Wednesday, December 31, 2008


They are forecasting another snow storm here and it might
make this the snowiest December on record for the Boston

It put me in mind of "Snowbound", a poem by John Greenleaf
Whittier that I had to read at some point at St Mathew's
Parochial School in Dorchester when I was a kid. It's a long
poem, but these lines from the first verse seem to suit
how December has been this year:

"The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I'm extremely flattered to have been given the Proximidade
Award by the footnote Maven, a genea-blogger who certainly
precisely fits the definition of the Award. She's always ready
to help with a piece of art or a bit of good advice on genealogical
matters and source citations.

Now I in turn must present 8 more bloggers with the Award
and hope that I haven't duplicated someone else's choices!
The trouble is I have no idea how long this has been
circulating so I most likely will be choosing folks who
were previoulsy chosen. But at any rate, here they

Little Bytes of Life by Elizabeth O'Neal

Small-leaved Shamrock by Lisa

Creative Gene by Jasia

Walking the Berkshires by Tim Abbott

Smoky Mountain Family Historian by Lori Thornton

What's Past is Prologue by Donna Pointkouski

Transylvanian Dutch by John Newmark

Tracing the Tribe by

Arrrrrrgh, the pressure! I'll have to send
then emails tomorrow that they are award recipients,
but right now I need to go get some sleep!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The topic of the 63rd Carnival of Genealogy is our New Years
Resolutions for our genealogy research. I thought I'd look back at
last December's list and see how I did before making the 2009
list with how I did in boldface:

"Well, it’s that time of year when folks make New Year’s
and we genealogy bloggers are busy making our lists.
So here’s mine.

One, to break that John Cutter West brick wall.
(nope. not yet)

Two, to spend more time on my maternal line. I’ve found so
lately about Dad’s side of the family that I feel like I’ve
the Whites and McFarlands. So I’ll research more and
blog more
about them and try to break down those brick walls
as well. (not
much progress here.)

Three, to get my files better organized and correctly cite my
(umm...yeah...needs work still)

Four, try to make it out to Ohio some time next year to visit

with my Aunt Dorothy and my cousins, including Diana and
(Yes! Had a great time and you can read about it
in my
Road Trip series of posts.)

Five, try to get OUT to do research at the BPL main branch,
NEGHS, the Massachusetts State Archives and the
Family Search Center. (I made it to the Hingham
FHS Center
twice and that's it.)

Six, get all the pictures scanned. I am considering rearranging

my work station. At present, the printer is on the top shelf and

getting up and down to place or remove pictures may be good
my health but it sure slows down the process. I may swap
fit where the cpu sits on the desk. As a result, still have
waiting to be scanned.)

Seven, come up with more genealogy related uses for flutaphones!
(Sucess! But I'm worried about Janice Brown who instigated
my flutaphone
list. Janice, where are you? We miss you!)

So, we’ll see how well I’ve done by next New Years!"

So given the successes and failures of this year's list, here's the
resolutions for 2009:

One, keep chipping away at the John Cutter West brick wall.

Two, do more research on my White and McFarland ancestry and blog more
on them.

Three, well, exact same as last year, work on organizing my files and
source citations.

Four, stay in touch with Aunt Dot and the rest of my Ohio relatives and share
what I find about our family history with them.

Five, get out to the Hingham FHS, the NEGHS, the Boston Public Library,
the Mass State Archives. I'm also adding the Boston Archdiocese Archives
when it reopens sometime next year.

Six, work on getting all the pictures scanned.

Seven, try to keep from getting bogged down on Facebook with application
requests. To that end, I'm not accepting any new apps. I hope this doesn't
offend anyone whose invitations I decline but when the requests get up into
the 70 and 80 request range, it cuts into the research time.

So those are my genealogical resolutions for 2009. Let's see if I can do
better with them than I did with the 2008 list. Tune in next year to find out!

Written for the 63rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Monday, December 22, 2008


I've been a bit of a slacker lately with my geneablogging but I hope
to take up that slack in the coming days. I am planning a post on
my ancestor Simon Willard who I hadn't realized was such a prominent
figure in 17th century Massachusetts, And in the course of researching
Simon, I discovered that through him I'm a distant cousin of Miriam
Robbins Midkiff of Ancestories (9th, twice removed, Miriam tells me).

Hmm. There's another post I need to do, an update on the cousins I've
found through this blog.

I am also planning to write about my ancestors from Andover,
Massachusetts based on what I've learned from Elinor Abbot's book,
"Our Company Proceeds Apace" and examine the connections that
carried over into the settlement of Oxford County, Maine.

So now all I have to do is write them!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Dear Genea-Santa,
It's been a very good year for me genealogy wise on my Dad's side of the
family, so I guess I'd like some things that would come from my Mom's
family for Genea-Christmas:

1. A White Family Bible to go along with the West Family Bible that Aunt
Dot gave me for my birthday. Of course, I hope that the White Bible
would have the family birth, death, and marriage dates filled in.

2. A picture of my Mom's Dad, Edward Francis White, Sr. I'd like to know
what he looked like. All pictures of him were removed from the family
album and destroyed so this would fill in a big gap.

3. Some letters that my Great-Grandmother Anna Kelly McFarland might
have exchanged with her parents that might shed light on her experiences
here in a new country in the late 19th century.

I know these are mighty tall orders, so I'll settle for whatever genealogical
discoveries you can send my way(or nudge me towards)in the upcoming year.



Sunday, December 14, 2008


footnoteMaven is continuing her geneablogger caroling tradition
so I'm chiming in with the 16th century hymn "Gaudete" which
I hear played everyday at work over the store speakers as performed
by the Irish choral group Anuna. Enjoy!

