Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libya or the Barbary Coast? Were your ancestors affected?

Libya and the United States of America, The more things change, the more they stay the same…
The Dutch in Tripoli
by Lieve Pietersz Vershuier (1627-1686)
Who were the Barbary pirates made famous in the Navy hymn “from the shores of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”?  Tripoli is the current capital of Libya, formerly known as the Barbary Coast. Tripoli capital where they operated during the First Barbary War in 1784 (which was triggered by tributes paid to the pirates – sound familiar?). They seized ships, raided towns in Italy, Spain and Portugal and basically acted like terrorists (again – does this sound familiar?). This went on until the French conquered parts of North Africa, and established forts along the coast. The French Legionnaires and their desert exploits in romantic films are based on these soldiers stationed in the region.
What were the pirates looking for? Mostly they wanted slaves. They sold Europeans in the slaves markets of North Africa, and most captives were never seen again by their loved ones. This was not just a European problem, thougth. There were two waves of piracy, one in the 17th century, and another in the early days of the United States. The first American ship was captured in 1784. Ransoms in 1800 cost the America government 20% of its annual expenditure! Not until Algiers was bombarded in 1816 by the Dutch and British did the piracy end.

Dr. Daniel Mason (1647-1698) is a distant cousin of mine, through the Fiske family. He graduated from Harvard College in 1666. He was a physician and in served as a ships surgeon and sailed from Charlestown, Massachusetts in n 1679. He was captured by a Barbary Corsair and carried to Algiers and is supposed to have died in slavery, 1698. In the Middlesex County, Massachusetts Probate Files there is a letter Addressed to the ship captain’s wife, requesting her to pay the ransom for Captain James Ellson, ship surgeon Daniel Mason, Asher Bearstow of Watertown and Richard Ellson, his brother.   Daniel Mason was born 19 Feburary 1648 in Watertown, Massachusetts, the son of Hugh Mason and Hester Wells.

Thousands of American, Europeans (and Africans) were captured and sold into slavery in North Africa during this episode of history. According to Wikipedia, “between 1530 and 1780 between one and one and a quarter million Europeans were captured and made slaves in North Africa, principally in Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, with further captives in Istanbul and Sallee.”

For more information:

A wikipedia article on the Barbary Corsairs

At there is the full text of “White Slavery in the Barbary States”  which lists many New Englanders captured as slaves by Barbary pirates, including Daniel Mason. It was a lecture by Charles Sumner given to the Boston Mercantile Library Association in 1847.


Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two Anniversaries - Not So Wordless Wednesday

My Grandparents 25th Anniversary
Bertha Louise Roberts married Donald Munroe Wilkinson on 26 November 1926
in Beverly, Massachusetts

My Grandparents 50th Anniversary

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Brackett Massacre, 1691 - Tombstone Tuesday

These fieldstones mark graves as headstones and footstones. None are engraved with any markings.

On 29 September 1691 about forty Indians came down the coast from York, Maine, bent on vengeance. Ten settlers were killed in the marsh whilst cutting hay, three killed when their homes were burned, and seven captured and taken to Canada, mostly from the Brackett and Rand families. Anthony Brackett, an original settler who arrived at Sandy Beach (now Rye, New Hampshire) in 1630 was killed, along with several of his children and grandchildren who were captured. His home was burned in the raid. He was 81 years old. Children too young to survive the trip to Canada as captives were “dashed [killed] against a large rock that stood on what is now Wallis Road, near Brackett Road”.

The Brackett Burial Ground is located on Bracket Road, Rye, New Hampshire. Look for the sign marking the path to the cemetery opposite house #605 Brackett Road. The area is known as Massacre Woods or Massacre Marsh, and has been cleared by the Boy Scouts and the Rye Conservation Commission. There is a hike around the marsh, with boardwalks. Beware, this area is marshy, and the mosquitoes are bloodthirsty.

In 1692, my ancestor, John Locke, was murdered by several Indians on the opposite side of this same marsh. There is a marker on Locke Road on Locke’s Point with historical information. I blogged about the story of John Locke in January 2010 at this post Several distant cousins have married descendants of Anthony Brackett and John Rand from the 1691 massacre.  Below, I have copied Anthony Brackett's will, which was witnessed by John Locke, his neighbor.

For more information:

Available at Google Books

Bracket Genealogy: Descendants of Anthony Bracket of Portsmouth and Captain Richard Bracket of Braintree, (Two Volumes) by Herbert Ierson Brackett, Washington DC, 1907

From the Rye Historical Society, “Rye Reflections” which used to post a new story once a month, but now you can click on “previous issues” to find the stories from June 2005 – September 2010. This story posted on March 2006 and includes stories of several massacres in Rye

From the Hampton, New Hampshire Lane Library website (a very good genealogy library and website, by the way), this excerpt from the book More New Hampshire Folk Tales collected by Mrs. Moody P. Gore and Mrs. Guy E. Speare, published by Mrs. Speare, Plymouth, NH, 1936 [from which I took the quote above, in the first paragraph of my post]

Anthony Brackett made his will only a short time before the massacre:

In the name of god amen y° 11th day of sep 1691

I Anthony Bracket sey being in perfict memory doe make this my Last will & testament,Comiting my soul into the hand of my redemer the Lord Jesus Christ, & my body to the earth

Itim I give & bequeath to my daughter Jane hains fouer acors, in part of marsh being more or Les, which shee formerly made use of & so upward to yº head of yº cove & to young oxsen Affter my desece

Itim I give & bequeath that three acers of marsh mor or Les being at black poynt to my daughter Ellener Johnson, which marsh I have a deed for, which deed doe assign over to my daughter Ellenor, & shee to take it into hur possestion Affter my deseac

Item: I give & bequeath unto my grand daughter kasia bracket three cows to be payed at age of Eightenn years or day of marridg

I give to my grand daughter Roose Johnson on heffer

I give to my grand son samuel bracket one heffer,all the Rest of my cattle & sheep I doe give equally devided amoung the Rest of my gran Children of what is lefft After my wiffs deseac, I doo here ordain & make my sonn John Bracket Executor of this my last will & testament, and him pay all Just debts & to gather all debts which is Justly dew unto mee, my housall good I Leve with my wiff for hur one use to this I set my hand.

Witness                              Anthony Bracket
Nathaniel drack                          X
John Lock:
                                           by his mark

[Proved July 11, 1692]
[Rockingham County Deeds, vol. 5. p. 82]


Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Monday, March 28, 2011

Newspaper Website New to Me - Amanuensis Monday

Governor John Owen Dominis (1832 - 1891)
As I stated last week, I’m ignorant on New York State genealogy research. But I found a good hit on the new Mocavo website and a posted a story on a gravestone I found there, which led Sara E. Campbell to leave me a wonderful comment. She mentioned the website for newspaper research in New York State, and it was full of references to the DOMINIS family I was researching.

