Monthly Archives: April 2016

An unusual family

Steward 1
The John Steward family of Goshen, New York. Harriet Le Roy Steward (later Stuyvesant) stands in the doorway; her brother Campbell, my great-grandfather, stands behind the toy cannon.

It is always a nice surprise to open a book and find a reference to a family member, especially a family member about whom one knows little. This recently happened to me as I was reading Robert Winthrop Kean’s memoir, Fourscore Years, published privately in 1974. The book’s subtitle, “My First Twenty-four,” indicates that this volume covers the beginning of the author’s life; an earlier book, Dear Marraine, concerns his service during the First World War.

Winthrop Kean’s mother was Katharine Taylor Winthrop (1866–1943). Her “most intimate girlhood friend,” Katie Stuyvesant, was my grandfather’s first cousin. Continue reading An unusual family

“A good many sharp speeches”

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Rhonda McClure’s Tuesday post on finding the correct death date of Martha Babcock Greene Amory in Paris reminded me that Regina Shober Gray (1818–1885) mentions her in several entries in the early years of her diary.[1] A sharp-eyed chronicler of her contemporaries, Mrs. Gray’s words bring Martha Amory to uneasy life.

1 Beacon Hill Place, Boston, Monday, 16 January 1860: Fanny Gray[2] came to take tea – [she] played some sweet airs on the piano, with a great deal of feeling – and described a number of fancy ball dresses for Mrs. C. Amory’s[3]  next Thursday.

Sunday, 22 January 1860: Have heard of little else than the [Amorys’] fancy ball – it was a grand success and kept up until 5 a.m. Continue reading “A good many sharp speeches”


Alicia Crane WilliamsMy Daughters of the American Revolution lineage is filed through Bernice Crane of Berkley, Massachusetts. I have other ancestors that I could have chosen, but I chose Bernice for a special reason – he is definitely my most interesting patriot ancestor.

Bernice and his wife Joanna (Axtell) Crane were Tory sympathizers at the beginning of the Revolution. One family story says that Bernice Crane, a sea captain, “carried word to the Torries in New York until the Whigs ran his small craft ashore, when he became a patriot.” This decision was likely also influenced by the tar and feathering of his next door neighbor and cousin, Lemuel Crane. Continue reading Patriots

The lady vanishes

paris civil recordsThe name Martha Babcock Greene Amory might not immediately resonate, but the lives of her immediate forebears are well-known to us today. She was born in Boston 15 November 1812, the daughter of Gardiner Greene and his third wife, Elizabeth Clarke Copley. Mrs. Greene was the daughter of John Singleton Copley, the well-known American painter, and his wife Susannah Farnum Clarke; she was the granddaughter of Richard Clarke, whose consignment of tea was thrown into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. That’s a lot of history for just a couple of generations! Continue reading The lady vanishes

Keeping time

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Fig. 1. Benjamin Bagnall clock, constructed c. 1725; NEHGS Special Collections. Photo by J. David Bohl

The name Benjamin Bagnall holds a place of distinction in the annals of Boston’s early history. Bagnall is often recorded as one of the city’s earliest clockmakers, and credited—as Morrison Heckscher notes—with constructing “a town clock for the New Brick Meeting-House” in Boston c. 1717.[1] While the building upon which Bagnall constructed his town clock no longer stands, a few other examples of Bagnall’s work survive to this day. The works of a tall case clock, in the possession of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (Fig. 1), is one of the Bagnall commissions that does survive.[2]

According to NEHGS records, Benjamin Bagnall constructed the works of the clock about 1725. Bagnall, who was born in England c. 1689, acquired the skills associated with the clock-making trade in his native country before arriving in Boston c. 1713. After his arrival in Boston, Bagnall married Elizabeth Shove of Charlestown, Massachusetts. By this marriage, Bagnall had seven children, including Samuel and Benjamin Bagnall. Continue reading Keeping time

ICYMI: Planning an ancestral trip

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 7 October 2014.]

Penny at podium_croppedLast week, I was happily recalling my 2012 trip to Finland, specifically a visit to my ancestral village, Teuva. I had the great good luck to meet cousins there and see the land that my ancestors farmed – and even the foundation of the tiny house where my grandmother grew up.

When first planning that trip, I had no idea how to proceed. I could look at a map and find Teuva – and the nearest train station with a rental car facility – but I had no idea how to go about identifying living relatives. Continue reading ICYMI: Planning an ancestral trip

Spring potholes

Alicia Crane WilliamsSpring is pothole repair time in New England, and as I write this on April 4 southern New England is receiving up to 8 inches of snow with flash freezing predicted overnight, so there will be plenty of work this spring.

A pothole that has been bugging me this winter is remembering exactly which citations I have proofed and which are yet to be done. I already use the color “highlighter” function in Word – yellow to indicate questions that need answering and green to indicate “This is the right date/name/fact despite what some other sources say,” etc. – but I’m now adding light grey highlights for footnote citations that have been proofed. Continue reading Spring potholes

The name DID change

Richelieu River watershed
Figure 1: Richelieu River watershed.

You’ve probably heard the story: “My ancestor’s name was changed at Ellis Island!” But you also probably know that this is a myth; immigration officials at Ellis Island did not randomly alter incoming passengers’ names. However, the surnames and given names of one group of immigrants, French-Canadians, frequently did change when our ancestors crossed the border.

Throughout the centuries, migration from Quebec was driven by poor agricultural conditions, overpopulation, and inadequate employment opportunities. Continue reading The name DID change

Probate records: Part Seven

[Editor’s note: Alicia’s probate series began here.]

Guardianship Joseph RequestGuardianships

Guardians were appointed for children under the age of 21 and for adults who were not able to handle their own affairs. Children over age 14 could choose their guardians. The surviving parent would usually be the first choice, but a guardian could also be a grandparent, older sibling, uncle, step-parent, etc.

In our example from the estate of Joseph Alden of Middleborough, there were no minor children, but Joseph was the administrator of his son Ebenezer’s estate.[1] When Ebenezer died in 1773 at the age of 30, he left behind six minor children: Hannah, age 8; Orpha, 7; Polly, 6; Ruth, 5; Ebenezer, six months; and Joseph, “on the way.” Continue reading Probate records: Part Seven

Gravestone photos versus transcriptions

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Gravestone of Fanny (Young) Howes in Windham, Connecticut. Courtesy of Findagrave

A practice I had utilized in a prior post, regarding New York state deaths appearing in Connecticut sources, has turned up in a new context. In the prior case, someone from Connecticut had died in New York, and her detailed death was recorded in a Connecticut newspaper, while no civil record of death was recorded locally, which is not surprising for New York State.

In this new case, I am working on an article for Mayflower Descendant on the Young family of Windham, Connecticut, which has descents from Mayflower passengers John Howland and Richard Warren. Several descendants are buried in Windham Center Cemetery, which has led to a few interesting scenarios in terms of finding information from gravestones. I’ll describe three below: Continue reading Gravestone photos versus transcriptions