Monthly Archives: December 2018

Touched by an angel

Here in my hometown we are blessed with an exquisite landmark building, the 1681 meetinghouse known as Old Ship Church, whose name may have been inspired by the building’s vaulted roof, resembling a ship’s hull, built of oak timbers. Used originally as a gathering place for both civic discussion and religious worship it is, today, the oldest church structure in the United States in continuous use. Behind the meetinghouse is the town’s oldest cemetery, whose earliest burials pre-date construction of the meetinghouse. Sometimes called the First Settlers graveyard, it is the final resting place of the families who founded Hingham – Cushing, Lincoln, Thaxter, Beal, Hobart – their descendants, and other prominent residents – including two Massachusetts governors. It is one of the few historic cemeteries where burials are still taking place.[1] Continue reading Touched by an angel

2018: the year in review

As we begin the countdown for 2019 – and look forward to the blog’s fifth anniversary in January – I have selected some posts from the first half of 2018 to showcase the range of subjects covered in Vita Brevis during the last year.

Alicia Crane Williams started the year with a series of posts on establishing criteria for what constitutes an “excellent” genealogy, as distinguished from a “good” (or a “poor”) one:

A “scoring” system for genealogies would be interesting. If, for example, we had ten categories on which to judge a genealogical source, and each category had a potential ten points maximum, the “perfect” score would be 100. Of course, this would all be subjective, but it would give us a way to group works for comparison (top 10%, bottom 50% etc.). Continue reading 2018: the year in review

Notes from the underground

On board the SS Marine Flasher. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

When Isaac Gordon and his two younger brothers – Aron and one whose name is unknown – left their village in Poland and fled from the Nazis into the woods, it must have felt like stepping into another world. Polish resistance to the Nazis was fierce during World War II, and the dense Polish forests would be the training grounds, staging areas, and headquarters for all types of partisan groups and underground fighters. Isaac, a cattle-dealer in his early thirties from Vilna (Vilnius), could hardly have felt prepared for the type of life that he and his brothers would be embarking upon when they joined the resistance movement. Continue reading Notes from the underground

A hot mess

My great-grandmother with her brother Raymond and his fourth wife in Santa Cruz, California circa 1972.

My great-great-uncle Raymond is a hot mess. At least that’s what kids these days might say about him if they, like me, were trying to unravel the workings of his life. I first “met” Raymond Young – or, rather, I first became better acquainted with him – while researching the family lines of my great-grandmother, his sister Opal (Young) (Porter) Everett, and her family’s Mayflower ties.[1] However, getting to know Raymond hasn’t been easy. He’s proven himself to be an artful character to say the least. Continue reading A hot mess

Jingling all the way

Bevin family plot, Lakeview Cemetery, East Hampton, Connecticut. Courtesy of

A few months ago I had an unexpected email from one of the editors at Applewood Books in Carlisle, Massachusetts, informing me that they were reprinting the Christmas book I wrote in 2006. Needless to say, I am delighted that the fifty or so stories about New England Christmas traditions will now reach a new generation of readers, but I wondered if the stories, after all these years, would still hold up.

I immediately grabbed my dog-eared copy of the book and began flipping through the pages. Surprisingly, the stories had staying power, which is the whole point of traditions, isn’t it, that we can rely on them, or should be able to rely on them, to not change too much down the generations. Traditions are like families: with each generation there are permutations, something new added to tweak the mix, but the family resemblance is still there. Continue reading Jingling all the way

An ‘extinct’ family

The O’Dwyre monument, photographed in 1998, has not been included on findagrave.

In response to my query, an eminent genealogy colleague once advised me that there is little point in publishing information on families with no living descendants. My example here, I hope, counters that point. Tracing the provenance of an inherited mantle clock led me to the Philip O’Dwyre family of Willimantic, Connecticut.[1]

Born in Kilchrohane Parish, County Kerry, Ireland about two hundred years ago, Philip O’Dwyre, a true Famine refugee, fled his homeland in 1851. Leaving his infant son Philip and pregnant wife Julia in Ireland, he established a foothold in Willimantic before sending for his family. Philip kept a job working for the railroad and became, as Philip “Daware,” an American citizen in 1856. Willimantic censuses and baptismal and marriage registers from St. Joseph’s Church document the remaining eight children born to the couple. Philip bought several tenements on Valley Street, and the neighborhood became a mecca for other Kerry immigrants. Continue reading An ‘extinct’ family

A genealogist’s beginnings

[Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series of interviews with David Allen Lambert; the first part may be read here. The present article originally appeared in the Society’s NEXUS newsletter, 4: 3.]

Question: When did you first become interested in family history?

Answer: Since the age of 12 I have belonged to the Stoughton Historical Society.

Q: That is a young age to begin. You were probably the youngest member.

A: I was. I started in 1981, and in 1984 they made me the assistant curator, when I was just 15. Continue reading A genealogist’s beginnings

Kissing cousins

The Stewards in Goshen with their household staff, ca. 1857. Jackson Steward is seated, reading a letter, and Rachel and Camille Marié can be seen in the doorway.

I’m not sure when I first realized that, in addition to my direct ancestors’ propensity for marrying their cousins, I had collateral relatives who were wont to marry into the same families. The examples are extensive enough that it might take a couple of posts to cover the territory, so for this one I will look at my paternal grandfather’s Steward relatives – I can think of four instances without too much trouble!

My great-great-great-grandfather John Steward of Goshen, New York (1777–1854) was married twice, first to a neighbor, Martha Jackson, and then to Mary Isabella Young of Philadelphia. By his first wife, John had five children, four of whom lived to grow up and marry; poor Mary Isabella had just one survivor among her children. Continue reading Kissing cousins

One hundred years ago

Hugh A. Crossen and family members, 4 July 1918.

One hundred years ago last week, my great-great-grandfather Hugh A. Crossen died on 9 December 1918. The Boston Globe noted that week that he was “one of the best-known old-time residents of the Parker Hill District” in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. His funeral attracted “a large gathering of friends and relatives,” including “well-known” politicians: two state senators, two state representatives, and three former state representatives. The obituary even noted that the hymn “The Cross and Crown” was sung by a soloist during the funeral mass. Such high praise was not typical for an Irish immigrant who worked as a paper hanger. Continue reading One hundred years ago

The dress is all

At the end of October, I shared the exciting experience of touring the Gov. Bellingham-Cary House, where my distant cousin – the Rev. Thomas Cary (1745–1808) – spent time as a young adult. I mentioned near the end that I’d found something curious at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art vaguely related to his family, and now it’s time for the “reveal.”

While I don’t know what Thomas’s father or mother looked like, his mother’s sister, Katherine (Graves) Russell of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was painted by John Singleton Copley around 1770. The portrait, at left, is in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Continue reading The dress is all