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus

Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete

Tempus ad est gratiae hoc quod optabamus
Carmina laetitiae devote redamus

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete

Deus homo factus est natura mirante
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete

Deus homo factus est natura mirante
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Ezekelis porta clausa per transitor
Unde lux est orta salus invenitor

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete

Ergo nostra contio psallat jam in lustro
Benedicat domino salus regi nostro

Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete
Gaudete, gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine gaudete

Monday, December 01, 2008


When we were kids we didn't have very many holiday traditions.
Holiday meals were divided between our house and my Aunt and
Uncle's place: if Thanksgiving was at our place, was Christmas was at
theirs, and New Year's Day we played by ear, depending on how late
the adults had been out on New Year's Eve.

Holiday dinners at Aunt Emily and Uncle Ed's was served in two stages:
first, the traditional turkey and all the usual vegetables. Then Nonny, Aunt
Emily's Mom, would bring out the Italian food: lasagna, meatballs, eggplant,
and other dishes whose names I don't recall. My Dad liked Italian food and
lasagna became a standard dish that was served at least once at either Christmas
or New Year's. Dad was also the designated turkey cooker for Thanksgiving,
getting up at 6am on Thanksgiving Day to get "the bird" started.

Some families out their Christmas trees up the day after Thanksgiving, but we
often waited until Christmas Eve before even going out to purchase a tree! This
often led to disagreements between Mom and Dad about the way the tree looked.
(Especially after we got it home. Christmas trees look better in a badly lit parking
lot than they do in the harsh reality of the living room lamplight.) Eventually the
age of artificial Christmas trees arrived and we struggled with inserting the
branches into the "trunk" in the proper order. Another Christmas Eve tradition was
the last minute gift wrapping. No matter how early Mom might have started her
shopping, there was always some gifts to wrap, usually those for our cousins that
would be delivered that very night or next day when we went to their house for

A lot has changed over the years. Uncle Ed and Aunt Emily and their family moved
out of state. After my sister married, the holiday dinners rotated between her house
and our parents. Cheryl and her husband Pete began the tradition of exchanging
gifts at their house on Christmas Eve, which this year will move to her daughter
Sarah's house for the first time. Cheryl and Pete's Christmas tree is live and is
decorated with ornaments that they've accumulated over the years and that have
significance for their 3 children. And somebody at one of the holiday dinners makes

So some traditions have continued, while others have been replaced by new ones!

You can read more of my Christmas memories by clicking on the "Christmas"
label in the list on the right hand side of the screen.

Written for the 61st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

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

Friday, October 31, 2008


It's Halloween and instead of tricks we have some treats for you in the
9th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture. In keeping with
the holiday, this time the theme is on Irish superstitions. You'll find that
some of them are mentioned in more than one post. So take a seat, ignore
that scratching at your windowpane, and prepare to be mesmerized by
our geneabloggers!

Jessica over at Jessica's Genejournal tells about a "volume of forgotten
lore" in her article "Irish Ghost Stories: A Book..."It seems this particular
book gives Jessica a "creepy feeling." Read the article and find out why!

Melody Lassalle of The Research Journal gives us "Laughter and Superstition
During An Earthquake"
. It's a story of her family in the San Francisco
Earthquake that shows how strong a hold superstition sometimes has on a

Colleen M. Johnson presents "Do I Have Any Superstitions?" posted at Blog, saying, "Do I have any superstitions? Read on and
discover some chills."

Thomas MacEntee presents A Wee Bit Superstitious posted at
Destination: Austin Family, saying, "it is great to be back participating
in this carnival!" And it's good to have you back, Thomas!

Lisa presents"Black cats, lucky pennies and troublesome fairy folk" at
Small-leaved Shamrock saying, “Superstitious lot, those Irish!
Small-leaved Shamrock takes a look at some of the concerns that many
centuries of Irish people had to face on a daily basis.”

Elizabeth at Little Bytes of Life tells us about her family's list of superstitions
which she thinks of as "rules-orientated". I grinned reading "The Bad Luck of
the Irish"
and I think you will, too!

Finally, my own Irish American family shared many of the same superstitions
as our other geneabloggers' families did and I talk about the ones I can recall
my Mom telling us in "SUPERSTITIONS OUR MOTHER TOLD US" here
at West in New England.

So that's it. I hope you enjoyed the 9 Edition of Carnival of Irish Heritage and
Culture. Please join us for the next edition. Here's what Lisa has to tell us
about it:

"Irish culture is loved worldwide. It is no secret that the love of Ireland
is not exclusive to those with Irish blood running through their veins.
For this edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, Small-leaved
invites you (whether you have Irish heritage or not) to share
what you most love about Ireland and the Irish people.

Check out Lisa's new Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture blog for all the

Say, is that a raven gently rapping, rapping at your chamber door?

Friday, October 24, 2008


There's only a few days left to submit your post for the 9th Edition
of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture. Here's the topic:

Halloween (or Samhain as it was known among the ancient Celts)
is approaching and what better time to tell us about your family’s
Irish superstitions? Perhaps you have stories about strange coincidences
and events that might have been passed down by your Irish relatives,
or even know of some favorite legend or haunted place in Ireland.
Share them with us in the next edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage

& Culture.

Submit your posts here and I'll be publishing the links to them on
...when else...Halloween Night, Oct 31st!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Although my Mom was second generation Irish American and had heard
many Irish superstitions and sayings growing up with her family. While
she wasn't overly superstitious, I can recall her saying some things which
she'd learned from her mother:

If your palm itched, you were going to receive money or find it.

If your ear itched, someone was talking about you.

A bird flying into the house was a sign of death.

