a will describing exactly how he or she wishes to leave his or her property and to whom. For the most part, a testator could leave anything to anyone, unless they were dealing with colonies such as Virginia that followed the laws of primogeniture where all real estate was left to the oldest son. This did not apply in New England, although it was customary to follow the legal model of giving a double share to the oldest son. Continue reading Probate records: Part One

Tryphena and Tryphosa

Moses Lyon
Moses Lyon of Woodstock

The names my parents ended up giving their children – Christopher, Carolyn, and Katherine – are names that most people would probably consider not that unusual. But there were several other names my father had in mind. For a boy, he liked the name Asa, in honor of his great-great-grandfather Asa Thurston Child (1820–1860). For my sisters he liked the names Tryphena and Tryphosa, after even more removed relatives of whom I was unaware in my youth. These names are biblical, mentioned by Paul in Romans 16: 11: “Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord,” and in my experience in genealogy they have often been given to female twins. Continue reading Tryphena and Tryphosa

A second update to Ancestors of American Presidents

Editor’s Note: NEHGS Senior Research Scholar Emeritus Gary Boyd Roberts continues his series of articles updating entries to his Ancestors of American Presidents, 2009 Edition, and its 2012 reprint; the previous entry appears here.

  1. Ancestors of Am Pres-14829William Howard Taft ancestor William Eure, 1st Baron Eure, p. 429, was a son of Sir Ralph Eure (and Muriel Hastings), son of Sir William Eure (and Margaret Constable), son of Sir Ralph Eure and Elizabeth Greystock, daughter of John Greystock, 4th Baron Greystock, and Elizabeth Ferrers, daughter of Robert Ferrers, 2nd Baron Boteler of Wemme, and Joan Beaufort (pp. 648–49). Thus Taft is a tenth presidential descendant of Joan’s father John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and a fifteenth presidential kinsman of modern royalty. See Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, 5 vols. (2013), 2: 527–30 (Eure to Mrs. Elizabeth Mansfield Wilson), 3: 138–39 (Greystock/Greystoke), 5: 340–41 (Ferrers). This line was brought to my attention by Martin E. Hollick. As I noted in American Ancestors 14 [2013]: 4: 52–55, Mrs. Elizabeth Mansfield Wilson was also the nearest New England immigrant cousin of H.R.H. The Duchess of Cambridge, the former Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.

Continue reading A second update to Ancestors of American Presidents

ICYMI: The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 June 2014.]

St Bartholomews Groton
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Groton, Suffolk

Over the last five months, Vita Brevis has featured a number of blog posts about the Great Migration Study Project and related subjects. Robert Charles Anderson, the project’s director, has written on the topic, as have Alicia Crane Williams and Roger Thompson. Bob’s posts tend to focus on his continuing research in this area, whether it is his trips to Salt Lake City to review a thorny question about identity or the latest literature on the subject as he prepares to write a book tentatively entitled Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England. Continue reading ICYMI: The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

The evolving game of football

Walter Camp of Yale
Walter Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 6 November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Rutgers Queensmen[1] defeated the College of New Jersey[2] Tigers by a score of 6 to 4 in what is regarded as the first college football game ever played.[3] College football would remain a vastly different game from today’s version for the rest of the nineteenth century. The major differences in the game are accentuated in the diary of Harvard College graduate Edward Herbert Atherton of Worcester, Massachusetts, a work available in NEHGS’s R. Stanton Avery Special Collections (Mss A 1665). Continue reading The evolving game of football

The Governor’s chair

Hancock chair 1
Figure 1. The Hancock easy chair with its replaced yellow worsted damask upholstery. The chair is currently on display at the NEHGS Library. Photo by Greg Anthony

In addition to its vast collection of genealogical materials, the New England Historic Genealogical Society houses a fine collection of early American furniture and decorative arts. Scattered throughout the Society’s Newbury Street headquarters are superb examples of eighteenth-century tall case clocks, high chests, and desks. Some of these pieces possess quite interesting provenances, including an easy chair believed to have been owned by eighteenth-century Boston merchant and Massachusetts governor John Hancock (Fig. 1).

According to NEHGS records, the Hancock easy chair originally stood in Hancock’s Beacon Hill home, which he had inherited from his uncle Thomas’ wife, Lydia Henchman, sometime after Thomas’ death in 1764.[i] It is believed that the chair is the “Yellow Damask Easy Chair” listed in John Hancock’s 1793 estate inventory (Fig. 2).[ii] Continue reading The Governor’s chair

Tracing your African roots at NEHGS

The Old Plantation
The Old Plantation. Courtesy of

From tracing free people of color in New England to identifying former slaves in the deep south, NEHGS can help you tell your family story. We have a number of guides and tools in our library and available through our education department and online databases that can help you jump start researching your African American roots all over the United States, not just New England. Continue reading Tracing your African roots at NEHGS