Thursday, November 27, 2008


I'm trying to catch up with the memes that I've fallen behind on lately.

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings got this meme rolling last week.
The rules are:

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions in a note to your
blog (or a comment to this blog).

Well, the book closest to me was one I used for my post for the
Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture:

"At last, through the din and smoke of the battle, Brian spied the
battlepen of the king of Iora, surrounded by his guards, and he fought
his way towards it and no man in his path could stand against him so
great was his battle-fury."-page 56, line 5, from The First Book of Irish
Myths and Legends by Eoin Neeson.

See what I meant about lyrical?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


A meme went around in the geneablogging community about a year and a
half ago and it's back once more. Despite the fact that I'm a bit boring,
I've been tagged to take part by Apple. And Lori. And Becky. And

The way this meme works is this:

1. Each player starts with eight random fact/habits about themselves.

2. Write a blog post about their eight things and post these rules.

3. A the end of the post, choose eight people to get tagged and list them.

4. Leave them a comment on their blogs telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.

So here's my eight facts about me

1. I'm a John Wayne fan. I might not have agreed with him politically, but I can't
resist watching one of the Duke's westerns.

2. I mentioned in the first go-round of this meme last year that I read a lot and
work in a bookstore. Besides history, I like mysteries. Along with mysteries set
in the Middle Ages, I'm a big Robert Parker (Spenser) fan and have met Mr.
Parker several times over the years when he's come to whatever bookstore
I was working in at the time for a book signing.

3. Even more than mysteries, I love science fiction and fantasy. I got hooked at
age 8 when I read "Catseye" by Andre Norton.

4. I used to attend science fiction conventions, including several Worldcons, where
I got the chance to meet many writers which was the best part about attending.

5. I traveled by Greyhound Bus from Boston to Denver for one Worldcon. I'm not
sure if it was a two or three day trip both ways. I slept and read a lot on the way
back and it all sort of blurs together now, except that I do recall liking Denver.

6. I hate heights. Which is why I have never flown in an airplane, hence the Greyhound
Bus to Denver, and Chicago on another occasion, and the train to Baltimore.

7. I like folk music and Celtic music. Favorites include Joan Baez, Garnet Rogers,
the late Stan Rogers, Clannad and The Chieftains.

8. I am a Red Sox fan but when I was a kid my second favorite team was the Dodgers
because my little league team was the St. Matthew's Dodgers.

There, told you it was a bit boring. I need to do a little research to find eight folks who
haven't been already tagged, so I'll edit the list in here later..

Saturday, November 22, 2008


There are two things that drew me to Irish culture years before I began
researching genealogy: its music and its mythology. I'll most likely be
discussing the music in a future blogpost, so this post will focus on the
latter subject.

I've written before about the oldest book in my bookcase, an edition
of King Arthur and His Knights that my parents purchased for me
when I was around 8 years old. It sparked an interest in history and
mythology that continues to this day. By the time I'd entered college
I'd read every book I could get my hands on about classical mythology
or medieval epics but I knew very little about Irish mythology. The
only encounter I'd had with it was a brief article on Strongbow and
Red Eva in a childrens' book of world mythology.

Then I found two books in the college bookstore: Irish Sagas edited by
Myles Dillon and The First Book of Irish Myths and Legends by Eoin
Neeson. Neeson retells four stories:

"The Fate of the Children of Tuireann" in which three brothers are
assigned eight impossible tasks by Lugh to atone for the killing of his
father Cian.

"The Wooing of Etain", the story of the Sidhe Lord Midhir and his lost
wife Etain.

"The Combat at the Ford", the tale of Cuchulain's epic battle with his
friend Ferdia, the champion of Connacht.

"Deidre and the Sons of Usna" which is about the doomed lovers Deidre
and Naisi, one of the great love stories of medieval literature.

Professor Dillon's book is a collection of lectures on Irish epics such as the
"Fionghal Ronain" (How Ronan Killed His Son).a tale of a wicked stepmother
and her doomed stepson, and "Tain Bo Cuailnge"(The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
in which the teenaged Cuchulain withstands the army of Connacht.

