Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memorial

Civil War Memorial, Litchfield Plains, Maine
Courtesy historical society of Litchfield


As I've worked along through the tree, I've discovered that a number of my relatives volunteered and served in the American Civil War.  I've talked about some of them already, but I continue to find people in more remote corners of the tree.  Today for Memorial Day I  will honor these more distant relatives.
The years are the years of service best I could determine. The two with extra notations died in service.
Emory Rogers 1861-1863
Perley H Richardson 1862-1863
Lorenzo M. Richardson 1863-1865
Oliver Bartlett Richardson 1861-1863
Charles Henry Howe 1862-1864 Andersonville
Benjamin F Roberts 1862-1864
Correctus H Richardson 1864-1864 Battle of the Wilderness

Thanks....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A New Resource on YouTube- British Pathé


YouTube has just added another wonderful resource for family historians. The entire British Pathé
film archive now has its own channel here. I did a quick search for the little village where the Tapply relatives came from and came up with this newsreel footage from 1935 for a cricket match involving the Wittersham team. Nothing came up on a name search, but if you had someone notable in your British family something just might. And further searches for Maidstone and Isle of Oxney came up with other interesting footage. If you have British relatives in your tree, this is worth a look.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Geography and Genealogy

 Once I found that my Tapply grandmother's family came from Wittersham in Kent and not from Whitstable, I set out to learn a bit about this place. Right away I read descriptions only of Wittersham sitting on the Isle of Oxney. I was intrigued. What was this about?

The early coastline of England was much further inland. The Rother river ran out to the coast at Romney and there was a large delta with many little islands right at the mouth of the river. Wittersham sat, in those days, right on one of those islands. But more and more silt built up at the mouth of the river. Violent storms in 1287 changed the coastline. Finally the river itself changed direction. From Romney it moved to Rye. Pretty soon the entire coast became salt marsh. Sheep were raised on the marshlands and this became the main source of income. The present coastline looks more like what you see in the map below.
The marshland is clearly still there, but the sea is far away from the Isle of Oxney. When you see photographs of the countryside, it's clear that this former island sits higher than the land around it. And the identification is clearly still on the map. The "family history" written by Alan Tapply puts various branches of the family in the area as far back as the 1600's. This would be long after the coast changed, but I can't help but wonder how different the land might have looked back then. Were there sailors and fishermen in the family? Smugglers? Sea captains?  Or were the Tapleys (old spelling) always the tradespeople?

Another thing that excited me was the identification of Romney Marsh. I was brought up on Disney and some of you may remember "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" starring Patrick McGoohan.
The scarecrow was a tale invented by Russell Thorndike. The story goes that Dr. Christopher Syn retired from a life of piracy to become the vicar of Dymchurch on Romney Marsh. He soon realized that his parishioners were smuggling goods from France to avoid high customs taxes. He took up the scarecrow disguise to ride to their rescue and protect them from the authorities. His adventures became so popular that some people still believe he was a real person.

Oast House Archive [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I leave you with a view of the English countryside looking out toward the Isle of Oxney.
Nigel Chadwick, Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rascal

No download or reproduction without express permission
This is my grandfather Harry Winslow Rogers pictured during the time he was courting my grandmother Primrose Victoria Tapply.  Sadly I never knew him. But I had heard stories. Here's another, more innocent photo from a slightly younger age.
No reproduction or download without express permission
He had vivid red hair and blue eyes. The family called him "Rusty" to distinguish him from Harry Tapply. He was very musical, he had some artistic talent, he was "handy" and also...just a bit naughty. Well I heard stories anyway.

The first hint that the stories might be true came as more records came online at Ancestry and I found
a marriage record for one Harry W. Tapply marrying a Grace Elizabeth Carroll in Bellows Falls, Vermont. " Ah, a youthful marriage, " I thought. So I turned to the Fitchburg Sentinel to see if I could find anything else. And what I found made me chuckle. We always cluck over the things that young people get themselves into: the alcohol, drugs, partying, bad behavior. We forget that young people have always sown their wild oats. Apparently my grandfather was no exception.
So he went to a house party that seems to have gone on for several days, there was drinking and carousing and girls. Someone made a bet and he ended up in Bellows Falls marrying this girl. Then he went home as if nothing happened and moved back in with his parents...except now the girl was pregnant.  Sadly the records confirm  that the baby was stillborn. And to top things off, Harry expected to straighten himself out by enrolling in the military, but was rejected due to a case of the clap.  I can just imagine how that went over at home. (not to mention being in the Sentinel for all to see) Doesn't this sound like something you could read in the paper today?

