Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Babson brood

Alicia Crane WilliamsThe Babson Historical Association is preparing an updated Babson Genealogy for publication in 2017. The Babsons are unique in several ways.

First, they are one of the few families descended from a Great Migration matriarch who came to New England without a husband. Isabel Babson came to Salem in 1637 with her sons Richard and James. Her husband, Thomas Babson, had died in England. A married daughter – Joan, wife of John Collins – came with her husband shortly thereafter. Son Richard returned to England permanently and had four children we know of, but we have not traced any of the English descendants. Continue reading The Babson brood

A final resting place

Resting place 2In the virtual world of genealogy, one can easily go to or and record a gravestone – or simply pay respects to an ancestor’s gravestone. This technology has made it possible for countless genealogists to virtually visit or search gravestones thousands of miles away. This technology can also be utilized by apps designed for your smartphone.

What about the gravestone no longer located in its original cemetery? When I first started working on my book A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries in 1987, I made inquiries into cemeteries throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Strange stories of abandoned gravestones located on stone walls or at historical societies became a database in their own right. Continue reading A final resting place

The little black book

Ambrose Church 1One of the most thoughtful gifts my son has ever given me is a small, black journal with blank pages which I carry with me every day. Kevin’s instructions to me at the time were to write down my memories as well as my family’s memories and stories. His good intentions became my inspiration and abiding interest, my focus in my family history research, and my obligation.  Scribbling madly, I started asking for stories to preserve for our following generations.

I soon understood that there is a significant difference between stories and memories. Memories are the foundation and basis for the stories they may become as time puts them in a different context. While some are skeletons in the making, our family stories give us a better understanding of our ancestors’ characters and their perspectives on their world, as well as some insight into their actions and motivations. Continue reading The little black book

Death by hiccups

Fred and Jenny Homer
Back row, left to right: Eva Homer Keck, Bert Keck, Jennie Stinson Homer, Fred Lincoln Homer. Front row, left to right: Edna Stephenson Fields, Frank Fields, ???, Sarah Stephenson Ely.

When beginning genealogical research, we learn about the types of records that are likely to contain the information we seek and where those records might be located, i.e. in what repository. What we sometimes fail to appreciate, however, is the value of a stash of family materials – letters, diaries, newspaper clippings – that can hold the answer to our questions. Case in point: my great-grandfather’s cause of death.

As an inquisitive 12-year-old, I once asked my grandmother if she knew how her father had died, since he had passed away four months before she was born. “Oh, he died from the hiccups,” she replied.  Continue reading Death by hiccups

The pen is mighty

fulton family crop1We’ve all been there: we’ve all looked for that one record that should exist – but does not. And why? Why did our ancestors do that to us? Why did they forget to file paperwork? or procrastinate when registering a deed? Why didn’t they know we would be searching for them years later?

I am often annoyed with my ancestors – they failed to write wills, file taxes, and baptize their children. This was before my brother Andrew got married (or maybe I should say, tried to get married) in Puerto Rico: now I have a slightly different view. Continue reading The pen is mighty

The Centennial of the Easter Rising

Easter Proclamation 1916
Courtesy of

At Easter 2016, Ireland commemorated a seminal event in its struggle for independence, the Easter Rising of April 24–30, 1916. Led by men and women from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan, about 1,200 rebels seized several key buildings in Dublin. With artillery and 16,000 troops, the British quickly overwhelmed the Irish insurrection, and the leaders captured and executed.

One leader, Thomas Kent of Castlelyons, County Cork, and his brothers had organized a branch of the Irish Volunteers in Castleyons in 1914. Thomas Kent was not in Dublin during the rebellion, but stayed away from home hoping to mobilize the Volunteers. When he returned home, the Royal Irish Constabulary (police) surrounded his house on May 2, 1916. Continue reading The Centennial of the Easter Rising

“Then we cleared out fast…”

Frothingham and GLS for VB
My grandfather with (at left) William Bainbridge Frothingham (1898-1967) during the summer of 1918.

My paternal grandfather kept scrapbooks all his adult life, beginning with volumes chronicling his time at school in Arizona a century ago. He started at Harvard in 1917, and during the summer of 1918 – traveling with some college friends – he drove ambulances in Italy. His album of that summer indicates that these Harvard boys had time to go to the beach and in other ways amuse themselves, but he was – and they were – also on the front lines, and almost as soon as they arrived.

A newspaper clipping, probably from his hometown newspaper in Goshen, New York, quotes from a letter he sent home to his mother:[1]


Thursday, 27 June 1918: The first day six of us stayed at our post until the Austrians were only 200 yards away. Continue reading “Then we cleared out fast…”

In the news

Alicia Crane WilliamsLooking at one’s family at any particular point in time can be educational. Recently, I was interested in 1881 because three of my grandparents were born that year and the fourth was born in December 1880, which is close enough. I was wondering what their parents would have been reading in the newspapers at that time.

Online digitized newspapers are big business these days and there are plenty of pay sites like,, (for English papers),, and Newspapers that are still in business often have their own archives, such as the New York Times and Boston Globe, although they require subscriptions, too (you may be able to access these free through your local library). Continue reading In the news

Another game of telephone

Grandpa Scaduto in the Army
My grandfather Ignazio Scaduto.

Frequently, patrons will come into the library to prove or disprove a long-standing family story. These stories may involve larger-than-life characters who survived major battles, were accused of dastardly deeds, or men and women who just led charmed lives that appear a bit too good to be true. Over time the facts get can get muddled or embellished, and what may have started as a simple story can turn in to an epic tale. Such stories may be hard to believe, but what I have discovered is that embedded in the story is usually some truth. Continue reading Another game of telephone

“Practice what you preach”

postcard_Page_2_revisedEarlier this week I was scrolling through my newsfeed and I saw a blog post where the author scolded herself and urged her readers to “practice what you preach.” I often think this, especially when I teach the first class of my three-part series on “Getting Started in Genealogy.” The crux of the first lecture is to work from the known to the unknown – not to skip ahead – and to record data using a chart or genealogical software (including sources examined). I encourage students to begin their genealogical journey with material from their own homes, to interview themselves, and to talk to relatives. Because who better to talk to, when learning about your family, than your own family members? Continue reading “Practice what you preach”