Links to Collaborative Genealogy Sites

In the interest of seeing that our family tree, the actual genealogical “who, when, and where” is preserved, I have placed some of the research that went into this blog on five websites, four of which actually aim to piece together, person by person, a single family tree for everyone. Taken literally, that is wildly ambitious, not to mention completely impractical, but the effort alone has already produced, flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding, a very special body of research.

These “collaborative” genealogy sites are Geni, WikiTree, WeRelate, and FamilySearch. Each is a little different.

For example, Geni and WikiTree make room for all relatives including living people and then add privacy controls. WeRelate, meanwhile, has decided to forego information on living people and just focus on the near past. Geni makes little use of sources or documentation, but WikiTree and especially WeRelate strive, with varying success, to back up all assertions with primary documents. There are plenty of other differences, but that’s the gist of it.

The main point is that putting the information here means it will survive even in generations when no one inherits an interest in family history– something I see as increasingly  likely.

Here are some jumping off points, categorized first by site, and then by a few key relatives…














Finally, I said there are five sites. The fifth is, which somewhat sadly, has a paywall and curious people cannot simply click over to peruse the material at will. You can see it without a financial outlay, but to do so you’ll have to email me or Elisha Lee to be put on a list of invitees. Sorry, I didn’t make up those rules. If you are already on Ancestry, you can search for our tree which is called Kinsmen and Kinswomen (revised and sourced). [18,000 relatives and counting.] On the plus side, looking for a silver lining, the highly commercial aspect of Ancestry has paid huge dividends in making a vast trove of documents available online, including – in most cases – photocopies of originals. This includes birth certificates, marriage entries in the parish register, passport applications, draft registrations, VA records, medical examiners’ notes, high school yearbooks, biographical vignettes, and on and on. People can also share multiple digital copies of rare family photos.  There really is nothing like it for primary research.

At some point in the distant future, I’ll figure out how to put a version of our tree here, on this site, with measures in place to protect people’s privacy, but until then, the organizations above will have to suffice.

Methodist Cemetery, Barnard, VT

Aunt Magna, Uncle Harry, Uncle Howard, and Jean are all here.

This graveyard is also called the North Road-Methodist Cemetery, and it appears – according to Google, which has been known to be wrong from time to time (cough) – to be in Bethel, the next town to the north. Note though, that all the other references describe it as in Barnard.

Either way, it is located at the intersection of North Road and Town Highway 13.

No phone, and definitely no website or Facebook page.


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Photographs from Helen, Margaret, and Howard Swain’s Childhood, c.1905-1925

In an earlier post, we glimpsed the life of a boy, Rodgers Burgin, growing up in Quincy at the very start of the 20th century.

This is the life his future wife, Helen Swain, and her siblings were leading, more or less contemporaneously, in town at 226 Commonwealth Ave., at their grandfather’s house in Exeter, and on the beach in Cohasset.


HTS and children


In no particular order. Memory, I find, skips back and forth anyway…


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Exeter Cemetery, Exeter, NH

Boopie and Gagie are here.

Address: Linden St, Exeter, NH 03833

Dr Howard Townsend Swain, Sr

Birth:  May 16, 1868 Bath, Steuben County, New York
Death:  Dec. 6, 1936 Boston, Massachusetts

Plot: Lot 224 B
Find A Grave Memorial# 145938412

Harriet French Swain

Birth:  May 28, 1868 Exeter, New Hampshire
Death:  Jul. 16, 1958 Milton, Massachusetts

Plot: Lot 224 B
Find A Grave Memorial# 145938467



Map of Exeter Cemetery


‘226 Commonwealth Ave.,’ Dr. Howard T. Swain’s office and home

I mentioned in a previous post that the physician and Harvard Medical School professor, Howard T. Swain, maintained – in the time-honored tradition of doctors everywhere prior to say, 1930 or 40 – a true home office.

The downstairs floor of the house at 226 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston’s Back Bay was the location for his large obstetrical, gynecological, and (I infer) pediatric practice. The upstairs floors were for his family, and, as such, held many of my grandmother’s – his daughter, Helen Swain Burgin’s – sweetest memories.