"Spoiled" was my mother's pronouncement. I'm sure that came directly from the mouths of the two aunties, Lotta and Clara. They doted on him as well. Luckily, as most kids do, he learned from his mistakes. He got his divorce, moved on. Became a soloist at the Rollstone Congregational Church, met my grandmother and settled down. He struggled a bit during the Great Depression,  but eventually became head of a crew that built and repaired roads around Fitchburg. He also was responsible for a lot of the signage. For those who live in Fitchburg, some of those early orange and black street signs in the slightly script-style font were my grandfather's handywork.

In January of 1952 he went out on a stepladder to clear an ice or snow from the roof. He came back inside, had a heart attack and died. I was born 11 months later....on his birthday, which is today.  I like to believe that was no accident.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Another Throwback Thursday

Filene's in Boston-Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library Archives
I can remember standing fascinated in front of the windows of Filene's when we made trips into Boston at Christmas time. They always went all out with the decorations. This particular image dates from 1954. In around 1956 or 1957 my dad and I took a trip into Boston from the suburbs. Most certainly we were Christmas shopping and very likely took a trip through Filene's. But my memory is of walking along Boylston Street past a record store. They had bins of vinyl out front and speakers overhead with whatever they were promoting that day. That particular day it was Mahalia Jackson's new Christmas album. I remember my dad stoppping, his face broke into a wide grin, and before I knew it we were headed home with a copy of the album. For years that was the music we opened gifts to on Christmas morning. Even now, it's not Christmas until I've played Mahalia.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Momento Mori

© 2003 by the American Antiquarian Society
David Rumsey map collection
Even before I got into genealogy, I was fascinated by old graveyards. At first it was the Victorian
era graves with their weeping angels and cherubs. Then I discovered the really old stones in my
native New England. I was hooked. I love the angel of death images, the weeping willows and all
the symbology that goes with these very old stones. Luckily, I'm not the only one.  The Rumsey
map collection has a lovely archive of black and white photos of these old stones which were mostly
taken by David Farber and his wife Jesse. You can browse these images here.  If these images
seem macabre you may want to read about the meanings associated with them in this excellent
pdf written by Jesse Lie Farber.

Of course, I had to start combing the various photo collections looking for family members. The photo above is the stone for Benjamin Shed, my 7th great grandfather. He lived to a ripe old age in Billerica,
Massachusetts. The winged face was a symbol or resurrection and life everlasting.

© 2003 by the American Antiquarian Society
David Rumsey map collection
Here's another ancestor and a similar stone for Joanna Woodbury Herrick, my eighth great grandmother. This stone is a bit more elaborate with lovely vines and flowers around the edge.
© 2003 by the American Antiquarian Society
David Rumsey map collection
This image isn't the stone for a relative, but I love the relief carving of the skull and crossbones.

Of course then there's the whole topic of humorous epitaphs. So far I haven't located any clever
ancestors, but with any luck you might on this site or over at FindaGrave.  There are a number
of epitaphs still up at AVery Grave Matter, but the wonderful bank of photos isn't there and the
site seems not to be kept up. 

Just one more place to find a little glimpse of one of your ancestors. Happy hunting!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Finding Uncle Andrew

Long Island Light-Courtesy Boston Public Library Archives
Growing up, I peppered my father with questions about the Fitzgeralds and the Cooks. He could tell me very little. One thing he did remember was going to visit "Uncle Andrew" at a hospital somewhere in Boston. My mother later confided that this was my grandfather's brother who supposedly was dying at the time of cirrhosis. I can guess why THAT story didn't make it into family lore.

