When researching an ancestor who immigrated aboard an ocean liner, you may have asked questions about their life and experience—but did you ever wonder what they ate?
During the massive influx of immigrants to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the food offered onboard liners was much higher quality than what you may be imagining. A large number of ocean liner companies competed for passengers at the time, boasting speed and luxurious accommodations in order to lure passengers. This competition consistently raised the standards of ocean travel for all classes of passengers, even those in third class, who comprised the majority of transatlantic travelers at the time.
I became interested in this subject because of a trip to an antique store. I spotted an ocean liner menu card that seemed original—not a very common find! The proprietor of the store told me that this menu card came from a collection of antiques saved by her father. As it turns out, it was an authentic menu card from the Lusitania, dated June 2nd, 1909, just six years before she was torpedoed by a German U-boat. This was during her 26th voyage and 51st crossing of the Atlantic, from Liverpool to New York.1 However, this card did not specify the class from which it came, which sent me down a rabbit hole of research into the gastronomy of ocean liners as I tried to figure it out. I was able to determine that this menu card came from second class by comparing it to known first and third class menus from the Lusitania and other luxury liners of the time period. Continue reading Ocean Liner Menu Cards→
For many years, my family’s brick wall stood firm at the unknown parentage of Betsey Doty, who married Ebenezer Besse in Plymouth on 26 September 1776. They soon removed to Maine, where the births of their children went unrecorded. An unknown Doty in Plymouth cried out for a genetic solution.
The mt DNA line of my mother’s first cousin Avis Miller Shurtleff has been filled with surprises. 1 Avis is Betsey’s matrilineal descendant, so I hoped her genetic information might crack the case—and it did! Two exact mt DNAs hits, with genetic distances of zero, matched Avis with two other people who had well-documented ancestries from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Combined traditional research and genetic evidence unlocked Betsey’s mt DNA line. Our common ancestor was Juliana Carpenter, who married George Morton in Leiden on 23 July 1612. I published an article in The Maine Genealogist summarizing the evidence and explaining why we missed connecting Betsey Doty to her parents, Stephen and Hannah (Bartlett) Doty.2Continue reading Genetic Distance Zero→
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, which occurred on December 16, 1773. 92,000 pounds of tea from the British East India Company was destroyed by members of the Sons of Liberty to protest the Tea Act of May 10, 1773. The tax on tea (as well as glass, lead, paint, and paper) had already existed since the passing of the 1767 Townshend Revenue Act, but this new Act gave the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. Many Americans were upset by these policies and the taxes imposed by Britain without their representation in Parliament, resulting in the Revolutionary phrase “no taxation without representation.”
There is a new lineage society for descendants of participants in the Boston Tea Party, their families, and those involved in the making of colonial rebellion in Boston, created by American Ancestors in partnership with the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Although I knew I had no ancestors living in Boston at the time of the Tea Party, I began searching for ancestors living near Boston at the time who might meet one of the eligibility requirements.
We can use DNA as another source in our genealogical research toolbox to help discover family connections and break down brick walls. DNA evidence and traditional documentation, like vitals and census records, should be used to help prove relationships between two people. Many DNA tools exist on different platforms that can help us find significant matches which can reveal common ancestors between two people.
Some obituaries provide little to no information aside from the deceased individual’s age and death location—but others can be invaluable sources for learning more about a person’s life and family.
Many of the earliest obituaries were merely death notices. These generally included age, death location, and maybe a spouse’s name. Sometimes, they included how the person died. In more recent times, however, obituaries have evolved into descriptive memorials for deceased family members, providing unique information about a person’s life. They can be useful for linking family members throughout history.
The cost of publishing an obituary can deter people from preserving these priceless stories about their loved ones. I learned this recently when I lost my 95-year-old grandfather, David Earl Oswald. Last year, I wrote about how lucky I was to still have him to talk to, but unfortunately, on 21 March 2023 he passed away at his home in Florida. Continue reading On Obituaries→
Does anyone remember word clouds? Word clouds—also known as tag clouds—were popular from mid-2000s to around the early 2010s. (At least, I remember them being heavily featured in a “History and New Media” class I took in college.) They are visual representations of textual data, wherein the size and sometimes color of each word or tag represents the frequency of that word within a specific text.
For a while now, I’ve been interested in how I might be able to visualize data from my family tree in the form of a word cloud. In particular, as someone with a lifelong fascination with given names, I was curious what a name-based word cloud using data from my family tree would look like. What were the most common given names in my tree?
To answer this, I used a couple of different tools. I started with my RootsMagic software program, generating a custom report that had only two columns: Surname and Given Name. I opened this report as a basic text file and then transferred that data to an Excel spreadsheet. From there, I deleted the Surname column, as I was purely interested in given names. From there, all I had to do was find a free word cloud program to upload my data to. In retrospect, I could have generated a list of just given names from the start and saved myself one step, and may have even been able to feed the basic text file into a word cloud generator.
