Monthly Archives: October 2016

In the news

Alice and Kenny McLean

Amongst the family papers I inherited from my grandmother and great-uncle (orphans Thelma and Fred McLean in my earlier A Telluride story post), I found several old shiny Xerox copies (remember these?) of news articles my great-uncle Fred had made. He must have kept his local library swimming in copy revenue judging by the many such copies I found amongst his papers.

Fred McLean was our family genealogist. He dutifully typed up family stories, transcribed census records and letters, and then sent copies to his sister and her four children, one of whom was my mother, Thelma Jr. I wish Fred were alive today because it was due to him that I have an interest and now gainful employment in the field of genealogy. Continue reading In the news

Secrets in shorthand

shorthand3While working in Salt Lake City in 2011, I met a sort of expert in lost arts named LaJean Carruth. Besides being a weaver, she also taught a small class on nineteenth-century Pitman Shorthand,[1] which she invited me to join. Being a lover of lost arts myself, I naturally agreed.

For those unfamiliar with Pitman Shorthand, Sir Isaac Pitman’s creation of a phonetic shorthand system in 1837 marked the beginning of one of the most lasting forms of shorthand, in use for well over a hundred years, particularly in Great Britain. With a variety of strokes to indicate consonants and interspersed dots and short dashes representing vowels, it was primarily used for its speed and ability to conserve space.[2] As a result, many records from the mid-1800s are written in Pitman Shorthand. Continue reading Secrets in shorthand


Alicia Crane WilliamsI was just given the honor of being elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. So exactly what do those initials after my name mean?

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was conceived in 1940 by three giants in the field: Dr. Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Merdeith B. Colket, Jr. When it was incorporated in 1946, the first directors were Adams, Colket, Harry Wright Newman, Milton Rubincam, and Herbert F. Seversmith. Milton once confided to me over drinks at a genealogical conference that it all began as a bunch of guys getting together for drinks! The purpose was to associate themselves and others for their mutual benefit and for the advancement of genealogy (see Continue reading Honors

‘One’s vanity does penance always’

[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
Of particular interest in these entries is Regina Shober Gray’s[1] depiction of being photographed in September 1861: “I hope [the resulting pictures] will be reasonably good, but one’s vanity does penance always in these cartes de visite likenesses. Gentlemen look well in them, but they almost always give a harsh, stern unnatural look to a woman’s face.”[2] Mrs. Gray noted that her own standards were relatively flexible, reporting that her friend Rebecca Wainwright[3] “does not think my photographs very successful – but I feel that I ought to be satisfied with them – they are quite as good of me as other peoples are of them. Hard and rigid looking.”[4]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 5 September 1861: Frank [Gray]’s[5] birth-day – 15 years old. I can hardly realize it. He had presents from myself, “Barrington’s Heraldry,”[6] from Aunt Liz [Shober][7] a dollar, from Mary C. [Gray][8] 3 engraved Shirt Studs. His eyes are decidedly better. Continue reading ‘One’s vanity does penance always’

Chaining deeds

historic-home-deed-chartIn preparing a lecture on house histories, I was reminded of the importance of chaining deeds – that is, linking the deeds for your house together using a deed chart – as the first step in researching the history of your home. Deeds are the primary source when conducting research on a building or property. While the deeds can only tell you who owned a house and not necessarily who lived in it at any given time, the transfer of the property from one owner to the next forms the structure of your research and can provide clues for where to look for more information. Continue reading Chaining deeds

Over-egging the pudding

St Bartholomews Groton
A view of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Groton, Suffolk.

I wear several hats at NEHGS. In addition to editing Vita Brevis, I am the Society’s Editor-in-Chief, with advisory roles in the Publications, Library, and Website divisions; I write and edit books, including a genealogy of the Robert Winthrop family of New York due out in 2017; and I work with the editorial teams of the Society’s magazine (American Ancestors) and the Mayflower Descendant journal. A trend I’ve noticed in some of the projects on which I have worked might be called over- or under-egging the pudding. By this I mean the habit – picked up, no doubt, from researchers’ work with genealogical software – of abbreviating terms that should be given in full or, conversely, of undue (over) emphasis. Here are three examples: Continue reading Over-egging the pudding


Alicia Crane WilliamsHas anyone else gotten into the new analog journaling craze? Often called “Bullet Journaling,” it is a return to the old, handwritten method of keeping records. There are many templates that can be followed, but the Bullet Journal (BuJo) is intended to be thoroughly individualized by the writer to suit his or her needs.

Among records that might be kept in a BuJo are calendars, daily schedules, events, future planning, goals, inspirational quotations, doodles, and collections. Some people decorate their BuJos with neat hand lettering, images, icons, washi tape, and more (check out Pinterest and YouTube for ideas). Some keep all of their information in one journal, others have specialized journals for different subjects. Continue reading Journaling

‘A free citizen’

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
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

By the winter of 1861, an American civil war loomed. Regina Shober Gray[1] – a native of Pennsylvania with Southern connections[2] – was disposed to some sort of emancipation for the South’s slaves, with due respect for slave-owners’ existing property rights, but her views (and emphases) would change over the course of the next four years.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 3 March 1861: A summer’s day – absolutely oppressive. Sorry to hear from Aunt Sarah Bradlee[3] how very sick Henry [Bradlee][4] seems. There was some talk of sending him on a long voyage, but he is too ill for that. Continue reading ‘A free citizen’

A Loyalist history lesson

history-of-putnam-county-p01-detailOne of the delightful things about genealogy is that it often leads us to learn, and re-learn, our history lessons in unexpected ways.

I have struggled for many years trying to find any New York documents on my immigrant ancestor John LeClear. He came from France probably at some point in the 1760s. I had first found him in the 1790 U.S. Census living in Half Moon, Albany County, New York. My only other clues came from copies of copies of some letters written by his then 93-year-old grandson, Shubael, which laid out the names and marriages of the first couple of generations of the family, mostly without places or dates. Shubael did state the John lived near Poughkeepsie before moving north to Albany. However, no church, cemetery, or vital records have emerged to help support this statement. Continue reading A Loyalist history lesson

Shorthand systems

From Alfred Janes, Standard Stenography: Being Taylor’s Shorthand (1882), courtesy of Google Books.

One day, when searching through the town records of New Haven, Connecticut, I was struck by one of the entries. The writing appeared like nothing I had ever seen before. After asking others for their thoughts, we found that none of us had ever seen this form of writing before. After some research, I discovered that what I had found was notation written in Taylor Shorthand, a system of writing developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first system of shorthand writing to be widely used across the English-speaking world.[1]

Shorthand has long been used as a method of notation, often when time or efficiency is imperative, and as a result, it often appears in court documents and meeting minutes. Continue reading Shorthand systems