I discovered that there WAS, in fact, an Uncle Andrew. Andrew Fitzgerald grew up in the house on Charles River Avenue and became a teamster like his father. There's no evidence he married and very little about him in the census in his adult years. In the1930 census I came across this:

So the April 1930 Census puts 62-year-old Andrew in the Long Island Almshouse, also known as the Long Island Prison Hospital. This is where 13-year-old John and his dad would have visited Uncle Andrew. Yet again, some facts that fit a family story. I would imagine Andrew died on the island. I'll have to make inquiries with the City of Boston. I haven't found a death record yet, but his grave is either in the small cemetery on the island or unmarked in the family plot at Holy Cross.


Long Island is one of the harbor islands inside Boston Harbor now in the control of the National Parks Service. You can take a ferry ride to several of the islands, but Long Island is still closed to the public. It has an interesting history as I found laid out in a report to Mayor Menino in 2002. It is the largest of all the harbor islands and was inhabited early on by Native Americans. Later it was used as a sort of holding facility for native tribes. The report goes on to talk about its role in the American Revolution:
"Its height and strategic location also allowed it to command both entrances to Boston's inner harbor (Broad Sound and the Narrows). In 1775, 500 Continental soldiers landed on Long Island, stole livestock, and took seventeen British sailors prisoner. The following year, a force of Continental soldiers and militia men occupied the island and built defensive batteries which were used to bombard British vessels entering Boston Harbor during the Revolutionary War."

During the Civil War it was used as a place to drill and train soldiers and was fortified with gun emplacements. Later, in a complete change of use, people began to use it as a recreational spot.
A hotel was built which remained in operation until 1885.
Courtesy of Boston Public Library Archives



In 1887, the city of Boston acquired almost the entire island to house city charities. An almshouse for the poor, a treatment hospital for chronic illness, a nursing school a prison facility and other charity facilities took over the buildings. The hospital treated chronic alcoholism at a time when this was considered more of a "defect of character" than an illness. People whose chronic drunkenness caused a public nuisance would be likely to end up at Long Island. (By 1940 they were calling it an alcohol treatment facility rather than a prison) This, I suspect, is how Andrew ended up there in 1930.


Men's hospital on Long Island-Courtesy BPL archives
Men's ward-Long Island hospital- Courtesy of BPL archives


The island again became a military facility during WWII and later NIKE missiles were housed there. Many buildings have been demolished, but many still remain on the island and are used to house shelters and substance abuse treatment programs.  I would imagine it is a pleasant place to be in the summer, but miserably cold and windy in Boston winters.

I came across one last tidbit of lore concerning the island- a ghost story.
Woman in Scarlet
Boston Harbor’s Long Island is home to one of the most tragic Boston Ghost Stories. At the close of the American Revolution, the British still had several ships lagging in Boston Harbor. On board one of these ships were William and Mary Burton. The newly weds, like so many others, were fleeing the chaos of this besieged city and looking forward to spending their lives together across the Atlantic. 

As their ship attempted to sail out of Boston Harbor, a cannon ball from the Long Island Battery hit Mary in back of the head. Unbelievably, she was not killed instantly, but lingered on for several days in excruciating pain before succumbing to her massive head trauma. As she lay dying, Mary pleaded with her husband not to bury her at sea. She was never fond of the sea and could not bear to have her earthly remains consigned to a watery grave. Eventually mary died of her injuries and William was permitted to venture to Long Island to bury his love. Once ashore, he sewed her body into a soft red blanket that Mary had brought aboard with her to keep warm on the long journey home and laid her to rest in the sandy dunes. He fashioned a headstone out of a piece of driftwood and as he carved her name into it he swore that he would return to Boston and give her a proper marker. He never returned.

But Mary, it seems, refuses to be forgotten. To this day, visitors to the island report seeing a woman with “muddy-gray skin” and wearing a scarlet cloak stumbling over the sandy dunes. Blood is usually seen streaming down her cloak from a gaping hole in the back of her head—the exact spot where the cannon fire had smashed her skull. 

This story sounds like a yarn to me, but I'm sure for some it was effective at keeping people away from the island.  There is a movement afoot to catalog the graveyard, where stones are few and most are undocumented on Find-a-Grave. Perhaps this will turn up one last trace of Uncle Andrew.