I tried two different platforms, both of which were freely available online. The first was the aptly-named FreeWordCloudGenerator. I imported my data as a .csv file and asked it to visualize the top 95 words (in this case, names). This program also let me pick a color palette and font, which was fun but not entirely necessary for this exercise.
Our summer issue of the Mayflower Descendant includes an article by myself and Michael Leclerc entitled “The Family of Louis and Lydia (Fosdick) Lambert Ma(s)cillier of Boston, Virginia, and Guadeloupe: The First Known Catholic Mayflower Descendants in Massachusetts.” When we first announced our digitization project of the parish records of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2016, I was interested to find such descendants. I wrote about the first person I found in the records with colonial New England ancestry, Caroline (Plimpton) Francoeur (1759-1827)—however, she had no Mayflower ancestry. I only needed to go eighteen pages further in the parish records to find the baptism of the eldest child of Louis Lambert Ma(s)cillier and his wife Lydia Fosdick, who was an eighth generation-descendant (two times over) of Mayflower passengers William and Mary Brewster.1
Throughout the colonial period, no official Catholic congregations were allowed in Massachusetts. Local laws forbade any Catholic priest even to enter the colony. The 1780 Massachusetts Constitution established religious freedom in the new state, and the first public Catholic Mass was held in Boston in 1788. The below baptism of Mary Catherine Elizabeth Lambert in 1796 (who died suddenly in the following year), and that of her sister Amelia Mathilda in 1798, represent the earliest known Catholic Mayflower descendants in Massachusetts. I cannot qualify this beyond the Bay State, as there were early Mayflower descendants in England, Netherlands, and elsewhere in North America. I state in the article that if any readers can find earlier examples in Massachusetts (or elsewhere), I will happily publish an update. Continue reading Catholic Mayflower Descendants→
My family and I started playing board games when I was in high school in the early to mid-2000s. Catan (formerly known as The Settlers of Catan) was the game that introduced us to this world-within-a-world. Its popularity grew during my college years, and it is considered one of the “gateway” games that led to the explosion in popularity of modern board games in the last fifteen years or so. Klaus Teuber, the German designer of the game, unfortunately passed away earlier this year on April 1st. In memory of the late Klaus Teuber, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to explore the real world historical inspirations which make up the fictional world of Catan.
Catan was originally released in 1995 to moderate success, but its popularity soared at the turn of the millennium. To date, Catan has sold over 40 million units in 50 languages across the globe. Hard-core board gamers even casually refer to 1995 as a benchmark in the history of the hobby: B.C. (before Catan) and A.C. (after Catan)—thus, we are currently in the year 28 A.C. That may sound silly to us history buffs, but the game’s popularity really was a landmark moment in the history of board games. No game like Catan had seen this much mass appeal and success before. It brought strategic and complex games to the mainstream market, and inspired a whole new genre of board games, known as Eurogames, which has been refined and expanded in the decades since. Continue reading Catan: Playing with Pieces of History→
I wrote about Margaret (Mulligan) Kelleher and her infant son John Cornelius Kelleher a few months ago in a previous Vita Brevis post. While I thought the trail had gone cold, I wanted to try looking one more time at the Tewksbury Almshouse records. As you may recall from my previous blog post, according to records, Margaret and John were sent to the Tewksbury Almshouse after being given a meal at Boston’s Temporary Home for Women and Children.
I had previously searched for “Kelleher, Margaret” and “Kelleher, John” with no results returned, but I realized that might not be the end of the road. As genealogists, we get used to performing searches on larger genealogy sites which use Soundex —a system which indexes names by sound, and can therefore return search results which include similar-sounding names. However, many smaller and nonprofit archives don’t have this feature, meaning that researchers must manually search for different possible variations of a name. I decided to try a few different versions, and finally came across a John C. Kellaher, recorded with his mother Margaret! Continue reading Stories of People in Poverty: The Trail Continues→
I have been researching a group of Irish folks who came to Buffalo, New York by way of Montreal. Although the State of New York did not mandate vital registration until 1881, the city of Buffalo began keeping its own vital records decades earlier—deaths starting in 1852, marriages starting in 1877, and births starting in 1878. Encouraged by this broad availability, I ordered three death certificates from the city clerk’s office to verify my research subjects and (hopefully) learn the names of their parents.
Of the three that I ordered, Jennie Franklin’s is a model death certificate. Dated 16 Jan 1916, it lists her birthdate as 10 Jul 1868, her birthplace as Montreal, Canada, and her parents’ names as John O’Leary and Catherine Masterson. But most impressive of all: rather than merely naming the parents’ country of origin as Ireland, as I had expected, the record also lists their counties of origin: Tipperary County for John and Dublin County for Catherine. 1 Their parishes of origin were not listed, but I felt good about my research progress already. The informant on the death record is Jennie’s husband, Arthur C. Franklin, who presumably supplied the information in Jennie’s death notice as well. Next, I managed to locate the records that corroborated Arthur’s knowledge of his wife’s family: baptismal records for Jennie and her siblings, census records, and obituaries for other members of her family. Continue reading Forest Lawn Cemetery Burial Records→