I was hooked. There weren't many books easily found on Irish mythology
at the time but my search led me to Joseph Campbell's books. And now with
the advent of the computer age there are hundreds of websites and entries on
the internet.

The Irish epic myths are beautifully lyrical works and reflect, I think, that
love of language that runs through all of Irish literature and song. So while
I love Irish music, my first love of Irish culture was for its mythology.

Read the story of Etain or Deidre, and I think you'll see why.

Written for the 10th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Genealogy has made the news a few times this week because of confrontations.

Canadian WW2 veterans were angered because Ancestry used the image of
a German soldier in an ad run in newspaper.

Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of those who perished in
the concentration camps accused the Church of Latter Day Saints of
continuing to baptize Holocaust victims by proxy despite an agreement the
Church had made to stop. The story can be read here.

The other night WBZ in Boston ran a story about the Missing in America
project, a non profit organization that locates the unclaimed cremated remains of
veterans and sees they receive the proper military burial they deserve. There
are many news reports on line about this subject but seeing the pictures of how
and where these remains are stored really brings home the tragedy of it. You
can see it here.

Monday, November 10, 2008


So how might I and Levi Ames be related?

Levi himself gave me some clues in the first paragraph of his "Last
Words and Dying Speech": he was 21 years old in 1773, had been
born in Groton, and his father, Jacob, had died when Levi was two
years old. So I checked the births for Groton at the Early Massachusetts
Vital Record
s site and found a Levi Ames born to a Jacob Ames, Jr. and
his wife Olive on 1 May 1752. Looking up Jacob, I found three entries
for births:

"Jacob, s. John and Elisabeth, Oct. 28,1726
Jacob, s. Jacob and Ruth, Dec. 12, 1728
Jacob, s. Jacob jr and Olive. Feb. 8, 1754"

The first Jacob, I knew, was the son of John Ames (Eames) Jr. and Elizabeth Green,
and the younger brother of my ancestor John Ames. I checked the Groton marriage
records and found that he had married Olive Davis on 16 Feb. 1749 in Westford
which was part of the town of Groton at that time. I later found on Googlebooks
that they had been married by Jonas Prescott who would have been related to Jacob
through his grandmother Elizabeth Prescott. I could not, however, find any definite
record online of Jacob Ames' death.

The second Jacob Ames was the son of another Jacob Ames and Ruth Shattuck.

The third would be the younger brother of Levi Ames.

I also found that Jacob and Olive Ames had a daughter named Olive who'd been
their eldest child, born on 4 Nov 1750. Levi mentions his mother and brother
but says nothing about a sister, so she might have died young.

Nor could to where Levi Ames had been buried. Given the fact he had been
executed and that there had been such an ardent pursuit of his cadaver afterwards,
perhaps Rev. Stillman had the body buried in an unmarked grave, or perhaps Levi's
mother and his brother Jacob did it. Although Levi claimed to be the first to disgrace
the family name, there had been the scandal in Boxford where his distant cousins
had been charged with murder only three years before his execution. The sooner
Levi was buried in the past, the better.

But Levi's story had caught the public's imagination and the pamphlets and songs
kept it going for some time after his death. His brother Jacob eventually married
and moved away to Keane, NH where he died in 1818.

So that's the story of my distant cousin Levi Ames, executed at the age of 21 for
the crime of burglary. Among the advice he left in his "Last Words and Dying
Speech" are these words which are as true today as they were back in 1753:

"...keep your doors and windows shut on evenings, and secured well to
prevent temptation."

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Late on the afternoon of 21 Oct 1773 a group of horsemen rode towards
Dorchester Point in pursuit of a boat rowed by a dozen men.

British troops in pursuit of colonial conspirators?

No. Men of science in pursuit of knowledge, which in this case was embodied
in the mortal remains of the executed Levi Ames.