For several years after college, when my grandmother was “at home” (a 19th and early 20th century phrase connoting a sort of existential purgatory for talented but unmarried women), she would accompany her father on his home visits to see patients. Working as his assistant, she and the man she adored would go out from and return to this place each day.

In her elder years, probably the late ’80s,  I remember one car trip into Boston during which, at her request, we intentionally drove by the house and live parked in the street, flashers on and blocking traffic, while she looked up at it, one last time, saying nothing.


Howard Swain's office and home at 226 Commonwealth Ave

226 Comm. Ave. – Howard T. Swain, M.D.’s office and home



Howard Townsend Swain, M.D.

Howard Townsend Swain, M.D. was the much-loved and revered patriarch of my grandmother’s family.


He was called “Buppie” by close kin. That’s at least the way I’ve chosen to spell his nickname.

(A note to younger readers who have never heard it pronounced: I don’t know if it was ever written out. At any rate, it is said with the “u” sounding like “oo” in look, or book. So think, Bookie, and then substitute a p for the k. Buppie. Or if you want to really be technical, /ˈbʊpi/, but I never learned to read “dictionary-speak,” and come to think of it, don’t know anyone who did. Continuing with this minutiae on the subject of names, he appears to have been named, actually named, for a Dr. Howard Townsend, Professor and Chair of Obstetrics at Albany Medical College where his father, William Dexter Swain, M.D., had studied medicine.  Dr. Townsend died in January, 1867, shortly before Howard Townsend Swain’s birth.)

As a young man, Buppie came from a relatively simple rural life, but he rose within the Boston medical establishment to become a widely respected and sought-after physician.

It was said – often – that although he was an ob/gyn, men would nevertheless make appointments with him just to seek his counsel, coming to see him in his home-office at 226 Commonwealth Ave.

My grandmother, Helen Swain Burgin, his daughter, mentioned him in passing at least once every couple of days when we were together, and I think she thought of him even more often. It would not be overkill to say his presence, the fact of having known him, was one of the great anchors or touchstones of her life.

After he died, an unknown Boston newspaper dated Thursday, Dec 10, 1936, took note of his passing with a small two paragraph notice entitled “Affection,” which reads as follows:

“Rarely has such a tribute been paid to a doctor as at the funeral of Dr. Howard T. Swain, the distinguished gynecologist yesterday. In the past 30 years he brought into the world the children of hundreds of Back Bay families. He was more than a physician, he was a devoted friend and counsellor of mothers and children. They came to rely on his advice in many things.

“It is a splendid thing for a man to have earned such wide affection. Those who gathered for the last tribute to him were those who had personal reasons to cherish his memory.”


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William Dexter Swain, M.D.

At the time of his first marriage, in 1854, William Dexter Swain described himself as a mechanic. Later, in the 1860 Census, he listed himself as a pianoforte maker. But in 1868, at the age of 40, he was graduated from Albany Medical College, and became a physician. It’s an interesting series of transitions.

When a respected professor of obstetrics at Albany Medical College, Dr. Howard Townsend, died in January, 1867, just before the birth of Swain’s second son, he named the baby after his mentor: Howard Townsend Swain. (Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the boy would go on to become a well-known obstetrician in his own right.)

The photographs below are the only images I know of that show what William Dexter Swain looked like. They were taken on two separate occasions near the end of his life, when Howard, now grown, brought his three children, Helen, Margaret, and Howard, Jr., to Copake for a visit. The top picture, in black and white, appears to be earlier than the rest, in sepia.

One thing that has always stood out to me about these pictures, aside from the terrific Civil War-era beard, is the humble nature of the structures. Here was a son, striving to take his place at the top of Boston society, with patients who included the wife of Admiral Byrd, a professorship at Harvard Medical School, raising a family on Commonwealth Ave., and his father’s house is in dire need of basic repair and paint. Had he offered to help, but been rebuffed? Had he not offered to help? What was their relationship like? I suspect that this, too, is something we we will never know.




Left to right: Helen Swain; Margaret Swain; William Dexter Swain; Howard T. Swain, Sr.


Left to right: William Dexter Swain, Howard T. Swain, Sr., and Howard T. Swain, Jr.


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