Rain on a wedding day was a bad omen for the marriage.

Shoes on a table was bad luck.

Warts could be removed by rubbing them with a raw potato.

Opening an umbrella inside the house was bad luck.

Cats suck the breath out of a baby.

It was good luck to pick up a penny.

Four leaved clovers were good luck.

Stepping on cracks in the sidewalk was bad luck.

Death comes in threes.

If you put your broom outside the door on New Year's Eve, you'd have
good luck in the New Year.

Now my Mom didn't go around constantly saying all these things. Most
of the time they were casual remarks, such as "Oh, my palm's itchy, I must
be going to get some money." We heard that and the itching ear one more than
any of the others. And if there had been two deaths recently of people she knew
Mom would say the one about deaths coming in threes. There was only one time
I can recall where something happened which was connected to one of those sayings
that unsettled her. One day a bird flew down the chimney of the house we were
living in and landed in the unlit fireplace. Mom said it was bad luck and stayed in
her bedroom until I managed to get the bird to fly out the front door.

There was another family tradition but I'm not sure it was Irish American in origin.
When one of the family became pregnant, they spit on a penny and stuck it on the
inside frame of a doorway. If it stayed there for the whole 9 months, the child was
going to be a girl. If it fell off, it would be a boy(or vice verse. It's been over fifty
years now since the last time I saw this used).

Mom was red haired and green eyed, and when we were living in Dorchester she
had a reputation among my friends about knowing when we were up to something.
Of course it was because she'd done a lot of the same stuff as a kid herself but one
of the kids said she must be a witch. Ironically it was Jerry Lynch, whose parents
were Irish. A few years back, Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, was at our
store signing copies of the sequel, "Son of a Witch" and I told him the story.

He signed my copy "To Bill...another son of a witch."

Written for the 9th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


My great grandparents did meet and marry in Edinburgh where Annie's
father Patrick Kelley and her future husband John McFarland both
worked as bricklayers.

And my mother did tell me several times about how her elderly
grandmother Anna could dance the Highland Fling.

But as for the rest....well, every good piece of fiction has some truth to it..
I'm afraid Maggie is the fiction.

But, you know, Annie did name one of her daughters Margaret.


Sunday, October 19, 2008


...and the only way to escape it is to go read it now!!

But you'll have to wait a few more days to find out if my story is fact or fiction
because I don't want to give my answer so soon! I'll tell all Tuesday at


Friday, October 17, 2008


Just a friendly reminder, folks, that the deadline for submissions for the
9th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture is Oct. 25th,
and it's theme is on Irish Superstitions:

Halloween (or Samhain as it was known among the ancient Celts)
is approaching and what better time to tell us about your family’s
Irish superstitions? Perhaps you have stories about strange coincidences
and events that might have been passed down by your Irish relatives,
or even know of some favorite legend or haunted place in Ireland.
Share them with us in the next edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage

& Culture.

Send your submissions here. amd I'll publish them on Oct 31st.

I'm looking forward to seeing them!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


There's a new game of meme tag passing around the geneablogger
community that is meant to help us learn a bit more about each other.
Apple over at Apple's Tree tagged me, so here's my contribnution:

10 years ago I was....

1. Fifty years old. Ah, youth!
2. Managing a bookstore for a regional chain that no longer is in business.
3. Wondering if the Red Sox would win a World Series in my lifetime.
4. Just getting up to speed on this Internet stuff!
5. Starting to write.

Five things on today's to-do list
1. Write (well, I'm doing that right now!)
2. Food shop
3. Do the dishes.
4. Sort laundry
5. Read

Five snacks I enjoy:
1. Potato chips
2. A cup of coffee and english muffins.
3. Ice Cream
4. Peanut butter and crackers
5. Chocolate chip cookies

Five places I have lived:
1. Boston, Ma.
2. Malden, Ma.
3. Abington, Ma. (several times, and been back now for 8 years)
4. Marshfield, Ma.
5. Hanover, Ma.

Five jobs I've Had
1. Newspaperboy
2. Camp counselor
3. Shipper/receiver
4. Garment Worker
5. Bookseller.

There! Not very exotic, is it? Years ago when I got a five year reunion
questionnaire for my high school I think I filled in my occupation at that
time as "itinerant llama herder". Now that is exotic...umm...but yeah...
not truthful. Ah well.

Anyway, I have to pick five other geneabloggers tag with this now. Trouble is,
I think most are already taken!

1. Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires
2. John Newmark of Transylvanian Dutch
3. Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian
4. Denise Olson at Moultrie Creek
5. Elizabeth O'Neal at Little Bytes of Life


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Kathryn Lake Hogan over at "Looking4Ancestors" issued a challenge
to her fellow geneabloggers entitled "Would You Care to Comment?".
The idea was for each of us to visit 10 other geneablogs, a mixture of old
favorites and new (to us) blogs, within a week and to leave a comment
on them. The idea was that by leaving a comment a dialogue starts and
then connections among the geneablogging community grow stronger.

Well, it was Sunday, so I got right to it and had my ten by the end of
the day. Here are the blogs, a short description on what I commented on,
and whether it was the first time I'd commented on that blog.

Kathryn's "Looking4Ancestors" (this actually was the second blog I
had commented on in the morning. My comment was on the actual challenge

Becky Jamison's "Grace and Glory" (Becky posted about finding a picture
of her great grandmother Emma Cornelia Strait on

Julie Cahill Tarr's "Genblog" (Julie 's blog made the Alltop site! Yay! First
time comment.)

