Monthly Archives: September 2016

An unexpected discovery

Children and staff at the Chateau de Mehoncourt near Le Mans (detail).

Recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society participated in “Free Fun Friday,” a yearly summer event sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation for no-cost admission to cultural venues in Massachusetts.  A couple who attended the event at NEHGS on August 19 sat down at the “Archivist for a Day” table that I was manning with co-workers and asked if they could quickly write some notes before their consultation with Research Services. The husband inquired about my department, the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) at NEHGS, and mentioned that his family was Jewish and that his uncle had actually been a rabbi. Continue reading An unexpected discovery

Turning green

Alicia Crane WilliamsI have been diddling with the sketch for Samuel Green of Boston for over a year and I’m still confused. Samuel2 Green, son of Bartholomew1 Green, was of the famous family of printers who operated the only printing press in the English colonies until 1665, and over Samuel’s fifty-year career his press printed 190 imprints, including the John Eliot “Indian” Bible. Samuel became the progenitor of a dynasty of printers that lasted 190 years and six generations. One would think the records for this family would be plentiful and accurate, right?

Not so much. Continue reading Turning green

‘By dint of much skipping’

[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
In May 1860, Regina Shober Gray[1] was visiting her family in Philadelphia.

245 South Eighteenth Street, Wednesday, 9 May 1860: Shopping with [her sisters] Sue & Liz [Shober][2] all the morning – a call from my old school mate Sallie Newbold[3] p.m. – and quite a pleasant party … in the evening, 12 or 15 ladies to 2 gentlemen – a lack of beaux which gave much merriment. [Her younger sons] Reginald & Morris [Gray][4] grow too independent here – trotted off after breakfast to Aunt Annie [Shober]’s[5] to play with Baby John – and Uncle John [Shober][6] keeps them too abundantly supplied with cash. [They] buy the most abominable trash – I must keep possession of their purses myself.

Thursday, 10 May 1860: Another dull day – which gave us a long quiet morning for reading about [Eliot’s] “The Mill on the Floss.”[7] Poor little Mary [Gray][8] suffering with tooth ache, and could not screw herself up to going to the dentist, notwithstanding I offered the brightest gold dollar if she would – but she scorned being bribed into it! Continue reading ‘By dint of much skipping’

ICYMI: Researching famous people

Garceau Ruth 1
The first page of George Herman Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]

Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth. Continue reading ICYMI: Researching famous people

‘What a wonderful experience’

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[1] was an energetic and well-educated woman of her time. Her diary abounds with visits to the theater and to commercial art galleries (the precursors of museums), so I thought it might be interesting and valuable to dip into her reading material, often left to the end of the day and for the benefit of her young children.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Massachusetts

Tuesday, 14 February 1860: Have finished “Hodson’s Twelve years in India”[2] – a most interesting book but, oh, so painful. Must the world and life always be so crowded with “oppression and deceit, of unsuccessful and successful war”! But he was truly a noble fellow – one of “Arnold of Rugby’s”[3] men – said to be the “Scud East” of School Days at Rugby.[4] Oh, that terrible, terrible Indian mutiny – how it mowed down the best and bravest, fair women and innocent babes. Continue reading ‘What a wonderful experience’

Lost generations

John Henry Beeckman’s nephew, Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866-1935).

One of the trends in my ancestry is the curious one whereby, when given the choice between staying in a locale or moving on, my nineteenth-century forebears often remained behind as other relatives ventured further west. One of the sadder family stories is covered in the 1999 book Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California, by Albert L. Hurtado, and concerns my great-great-great-uncle John Henry Beeckman (1818–1850).

Uncle John was the eldest son of Henry Beeckman and Catherine McPhaedris Livingston, and the family was a prosperous one in the days before the Civil War. That they were socially acceptable to New Yorkers and Virginians alike is suggested by the fact that John H. Beeckman married Margaret Gardiner in 1848 at the Virginia plantation of the bride’s brother-in-law, former President John Tyler. Still, John Beeckman was a young man, fired up by the discovery of gold in California, and in 1849 he left bride and newborn son to travel west. Continue reading Lost generations

Early New England Families, phase two

Alicia Crane WilliamsEight new Early New England Families Study Project sketches have now been posted on James Badcock of Portsmouth/Westerly, Rhode Island, and Hugh Clark of Watertown/Roxbury, Jonas Clark of Cambridge, Thomas Dyer of Weymouth, John Fairbanks of Dedham, John Grout of Watertown/Sudbury, William Marchant of Watertown/Ipswich, and Daniel Wing of Sandwich, Massachusetts. In total, 46 pages of new sketches and more than 1,000 new index entries have been added to the project. Continue reading Early New England Families, phase two

Let’s put on a show!

Mitzi posterFor the last few months I have been working with Judi Garner of the Jewish Heritage Center, here at NEHGS, on an exhibit of twentieth-century Jewish photographers and their subjects, and we are finally finished. The photos are framed and hung; the labels have been written, proofed, and attached to boards; a short show catalogue has been created; and my lecture has, largely, been written…

Tonight I will speak here in Boston on the show and its subject: Mitzi Hajos (pron. Hoy-uss), a Broadway chorine who became a one-name star along the lines of Cher or Madonna. Through photos of Mitzi, and the images taken by contemporary photographers of Broadway and Hollywood stars, we can trace the changing aesthetics of theatrical portraiture and the growing influence of the flickers – the photoplay – the movies that were, increasingly, produced in California. Continue reading Let’s put on a show!

The stranger in my genes

Griffeth-cover-FINAL-webWhen I was writing my new book, The Stranger in My Genes – about the DNA test I took that shockingly suggested my father wasn’t really my father – I thought my story was unusual, if not unique. Boy, was I wrong.

After the ebook version was released on August 23, I almost immediately heard from several friends who told me about people they knew with similar stories.

There was the one about the man who received a DNA testing kit for Christmas one year, and – long story short – discovered a daughter he didn’t know he had. Merry Christmas. Continue reading The stranger in my genes

ICYMI: A question of identity

With A. J. Jacobs at the Global Family Reunion in early June 2015.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 29 June 2015.]

Over the years I have had the chance to discuss the subject of ethnicity (and identity) with avid genealogists and those who are not all that interested in the field of genealogy. Many people will quickly share with you what their ethnicity is, with answers varying from “American” to a varied mix of ethnic origins. This answer, as you can imagine, can vary greatly with the knowledge each person has as to what was passed down to them by their parents about their own heritage. What I have noticed in these discussions is the depth in which these generational levels of ethnic origin will differ. Continue reading ICYMI: A question of identity