Monday, July 25, 2011

Serendipity Stories #1 A Folk Painting

This past week, several interesting emails and comments have led me to make several interesting genealogical breakthroughs in my research.  Today I am focusing on the first story- # 1.) about a painting.  The rest of the week will include 2.)  a Civil War Veteran,  and  3.) a letter between a teenage girl and boy in the 1840s.

I previously blogged a few times about the 1804 House my cousin is rennovating in Manchester, Massachusetts.  First I wrote about some of our family's genealogical connections to the Israel Forster family, and then I wrote about a gravestone from the Forster family found in the basement! 

My cousins have done an admirable job researching the history of their historic house, and in hiring a design team that specializes in historical homes.  As part of their research they found that the man who built the home in 1804, Israel Forster, had a portrait that was currently up for sale at an exhorbitant price (especially for a family paying for a large rennovation project!).  We joked that perhaps we could talk the owners into letting us scan the painting so a facsimile could hang over the fireplace when the restoration was completed!

Lo and behold! Along came Bill Pease of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  You might have seen Bill's posts at GenForum, where he publishes notices of family portraits up for sale or auction, with some genealogy and art history information usually attached to a message that  usually reads something like this:

 “…this fine portrait should be made known to family and descendants… I am scanning it in case any of the descendants might like a copy, either by email or by postal mail. Someone in the families ought to have it--it is too good to be missed by the family. It may not have extensive genealogy value, but it certainly does have a whole lot of family and historic value.”  
His posts usually end with the line “If it were a portrait of a Mr. Pease, I'd certainly want someone to do the same for me.”

My cousin found Bill Pease's post dated February 2010 about the Israel Forster portrait “The Winter/Spring 2010 issue of ANTIQUES & FINE ART magazine on p. 75 pictures in an advertisement a fine 1797 portrait of Israel Forster (1779-1863) of Manchester, MA. The portrait is dated 1797.”  Bill likes readers to respond directly  to his email address rather than responding to his posts, which number in the hundreds.   Just check out his message posting history and you might find something related to your own genealogical research.
The gallery that sold the painting is in Newbury, Massachusetts and their website is   Check out their inventory, and you might find a portrait of someone from your own family tree.

An advertisement for this painting reads:

"Portrait of Israel Forster attributed to Rufus Hathaway
Striking portrait of a young man, identified as Israel Forster and dated 1797 in an early note on the painting's stretcher when it was included in an exhibition of the artist's work in Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1987.

Hathaway is known primarily for a small group of portraits from the 1790's of citizens of Duxbury, the town in which he settled after a number of years of itinerant painting, married, and became a physician.  The oval within rectangular format is seen in a number of works representing young sitters from this period.

Forster, born in Manchester, Massachusetts in 1779, may have been a student at Phillips Academy in Andover when this work was painted.  He later returned to Manchester, and he was a Major in the War of 1812.  His House still stands on ----- Street, and his grave in the local cemetery marks his death at age 83 in 1863.

Illustrated in Rufus Hathaway: Artist and Physician, 1770-1822, pp. 68 and 69, by Lanci Valentine.  Exhibited March 18 - May 17, 1987 at the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury.

Sight size 16 1/2 inches by 20 1/4 inches"
[I removed the address of the home for my cousin's privacy]

Thanks to Bill Pease, and other genealogists like him, people researching their family history, or their house history in this case, find treasures on the internet.  Just image your research without the thousands of people posting vintage photographs, family bible genealogies, transcribing local history, or helping the LDS church with transcribing thousands of scanned documents for their huge database.  Imagine genealogical research without websites like, or (Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness), or   Outside of the internet, thousands of volunteers man the corresondence to historical societies, local libraries and museum by answering genealogical queries for free or for less than the cost of a tank of gas or plane ticket to faraway places.  It's nice to be associated with a group of people who are so friendly and altruistic!

To find Bill's message posting history at click on this link: 

PS  My daughter is working with some photo editing software to make a nice copy of the Israel Forster painting so that we can return him to his place over the mantel at the house in Manchester, Massachusetts.  I think it belongs there!

Three previous stories about the Forster Leach House
Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Chills, Heather. This sent chills down my spine. What an angel of a man and what whoops and dances there must have been. I'm so pleased for you all.

  2. Very cool! How can we find Bill Pease's posts about paintings that are coming up for auction?

  3. Bill has over 500 genforum listings. To find all of them click on his underlined name at the top of any post or to find his complete message posting history with a list of all the surnames listing portraits (including signs, needlework, documents, etc). Good luck!