Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Great Baltimore Fire

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In February 1904, the Great Fire of Baltimore raged for two days, burning much of downtown. It was a devastating disaster that helped prompt standardization and reform in the firefighting industry. A month later, my great-great-great-uncle Henry F. Rosendale wrote a narrative poem, detailing the events of the fire that ravaged the city. The poem is hardly personal: instead it is highly detailed, almost encyclopedic, relating many facts that one now finds in modern encyclopedia articles. Henry relates the progression of the fire, the direction of the winds that carried it, the help that came from other cities (“From Washington and from New York in record breaking time”), and the dynamiting of buildings meant to act as a fire break. Continue reading The Great Baltimore Fire

Creative dating

fulton-lichenI think about genealogy for much of my day. Therefore, on a recent trip to Boston’s Museum of Science, I was again thinking about how I could apply something that I learned that day to make me a better genealogist. Thankfully, the Museum has a new(er) exhibit that is designed to teach participants how to use context clues to properly date an old schoolhouse. The exhibit points to evidence that helps users to identify when the schoolhouse closed – specifically, drawing their attention to portraits of U.S. Presidents surrounding the room, concluding with Richard Nixon. (The students in my group eventually determined that the school probably closed between 1969 and 1974.) As a student who studied Public History in graduate school, the exhibit is fantastic. A perfect blend of education, logic, and most importantly, fun… Continue reading Creative dating

Your questions answered

The Asa Williams House, ca. 1912

Sometimes we all, like Tennessee Williams, depend on the kindness of strangers – whether we realize it or not. While I’ve always shared my family research and stories, it has been only recently that I’ve come to understand how initiative, serendipity, and luck work together.

Four families – all my cousins – have lived in My Old House for the last 227 years, fine New England families who undoubtedly followed the old axiom “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Continue reading Your questions answered

The Parson Capen House

parson-capen-house-for-vbThe Parson Capen House sits in the historic section of Topsfield, Massachusetts, a charming New England town about 30 miles north of Boston. It is quite remarkable that this minister’s home has survived nearly unchanged since the seventeenth century. Visitors can walk in the rooms where the Reverend Joseph Capen and his family lived, and where Parson Capen undoubtedly contemplated the fate of parishioners accused and convicted of practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. Continue reading The Parson Capen House

Phantoms and red herrings

Alicia Crane WilliamsBob Anderson has a “Phantom File” at the end of his Great Migration Begins series (3: 2097–2104), with names that have been misread or misconstrued (e.g., John Allen for John Alden), meaning that no real person by the mistaken name existed.

An example of a phantom in my own family is the reference to “Samuel Crane” on page 1 of Records of the Town of Braintree 1640 to 1793, where he is included in a list of men deputized for town affairs in 1640. Continue reading Phantoms and red herrings

History of a Cosmopolite

Lorenzo Dow preaching by Lossing Barrett. Courtesy of

Some years ago I researched my husband’s ancestor Jerreb Kendall (1804–1839) of Passumpsic, Caledonia County, Vermont, and took pleasure in the interesting names given to many of Jerreb’s eleven siblings by their parents Jerreb and Lucy (Woods) Kendall.

I liked the thoughtfulness and weightiness behind given names like George Washington, William Wallace, Alonzo Ransom, James Eaton, Larnard Lamb, and Lorenzo Dow. (And I could almost sense the rejoicing that accompanied the selection of the name Lucy Celestia, which was given to the twelfth child – and the first and only daughter!) Continue reading History of a Cosmopolite

‘Of course nobody stopped talking’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, 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
These entries, from 1860–61, focus less on Regina Shober Gray’s[1] reading than on the successive deaths from diphtheria of members of the Gardner and Adams families during the winter of 1861; they also include a walk-on part for future Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935), who must have narrowly escaped being infected.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 23 December 1860: The dinner party at Mr. Adams’[2] was a very pleasant one. Mr. & Mrs. Ed. Blake,[3] Miss Jones,[4] and ourselves. It was disagreeably startled by a grand crash of crockery! the falling of a moveable shelf, which was no doubt too heavily piled. It must have made sad havoc in that beautiful dinner set of French china. Of course nobody stopped talking or took any notice, though there [was] noise enough for the crack of doom. I don’t know if I could have taken it so quietly as Emily [Adams][5] and her father did – I am very sure my husband could not. Continue reading ‘Of course nobody stopped talking’

ICYMI: Family papers

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 August 2015.]

John Steward boxMy grandfather died almost 25 years ago, and sometime before that he gave me a box of “family papers.” The box itself is rather striking: a metal strong box, easily portable, with my great-great-grandfather John Steward’s name stenciled on top in fading paint. Inside the box are not just family papers, but intriguing (and, of course, unidentified) daguerreotypes and examples of other early photographic processes, along with materials treating the family of my great-grandmother, Margaret Atherton (Beeckman) Steward (1861–1951). Continue reading ICYMI: Family papers

‘More than worth the money’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, 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
Regina Shober Gray’s[1] diary shows her as part of a wide network of families: in the following entries, from summer and fall in 1860, we see her entertaining her sister in Manchester; receiving visits from her husband’s uncle and her own stepmother in Boston; sending her son off to visit his uncle and aunt in Brookline; and whiling away a day in some of Boston’s many bookstores.

Manchester, Massachusetts, Saturday, 11 August 1860: A rainy day – we all sat in Mrs. Gordon’s[2] rooms till after luncheon. Then Lizzie [Shober][3] and I read aloud in my room – “Leslie’s Autobiography,”[4] which we found very pleasant reading. We had neither bath[e] nor walk to-day. Dr. Gordon came down this p.m. bringing letters from Rebecca [Wainwright],[5] Dr. G., & Mary S[hober].[6] Morris [Gray][7] went off fishing with the girls, and caught a rock-cod, which he pulled up bravely to the level wharf, and then in his tremulous excitement let slip back into the water!! Continue reading ‘More than worth the money’

Remembering the Alamo

martin-monumentEarly in 1836, nearly two hundred American men lost their lives defending the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, over the course of a thirteen-day siege. While this event is largely viewed through the lens of Texas and southern American history, several men from New England were involved in the defense and indispensable in the battle. The following men were New Englanders who played a key role in the defense of the Alamo: Continue reading Remembering the Alamo