Elyse Doerflinger's "Elyse's Genealogy Blog" (Elyse has a case of an ancestor
enumerated twice on the 1880 census which reminded me of Wesley Coburn!
First time comment)

Judith Richards Shubert's "Genealogy Traces" (An older post about "Lucy
Puckett and Cowart Children From 1918 Influenza is a heartbreaker. First
time comment)

Holly Timms' "Genealogy Musings" (Holly talked about how sometimes it's easy to
have our interest piqued by someone not directly related to our family while doing
research. First time comment.)

Tim Abbott's "Walking the Berkshires" (This was my first comment. Tim's doing two
freelance columns for his local paper and the articles were excellent. Check them out!)

Thomas MacEntee's "Destination: Austin Family" (Thomas has a new website,
"Thomas 2.0". Take a look and give him some feedback.)

Terry Thornton's "Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi" (Terry's entry into
the CoG's "Fact or Fiction" edition is about something called the Graveyard
Rabbit. Read it and see which you think it is.)

Sherri Bush's "Twig Talk" (Likewise a CoG entry "The Eyes of Old Tom". Boy
this CoG is going to have some great posts! First time comment.)

Monday, October 13, 2008


Although my grandmother Agnes McFarland's parents were Irish, they
had met and married in Scotland! In the mid 19th century Edinburgh
entered a period of growth with the construction of many new buildings
to take the place of structures dating back to the Middle Ages. Many
Irishmen found employment on the construction crews at a time that
Ireland was still trying to recover from the Great Potato Famine.

A young Irish bricklayer named Patrick Kelley brought his wife
Anne and their family to Edinburgh. There he was able to get a job
on the outskirts of the city where some old dilapidated buildings
were being torn down to make way for the new ones being built
right along side. One day as he was pushing a wheelbarrow of
bricks towards the section of wall he was working at he saw a small
crowd of men backing away from the demolition site nearby. Some
of the men had their hats off, others were making the Sign of the
Cross. He walked over to ask what was going on, and one of the men
pointed at a hole in the old stonewall. Looking inside, Patrick could
make out a heartbreaking sight, the skeleton of a small child.

The job foreman came up and demanded to know why work had
ceased and after taking a look for himself, he reached inside and
drew out the remains, setting it aside on the ground and ordering
the men back to work. When someone asked what should be done
with the body, the foreman, a dour Scot, said it was not a relative
of his so he had nothing to do with it and then walked away.
Most of the men went back to work, but Patrick and a few others
took a closer look at the dead child. From the clothes and the doll
that had been with it, they could see it was a girl. Patrick could
thought of his own daughter Annie and wondered what had forced
the child's parents to hide the body in such a way.

Whatever the reason, it was now an unmarked pauper's grave for the
child. Somehow that didn't seem right, and Patrick "passed the hat"
among the workmen, collecting enough for a small wooden coffin and
cross. When the carpenter asked what name he should put on the cross,
Patrick said the first name that came to mind: Maggie. The sad incident
was a topic of conversation for a few days at home and at work, but as
time passed, it faded from Patrick's mind.

Then a few months later Patrick came home from work and heard his
daughter laughing and chattering away with someone in her room. He
went to see what she was playing at and found her dancing a Highland
fling, talking to the empty air as if there was another girl there with
her. An imaginary playmate, he thought, and mentioned it to his wife
that night after dinner. She seemed puzzled, for as far as she recalled,
little Annie had never been taught the Scottish dance.

They called their daughter down from her bedroom and asked her
where she had learned the Fling.

"From my friend Maggie!" she told them.

When they asked her what this Maggie looked like, she described a little
girl who wearing a dress like that the dead girl had been wearing when
the body was discovered. Of course, Patrick and Anne were terrified.
Was a ghost haunting their little girl? They took the matter to their
parish priest, who reassured them. The girl probably had recalled the
story about the body being found and had created her imaginary friend
from the details she'd heard. There was nothing to worry about; Annie
would grow out of her fantasy.

It was several months later that Annie announced that her friend Maggie
had gone home. She never played with Maggie again and grew up to
meet and marry a young coworker of her father's, John McFarland.
They emigrated to the city of Boston in America where they raised
a large family, and where Annie frequently delighted her Irish American
grandchildren by doing the Scottish Highland Fling even when she
was in her 80's!

But one question remains:

If Maggie was just a figment of Annie's imagination, how did Annie learn the
Highland Fling?

((You decide:Fact or Fiction? Written for the 58th edition of the Carnival
of Genealogy))

(graphic by the footnoteMaven)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was just rereading the Merrill account of Robbins' capture and
saw that it supposedly took place at Aziscoos Falls. Nearly
100 years later Daniel Gould Ellingwood's grandnephew,
my granduncle Clarence West, would become the caretaker
for the Aziscoos Dam at the same site!


Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis and Daniel Ellingwood had captured David
Robbins and brought him back to Lancaster, N.H. to stand trial, but
justice was to be delayed for some months. Now, remember that Abner
and Benjamin Hinds had disappeared back in February and it wasn't
until summer that their friends and family had set out in search of the
father son. It was sometime after the failure of their search that the
warrant for David Robbins had been issued. Lapham gives no information
on when he was captured but it seems likely that it was at least late
summer or early fall. Apparently even though it was the county seat at
the time there was no sitting court and so Robbins had to wait until
the following April for his trial. He was kept in the cabin that served
as the Lancaster jail.

Over the next few months Robbins hired a lawyer who let it be known he
would challenge the warrant on the grounds that it had been issued in New
Hampshire and the area the alleged crime had taken place was in Maine.
(I might add that when I first read the story I wondered if the capture might
have been made in Maine as well, where Loomis would have no jurisdiction.)
But the nameless lawyer never had the chance to argue his case, for on the
day of the trial it was discovered that David Robbins had escaped.