Let me back up a bit. When I decided to post an entry about Levi Ames and
whether or not he was a family relation, I did a Google search using his name
and the word "execution." When that failed, I tried Google Books and found this
from "The Life of John Warren M.D." written by Edward Warren and published
in Boston in 1874 by Noyes, Holmes, and Company. It is a letter written by
Dr. William Eustis to John Warren:

"DEAR BROTHER, — This may serve to inform
you, that as soon as the body of Levi Ames was
pronounced dead by Dr. Jeffries, it was delivered
by the Sheriff to a person who carried it in a cart
to the water side, where it was received into a boat
filled with about twelve of Stillman's crew, who
rowed it over to Dorchester Point. "

It seems Stillman was very great with Ames,
upon whose signifying his desire to be kept from
the doctors, Stillman promised that he would get
his people to secure him. "

Our determination to have him was fixed as
the laws of the Medes and Persians. We had
heard it surmised that he was to be taken from the
gallows in a boat, and when we saw him carried to
the water, we concluded it was a deep laid scheme
in Jeffries. "

"I'm before my story. You must know that
Jeffries (as we heard) had applied to the Governor
for a warrant to have this body. The Governor
told him if he had come a quarter of an hour
sooner, he would have given it, but he had just
given one to Ames' friends, alias Stillman's gang.
So it seems there was a scheme with Lloyd, Jeffries,
Clark, etc., to have him, and we imagined, as
we knew they were after him, they might spread
these reports to baffle us. "

However, when we saw the Stillmanites, we
were satisfied Jeffries had no hand in it. When
we saw the boat land at Dorchester Point, we had
a consultation, and Norwood, David, One Allen and
myself, took chaise and rode round to the Point,
Spunker's like, but the many obstacles we had to
encounter made it eleven o'clock before we reached
the Point, where we searched and searched, and rid,
hunted, and waded ; but alas, in vain ! There was
no corpse to be found. "

Discontented, we sat us down on the beach and
groaned, etc., etc. Then rode to Brackett's, on the
Neck, and endeavored to 'nock 'em up, to give us
a dish of coffee; but failing, we backed about to the
Punch Bowl, where, after long labors, we raised the
house and got our desires gratified, and got home
about four o'clock in the morning. Hadn't much
sleep, of course, so we are very lame and cross today, —
moving, and altogether. Neptune continues
very bad as yet ; the chance is very much against
him. Else, we are all well. Mr. Rea will have
your clothing done by Wednesday. One Allen
makes a figure, I assure you. We have a ________
from another place, so Church shan't be disappointed.
Write very soon. "P. S.
If you can understand me, I shall be
much mistaken, but more pleased ; half dead, your______ .

By the way, we have since heard that
Stillman's gang rowed him back from the Point up
to the town, and after laying him out in mode and
figure, buried him — God knows where ! Clark &
Co. went to the Point to look for him, but were
disappointed as well as we." (pp228-229)

This was period when the advancement of medical
knowledge was struggling with the laws and morality
of the day. Bodies for dissection were not easily come by
and executed criminals were the main source for medical
students in search of cadavers. In fact, at times the judges
would actually add dissection as part of the sentence when
condemning the criminal to death. So what we have here is
not one but two groups of physicians trying to obtain Levi Ames'
body. One included a Dr. John Clark, hence the "Clark
& Co." The others were members of a medical society at
Harvard University called "The Spunkers Club" and
included members of some of colonial Boston's most
prominent families. The "Adams" mentioned in the letter
was the son of Samuel Adams the firebrand of the Revolution
and John Warren was the brother of Dr. Joseph Warren who
died later at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The "Church"
mentioned in the letter was Dr. Benjamin Church who later
spied on the Boston rebels for the British.

So Reverend Stillman had kept his promise to Levi Ames
and ensured that his body was not used for dissection, for
once buried, the cadaver could not be exhumed legally.

But there is still my own question of whether or not Levi
Ames was a relative of my own Ames ancestors. We'll discuss
that next.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


He began his life of crime at age 7 when he stole eggs from a neighbor. It
ended at age 21 in 1773 for the crime of burglary. There were "broadsides"
published with his life story and dying declarations, meant to entertain as
well as warn about the consequences of a sinful life.

