Monthly Archives: January 2018

Haitian ancestors

Telésforo Ramírez, son of Jacinto Peltan/Ramírez. Courtesy of

A few months ago I posted that, in tracing my wife’s ancestors, I had yet to find an ancestor who was born anywhere but in the Dominican Republic. This all changed within the last few days, thanks for a few detailed records, some very useful DNA matches, a detailed history of my mother-in-law’s hometown, and some luck! I now have three other places of birth for my wife’s ancestors, two within the Caribbean and one back to Europe – and not in Spain!

This started when I found the civil death record of my wife’s great-great-great-grandfather Jacinto Ramírez (1824–1910) of Santiago, Dominican Republic. This record not only listed Jacinto’s parents but also his place of birth, which was quite a surprise: Continue reading Haitian ancestors


My grandfather, at right, receives the Bronze Star from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. My grandmother stands between them.

John Tyler’s recent blog post on Elizabeth Knapp of Groton has a personal element for me, as I am descended through my maternal grandfather from Elizabeth (Knapp or Knopp) Scripture. According to my notes, both of my mother’s parents were descendants of the Warren family of Watertown, but it was Elizabeth Knopp – the daughter of Elizabeth (Warren) Knopp – who was my grandfather’s ancestress.

In fact, this group of families makes up part of my grandfather’s matrilineal line, one that ends in a mystery. Elizabeth’s son John Scripture married Abigail Utley; their daughter Elizabeth, named for Elizabeth Knopp, married Isaac Heath of Framingham, Massachusetts, and then Tolland, Connecticut. Continue reading Patterns

By any other name

Sometimes I wonder why my husband and I even maintain a landline telephone. It seems to be used almost exclusively by telemarketers … including the scammer from “Technical Support” who called me twice at 11:00 p.m. this past week! Every once in a while it proves its value, though, such as the time last November when I received a call from an unknown woman in Berkeley, California, asking whether I had a grandmother or great-grandmother named Purle. Continue reading By any other name

‘Something to remember’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While to us the Civil War ended suddenly, over a period of days early in April 1865, for Regina Shober Gray[1] it still dragged on at the end of the month:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 30 April 1865: We had a thoroughly fine discourse to-day from James Freeman Clarke,[2] and he made an admirable prayer for us & our country – not too long, but comprising all our need. It has been a sad solemn week. The slow march of the martyred President’s funeral train has shaken earth with the heavy tramp of this mighty army of mourners; for hundreds of miles across our wide country, hundreds of thousands of men & women have stood with bowed, bared heads & burdened hearts in the funeral train of this good great man, revered in life, sainted in death. Had ever mortal man such grand burial pageant before?

This day week we were all distressed & anxious at hearing of Sherman’s[3] armistice & peace treaty with Johnston,[4] granting the rebels such terms as the loyal people would never have consented to yield them, when they were strongest – far less now, when rebeldom is in a state of collapse. Continue reading ‘Something to remember’

‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Rev. Samuel Willard. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I first learned the story of Elizabeth Knapp in 1982, when I read Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos. Demos is a master storyteller, and much of the narrative as well the psychological insights are borrowed from his chapter on Elizabeth Knapp. With the exception of some irresistible passages lifted from William Bradford and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the first paragraph, all the quotations are taken from Samuel Willard’s “A Brief Account of the Strange and Unusual Providence of God Befallen to Elizabeth Knapp of Groton,” in John Demos, ed., Remarkable Providences, 1600–1760 (1972).

In 1671, Groton was an obscure frontier settlement on the far edge of Western civilization. To the west of the Nashua River, all was a “hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men,” “dangerous to travel to known places,” much less to venture into the unknown. Continue reading ‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Peer review

Genealogists can learn from Fantasy Football. The focus with which some people research yards per game or number of completed passes is the same that every genealogist should put into learning about the “team” of authors upon whom they are basing their own work. Is your team reliable in the “red zone”?

Fortunately, today we have pretty nearly full access to thousands of book reviews online. Continue reading Peer review

Tall tales

The author at Campbell Mountain, Lynche’s River, Cape Breton, in July 2017.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature, a tall tale is a “narrative that depicts the extravagantly exaggerated wild adventures of North American [sic] folk heroes.”[1] The more the tales are told, the larger they become. Characters and events were usually based on something real. Genealogy and tall tales can be intermingled. The tales are also important maturing rites of passage, marking the transition from being the listener to being the storyteller. Continue reading Tall tales

Institutional stigma

Persistent family genealogists will eventually encounter a relative who died in a state hospital, city shelter, or mental institution. In many instances, that fact may have been hidden, disguised, or made more palatable for public perception. The death of my grandmother’s only brother, John P. Cassidy (1887–1934), presented me with my first “alternative version” of a vital statistic. After Pott’s Disease crippled him and terminated his career as a pharmacist, John spent the last years of his life in the tuberculosis ward of Fall River’s City Hospital. There he dabbled in trick photography and tinkered with his superhetrodyne radio. Continue reading Institutional stigma

Royal cartes de visite: Part Two

[This series on royal cartes de visite began here.]

Princess Beatrice by Mayall Studio.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was created Prince Consort in 1857, the year his youngest child – Princess Beatrice – was born. When the Prince Consort died in 1861, his eldest child (the Crown Princess of Prussia) was just 21, while Beatrice (shown here in 1860) was four years old.

For the younger children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, their father receded from life and into legend. The mercurial Beatrice, an enchanting child, became a stately matron in her mother’s mold; her elder brother Arthur achieved distinction in the Army, while Leopold – who inherited his mother’s family’s strain of hemophilia – died young; Helena and Louise, so similar as young women, grew up to take different paths. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite: Part Two

Use it up, wear it out

Growing up and living in my ancestors’ house has given me bins of memorabilia, a devastated checkbook, and changing perspectives and perceptions of their characters. The “how?” of what they did has often given way to the “why?,” not to mention the “what were they thinking?!”

Like most good early New England families, they routinely made do with what they had or made whatever they needed. That “make it do” mentality is clear throughout this house, and has been passed on through the generations. Continue reading Use it up, wear it out