Lapham says that the only venue of escape was an opening in the wall 10
inches in diameter. How could Robbins have possibly escaped through that?
I did a Google search for any other sources of information and found "The
History of Coos County, N.H."
by Georgia Drew Merrill (Syracuse, NY,
W.A. Fergusson, 1888) at Internet Archives. The account of the murder and
capture differs on several points. For one thing, it describes the Hinds
murders: Robbins shot Abner and killed Benjamin with a hatchet. The two
bodies were found in a brook near Little Kennebago Lake and when the
arrest warrant was issued, there was a third man with Loomis and Ellingwood
named Hezekiah Parsons who Ms. Merrill credits as being the one who helped
subdue Robbins. Most importantly from a legal standpoint, the search party
made a detour to Farmington, Maine to obtain an indictment and authorization
to arrest Robbins if they captured him in Maine.

She also provides more information on the escape. The window was covered
by a grating and somehow Robbins got or fashioned tools to loosen it. He hid
the work on the window by hanging a blanket over it, using the excuse that there
was a cold draft coming through it. Of course when Robbins escaped, suspicion
immediately fell on the jailer as being an accomplice but no mention is made
by Merrill if charges were ever filed.

As for what became of David Robbins after his escape, both Merrill and Lapham
agree that the man was never seen again, although he left behind a wife and family
who continued to live in the area for many years.

Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis died in October, 1869.

Hezekiah Parsons, one of the prominent citizens of Colebrook, NH, died in 1857
and his son married a Sarah Merrill. I do not know if she was related to the author
Georgia Drew Merrill.

I haven't found a record as of yet as to when Daniel G. Ellingwood passed away.
Apparently he and his wife, Catherine Brown, left the area. I've found them, I think
on the 1850 census in York, Livingston County, New York and in Nankin, Wayne
County, Michigan on the 1860 census. The ages and birthplaces match up with
what I know about them.

So by 1888 when Georgia Drew Merrill wrote her book and 1891 when William
Lapham wrote his, the principals were long deceased or had departed the region.
Lapham probably talked with Daniel Ellingwood's nephews or nieces in Maine
while Merrill lived in New Hampshire where she had possibly access to the
Parsons family. Their accounts of the pursuit of David Robbins differ in some
points as to Daniel Ellingwood's participation but they do agree he was there.

Maybe someday we'll learn of the final fate of David Robbins. I wouldn't be
surprised if a genealogist is the one to find out what it was!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Besides the West Family Bible that my Aunt Dorothy gave me on the
road trip my sister Cheryl and I took this past August, I have two other
bibles here in my apartment. Both of them are at least forty years old.
One is the bible I bought as a student at Cathedral High School in
Boston. Once a week we assembled for Bible Study.

The other is an older, larger bible that sat for years on top of my parent's
dresser in their bedroom. I'm not sure if it was originally my mothers or
if it had belonged to her mother, my grandmother Agnes McFarland. It
has a tattered leather cover and it looks like one or more of us kids got to
it at some point or another. There are two torn pages in Numbers. Somebody
used a hole puncher on the pages of the introduction. And there's some
scribbling on the blank pages before the title page.

I was looking at it just now to see if Mom or my grandmother had used the
Family Record pages but found they were blank. And now this raises the question
for me of whether I should fill in the births, marriages and deaths?

Should I just list our immediate family, or should I include the earlier generations
before Mom and Dad?

Even more important, should I inflict my truly horrible handwriting on future
generations of the family?

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis set off with Daniel Ellingwood in pursuit of
accused murderer David Robbins. They borrowed a birch canoe from a local
Indian and paddled up the Androscoggin River until they reached Robbin's
last location on the Magalloway two days later. But when they reached the
area an old trapper they questioned told then that Robbins had left just the
day before with a canoe loaded with traps and supplies. He'd told the trapper
he would be gone on a hunting trip for several months. Loomis believed
that Robbins was really headed for Canada to avoid arrest, and if he and
Ellingwood hurried they could still catch him.

They went back to their canoe. It was a tricky situation. They had to
move quickly because Robbins already had a day's lead on them, but they
also had to be careful because if the fugitive heard them, he might
ambush them from the shore. Both men were familiar with the Magalloway
River and having the advantage of being a party of two began to draw
closer to Robbins. They took every precaution they could, paddling
silently and camping without a fire when they went to shore. Two days into
the chase Ellingwood took over all the paddling while Loomis sat at the
front of the boat with his rifle cocked and ready to return fire if they should
be ambushed. But there was still no sign of Robbins and they put into
shore for another night without their campfire.

The next afternoon they reached a portage point where they had to leave the
water and carry their canoe along the shore until they could once more put
it into the Magalloway. This was a well known spot to trappers and
travelers along the river and Sheriff Loomis suspected that Robbins might
still be nearby. Moving quietly, the two men hid their own canoe and checked
the trail for any sign of Robbins and found his pack hidden off the main trail,
probably left there while he moved his canoe across the portage. They laid
their own ambush, Ellingwood hiding in some nearby trees while Loomis
took up a spot near the pack. Shortly after they took their positions, Robbins
came down the trail and Sheriff Loomis tackled him. During the struggle
Robbins tried to draw his knife but by that time Ellingwood had joined the
fight and helped take the man prisoner.

Loomis and Ellingwood placed Robbins in their canoe and towed his along
behind them for the several days journey back downriver to Lancaster
where Robbins was placed in jail. Robbins and Ellingwood were treated as
heroes and people eagerly awaited the forthcoming trial of the suspected
murderer the following April.

But David Robbins was a crafty man, and he had one more trick up his sleeve.