His name was Levi Ames, (or Eames) and I believe he is another of my
Ames relations. My Ames branch(I'm descended from Arvilla Ames, who
married my 3x great grandfather John Cutter West)is one of the more
colorful ones, with my ancestress Rebecca Blake Eames accused of being
a witch and cousins Jonathan Ames and Elizabeth Blunt Ames accused of
of murder. I first ran across his story in D. Brenton Simons' "Witches,
Rakes, and Rogues" (Boston, Commonwealth Editions, 2005) but at the
time I was awash in a lot of new genealogical information so I put off
exploring it until now.

I don't intend to relate the entire sad history of Levi Ames here. You should
really buy a copy of the book which is now available in paperback. It's a great
book for anyone interested in colonial era history and it contains the complete
text of Levi's life story as he purportedly narrated it to his jailer. The events
surrounding the trial itself took on the atmosphere of similar in some respects
to modern day show trials. Between the time of his conviction and the day of
execution on 21 Oct 1773, Levi repented for his life of sin and turned to religion
and became the center of quite a bit of activity. Mr. Simons tells how on Oct 19
a minister and a large crowd gathered outside the jailhouse to serenade the
prisoner with an "execution hymn." He also mentions three Boston ministers,
Samuel Mather, Andrew Eliot, and Samuel Stillman who gave "execution sermons"
during the period.(p.166) (Stillman was with Levi on the morning of the hanging
which has significance in later events.)

That afternoon Levi Ames was taken to the appropriately named execution site,
Boston Neck, where the sentence pronounced by Chief Justice Peter Oliver was
carried out: he was hung by the neck until he was "...dead! Dead! Dead!" Before
he died, Levi asked that no shame be put on his mother or brother because of his
deeds, and then delivered his "Dying Speech" that was published as the "Dying
Penitent". At least one generation of New England schoolchildren read it as part
of their studies.

But the case of Levi Ames was not quite over. His soul might have been saved,
but his now empty mortal shell was still in jeopardy.

We'll discuss that in the next post.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


I have no knowledge of any of my paternal colonial ancestors ever being elected
to a public office (although they held various appointed town government
positions). Amos Hastings is the relative who achieved the highest prominence
but that was as a general in the Maine State militia. Of course, who is to say
that a certain amount of political savvy might not have been required
to reach that rank? As for party affiliations, I don't know much about those
either but I suspect that they were by and large staunch Republicans after the
party was founded. I do know that for much of his life my Dad voted for
the Republican candidates in the presidential elections.

My maternal Irish-American family members haven't run for office either.
Like most Irish-Americans they were Democrats in the early 20th century
when the face of Boston politics changed during the days of John F. Fitzgerald
(JFK's grandfather) and James Michael Curley who served as mayors of Boston
and Congressmen. But my mom was known to vote Republican. She voted for
Eisenhower in the 1950's (after all, he was a war hero). She voted for Kennedy
and Johnson but then Nixon afterwards and later Reagan before returning to the
the Democrats to vote for Clinton.

Of course, I live in Massachusetts and politics up here is generally either an art
form or a blood sport. Politicians had nicknames like Dapper, Tipper, Whacko
and "Honey Fitz" and were legendary for their wit and their vices. James Curley
was the inspiration for the novel "The Last Hurrah" and even though he was twice
sent to jail he was a beloved figure among the Irish community because of
his accessibility. My mother told me several times about how during the height of
the Great Depression my grandmother went to see Mayor Curley about some
problem(she was never told what it was about) and Curley did something to help.
Mom could even point out his house on the Boston area road named the Jamaica

The first Presidential Election I paid attention to was the 1960 campaign of John
F. Kennedy, the first Catholic and Irish American to be a presidential nominee.
I was 12 years old at the time and it was a really big deal in Boston for everyone
no matter their descent.

I'll be glad when this election is over. For one thing, I won't have to watch another
ad for the Senate race in New Hampshire, a race I can't even vote on!

I hope that whatever your political beliefs, you all remember to get out Tuesday
and VOTE!

Written for the 59th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy