Monthly Archives: May 2016

Medical genealogy

Ann L 1
Figure One: Sample genogram, courtesy of National Society of Genetic Counselors,, accessed 30 May 2016.

Twenty-first century genealogists enthusiastically debate the relative merits of different types of DNA testing: autosomal (atDNA), Y chromosome (Y-DNA) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). But how often do you hear discussions about a medical family history or medical pedigrees? And yet knowing one’s medical family history may the best predictor of your risk or a relative’s risk of developing specific but also preventable or treatable diseases. Continue reading Medical genealogy

Giving voice to the silenced

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Figure 1: The Freedmen’s Bureau by Alfred R. Waud in Harper’s Weekly 25 July 1868 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A very exciting and important project, one creating a searchable database for 1.5 million Freedmen’s Bureau records, is near completion. The database will allow family researchers to locate records of their ancestors at the click of a button and will surely revolutionize the way African-Americans conduct family research. The best part is, you can help!

The Freedmen’s Bureau, officially known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, was created near the end of the Civil War to help those needing assistance following the war, namely newly-emancipated slaves and white refugees, as well as to manage and resettle lands abandoned by former owners. Continue reading Giving voice to the silenced

It’s in print, but is it true?

Massachusetts VR to 1850 Mendon Births p55I was recently asked a question that reinforces the point that we must look at original genealogical records, even when the published resources are ones that have been considered trustworthy. The question was about Isaiah Corbett, son of Joseph and Deborah, who was born in Mendon, Massachusetts. There are what appear to be two entries for this particular individual.

As can be seen in the page from the NEHGS Database “Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850” showing Mendon Births, there is an Isaiah Corbett, son of Joseph and Deborah, born in Mendon on 26 June 1757. Two lines below this is a Josaiah, son of Joseph Jr., born in Mendon 26 June 1739. Continue reading It’s in print, but is it true?

“What utter madness it seems”

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
Continuing my occasional series on the month of May in Regina Shober Gray’s diary,[1] I thought it might be interesting to look at the first five years after the end of the Civil War. One can generally guess where Mrs. Gray will be at any given moment, but the year 1866 breaks the pattern, and we find the diarist visiting her cousins in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia, Wednesday, 23 May 1866: We had a very successful day at Tom K’s.[2] and enjoyed our visit, spite of its unavoidable fatigue. It is a very pretty farming country there – low rolling hills – and from every summit the river winding away through wood and wold. He came up yest’y mg. to escort us down, though we assured him it was quite unnecessary – we would find our own way &c.

When here we offered to release him of the whole matter if he wished to remain in town on acct. of this news of disastrous financial panic in Eng’.d, received by telegraph from Halifax. Continue reading “What utter madness it seems”

Once in a blue moon

Everyone who indulges in family history research understands the role that serendipity plays in successfully locating the ancestors we seek. I have recently come to understand what a confluence of serendipity and a blue moon can mean to my research, my focus on family stories, and a brick wall.

A blue moon occurred on Saturday, 21 May 2016, a day I had arranged a first meeting with a distant Saunders-Cummings cousin to share family stories and data. Her arrival was preceded by an totally unexpected visit by another distant cousin in the same Cummings line. The day was full of family stories and photos. My patient husband managed to endure, but later commented that he had no family stories to tell. (Never a prophet in my own house!) Continue reading Once in a blue moon


Bernice Crane GS001Memorial Day comes with many family duties. In our family, although I am now the only one who lives in the state where the bulk of our family members are buried, the duty falls on my brother and his wife, who come up from Florida for the summer and stay with her family. (They live closer to the cemeteries.) John and Jan visit each grave, prune rhododendron bushes planted by my grandmother 70 years ago, clear off gravestones, and plant flowers. They then e-mail digital photos to the family. Continue reading Memorials

At the margin

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My grandmother’s album.

One of the joys of old photographs is the occasional detail, the one that hovers at the margin, away from the central feature of the image. Looking through one of my grandmother’s albums – helpfully marked “Vol. 1,” although I’m not sure there are any subsequent ones in the series – I’m struck by the horses and cars (even the occasional ostrich) that coexist with the people peopling the photographs. My grandmother’s family was considered very “horsey,” and they were happy to be associated with their powerful cars – and I think there is a bit of a story to be found in these images. Continue reading At the margin

“The dear old lady”

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
Another way in to Regina Shober Gray’s diary is through selected entries clustered around the same date. Today is 19 May, so – to pick the arbitrary span of the Civil War years – what sorts of observations does she make in her mid-May entries?[1]

Boston, Saturday, 18 May 1861: These two or three clear days have helped Morris[2] a good deal – he drives often, and walks twice a day with me. I shall be known as “the woman that follows the drill” ere long, for he trudges after each company all over the parade ground [on Boston Common], and his military accoutrements attract no little attention to his poor pale face…

A report is very current to-day that Gen.l Beauregard[3] has died of wounds rec’d at the attack on Sumter. Somebody has heard somebody’s letter read, giving an acct. of his funeral!! Continue reading “The dear old lady”

Some super-centenarians

Little girls playing, ca. 1900. Image courtesy of

Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died in Brooklyn, New York on 12 May 2016 at the advanced age of 116 years and 311 days, was (at her death) the oldest verified living person in the world. Susannah was born at Lowndes County, Alabama, on 6 July 1899, a daughter of Callie and Mary Mushatt. Her parents were African-American sharecroppers and her grandmother was an ex-slave. There have been many Americans over the years who were super-centenarians (living past their 110th birthdays), but with Susannah’s death a door in American history now closes. Continue reading Some super-centenarians

The House Beautiful

Figure 1. The Treat Rotunda at NEHGS. Figures 1, 2, 4, and 5 are courtesy of the author

The New England Historic Genealogical Society is rediscovering many treasures within its Atkinson-Lancaster Collection, an eclectic assemblage of art that came to the Society in 1933 from the Atkinson family of Newburyport, Massachusetts. The Atkinsons made their fortune in the nineteenth-century India trade. We’ve just rehung the Treat Rotunda (Figure 1) with pieces from the collection, including two lovely celadon-and-cream-colored nineteenth-century Chinese garden seats (Figure 2, below). Continue reading The House Beautiful