I love how one new clue leads to another in genealogy! I found over 300 articles with the name DOMINIS on this website. Some were references to the photo-journalist John Dominis, who took many famous photos for LIFE magazine. Many were references to Mrs. Dominis AKA Queen Lili’uokalani, who was related to the family I was researching. Even so, I printed out many of these articles for future reference. Keep in mind that John Owen Dominis was born in Schenectady, and went to Hawaii and became the Queen’s husband. His mother, Mary Lambert (Jones), was from Boston and sister to my 4x Great Grandmother.

 I’ve seen many articles of contempt for the former Queen Lili’uokalani in the newspapers of time of her trial and forced abdication from the throne. Some were racist, some were condescending and misogynistic, and this one… well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself! My notes are in brackets.

From the website newspaper database, the Chittenango, New York, Madison County Times, Volume XVIII, No. 30, page 3, Friday March 16, 1888.

The Syracuse Journal of recent date contained an article on the “Incidents in the early life of the Consort of Queen Liliuokalani” of Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, daughter of the late King Kalakaua [she was his sister]. The consort or husband of Queen Liliuokalani referred to is Johnny Dominis. Johnny’ wife is Queen, while Johnny is really King [he never held that title], and has been for fifteen years. Mrs. Dominis, mother of the Queen’s husband Johnny, at one time lived in the old burned house at the foot of Brinckerhoff hill opposite the residence of W. E. Blair. Mrs. Dominis was an especial favorite of Rev. Dr. Andrew Yates, who at that time resided in the house now occupied by Walter H. Stewart, and he took an interest in the family and later gave Johnny and his two sisters a home with him when he moved from this place to Schenectady. Johnny was educated and when a man went to the Sandwich Islands with the above result.”

Is this a snide remark about an inter-racial marriage? What is meant by the comment “above result”?

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Peabody Century Chest

Allan Breed Munroe
(1900 - 1962)
The Century Chest was a time capsule assembled in 1902 with instructions for it to be opened on June 16, 2002. It contained over 200 photographs and letters from the people of Peabody in 1902. These items are now part of the collections of the Peabody Historical Society.

One of the photos found in the time capsule is this one of a small boy, labeled "Allan Greed Monroe, b. 3/1/19—son of Fred and Clara B. Monroe". On the reverse it reads “Looks like his mother!”

It is actually a photo of Allan Breed Munroe, son of William Frederick Munroe and his wife, Clara Bailey (Mansfield). He was the fifth of their nine children! Clara’s mother was Rebecca Stacey Breed. It is an obvious transcription error, also the family name was always spelled Munroe with a “U”. Our common ancestor was Luther Simonds Munroe, born on 10 May 1805 in Danvers, Massachusetts, and died 23 December 1851. He was my 3x great grandfather and Allan’s great grandfather.

Allan would have been my second cousin, twice removed. He married Marjorie Green on 29 June 1929, and he died on 24 Sep 1962. He is one of those long list of George Peabody Merit Medal Scholarship winners I discussed in a post last year. He won his medal in 1917. (See this link for a story about some family members who have wond the George Peabody Merit Medal Scholarship )

According to the Municipal History of Essex County, Massachusetts, Volume 3, by Benjamin F. Arrington, page 138 “…he entered the United States service in March 1918, and was honorably discharged in September, 1919. He was in training at the United States Radio Station at Cambridge, Massachusetts, prior to entering the service, being in the navy. He crossed the ocean three times and saw active service. Since the war he attended Eastern Radio Institute at Boston, Massachusetts, as a student, is now a radio operator, first class, and has again crossed the ocean three times.”

The Century Chest not only contained letters and photographs from citizens, it also contained papers placed in the chest by the 1902 librarian of the Peabody Institute, Lyman P. Osborn. The date the chest was to be opened in 2002 was the 150th Anniversary of the Peabody Institute Library.

After the Century Chest was opened in 2002, a second chest was sealed and stored at the Peabody Historical Society in 2008. It was full of new items, including photo diaries created by Peabody High School students, letters and other items.


Generation 1. William Munroe, born about 1625 near Inverness, Scotland, died 27 January 1718 in Lexington, Massachusetts; married in 1665 to Martha George, daughter of John George and Elizabeth, born about 1636 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, died about 1672 in Lexington. William married also to Mary Ball in 1672 and Elizabeth Johnson in 1693.

Generation 2. George Munroe, born about 1672 in Lexington, died 17 January 1747 in Lexington; married to Sarah Mooer, daughter of Jonathan Mooer and Constance Langthorne, born about 1677 in Newbury, Massachusetts, died 4 December 1752 in Lexington.

Generation 3. Andrew Munroe, born about 4 June 1718 in Lexington, died 16 September 1766 in Lexington; married on 26 May 1763 to Lucy Mixer, daughter of Joseph Mixer and Mary Ball, born 21 November 1727 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, died 3 September 1783 in Burlington or Woburn, Massachusetts.

Generation 4. Andrew Munroe, born 31 March 1764 in Lexington, died 7 August 1836 in Danvers; married on 22 March 1785 in Burlington, Massachusetts to Ruth Simonds, daughter of Caleb Simonds and Susanna Converse, born 13 April 1763 in Woburn, died 29 January 1840 in Danvers.

Generation 5. Luther Simonds Munroe, born 10 May 1805 in Danvers, Massachusetts, died on 23 December 1851 in Danvers; married on 3 Sept 1826 in Reading, Massachusetts to Olive Flint, daughter of John Flint and Phebe Flint, born 27 Jul 1805 in Reading, died 26 November 1875 in Peabody. Six children. Luther and Olive were my 3x Great Grandparents, and I am descended from their daughter Phebe Cross Munroe (1830 - 1895) who married Robert Wilkinson (1830 - 1874).

Generation 6. William Calvin Munroe, born 21 December 1833 in Salem, Massachusetts, died 10 August 1891 in Salem; married on 20 November 1859 in Danvers to Adeline Bradley Jones, daughter of Justus Jones and Sphronia Wood, born about 23 February 1835 in Hampstead, New Hampshire, died on 23 April 1864.

Generation 7. William Frederick Munroe, born 31 March 1864 in Peabody, died 10 June 1912 in Peabody, married on 2 June 1892 in Salem to Clara Bailey Mansfield, born 14 September 1868 in Wakefield, Massachusetts, died 25 March 1939 in Peabody. Nine children.

Generation 8. Allan Breed Munroe, born 1 March 1900 in Peabody, died on 24 September 1962; married on 29 June 1929 to Marjorie Green, born 14 October 1899, died 10 April 1961.

For the truly curious:

A post from the Peabody Historical Society blog showing a snowstorm in the winter of 1901-1902. These photographs were found in the Century Chest

The link to the photo gallery of the items found in the Century Chest at the Peabody, Mass. Archives website This is where the photo of little Allan Munroe was found.

In the book Then & Now Peabody, by William R. Power, Acadia Publishing, 2008, there are several examples of photos found in the Peabody Century Chest. Mr. Power has taken old photos and new views in Peabody of the same scene to display side by side. This book is available for view online at Google Books.

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chinese Knock Off Products, part of History!

Recently the local flea markets have been raided by officials searching for counterfeit handbags and other “Knock Offs”. They are enforcing the laws because according to US Attorney General Eric Holder “intellectual property crimes are not victimless. The theft of ideas and the sale of counterfeit goods threaten economic opportunities and financial stability…” Copies, counterfeits, bootleg products, or blatant knock offs are everywhere.

It is well known that overseas some producers manufacture “copies” of computers, DVDs, fragrances, fashions, sunglasses, even golf clubs and import them into the United States where consumers sometimes don’t realize they aren’t purchasing the actual name brand products. A fake handbag won’t hurt you physically, but some of the electronics or consumables can be dangerous. In 2004 this problem made worldwide news when dozens of Chinese children died from counterfeit baby formula. But it didn’t stop the problem. And it isn’t new. Because of cultural differences, laws on the books are enforced here, but not in China or in other countries.

At our trip to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts we saw evidence of Chinese ingenuity in producing “copies” from two hundred years ago. Merchants from Salem became some of America’s first millionaires bringing back goods from China to sell in America. Porcelain, tea and spices were the initial products, but then in Hong Kong the hongs (major business houses) produced goods desirable to the American market. Porcelain painted just for US export featured patriotic bald eagles and images of George Washington. Cheap silver, lacquered furniture and pottery were also decorated specifically aimed at American tastes. The hongs were staffed by cheap labor two hundred years ago, and still are today. Sadly, most of the hongs were founded by westerners, mostly British.

This is a Chinese copy of a painting of George Washington, produced for export to the United States. It is a knock off of Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait. A ship captain from Philadelphia brought a copy of the portrait to China and ordered 100 copies. Gilbert Stuart was successful in persuading the Philadelphia courts to stop the sale of the Chinese versions in 1801. This copied painting was photographed at the Peabody Essex Museum.

According to the sign posted next to this silver at the Peabody Essex Museum, “Then, as now, labor was much less expensive in China, and consequently a Cantonese copy of an American silver piece could be obtained, as one observer noted, 'for a mere song'..." The egg coddler photographed here is a Chinese copy of an American piece. The child's flatware is Chinese, with Aisian figures engraved on the handles.

Even in the early days of the China Trade, when clipper ships opened their crates at the Salem Custom house, occasionally boxes of tea were found to be full of leaves, and spices turned out to be wood shavings. We’ve all heard the stories about fake Ming vases. Whenever great amounts of money change hand, there is a chance someone is going to try to cheat. This has been going on since Biblical times. Porcelain is a great example of this. The technology and methods to make porcelain were developed in China, and were a mystery to the rest of the world. In an interesting change of pace, Europe tried for years to reverse engineer the process of making fine porcelain, and the Germans were amongst the first to produce a product to compete with China about 1709. (How many of us today still call these objects “china”?)

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem has one of the largest collections of objects designed strictly for export to America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Porcelain, furniture, art objects and textiles are all on display, as well as historical artifacts related to the shipping and trade of those objects on the high seas. My 3x Great Grandfather, Franklin Abijah Hitchings, was the deputy customs collector at the Salem Custom House. I wonder if finding this type of counterfeit trade was part of his job? Or was it more accepted as part of business in the 1800s?

For more information:

Peabody Essex Museum

A Product and Technology Theft report from Duke University

An interesting short version of the history of porcelain or “china”

A short explanation of the Hong business system

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday

This is what can happen when you bring your daughter back to the country of her grandparent's birth. We took this photograph more than a dozen years ago, in Madrid, Spain. The butcher shop is located in the Plaza Mayor, and we were admiring the suckling pigs for dinner, but she didn't appreciate the humor. However, this is now one of her favorite dishes!

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Found via the new Mocavo Website for Tombstone Tuesday

I thought I had looked everywhere on the web for the Dominis family, especially for references to two little Dominis girls who died in Schenectady, New York. I knew they were buried there, and I had planned to someday take a road trip to Schenectady, New York to photograph and see the gravesite for myself. The local Schenectady Historical Society gave me only vague information on this cemetery and burial. But via the new Mocavo genealogy website I found a photograph of the grave of one of Captain John and Mary Dominis's daughters.

Mary Elizabeth (1825 - 1838) and Frances Ann Dominis (1829-1842) died in Schenectady whilst their parents were residing in Honolulu, Hawaii. They were under the care of the Yates family, and attending a boarding school. Mrs. Dominis took a voyage to New York and Boston in 1841 - 1842, but apparently arrived too late to see her last surviving daughter alive. It is unknown what the little girls died from. They are both buried in the Yates family plot at the Vale Cemetery.

Daughter of
Of Boston Mass
Entered into rest May 9th, 1838
Believing in the Lord Jesus
In the 13th year of her age
We shall be like him for
We shall see him as he is

This gravestone photograph was posted on the website . It is not available on the Find A Grave website. All my ancestors are from New England, so I am woefully ignorant of records in other parts of the USA. I would never have found this record on a distant cousin without a little help, and I had not heard of this website. I'm still planning to eventually travel to Schenectady sometime, and now I have a good clue.

I don't know about you, but I plan to run a bunch more ancestral names through Mocavo. It can't hurt! There are thousands of genealogy websites out there, and Google brings up too many hits. It is well worth letting Mocavo sort through the genealogy websites for me. And as more and more websites are added, it will become more valuable. Have you added your favorite genealogy websites to Mocavo?

 Of course, I'll NEVER give up Google!

I posted a story about Mrs. Dominis's trip back to New York and Boston in 1841 in January 2011. Mrs. Dominis was my 4x great grandmother's sister. She never returned to her home in Boston, but stayed in Hawaii until her death in 1889.

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Monday, March 21, 2011

MIT’s 150th Anniversary, (and some bits of nostalgia)

Yes, that is a real building!
MIT's Stata Center
Lots of nostalgia is flowing out of Cambridge this year as MIT celebrates its 150th Birthday. Even though my husband graduated only a few years ago *ahem* we are misty eyed as we reminisce with the videos, stories, photographs and announcements. At the last MIT reunion, we were flabbergasted at the changes on campus; the new Simmons dorm that looks like it was made of legos, the barracks known as Building 20 was replaced by a wild building known as the Stata Center by the prize winning architect Frank Gehry, and even the environs in the Lechmere neighborhood were unrecognizable. Where did the warehouses and vacant lots go?

My favorite MIT stories are those about the infamous hacks. At MIT a hack is not a destructive problem designed to steal your identity or money, but a hack is an elegant, witty, inspired prank. I remember witnessing several from my undergraduate days in Cambridge. I usually rode to MIT on the #1 bus down Mass. Ave, which left me off right in front of Lobby 7, which was the usual target for hacks. Most of the hacks involved installing various things on top of the Great Dome (a cement cow from the Hilltop steakhouse, a giant R2D2, a giant nipple…). A mild hack for students was to just climb atop the famous Great Dome above Lobby 7, where there was a fantastic view of Boston and Cambridge (…ummm, so I’ve heard!) Somewhere nearby was the Tomb of the Unknown Tool, and searching for it usually involved secret stairways and tunnels.* All this merrymaking was to break up the stress of intense studying, and remembering these hacks amused the MIT students much more than any episode of “Big Bang Theory”.

We would often walk across the “Smoot Bridge” on Mass. Ave for dates in Boston. Only a regular Cambridge pedestrian or MIT student would know the story of the smoot markings along the sidewalk.** The smoots are my favorite MIT hack. However, in 1982, my husband’s senior year, the best off campus hack occurred in Harvard Stadium. The crowd watched in disbelief as a giant weather balloon grew out of the 45 yard line in the middle of the Harvard – Yale football game. MIT was painted all over the balloon.
On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, early in the morning, my daughter was rowing on the Charles River with the Simmons College team, and she witnessed the greatest recent hack. A 25 foot long fire engine marked “MIT Fire Department” (complete with Dalmatian dog and flashing red lights) was on top of the Great Dome. It was clearly visible across the Charles River to the firemen meeting for a memorial ceremony on the Esplanade. As soon as she returned to the boathouse, she called her Dad to announce the new prank. Another generation strikes as hackers.

Several artifacts from great hacks, which have been going on at MIT for most of the past 150 years, were on display at the MIT Museum in the “Hall of Hacks” which was removed in 2003. Currently, some of the artifacts related to hacks are now on display in the Stata Center. Perhaps the hacking devices and photographs could be re-installed as part of the 150th Birthday party? All the alumni would appreciate it! After all, history can be fun, too!

Links for the truly curious:

The website for hacks at MIT and their history

The website for events, stories and history of MIT’s 150th Anniversary

A video of a lecture on the history of MIT hacking

The MIT Museum One of the great museums of Boston

The Journal of the Institute for Hacks, TomFoolery and Pranks at MIT, by Brian Leibowitz ’82, published by the MIT Museum, 1990 is now out of print and has been replaced by Nightwork, by T. F. Peterson, MIT Museum, 2003 which combines J. IHTFP with another earlier book, Is This the Way to Baker House?, by Ira Haverson & Tifffany Fulton-Pearson, MIT Museum, 1996. Copies are available at the MIT Coop, The MIT Press and

This giant MIT class ring was attached
to the Cal Tech cannon, stolen as a hack in 2006
*The Tomb of the Unknown Tool was a vacant space in a sub-basement dedicated to a tool (MITspeak for a nerd). It became a legendary sanctuary for hackers. Myth says that a student actually lived there. Some hackers once actually installed dorm furniture there

**for an MIT homework assignment in 1958 to measure an object with an imaginary unit of measurement, the brothers of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity used a pledge named Oliver Smoot to measure the Mass. Ave. bridge. They painted the new marks all along the sidewalk and the final measurement on the MIT side of the bridge reads “364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear”. Over the years the fraternity has repainted the markings, and even after the renovations to the bridge in the 1980s the markings remained. The Cambridge police often use the smoots in accident reports along the bridge. (There is an additional marking at the middle of the bridge painted “Halfway to Hell” where we would steal a smooch as we passed.) Coincidentally, Oliver Smoot ‘62 was the chairman for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which I found to be simply terrific serendipity. Google Earth has an option for smoots as a unit of measurement, so I suppose there must be an MIT alum on the Google staff.

All hacks are attributed to Jacky Florey or Jim Tetrazoo, to throw the trail off the true identities of the pranksters. If you try to friend either one of these guys on Facebook, you are truly gullible.

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring News and Other Happenings

Wow! I guess someone is reading my blog! First Nutfield Genealogy appeared on the Family Tree Magazine Top 40 and now more recognitions!

Thanks Wendy, Dave
Leslie and Nancy!
I was tickled pink to receive the One Lovely Blog Award four times! Thanks to Wendy B. the blogger at “Shaking Leaves , Dave Weller, the author of the blog "Tree Rings" at, from Leslie Albrecht Huber at “The Journey Takers” blog, and from Nancy at “My Ancestors and Me” at the link . I no longer participate in the blog awards by listing my favorites, because there are simply too many to list. But I appreciate your thoughtfulness! I enjoy these blog honorifics because I always learn new blogs to follow. Please click on these links and check out Dave’s, Wendy’s, Leslie’s and Nancy’s blogs!

If you are in the area, there is a very active Genealogy Club meeting on the second Friday of every month at the Rogers Memorial Library in Hudson, New Hampshire. I’ve attended a few times, and the last meeting had about thirty attendees! The next meeting will be April 9th, 2011 at 1:30 and there will be a showing of a DNA video, followed up by a presentation at the May meeting on Genealogy and DNA by Richard Guilmette.

Don’t miss NERGC on April 6-9, 2011 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The New England Regional Genealogical Conference is held every other year, and this year’s theme is “Exploring New Paths to Your Roots”. There is a great line up of speakers and workshops.

The New Hampshire Society of Genealogists is having their Spring Meeting on April 2nd at the Manchester City Library from 10AM – 3PM. See the link for more information. The Meeting is free and open to the public.

The Maine Genealogical Society is also having a spring conference day on April 23rd in Winslow, Maine John Phillip Colletta, who is also speaking at NERGC will giving a lecture on "Using Federal Records for Genealogical Research".

At his genealogy blog “Transylvania Dutch” John Newmark announced a new eZine for genealogists called “Generations of Poetry” at the link if you are interested in submitting a poem please consult the submission guidelines at This is a great new spring project! April is National Poetry Month.

Speaking of literature, the annual Five Colleges Used Book Sale is April 23 – 24 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. This event (since 1962!) is well worth the drive, as proceeds benefit scholarships to five distinguished women’s colleges (Mt. Holyoke, Simmons, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley)

Spring is full of new beginnings!

Plimoth Plantation reopened on March 19th, and the Mayflower II is back in at Plymouth Harbor from its winter berth at Fairhaven. Strawbery Bank Museum in Portsmouth opens on May 1st, 2011. Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire will reopen for the season on May 14, 2011. The American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire will be reopening in mid-May

National DNA Day is April 15th. I’m looking forward to some of the testing companies to have their annual sales. 23andMe had a big discount last year. I hope my prediction is right!

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Friday, March 18, 2011

Captain Luis Emilio and a Brave Black Regiment

Luis Fenollosa Emilio (22 December 1844 – 16 September 1918)
Luis F. Emilio
Photo from the book Brave Black Regiment
On Monday I wrote about Manuel Fenollosa and Manuel Emilio, two Spaniards from Malaga who came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1838. They were musicians in the band aboard the US naval frigate United States. Manuel Emilio married his friend’s sister, Isabel Fenollosa. They had a son, Luis, who grew up surrounded by abolitionists and other reformers in ante-bellum Salem. As an underage teen, in 1861, Emilio enlisted in the Civil War, and by 1862 he was promoted to Sergeant. He was chosen for the 54th regiment in 1863, the famous black regiment you probably watched in the movie “Glory”. All the officers in this regiment were white, and many from Essex County.
His collection of military buttons, from Europe and the United States is in the Peabody Essex Museum, but I have never seen them on display. There is a catalog with ten images of the 240 buttons. In the Massachusetts Historical Society there is a collection of photographs of the 54th regiment, including Emilio and Robert Gould Shaw. Emilio wrote a book, Brave Black Regiment about the 54th Regiment, an eyewitness account to the Civil War and one of its most famous regiments. He was the only officer to survive the assault on Fort Wagner on 18 July 1863, and became the commander of the 54th Regiment.

From Brave Black Regiment

“A considerable number of the men had prepared themselves in some measure for bearing arms, others had been officer’s servants or camp followers; and as has been noted in all times and in all races of men, some were natural soldiers…During their whole service their esprit du corps was admirable.
Only a small proportion had been slaves. There were a large number of comparatively light-complexioned men. In stature they reached the average of white volunteers. Compared with the material of contraband regiments, they were lighter, taller, of more regular features. There were men enough found amply qualified to more than supply all requirements for warrant officers and clerks. As a rule, those first selected held their positions throughout service. The co-operation of the non-commissioned officers helped greatly to secure the good reputation enjoyed by the Fifty-fourth; and their blood was freely shed, in undue proportions, on every battlefield.”

Generation 1. Manuel Emilio, born in Spain, died 25 August 1871 in Salem, Massachusetts; married Isabel Fenollosa, born in Spain, died 1888 in Salem, daughter of Manuel Fenollosa and Isabel Del Pino. Manuel Emilio was the band leader on board the naval frigate United States. Both Manuels were music teachers in Salem. Isabel’s brother, Manuel Francisco Ciriaco Fenollosa, wrote the Emancipation Hymn in 1863.

Generation 2. Captain Luis Fenollosa Emilio, born 22 December 1844 in Salem, died 16 September 1918 and is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem. He married on 19 Mar 1876 in San Jose, California to Mary Elizabeth Belden and had three children:

1. Luis Victor Emilio, born 22 June 1879 in California, died 24 August 1894.
2. Margaret Belden Emilio, born 28 January 1886 in San Francisco, died 26 July 1886.
3. Gerald Belden Emilio, born 17 October 1887 in San Francisco

Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1863-1865, by Luis F. Emilio, Da Capo Press, 1995 (this book has been reprinted many times, in many versions)

You can read Brave Black Regiment online at this link:   

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment Photographs, ca. 1860 -1800, Photo Coll. 72, Massachusetts Historical Society Photo Archives.

Records of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1863-1915, Ms. N-2063 (XT), Massachusetts Historical Society

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From Northern Ireland, to Nutfield Genealogy

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Many of the descendants of Scots Irish settlers, and local New Hampshire folks, read my blog, but it seems that I have quite a few readers from Northern Ireland. I recieve a lot of comments from folks over there, and also quite a bit of email. Here are a few emails from Northern Ireland I would like to share for St. Patrick's Day.
1 November 2010
"I know of the Nutfield, Londonderry, McKean family as that is my family. I headed up the McCain family DNA project. The family came over in 1718 as you know, I work mainly on our history in Ireland and Scotland pre1600. An amazing amount of data collected on this family via DNA testing. My Mississippi McCains, which includes my cousin Senator McCain, and the Nutfield McKeens are the same family; we discovered that early on the testing. The common male ancestor circa mid 1600s. I also located where the family lived in Argyll, they migrated to Ireland circa 1570s. There was a influx of what is called Redshank Scots into east Donegal in the 1500s, and the McCains were one of those families.

I am doing an interview with the BBC this week in fact about the McCain family. On the Kist o'Wurds Program, BBC Northern Ireland, on Friday. I am finishing up a book, a memoir, called, 'Finding The McCains.' They have an interest in it.

Our McCain family stays in touch with one another, I often get emails from my New England cousins. I've been over to Ireland many times to visit our McCain cousins there also. Very dramatic how DNA testing can add to family history.

Send me a note some time.

Barry R McCain
Ulster Heritage (the Ulster Heritage Website) (the Ulster Heritage Magazine)"

[Also, on the same day from Barry McCain]

"....attached a photo of Barry R McCain, Ian McKean of Porthall, Donegal, and Ivan Knox (his mother a McCain in our line) of Corcam Donegal. After 279 years, I reunited the McCain family, it was a lot of fun also. The Y chromosome DNA testing is an excellent tool. It will prove kinship, in a black and white manner, brutally honest. The Mississippi McCains descend from a Alexander and Hugh McKean living in Donegal settlement PA Colony, circa 1722.

We received the DNA from the New England McKeens and the kinship was proven; it was very close kinship chronologically. Given the early date of the Donegal settlement, it appears Alexander and Hugh were on the 1718 fleet that came into Boston. DNA test are not perfect, as it can not tell between 1st cousins and brothers, as the DNA is so often identical; but the geneticists are make so many advances I expect pretty soon they will sort that one out also. The Nutfield settlement sent families to the PA Colony early, so that link pretty easy to establish…

Stay in touch,

On 11 January 2012 I received a comment from a reader regarding this McKeen DNA project:

"Unfortunately, the DNA project led by Barry McCain has proven that William McKeen is not grandfather to Thomas McKean the Signer. There is the possibility of a link further back that DNA testing may eventually uncover, but at this point the current link, as described in oft repeated family writings, is invalid."
Jack MacKeen

(see comment section below)

19 January 2011

"Funny coincidences. I am working on a paper on the 1718 emigration to NH, to be given in March to the Family History Society in Belfast, Northern Ireland. One of the main topics will be Robert Dinsmoor and his family's story; I was searching the web for an image or two to show them and found your (very interesting) blog. Amazed that you were thinking about him in New Hampshire, at the exact same time that I was thinking about him in Ireland. The whole story is full of interest. Anyhow, now that I'm talking to you, may I use one or two of your images in a Powerpt presentation? They'll not be re-published; just flashed up for a minute/ And if I can help you with any Ulster background, do get in touch

I was going to comment on your blog, but it won't let me without a profile; not to worry, hope this reaches you. Your site is very impressive, and I think I should have got in touch with you before I wrote the paper! Maybe we can talk more about these matters

best wishes
Linde Lunney
I now live in Dublin, but I grew up in northern Ireland. my mother is from Aghadowey. When I get through that, I will catch up with your blog properly. talk more sometime soon
Linde (The Scots Irish Journey To the New World website)"

[Linde Lumney is referencing a blog post from 17 January 2011 about the Windham, New Hampshire poet Robert Dinsmoore I have changed the settings on my blog so anyone can leave a comment, even anonymously. Linde Lumney has send quite a bit more email since January.]

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mocavo – The Search Site for Genealogy debuted its search engine for genealogists this week. It works by limiting your searches to only genealogy websites on a specific list. This includes genealogy websites, genealogy bulletin boards, and the usual Find-A-Grave, Internet Archive, etc. (see the Mocavo home page for a list), and excludes all other websites. This makes it easier to limit your search to ONLY genealogy websites.

The caveat is that it is a limited search. Even though it is limited to genealogy websites, many popular sites I consider for searching are not included.

For example, I have several names I use for tests when I try a new website. These are the same names I use for or when I am looking for new additions to their data bases. The first name I always use is “Romanus Emerson”. He was my 4x Great Grandfather, and his name is unusual enough that hits are usually for him, or close relatives. If I Google his name the first few hits are for my own blog, here at Nutfield Genealogy, followed by, hits on Google Books, several eBooks, and a review of my own posts on Romanus Emerson by Kathleen Brandt at her own blog “a3Genealogy”, and the usual other genealogy websites, as well as Boston city documents such as their commissioner’s reports. There were many irrelevant and useless hits, also, when I used Google.

When I did the same search at Mocavo, I was surprised that my own blog and Kathleen Brandt’s blog did not pop up. Considering that Kathleen is a well known professional genealogist who has appeared on the TV series “Who do you think you are?” this was surprising to me. How difficult is it to link to the members of GeneaBloggers? The three websites that did come up were Genforum, FamilyTreeMaker, Internet Archive, and Rootsweb, and each of these was a perfect hit for genealogy information. It was a smaller list of results, but much more accurate results.

My initial conclusions:

1. This will be useful for tracing ancestry in the United States, and possibly elsewhere in the future.

2. This is useful as a limiter for common names, if you wish to “weed out” thousands of hits on other types of websites. If your ancestor has an unusual name, or if you have already searched the bulletin boards and book sites like Internet Archive you might want to stick to Google or Bing.

3. If you want to link to the thousands of possible GeneaBlogs out there, this is not the website for you.

4. There is a way at the bottom of the home page to add my own website, or my own favorite websites to their list of preferred genealogy websites, by clicking on “suggest a website”. I promptly added my own blog and Kathleen’s “a3Genealogy” to the link. I don’t know how long it will take to have it be part of the searches.

5. Currently Mocavo will not search out reference materials, city or town information, historical websites, town histories, images, social networking websites, online vital records databases, and some other databases and websites genealogists use on a regular basis.

6. If you already know the basics about an ancestor (birth, marriage, death, spouse, hometown) then you are ready to move beyond Mocavo to other types of searches to find historical, biographical and personal information.

As long as you understand how Mocavo works, and when to use it, Mocavo could be a useful tool for genealogy research. There are many caveats, and this website has just debuted, so I would stay tuned for possible tweaks to the content. Just for fun I Mocavoed the word Mocavo = Zero hits. When I Googled the word Mocavo = 39,000 hits.

For more information


My blog post last year on using Search engines:

A review by Dick Eastman on Mocavo

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Old Ship Meeting House, Hingham, Massachusetts - Not so Wordless Wednesday

The Old Ship Meeting House
Hingham, Massachusetts 1681

 The congregation in Hingham, Massachusetts was first gathered in 1635. Part of the building that is still standing here was built in 1681, replacing the first very primitive meeting house. It is still being used as a church today. It is the only remaining 17th century Puritan meeting house in the United States. The roof and ceiling beams resemble a ship's structure, and it was probably built by ship's carpenters, which is how it got it's nickname "The Old Ship". The first minister was the Reverend Peter Hobart (1604- 1679), sister to my 9X Great Grandmother Rebecca Hobart (1611-1679) who married Edward Bangs (1591-1678).

typical little pew boxes

the pulpit

the view from the gallery

For more information:

The Old Ship Church Unitarian Universalist website

Behind the Old Ship Church is a lovely old burial ground, and last year I wrote a blog post about one of its more famous grave markers....

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Michael Stratford Dealton - Tombstone Tuesday

Michael Stratford Dealton, at Forest Hill Cemetery, Derry, New Hampshire

Memento mori
In memory of Mr.
who departed this Life
April 11th 1785 in the
38th year of his age.

Behold and see all that pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for Death and follow me.

Very little is known about Michael Stratford Dalton/Dealton.  He married on 28 April 1778 in Merrimack, New Hampshire to Hannah Auld, daughter of William Auld and Lettice Caldwell.   They baptized their first child in Newburyport, Massachusetts on 13 October 1788, and the records list them as “Of Chester, New Hampshire”.  There is speculation that this was done to hide a “premature” birth.   Michael is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery and an estate inventory records that he had a shop in Londonderry near the Meeting house.    

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Monday, March 14, 2011

Manuel Francisco Ciriaco Fenollosa del Pino

My great great grandfather Caleb Rand Bill (1833 - 1902) was a music professor in Salem, Massachusetts. When I was researching Professor Bill I found many stories about Manuel Fenollosa and Manuel Emilio, two other famous musicians from Salem. And, surprise!, a family link, too!

Manuel Fenollosa came to Salem from Spain with his brother in law, Manuel Emilio in 1838 on the US naval frigate the United States. They had both been musicians for the crew, and Emilio was the bandmaster. They remained in the United States, and formed a band, then a music school in Salem, Massachusetts. Their first Salem concert was held at John P. Jewett’s house, who later published their sheet music (he also published Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin). Jewett taught Fenollosa how to speak English.

