Monthly Archives: August 2018

‘Rest & be comfortable’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober[1] is the subject of three diary entries – among the longest passages in the Regina Shober Gray[2] diary, and closing out the year 1865. In these entries Mrs. Gray approaches her subject directly and obliquely, focusing on different moments in Lizzie’s last days as she tries to make sense of the Shober family’s loss.

In her characterization of her younger sister, Mrs. Gray sketches out a Victorian ideal of a maiden lady: “She was pre-eminently the sun shine of her home – the darling sister to each one of us; enjoying all bright, glad things in life, with keenest zest, interested in the smallest details if they were able to pleasure others, ready with quickest sympathies in joys as in sorrows & anxieties – always hopeful if hope were possible, and efficient in all things; at all times considerate & thoughtful for others, self-forgetting, loving, and most lovable.” Continue reading ‘Rest & be comfortable’

From Cento to America

A few years ago, as I was looking into what NEHGS’ collection held on Italian research subjects, I came across a manuscript that was created in 1954 by a woman who was interested in documenting the Italians of Kingston, Massachusetts. The Coming of Italians to Kingston by Esther DiMarzo was digitized and is available on our web site. It covers those who first appeared in records in Kingston from about 1899 to 1912. Esther primarily relied on tax lists and vital records and, when possible, included a few stories and information from descendants who were still in Kingston at the time of her compilation. Continue reading From Cento to America

Tell me no lies

Thomas and Shirley: a hint of a complex relationship.

While researching family stories for verification (and, let’s face it, amusement), I began to think that we all face the same questions: “Huh?” turns into “Why did he/she/they do that?,” which morphs into “What?!,” which then becomes “What were they thinking?!?!” We look for the truth but often find muddled facts, conflicting stories, and outright prevarications.

I discovered with the help of a maternal cousin that one of our ancestors, Shadrack Ireland (1718–1780), was something of a rogue/cad/religious nut. Sure enough, when I read about his life, history knows him as a pipe maker, carpenter, and “religious leader” who espoused Perfectionism at the time of The Great Awakening, a Christian revival in the 1730s and ‘40s. Continue reading Tell me no lies

The widow of St. Casimir

Ambrotype of Hermidas Vallee, ca. 1865.

My sister-in-law Sue and I hoped we might uncover a backstory behind the marriage of her great-great-grandparents. Aimé Vallée, age 21, of St. Casimir, Québec, wed his third cousin, Marguerite Vallée, age 43, widow of François Trottier, mother of twelve children. François died in November 1844, age 69; Marguerite married Aimé three months later, with a dispensation omitting two additional banns of marriage. We sensed our curiosity might be allayed by visiting St. Casimir, midway between Trois Rivières and Québec City. Its splendid late nineteenth-century Catholic church attests to its central place in the life of that community and a long tradition of recording genealogy. Continue reading The widow of St. Casimir

Tired of waiting

David Gorfein traveled to America on board R.M.S. Olympic.

Immigration to the United States has often been a difficult and time-consuming process, and never more so than during the first half of the twentieth century. The immigration laws of the 1920s established a quota system whereby only 2% of the national population of each country could immigrate annually; in effect, this meant that if there were 2 million Germans in the United States, then only 40,000 Germans could come to the United States each year. Continue reading Tired of waiting

More ancestors of the Princess of Wales

Continuing my project of reviewing recent scholarship (or new databases) that might add material to Richard Evans’s 2007 book, The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales, I have reached the late Princess’s great-great-great-grandparents. Among them: James Brownell Boothby (1791–1850) and Charlotte Cunningham (1799–1893), who were married in 1816. Ancestry’s UK, Foreign and Overseas Registers of British Subjects, 1628–1969 database documents the marriage of James, late of Sheffield, Yorkshire, and Charlotte, late of Folke (Sherborne), Dorset, in “Bahia of the Brazils, South America.”[1] As there was then “no Protestant Church, Chapel, or Place of Public Worship” established in Bahia, the ceremony was performed by the bride’s father, Alexander Cunningham, the British Consul. Continue reading More ancestors of the Princess of Wales

The only existing record

St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a volunteer at NEHGS, my current assignment is to proofread and potentially correct the indexed records of the Massachusetts: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900 collection. If you have taken a look at this database, you’ll know that the handwriting in the records varies from “very clear” to “indecipherable.” We have even made use of a “Transcription Challenge,” where we post names from the scanned record book pages and ask users what they think the handwriting represents. Not too surprisingly, the suggested names vary quite a bit amongst themselves.

Contributing to the confusion is that many of the given (first) names in the collection are expressed in Latin form. In other words, the name “Guillimus McCarthy” represents “William McCarthy” in English. Continue reading The only existing record

Great fires

James Athearn’s Washington House hotel on fire. Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association, image 1896.0128.001.

In my last Vita Brevis post, I mentioned that an enormous wild fire had swept through the area where my maternal grandmother’s family has farmed for more than a century. A distant cousin told me, “The fire is total devastation for many: the total loss of this year’s crop, homes, combines, and equipment. For us it could have been much worse. We lost no equipment or buildings, only about 500 acres of wheat.” A tragic loss of the best crop folks could remember in many, many years. Continue reading Great fires

Service records for Civil War combatants

Click on the image to expand it.

When researching ancestors who fought in the Civil War, don’t forget to examine their Combined Military Service Records for important genealogical data. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Combined Military Service Records were created by the War Department to expedite the administration of the claims and pensions of veterans. Information was collected from muster lists, enlistment records, payrolls, and other miscellaneous sources, and then organized into envelopes by soldier. These records are housed at the National Archives, and many are also available on Fold3 for both Confederate and Union troops.

These Combined Military Service Records note the date of enlistment, presence or absence at muster, injuries sustained, promotions, and discharge. Most importantly, they may also give the specific birthplace of the soldier. For those of us whose Civil War ancestors were immigrants, or whose ancestors were born in locales with poor vital records, these records are especially important. Beyond their military service, these records can also provide unique information, including a physical description of the soldier. Continue reading Service records for Civil War combatants

A pirate’s life

“Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Is that Thomas Lacy drawing his cutlass between Blackbeard and Lieut. Maynard? Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A year or so back, I was contacted by a favorite cousin of mine asking for help with questions his nephew had regarding our family tree. His nephew, a serious-minded young man (and a very typical teenager), was curious about any infamous or otherwise notable kin among our branches. And, since I’ve managed to somehow insinuate myself as the family’s alleged expert on such things, well, I guess I’d become their “go-to” guy for an answer or two. (I know, hard to believe, right?) I should mention that the young man who would be asking any of these questions was only thirteen years old! Continue reading A pirate’s life