(This series of posts is based on information from William Lapham's
"History of Bethel, Maine" and can be viewed here at the Oxford Triangle

Monday, October 06, 2008


I'm currently being made miserable by a head and chest cold, but I
am not so discombobulated as to not mention here that the 57th
Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is up over at Jasia's Creative Gene
blog. There's over forty contributors of posts concerning what they have
learned about their ancestors from newspapers and the ones I've read
already are great. I plan to look at the others perhaps tomorrow night
if my head and nose allow it.

The next CoG should be fun and a challenge:

"And now it's time for a Call For Submissions! The topic for the next edition of the COG will be: Halloween Hauntings... Fact or Fiction? We're going to have some fun with the Carnival of Genealogy this time around. Halloween is coming up in a few weeks. In keeping with the spirit of the season, write a story about or including one of your ancestors. It can be fact or fiction. Don't tell which it is (until after October 15 when the COG is published), let your readers guess. We should all get some great comments as readers try to determine if our Halloween genea-story is fact or fiction! Was your ggg grandmother a witch? Did you live in a haunted house when you were growing up? Were there bats in Aunt Betty's belfry? Did you ever meet up with a ghost when you were looking for an ancestor's grave? See if you can stump us! The deadline for submissions is October 15th.

Write up your eerie tales and submit them to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form."

I'll have to do some digging around (cough) in the family vault for that

But now, I'm off to take my Anti-Discombobulation Spray and then on
to bed.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


One morning in February 1828, Abner Hinds, a resident of Milan, NH., set
out with his 15 year old son Benjamin for the Kennebago River region to hunt
and set out trap lines, expecting to return home in the spring. But they never
returned home, and eventually their family became convinced something was
wrong, because the last time the two had been seen alive they were in the
company of a man named David Robbins.

David Robbins seems to have been the prototype for those "mountain men"
who were starting to populate the American West. He is believed to have
been the first white man to settle in the Magalloway River area of Maine and
New Hampshire, and he seems to have lived by his own rules outside the laws
of "civilization". He was already suspected to have kidnapped a young white
boy named James Wilbur, but no body was ever found so Robbins was never
formally charged with the crime. And he already had a history of violent
confrontation with Abner Hinds. Just the year before the two men had been
trapping in the same area and apparently Robbins had tricked Hinds and his partner
Seth Cloutman to set up camp with him. Then later while they two men were away,
Robbins had burned the camp and stolen their furs to sell as his own, probably
thinking Hinds and Cloutman would die from the snow and cold. But Hinds was
as good a woodsman as Robbins and not only survived but managed to track
Robbins down, confront him, and then forced Robbins to pay back what money
he'd made from the stolen furs.

When it was learned that now Hinds and his son had gone off with Robbins to
hunt once more it seemed strange given their past history. But apparently Robbins
had sworn he'd found religion and was a changed man and wanted to prove it by
further making up for what he had done to Hinds the year before. Perhaps Hinds
had felt confident he'd put the fear of God into him or that he could handle
Robbins again if he needed to do it. Whichever the case, Abner Hinds and his
son went off with David Robbins for what was supposed to be a trip of three to
four weeks. Robbins returned a week later by himself, and the Hinds men were
never seen again. A search party made up of neighbors set out, but the only
evidence they could find were some items that belonged to Abner and his son
that Robbins had sold to some of the other hunters in the Magalloway area.

Still, there was enough outrage from the Hinds family and their neighbors in Milan
to cause a warrant to be issued for Robbins' arrest. Deputy Sheriff Lewis Loomis
was ordered to carry it out, but when several townsfolk volunteered to go with him,
he took only one man from Milan, Daniel Ellingwood, the younger brother of my
3x great grandfather John Ellingwood, Jr.

Together the two men set off in pursuit of David Robbins.

(This series of posts is based on information from William Lapham's
"History of Bethel, Maine" and can be viewed here at the Oxford Triangle

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


"We have often admonished people who frequent the unbroken forests, especially those unaccustomed to hunting and camping, of the safety in having a pocket compass, which can be obtained at the cost of a few cents, and may ofttimes save the possessor much trouble and even save a life."

So begins an article in the Oxford County(Maine) Advertiser of Friday,
February 3,1905. Entitled "The Value of A Compass," the article was
written by a Mark Tapley, who then goes on to illustrate his point with a
story of an event "some sixty years before" which would have been in 1845.
Three men from Letter B Plantation (now Upton) Maine set out with a wagonload
of hay by for the logging camp at Swift Diamond River: Enoch Abbott,
Joseph Chase, and John West. The latter was my 4x great-grandfather,
John Cutter West.

Of course, this was meant as a cautionary tale and Mr. Tapley tells
of how after traveling across a frozen lake and delivering their load the
party started back for home at 1 in the afternoon. But as snow began to fall
the trail across the lake was obscured and the three men became lost in the dark.
Joseph Chase decided he was going to lie down and take a nap, a fatal error
in the middle of a snowstorm. John West took a rather unique approach to the
situation by beating Chase with the ox prod until the other man was so angry he
jumped up to defend himself and the two men got into a fistfight.

Eventually they stopped fighting and John came up with a plan to get them all
out of their predicament. The wagon had been drawn by two pairs of oxen and
the lead ox belonged to John. He proposed they set the oxen loose and follow
their lead since "they are tired and hungry and will make for the nearest
habitation." And that's exactly what they did! The three men followed the
oxen to the home of a man named Joe Stone and so were saved.

You can read the full story in the clipping at the top of this post. It
was given to me by my Aunt Dorothy.