Later Emilio wrote the music to accompany one of John Greenleaf Whititer’s poems “Little Eva: Uncle Tom’s Guardian Angel”. It was dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852, when it was published by Jewett & Co. In 1863 Manuel Fenollosa composed the “Emancipation Hymn”. He also held a concert in Salem in 1864 after Emancipation. Both Emilio and Fenollosa aided the famous 54th regiment when it was formed of white Massachusetts officers and black recruits. Obviously the two immigrants from Spain were greatly influenced by their Salem abolitionist friends.

According to the lyrics written by a mysterious “R. T. L.” the “Emancipation Hymn”:

Long our land in blood had weltered, Blood of dearest sons:
Long had Hero Spirits faltered, Not at booming guns:
Long our pray'r to Heav'n ascended Fraught with bondmen's groans;
Long with victory's cheers had blended Fettered manhood's moans!
God hath heard us, God hath heard us, and in mercy Gives us bread for stones.
God hath heard us, God hath heard us, and in mercy Gives us bread for stones.

Asking for a Land, for a Land united, We forgot the slave.
Pray'd we for our Country, for our Country blighted--For our falling brave,
Left the bondman, chas'd by blood hounds Scented thro' the cane,
God was with that panting brother; Pray'd we thus in vain!
Ask, as we would serve another, ask and he will hear again!
Ask, as we would serve another, ask and he will hear again!

He hath heard; O give Him glory! Heard the Bondman's pray'r:
O'er the war path, red and gory Thro' the slave-hound's lair,
Peals the mandate of salvation, "Let my people go."
Humbled, bleeding, hear the nation Answer, "Be it so!"

Who shall weary! Who shall weary! who shall falter! God is with us now!

Fenollosa Family History:

Generation 1. Manuel Fenollosa and Isabel Del Pino of Spain

Generation 2. Manuel Francisco Ciriaco Fenollosa, born 24 December 1822 in Malaga, Spain, died 13 January 1878 in Salem, Massachusetts; married first to Mary Silsbee, on 20 November 1851 in Salem; married second to Annie Elizabeth Kinsman on 26 July 1869 in Salem. Manuel’s sister, Isabel, married Manuel Emilio.

Two children with Mary Silsbee:

1. Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, born 18 February 1853, died 21 September 1908, in London; married Elizabeth Goodhue Millett. He spent thirty years in Japan studying the art and culture.

2. William Silsbee Fenollosa, born about 1855, married a Martha W. Fabene in 1887

Three children with Annie Kinsman:

3. Clarence Fenollosa, born 25 November 1870 in Salem

4. Sydney Kinsman Fenollosa, born 4 May 1873 in Salem.

5. Manuel Emilio Fenollosa, born 7 June 1875 in Salem

Both of Manuel Fenollosa’s wives are distant cousins to me. Mary Silsbee is a great grand daughter of John Becket (1715 – 1781) and Rebecca Beadle (1714 – 1758), my 6x great grandparents. Annie Elizabeth Kinsman is related to me through multiple lines of Essex County families (Kinsman, Dutch, Kimball, Treadwell, Webb, and Burnham).


For more information:

The Papers of Luis F. Emilio, 1812 – 1871 contain information on the musical career of Manuel Fenollosa in Salem. They are held at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Emancipaton Hymn”, by Manuel Fenollosa, lyrics by R. T. L, Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co, 1863 (sheet music) M1640.F at the Library of Congress

Diary of Manuel Fenollosa, 1848 – 1849, by Manuel Fenollosa, held at the Peabody Essex Museum (describes a voyage from Malaga, Spain to Salem, Massachusetts in 1838, on the barks Sophia Walker and the A. G. Hill)

Immigrants to Salem Join the Abolitionist Cause”, Boston Globe, by Jim Dalton, 1 Feb 2011 at the website accessed 9 March 2011

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Meldon J. Wolfgang, III and the New England Regional Genealogical Conference, April 6 – 10, 2011

Mel Wolfgang is an author and the founder of Jonathan Sheppard Books, publishers of historic map reprints and antiquarian bookseller. A native of Albany, New York, he has been a genealogist and family historian for nearly fifty years. He has been the genealogy columnist since 2005 for the New York State Archives’ quarterly “Archives”. Mel is a former local government administrator, a public library trustee for two decades, board president of a local library system, and trustee advisor for one of the country’s first intergovernmental archives. He speaks regularly at local, regional and national conferences on genealogy and cartography.

Mel is lecturing at NERGC 2011 twice, for F231 “Sixty Hours a Week, Ten Cents an Hour: Records of New England’s Industrial Heritage” and S304 “When the Trail Leads to the Almshouse and Cold Charity”. He agreed to electronically answer my interview questions during a 5 hour train ride to New York City. I’m glad the long ride gave him the time for these thoughtful responses!

Questions for Mel:

1. Both of your lectures at NERGC 2011 are about labor and economics. Is this a topic most genealogists are not following up on in their research? “I think I should stress that the talks aren’t really about labor and economics in the traditional academic sense, so much as they are about the historical world of work and the historical world of poverty in New England (and the records that document those worlds).

Both talks deal in some way with money and work (or the lack of it.) A large part of my Friday afternoon talk will focus on New England’s industrial workers and the records that documented a huge part of their working lives. Many of these records can help researcher see their ancestors as real people, not just names on a chart. For example, it you see that your ancestor was a shoe cutter in 1850, do you know what that really means?

On Saturday, I’ll be talking about the records of poor relief – both public and private charity records – that can be found in New England, often hiding in plain sight. One of the things I’ll be pointing out is that these records can often contain information about people from all walks and stations in life, not just the poor. Think of it this way – when we talk about “health care” today, we don’t just mean sick people; we mean everybody involved in and maintaining the health care system, including doctors, nurses, drug executives, biomedical engineers, and so forth. It’s a pretty big field, with many players. Public and private charity is a lot like that, especially when it comes to the records.

And, yes, both topics are not often on the research radar for many genealogists because many of the records are not well known, easily located or thought of as “genealogical”. Nonetheless, both kinds of records may contain real clues that lead researchers to discover truly significant facts about their ancestors.”

2. In your opinion, how important are conferences to genealogists, both amateur and professional? “Conferences should be a key part of every genealogist’s research experience. For amateurs, it is a chance to learn from experienced researchers and from other experts, meet new friends and distant cousins and explore all the goodies in the exhibit area. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and get answers from people who share your passion. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to learn that there’s so much more to genealogy than simply looking stuff up on the internet. Data mining is not research, as every conference-goer quickly finds out.

