Monthly Archives: April 2018

Belated recognition

In the Summer 2017 issue of Mayflower Descendant,  we published an interesting article by NEHGS member Gregory J. Weinig entitled “Elisha Freeman of Provincetown, Massachusetts (ca. 1758/9-1825).”[1] The article clarified his age and parentage (establishing his mother but not his father), and his descent from Mayflower passenger William Brewster.

The article also clarified Elisha’s military service, and provided data that he served several tours from 1775 until 1778, including an eight-month stint in Rhode Island, which prior researchers had assumed to be different men of the same name. Continue reading Belated recognition

‘A stranger to us’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Grays’ summer was flying by in Marion, and Regina Shober Gray[1] faced new social responsibilities as her daughter Mary[2] ventured into society:

Sunday, 6 August 1865: A week ago last Wed’y, I went up to Boston to make my deserted husband a visit, intending to return early on Friday; but some deeds were sent on for the girls[3] to sign before a commissioner – so they had to come up on Friday morning and I waited, of course, to return with them p.m.

Frank [Gray][4] went to Worcester that mg. for the [rowing] regatta – he was so excited about it that he hardly slept for 2 nights previous. If he took it so hard, what must have been the excitement of the fellows actually competing in the race; and alas! for all their hopes and efforts, the Yale men bore the palm, in both races – and Harvard was only second best. Continue reading ‘A stranger to us’

ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 July 2016.]

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Growing up in Westerly, Rhode Island, a town in which more than 30% of residents identify as having Italian ancestry, I was always surrounded by Italian culture.[1] To this day, many people from other towns are surprised to hear that my high school offered Italian language courses, a fairly uncommon option. Even fewer had heard of Soupy, the nickname for soppressata, the cured meat which originated in Calabria that hangs in the basements and attics of Westerly residents during certain times of the year. (The meat curing process requires outdoor temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)[2] Continue reading ICYMI: Italian emigration to one Rhode Island town

A rose for Susan

A photo of my great-grandfather labeled “Fred Athearn, brother of Mary Goodrich.” Shared by Eric Anderson of Houston

Next week’s fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing is sure to bring back strong emotions for many NEHGS members and staff. While I was removed from the drama by an entire continent, I remember feeling a certain newfound closeness due to genealogical work I’d just begun. I had previously never heard of Watertown, and all of a sudden I was reading about a shootout in that town where ancestors had settled in the 1630s. The strongest connection I felt, though, was when law enforcement announced that “persons of interest” had been identified through photographs … because I also had identified a “person of interest” that week in the same manner.

Like many orphans, my great-grandfather longed to know about the family he’d lost at an early age. Fred Goodrich Athearn had little trouble tracing his father’s family back to seventeenth-century Massachusetts, but all he knew about his mother was that she was named Susan or Susanna Goodrich; that she had been a friend of the Polish actress Helena Modjeska in Anaheim, California; and that she was probably an actress herself. Continue reading A rose for Susan

Pulling it all together: Part Two

Continuing with my assessment of The Phelps Family of America:

Scope: The work traces Phelps-named males through the ninth generation as well as some female descendants born with the Phelps surname to their children, and occasionally further through a grandchild with a non-Phelps surname. An effort was made to trace the Phelps family in Europe, presented in the form of 70 pages of transcribed, but not analyzed, correspondence with parish rectors and individuals named Phelps. The methodology was limited, but the scope deserves a score of 7. Continue reading Pulling it all together: Part Two

A story told

Images of Caroline Jennings (Dexter) (Paul) Chandler courtesy of Julia Lee Lavaroni.

We all have them. Yes, images of individuals from long ago staring back at us as we work our way through the branches of our family tree. I don’t know about you, but I often hope I might compel my research right past their telling faces; after all “they” are just another set of vital records to record – right? However it rarely works that way for any of us – if it did, we’d probably drop our genealogical oaths and get back to some solid and familiar stamp collecting. No, in our usual practice of gathering up any one of those timeless faces, we find faces that somehow look back “to” us, asking us to have their stories told.

This happened to me last spring while researching the life of my great-great-great-great-uncle, Samuel Norton Sprague.[1] It was through “Uncle Sam” that I encountered Miss Carrie Dexter, his step-daughter. I admit it – I was immediately drawn to her, wondering who this beautiful young lady was from long ago. Continue reading A story told

‘Crowded with berries’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
From time to time Regina Shober Gray[1] pauses to describe what she sees and hears, and it is usually a feast for the senses: In its way the place is very lovely, very placid, with the soft sinuous curves of its low green shores, its bright little islets and its glassy waters reflecting, as would the quietest inland lake, the counterpart of the upper world in the calm depths below. The tide swells dreamily up and ebbs sleepily down, with never a ripple to disturb its ineffable complacency…

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 16 July 1865: [The diarist’s sisters] Mary & Lizzie Shober[2] arrived duly by Newport train yesterday morning. It is so good to have them here – more than 9 years since Mary’s last visit to me, at the time of [Mrs. Gray’s son] Morris’s birth – since then this devoted sister has never left our brother John[3] day or night, save when she went to Baltimore on Susan Drinker’s[4] death, to be with Aunt Catharine[5] for 3 days. It is a painful effort to her to come now, but she bears up bravely, and will I am sure be better for the change. It has been a frantically busy week with me – but the [sewing] work is pretty thoroughly finished up, with Isabella to help for 10 days past. Continue reading ‘Crowded with berries’

‘Undoubtedly the same family’

My great-uncles with my great-grandfather. Left to right: John F. Forry Jr., Joseph Forry, John F. Forry Sr., and Edward Forry, ca. 1972.

A common rule for genealogists is that spelling does not count: usually, entering an alternate spelling of a surname into a search engine will point you to records for the ancestor you seek, as long as you know his or her parent(s), an approximate birth year, and a birthplace. However, while doing my own research, I have been hindered by the issue of variant spellings.

My grandmother Eleanor (Forry) McManus was a granddaughter of Patrick J. Forry and Hannah M. Crotty, both of whom emigrated to Boston in the 1880s from Ireland, from County Sligo and County Waterford respectively. The Crotty branch has not been hard to fill in, as I contacted an Englishman who is married to a granddaughter of Hannah’s niece. He has already made a family tree, from which I obtained information. The Forry branch, though, has been a different story, since the surname can be spelled so many ways when recorded phonetically. Continue reading ‘Undoubtedly the same family’

Academic genealogy

Photos of Norbert Wiener courtesy of the MIT Museum (

Shortly before my retirement as a computer science professor, one of my master’s degree students asked me for my academic genealogy, intending to attach himself at the end of it. I had not heard of the concept of an academic genealogy before then, but I was immediately intrigued and started tracing mine.

An academic genealogy is a sequence of advisor-advisee relationships, usually (in modern times) a sequence of PhD dissertation advisor-advisee relationships. A person with a PhD may have only one advisor (analogous to a parent in a biological genealogy) or two co-advisors. It is even possible that a PhD holder would have three “parents”; perhaps, for example, there were initially two co-advisors, but one of them died and was replaced by a third faculty member. Continue reading Academic genealogy

DNA and a brick wall

Click on the image to expand it.

Recently I’ve been playing around with DNA Painter. It is a colorful, easy-to-use tool for understanding the chromosome segments you received from an ancestor. This free program lets you map DNA segments and assign or “paint” them various colors on your different chromosomes.

I created the chromosome map above by first determining a common ancestral couple between myself and a match. Then I download our shared segments and added them to DNA Painter. You can do this for any results found on 23AndMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDMatch. For each match I assigned them a color based on our most recent common ancestors. Continue reading DNA and a brick wall