I learned a few things I didn't know from this newspaper story. One was that
John C. West owned one or more oxen and used them to deliver supplies to
logging camps. He did this by traveling across a frozen lake. (Think "Ice
Truckers" but with oxen.) Oxen would make more sense for this sort of
venture; they are slow but surefooted and even tempered, so easier to handle
while crossing a slippery surface. They also could handle the weather
better than horses, as you can see by reading the concluding paragraphs of
the article.

I wondered about the two other men, Enoch Abbott and Joseph Chase, especially
the first. I have Abbott ancestors but through the marriage of Clara Ellingwood
to my great grandfather Philip John West some fifty years after the events in the
story. Could Enoch be related through that line somehow? A quick check of
the 1850 census for Letter B shows Enoch and his family entered on the same
page as the West family. I checked for family trees and found one for his
family, and upon further investigation I discovered that Enoch had a son named
Otis. That rang a bell, and upon further investigation I found Otis was the father
of Valora Agnes Abbott, who married Leonidas West, one of the sons of John
Cutter West.

One of John's grandsons, Hiram, married an Eva Chase but I haven't found any
link to Joseph Chase.

Lastly, the most important thing I learned from this article is this:
when taking a hike in the woods, make sure you bring a team of

Monday, September 29, 2008


Last year around this time I ran a series of posts about books dealing
with the ghostly and supernatural events of New England. As the
person in charge of the Local Interest section of the bookstore I'm
always looking for those books and the closer to this area of
Massachusetts the better. Recently we received a new book ,
Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle, written by Christopher Balzano
and it's been one of the best sellers from my display table.

The Bridgewater Triangle is an area in southeastern Massachusetts
within which some very strange things have been seen over the
years going as far back to before the colonists arrived. Mr. Balzano
has gathered many of them together in his book, stories apparitions
and occurrences in such diverse places as graveyards, colleges,
asylums, homes and factories. There's a lot of things here that I hadn't
read or heard about before, and if you are a resident of the area, you
might enjoy visiting some of the locations. Who knows? You might
see one of the ghosts yourself.

The Bridgewater Triangle covers two hundred square miles with
Freetown and Rehoboth at the bottom corners and my own town
of Abington at the tip of the Triangle. Besides myself, two other of
my coworkers come from Abington and our manager comes from
Dighton, at the bottom point near Rehoboth. So we were all of
course fascinated by the book and my manager even visited
one of the places Mr. Balzano writes about the Old Village Cemetery
in Rehoboth and had a brush with the supernatural. We're hoping
we can have Mr. Balzano in for the store for a signing soon for the
Halloween season so we talk about the Triangle with him.

Even if you aren't from this area of Massachusetts, if you have an
interest in unusual and unexplained phenomena, you'll enjoy Christopher
Balzano's Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle. It's published by
Schiffer Publications as a $14.99 paperback book.


Boy, did I goof on this one. Have you ever thought you'd already done
something and then realized you hadn't? Well, I thought I'd written a
blog post about the 8th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and
Culture being up Thursday over at Lisa's Small-leaved Shamrock.
This edition was called "Back To School" and the entries concerned
what steps or methods those of us with Irish roots would take to gain
a greater knowledge of our genealogy or of Irish culture. There were
twelve contributors and some interesting reading and if you haven't
read the CIHC before, this would be a great place to start.

What's particularly embarrassing about my failure to post about
the CIHC this time is the fact that I am hosting the next edition right
here on West In New England, a "Luck of the Irish" edition:

Halloween (or Samhain as it was known among the ancient Celts)
is approaching and what better time to tell us about your family’s
Irish superstitions? Perhaps you have stories about strange coincidences
and events that might have been passed down by your Irish relatives,
or even know of some favorite legend or haunted place in Ireland.
Share them with us in the next edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage
& Culture.

Deadline for submissions for the Irish Superstitions edition of the
Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture is October 25th.

I'll publish the Carnival here on, (when else?) Halloween. I hope
I can do half as good a job of hosting it as Lisa has done so far!

And I promise I'll remember to post it!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


In March 1765 the British Parliament passed the Stamp act, a piece
of legislation that said that an official government stamp or seal must
be attached to most printed items ranging from newspapers and
pamphlets to posters and playing cards. The recent French and
Indian Wars had been costly for Britain and there was also the need
to pay and supply the British troops still in North America.

For their part, many colonists reacted angrily to this first tax placed
them and were galvanized to take the steps that would lead to the
birth of an independent American nation. One of the earliest actions was
the Braintree Instructions, an official protest to the Stamp Act that was
to be delivered to Braintree's Representative to the General Court,
Ebenezer Thayer, Jr. The Braintree Town Meeting appointed five
men to draft the document: Samuel Niles, Norton Quincy, James Penniman,
John Hayward and a young lawyer named John Adams. The finished
document was presented to the Town Meeting on Sept 24th, 1765

Like most Americans I was completely ignorant of the Braintree Instructions.
I first heard about them from my friend and co-worker Rick Durham, a
member of the Braintree Historical Society, and he's printed a pamphlet entitled
John Adams' The Braintree Instructions: The First United Voice of Freedom in
Massachusetts. It's an excellent examination of the importance of the Instructions
in the events leading up to the Revolution. I won't go any further into the material
Rick covers, but I will highly recommend to my readers that they read his pamphlet
for themselves and gain an appreciation of the significance of the Instructions in
our country's history.

You can purchase the pamphlet at or from Rick himself
at for $5.00USA.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


And now for a commercial message

I've mentioned Peter F. Steven's book "The Hidden History of
the Boston Irish" in a previous post, and thought I'd mention that
Mr. Stevens would be appearing at the Borders Books store where
I work in Braintree, Ma. next Saturday, October 4th at 2pm.

It's a great book with lots of information about our Boston Irish
heritage. So drop on by and get a copy and meet Peter Stevens!