For professionals, conferences provide great opportunities to learn topics that are outside their research comfort zone. By that, I mean topics that are outside their usual research interests and their usual expertise. For example, as a professional, you may specialize in 18th century Scots-Irish immigrants to New England or some other “traditionally Yankee” group. Conferences will provide you with the opportunity to learn something totally new, like what Quebecois “dit” names are all about or the reasons behind Armenian immigration in the early 20th century. Without a doubt, you’ll learn about new records and new repositories and you will also leave the conference with new ideas that you can probably apply to your own research.“

3. You’re in the book business. What is the most interesting genealogy book you have had in your inventory? “As Jonathan Sheppard Books, we’ve been booksellers specializing in local history and genealogy reference materials since 1977. While we have new books, our true focus tends toward mostly out-of-print items. With a constantly changing inventory of about 15,000 individual titles, you can imagine that we’ve handled some pretty interesting things over those 30-plus years. For example, we’ve owned (and sold) a truly unique copy of a classic late 19th century New England family history. What made it unique was that it was the author’s personal copy and was interleaved with hundreds of pieces of onionskin paper, with each sheet containing detailed text corrections and updates in the author’s own hand.

We’ve also had handsome limited editions and fine bindings, lots of early pamphlets relating to local history and some great caches of 18th and 19th century manuscript material, including original letters and deeds. All of it is fascinating in some way. One of my current favorites is a small, thick hand-written notebook kept by a funeral director in a small upstate NY community at the beginning of the 1900s. Each of his funeral “cases” is listed, with copious annotations.

Of course, any bookseller will probably agree that their “most interesting book” is the one that’s still out there on a shelf or in a box, still waiting to be discovered. Just like it often is with genealogists, the “thrill of the hunt” is an important part of being a bookseller. After all, lots of us feel that our most interesting ancestors are those still waiting to be discovered, researched and written about.”

4. If this were to be your last lecture at a genealogical conference, what would you say? What would you want to be remembered for? “While I probably wouldn’t deviate too much from whatever the prepared topic was for most of the lecture, I imagine that I’d be inclined to offer a few bits of advice gained from a half-century of research. One of those bits would be a reminder that genealogy is not about looking stuff up on the internet, then typing the information into some piece of software; it’s about analyzing and connecting small slivers of information and through those slivers, learning about your ancestors’ lives and times. I’d also be inclined to suggest that the solutions to many of those “brick wall problems” can often be found by standing a bit further back from that brick wall so that you can look at the bigger picture. History is a big place to explore and you should be learning something new every single day. And lastly, I’d encourage the audience to have great fun and bask in the joy of each new discovery.”

New England Regional Genealogical Conference

Mnemosyne’s Magic Mirror- Mel’s Genealogy Blog

Jonathan Sheppard Books

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ice Jams and your Ancestors

The news lately has all been weather and earth related. Frigid temperatures, tsunamis, earthquakes, mud slides, and here in New Hampshire and Maine we’ve had a spate of ice jams. The local TV news shows amazing film of ice crushing against bridges and dams, causing flooding and widespread damage. The rest of the country asks “Ice what?”

The 1936 Flood in Nashua, New Hampshire
was caused by ice jams and spring rains

An ice jam is caused by an accumulation of floating ice, usually in a river, that restricts the water flow and causes flooding upstream. When the ice jam releases, damage is caused downstream from the sudden flow of water and ice. Usually the crush of ice weakens or destroys bridges and dams.

The local Manchester, New Hampshire newspaper ran an article yesterday about the all the flooding since the unseasonal rains. For example, in Keene, the Contoocook River in Peterborough sent water flowing over Route 202.  Last year the Pemigewasset River was a foot over flood level due to ice jams. Closer to home the police were monitoring the streets of Pinardville, in Goffstown, which are prone to flooding.  Even the Charles River, west of Boston, is above flood stage this morning.  This much rain is unusual, causing the ice in the rivers to loosen and the snow pack to melt much faster than through regular thawing.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the earliest ice jam disaster occurred in 1780. They keep an Ice Jam Database on over 12,200 ice jam events, each with a narrative description. The latest ice jam disaster occurred right here in New Hampshire, on 24 January 1999 in the town of Littleton. On that day 40 senior citizens were evacuated when the Ammonoosuc River and its ice and water flooded near their assisted living center.

Many people remember the 1936 Flood in New Hampshire, but few remember that it was caused by both ice dams and open flooding. Industry along the rivers lost $5,000,000 (1936 USD) during the depression, which not only was a huge amount of money for the time, but also many scarce jobs were lost. Total property damage exceeded $100,000,000 (1936 USD). About 150 to 200 people lost their lives. The Millyard Museum in Manchester has many photographs of the flood, and the aftermath. I particularly remember one photo of the water up to the second floor windows of one of the mill yard buildings. That is a lot of water!

If your ancestors or relatives tell stories of lives and property lost during flooding, you might be able to trace it to a flood caused by an ice dam. Using a combination of newspaper accounts and the Ice Jam Database, you can find exactly where the damage occurred, names of victims, estimates on property damage and narratives of the event. Ice jam flooding usually occurs between January and March.

I Googled “ice jams” “New Hampshire” and went to the Google news search. I started reading articles from the 1920’s. The first one was from the “Lewiston Daily Sun” in Maine, dated 13 February 1925. It described a stretch of warm weather and rain that was similar to the conditions here this week. According to the article “…so warm that some have even allowed their furnace fires to go out.” This was followed by descriptions of flooding in sections of Lewiston and serious damage due to ice jams. Boats were floating in the streets of Montpelier, Vermont and two people were injured when the cold water hit a boiler, causing an explosion. The front page articles also covered ice jam flooding stories in New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts.

I can imagine that in the future my descendants would be reading articles from the “Nashua Telegraph” and the “Manchester Union Leader” to see what the ice jam events were like in March 2011.


For more information:

The photo above is of Nashua, New Hampshire in the aftermath of the March 1936 flood from the NOAA Easter Regional Headquarters website  An article from the US Army Corps of Engineers which lists many references such as newspaper articles on disasters in the state of New Hampshire.

U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) (part of the U.S .Army Corps of Engineers) welcomes inquires about their database. Call 603-646-4361 or write to:
ATTN: J. C. Tatinclaux
71 Lyme Road
Hanover, NH 03755-1290

The Manchester Millyard Museum and the Research Center are run by the Manchester Historic Association   There is an online library catalog of the books and most of the photograph collection. There were over 212 records found relating to the word “Flood” and most were related to photographs and scrapbooks pertaining to the 1936 and 1896 floods.

The URL for this post is

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo