Monthly Archives: August 2016

Friendly rivalries

Don and Rosser and query 7 September 1944
“Boy, did they ever embarrass me right after that [picture] was taken. That’s Don and Rosser doing the honors.” (7 September 1944)
My photography collection recently took a decided step into new territory when I started acquiring vernacular photographs – images characterized, generally, by their lack of provenance and offering limited opportunities for identifying the subject. When I bought one large lot, though, I was surprised and pleased to find quite a lot of information on the reverse of the prints, enough that I am hopeful more can be learned about the people shown.

For starters, the (presumably female) scribe who wrote neatly on most of the prints dated them precisely: most are from 3 September 1944, with one or two from four days later. The focus of her interest is clear: Wayne Ehler, whose gymnastic endeavors she much admires. Two photos are marked in another hand, and perhaps this one is male, since he subtly denigrates Wayne and boasts of his own comparable accomplishments (not shown). Continue reading Friendly rivalries

A Bronx tale

Young boys playing stickball in vacant lot next to apt. bldg.
Boys playing stick ball. Photo courtesy of

My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading A Bronx tale

Richard Brunton’s family registers

Courtesy of Tracy Goodnow

Over the centuries, families have kept their own records of their history – by writing it in family Bibles; by sewing it into samplers and other needlework; by having it engraved onto objects; and sometimes by writing it into preprinted family registers. NEHGS has launched a new database of family registers that have one thing in common: all were originally engraved by English-born Richard Brunton, who lived in New England in the years during and after the Revolution. Continue reading Richard Brunton’s family registers

Aunt Alicia’s videos

ACW Fire WaggonI have sometimes mentioned how much stuff I inherited from my mother and her family. Mother left it all to me with the cheerful instructions that I was to figure out what to do with it.

For years, decades, I have intended to catalog and arrange, describe, and account for everything, but enthusiasm for sitting down and making lists and logs was always lacking. Recently I have been watching YouTube videos about drawing and painting, and it struck me that visual learning is definitely more fun. Continue reading Aunt Alicia’s videos

‘Blazing out into flaming crimson’

[Author’s noteThis series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary began here.]

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
By the third week in August 1880, Mrs. Gray[1] was comfortably settled in New Hampshire, where she had evidently not lost her discerning eye for nature or the capacity to translate her views into prose.

Plaisted House, Jefferson, Sunday, 22 August 1880: We came here yesterday, having had a comfortable ride up – part of it, along the shores of Winnisquam & Winnipesaukee, and very beautiful. We found more change of the leaf than we expected so early in the season; but in low lying, moist grounds, the young maples, swamp alders, sumach &c blazed out into flaming crimson, scarlet and orange colours, like tongues of living fire against the dense, solid greens of the summer foliage; and the banks and wild pastures were carpeted with bloom – the golden-rod & yellow tansy, the white yarrow that “heals the wounded heart,” and every variety of pink spireas and purple asters & immortelles, and rich red cardinal flowers that made a glory whenever they nodded to the breeze, and great beds of night-shade, with their gay, rank, poisonous-looking blossoms of orange and purple. Continue reading ‘Blazing out into flaming crimson’

‘Where was the music?’

Doerr music 2It may surprise you to read (or not, if you’re family) that I have squirrels in my closets. They nest in bins, and hide under papers, books, or textiles when I want to find one, or shout for attention when I don’t. But I like living indoors without wildlife, so these are not the red or gray, bushy-tailed squirrels, but the genealogical kind described by Meaghan E.H. Siekman in her essay “Chasing a Squirrel.” Continue reading ‘Where was the music?’

‘As if my home were shattered indeed’

[Author’s noteThis series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary began here.]

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
In 1880, Regina Shober Gray[1] became a grandmother (in January) and a widow (in February). The Gray family was probably already considering the sale of their Beacon Hill house – they would later move to Mount Vernon Place – as time wrought its changes on the family’s composition.

1 Beacon Hill Place, Boston, Friday, 20 August 1880: Morris [Gray][2] left us last Wednesday in the 6 p.m. train (Aug 18th) to go round the world! He was to stop a few hours at Niagara; a few, at Chicago; and then take the train across the Continent, getting out at Lathrop [California], to visit the Yo Semite[3] &c, which requires three days, and he expected to reach San-Francisco in time to sail in the Oceanic, Sept. 1st, for Yokohama, Japan; thence by China, visiting Pekin, and getting a sight of the great wall and the seaports; thence to Singapore, Batavia, Calcutta, across Hindoostan to Bombay, visiting en route Benares, Agra, Delhi, Lucknow &c; thence by the Red Sea to Suez & the Nile. Continue reading ‘As if my home were shattered indeed’

Memories of things unknown

Doerr Church 3
Ambrose S. Church (1861-1896)

Many family history researchers are hard-pressed to find personal information, photographs, memorabilia, or heirlooms to treasure and preserve. I am not one of them, and yet I seem to have a remarkable supply of “memories of things unknown,” the scraps of someone’s attempt to memorialize a moment or a personality in a manner obvious to the author but obscure to later generations. I have stacks of unmarked photos of unnamed family members, locations, cattle, horses, barn cats, and especially Dalmatian dogs.

My great-grandfather Ambrose Church’s autograph book from his school days at the Oak Grove Seminary in Vassalboro, Maine – a girls’ school founded by the Society of Friends, but open as co-ed to local children – is a case in point. Continue reading Memories of things unknown

‘Is that kind of imitation high art?’

[Author’s noteThis series of excerpts from the Regina Shober Gray diary began here.]

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
With the end of the summer in sight, I thought I would finish up this review of the Gray diary between 1860 and 1880 with several August entries from the latter year. Dr. Gray[1] had died in February 1880, and his widow was visiting her Gray in-laws before retreating to New Hampshire for a stay at a hotel.

East Milton, Massachusetts, Sunday, 8 August 1880: I left Beverly on Monday last, and came out here the same afternoon – Sallie [Gray][2] having sent me word the barouche would call for me after leaving Isa Loring[3] at the Eastern Depot, on her way to Beverly Farms. I was very glad to drive out comfortably, instead of hurrying to the [train] cars. The place is very lovely in its quiet secluded way; the house is surrounded by fine woods, oaks, elms, beeches, maples, and evergreens, the aromatic piny odors of wh. last are very delightful. Continue reading ‘Is that kind of imitation high art?’