Monday, September 22, 2008


We left Ohio Wednesday morning and headed down for Washington D.C.
The weather held and so we got some great views of the countryside as
we traveled down through the state, the across part of Pennsylvania and
into West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. I believe we went through
Cumberland along the way so we were reversing the route taken by
many of the settlers that headed west 200 years ago. We saw some more
live deer along the way (including a very young one very close to the

I have to confess to being pretty vague about the routes we took on the
entire trip. In the old days I'd might have been looking at a map, but
while we had maps with us, the GPS device did all the navigating. My
main duty as navigator was to point out the upcoming exit to Cheryl.
And the GPS sure came in handy several times, such as when we
reached the D.C. Beltway and the daily rush hour traffic jam later
Wednesday afternoon.(although the female British voice sounded
very peevish with us when we ignored some direction. She sounded
as if she was flicking a whip or tapping a riding crop as she snapped

We reached our hotel around 7pm and perhaps the less said about it, the
better. Although it wasn't a horrible place, it was not close to a restaurant
and the commuter train rain right behind the building. I was a bit worried
about leaving anything in the car so I transferred my birthday gifts into
my backpack, using my genealogy binder and Pop's old license plate to
protect the family bible. We ordered out for pizza instead of trying to find
a restaurant.

Our plan the next morning was to visit the World War 2 and Vietnam War
memorials but we couldn't find a place to park, so we decided to visit
Arlington National Cemetery instead, taking one of the guided tours that
leave from the visitor's center. We chose the one that included President
Kennedy's grave, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and Arlington House
which was Robert E. Lee's home. It's a sobering and moving experience
to see the graves of so many Americans who have died in service to our
country. The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers
was especially impressive.(even though one person forgot to shut off their
cellphone and chose to answer it rather than hit "mute". Luckily the
ceremony was already drawing to a close when the phone rang.)

(these two photos were taken by Cheryl)

Cheryl had told me she'd made reservations for lunch at some spot in D.C.
for one o'clock so we drove back downtown. We found a parking garage
and I took my backpack along because I wasn't about to leave the West
family bible in the car. Then we walked a few blocks to the Old Post
Office building, where we had to go through a metal detector and I told the
guards there was an old license plate in the bag that might set off the
alarm. (We'll get back to that backpack later). As we went further into the
building I could see there was a food court two flights of stairs down from
street level, which didn't thrill me because of a) my sore knee and b) as I've
said before, I hate stairs.

When I finally made it to the bottom, I started getting suspicious. My sister
was looking around, she said, for the restaurant and then she tried to call
somebody. Finally Cheryl suggested we just get some food and we picked
out a table at the back of the food court. And while I was in line getting a
sandwich, the second birthday surprise of the trip arrived. Stacy is a good
friend of 11 years of roleplay and she and Cheryl had been planning this
for a bit. It was nice to finally meet her in person (although I wish I'd
known so I could have dressed better!) and we had a good conversation
about our online friends and our real life families for a few hours as we
ate lunch. Stacy's just as classy face to face as she is online and the visit
went by too fast.

After we said our goodbyes, Cheryl and I made our way back to the car
and started the trip home. We thought we'd make it back to Massachusetts
by late that night or early Friday morning, but we didn't count on the
rear end fender-bender in Baltimore or the heavy rainstorms that finally
forced us to spend one more night in a motel in New Jersey, where I
realized that besides the family bible and license plate, my backpack
also contained the steak knife Gary and Dian had given me. I still can't
figure out how that wasn't spotted in the x-ray machine at the Old Post
Office, but on the other hand, I'm glad we didn't have an incident!

We finally arrived home Friday afternoon. It had been a good trip through
9 states and the District of Columbia. I had the chance to see Aunt Dot
and my cousins Diana, Louise and their husbands Gary and Steve, and then
to meet Stacy in Washington. I saw some beautiful country, spent some
quality time with my sister, and I've developed a liking for the music of
Toby Keith.

All in all it was a great time and my thanks once again to everyone,
especially Cheryl, for making it so!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I posted this picture of my grandfather Floyd Earl West, Sr. in my
series about my Road Trip vacation but thought I'd go a bit more
in depth about it now.

"Pop" served in the U.S. Army as an hospital orderly at Camp Devens
(later Fort Devens), Massachusetts in WW1 during the Spanish Influenza
epidemic of 1918. He entered the Army in April 1918 and was discharged
in March of 1919 so that gives me a timeframe on when it was taken. My
guess is he had it taken when he was on leave in November, 1917.

As I mentioned before, this is a postcard and on the back I can see that it
was taken at Avery Studios. Apparently business was good because there
is a list of 6 locations in Boston:

601 Washington St.
637 " "
361 " "

90 Court St.
129 Court St.

21 Tremont St.

Boston at that time was an active port city and railroad center and I would
think that a photography business would be very busy taking pictures of
soldiers and sailors to be sent home to loved ones. If you look at the background
behind Pop you can see it is a painting of an Army camp scene with tents and
the American flag flying proudly above it. There must have been a background
for sailors as well. I'm still trying to find a mention of Avery Studios in Boston
City directories for the period but so far no luck.

I also was struck by the chest pocket on "Pop" 's tunic. There's clearly something
in there because you can see the slight the edge of it pressing against the
cloth. Perhaps his papers or something else that "Pop" felt might be more secure
there than in his uniform's pants pockets?

As you can see, Pop never sent the postcard, instead bringing it home to his family
where it has been passed down still in great condition (The blue streaks are on the
image, not on the original, a result of some goof I made in scanning ) and now Aunt
Dot has passed it on to me.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, but "Pop" sure cut a fine figure in uniform!