Quaint societies

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Amherst College Class of 1852 restored daguerreotypes. All images courtesy of consecratedeminence.wordpress.com

As family historians, each one of us has taken a few trips down the Google highway in search of something in particular – only to be sidelined by happenstance. These occurrences serve as a twofold check, punctuating brick walls while allowing us to flex our genealogical muscles. For the most part these diversions are informative and entertaining, serving to supplement our knowledge of people or subjects. The beautiful part of being “side tracked” is that for the most part, all roads lead back home and to New England.

This was the case for me as I started out (once again) on the trail of my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather Amherst Hoyt (1785/89–1851). I’ve been trying to piece together his westward migration from New Hampshire to Iowa – and in the Google archetype, all things ‘Amherst or Hoyt.’ (Sometimes these combination Google searches make me feel as if I am ‘game show contestant,’ with the prize hidden behind whichever door I’m bid enter.) But little did I expect that the search for Grandpa Amherst Hoyt would take me directly to Zephaniah Swift Moore, the nephew of my paternal ancestor Lydia Swift Young and founder of Amherst College.[i] [ii] See what I mean? All roads lead home.

So it was by means of a research ‘detour’ that this Swift descendant (and very uninformed Californian) was introduced to the “Consecrated Eminence” and to a few of those rascal Philopogonians of the Amherst Class of 1852.[iii]  [iv] The college maintains some beautiful, well-identified, and often well-restored daguerreotypes of those young promising scions – and I began to wonder just who these men were, but even more so just who they might possibly be to me?

Daniel Jay Sprague (1831-1888), Row 1, third from the left [v]. A paternal fourth cousin seven times removed
You see, like most aspiring genealogists and family historians I have run the gamut of wanting to know how many umpteen times or ways I might be related to historical figures, pop culture icons, or even a few circus performers along the way. However as I approach the ‘middle stage’ of my genealogical engagement I’ve become more interested in the generalized idea of how it is you might be related to me.

So here you have my case in point. As I am staring at these rascal Amherst lads of 1852, I begin to see the old names fall into line, and I realize that I am staring at the faces of multiple cousins. They are the “living” faces of these men, and are persons about whom I would not normally know anything. Somehow, learning about their lives and their connection to me seemed meaningful, providing me with more than just a diversion: a purpose that returns the focus of my research to where it needs to be – back home.

Theodore Hiram Benjamin (1827-1855), Row 4, fifth from the left [vi]. A maternal sixth cousin four times removed
So with your permission, I thought I’d introduce you to a few of these lads, my cousins. Most of their brief biographies are reasonably available on line so there isn’t a big need to bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say that my friends in the Class of 1852 lived life a lot like the rest of us. Some were prosperous, some not. Some lived to a ripe old age, and some did not. Like all of us, they felt love and pain and a modicum of pride in their time on earth. They were estimably good folks, these lads. And while I have not followed a genealogical trail on all of them I believe you will find getting to know something of these cousins “of ours” somehow worthwhile.

Knowing any of this makes little if any difference in the grand scheme of my prosaic family tree. Still, I find inquiring about these humble classmates as self validating as if I had inquired about any relationship I might have to the King of Spain (he and I aren’t speaking lately) – and in truth even more so. I do realize its back to the drawing board to look for my ancestor Amherst Hoyt, but in the meantime I have met some interesting cousins, these Philopogonians, and in learning just a bit about just who they were I have learned an equal measure about myself.

Benjamin Easton Thurston (1827-1870), Row 5, fourth from the left [vii]. A fifth cousin five times removed to both my father and mother
You never quite know who you will meet along the way.


[i] Per Wikipedia, Zephaniah Swift Moore (1770–1823), founder and president of Amherst College 1821–23.

[ii] Lydia Swift Young (ca. 1741–1813), Zephaniah’s aunt, and my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother per Mayflower Descendant, Volume 64, No. 2.

[iii] consecratedeminence.wordpress.com, Return of the Philopogonians, 16 May 2014.

[iv] George Rugg Cutting, Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, their Membership and History (Amherst, Mass.: Hatch and Williams, 1871), Quaint Societies, Philopogonia, 125–26, regarding an errant group of the Class of 1852 who made an agreement not to shave.

[v] John M. Tyler, Amherst College Biographical Record 1821–1921 (Amherst: The College, 1927), www3.amherst.edu.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

10 thoughts on “Quaint societies

    1. I think Tom Thumb was a Richard Warren descendant, but memory may not serve well, and if so then he’d be a cousin of some degree to Mr. Record.

  1. Interesting, and I am wondering if Google pushed this article to me because of my interest in genealogy or because I graduated from El Camino High School, ’61.

  2. Isn’t so exciting when you find your ancestors? I’ve been researching mine for over a yr now. It turns out that my 9x great grandfather is Jeremy Adams, who is the gr gr uncle of first cousins John and Samuel Adams. I’m their 4th cousin 7x removed from my paternal grandfather’s mother. Jeremy (Jeremiah) Adams was one of the first settlers of Colchester, CT. The Jeremy river in CT is named for him.

  3. As you said, you never know what you will run across. I discovered that I had a 3rd cousin circus performer in my poking around. Her whole family was in the business and lived in Florida when they werent ‘on the road.’ One of them owned a freak animal show. Many of them are buried at Showman’s Rest Cemetery in Tampa. Then I discovered a 1993 documentary called “Gibtown” about the families in the Carnival business. Pretty interesting stuff.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.