Epilogue

Cézanne, or maybe it was de Kooning, said a painting is never really finished, just abandoned at a more or less appropriate time. [1]  So it is for my efforts to gather back in a handful of the people and stories of our family. The rest of my life is calling, and I’ve got to go. A few words though, both philosophical and practical, to wrap it all up.

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Old Books Worth Seeking As References

This list is NOT by any means exhaustive. Consider it merely a helpful starting point.

(Arranged alphabetically, by major families.)

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Alden

  • Alden, Ayers, Byram Genealogy, by Charles H. Ayers [Currently available at Morristown, NJ public library.]

Amory

  • The Descendants of Hugh Amory 1605-1805, by Gertrude Euphemia Meredith, London, 1901
  • “The Amory Family,” by Delos G. McDonald, printed in NEHGS Register, Volume 120, April 1966, pp.81-83

Brandegee

  • The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, by Henry R. Stiles, AM, MD, Vol. II, New York 1904, pp. 128-133.
  • History of Rye 1660-1870, by Charles W. Baird, New York, 1871; the whole book contains useful references, but see especially pp. 398-399
  • History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, Vol. I, compiled by Donald Lines Jacobus, Fairfield, CT, 1930; republished Baltimore, 1976; pp. 107-109
  • The Early History of Berlin, Connecticut, An Historical Paper Delivered Before the Emma Hart Willard Chapter D.A.R., January 17, 1913, by Emily S. Brandegee

 

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A Brief Word on Dates

If you ever decide to do some looking into your family history, and you make it back to, say, the early 1700s, you will probably see one or more dates written like this: Jan 7, 1719/20. Unlike what you might think, that doesn’t mean the author was unsure of what year the event happened in, so they wrote both; rather, it indicates the event occurred on Jan 7 of… either 1719 or 1720, depending on whether you go by the contemporary calendar of the time, or our modern calendar today. And, making matters worse, it was not a Jan 7 that was an even number of years removed from this year’s Jan 7. Worst of all, it may also have reflected a culture that didn’t acknowledge the new year until the end of March. March?

I know, “clear as mud.”

If you’re scratching your head at all this, the problem stems from a major disruption in the measurement of time that occurred when Europe, and Europe’s colonies, switched – slowly, over several years – from the calendar that had been employed by the Romans, aka the Julian calendar, to an updated system, adopted by Pope Gregory, aka the Gregorian calendar.

This is not a minor point.

It affects the citation of all “early” colonial historical dates in a meaningful way, and the explanation below is, I’m sorry to say, actually worth wading through…

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The Julian and the Gregorian Calendars

by Peter Meyer

 http://www.magnet.ch/serendipity/hermetic/cal_stud/cal_art.htm

The Gregorian Reform

The average length of a year in the Julian Calendar [the calendar put in place by Julius Caesar]  is 365.25 days (one additional day being added every four years). The length of the year in the Julian Calendar exceeds the length of the mean solar year (365.24219 mean solar days to five decimal places) by 11.2 minutes. This error accumulates so that after 128 years the calendar is out of sync with the equinoxes and solstices by one day. Thus as the centuries passed the Julian Calendar became increasingly inaccurate with respect to the seasons. This was especially troubling to the Christian Church because it affected the determination of the date of Easter, which, by the 16th Century, was well on the way to slipping into Summer.

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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 four websites, three 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 and WeRelate. 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…

 

Geni:

 

 

WikiTree:

 

 

WeRelate:

 

 

Finally, I said there are four sites. The fourth is Ancestry.com, 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). [15,000 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 four organizations above will have to suffice.

Introduction

I read my first actual book when I was eight. It was called Smiling Hill Farm, and it related, in the simple language fit for new readers, the journey of a family in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century from their former home in a tame, domesticated Virginia, through the great dark eastern forests, to the wilderness of Indiana. It described the cabin they built at the top of a hill, their first attempts at buckskin clothing and soap-making, visiting peddlers, the relationship of the bachelor uncle to the rest of the family, malaria, first marriages. The beauty of the book, and what fascinated me about it, was that it didn’t stop there. It followed them all…through the first brick house, the weddings of grandchildren, a contingent heading west yet again, the deaths of the original mother and father, and on and on.

At the end of the book, a very old man, well into his nineties, plays with his own great-grandchildren. He is, if I recall correctly, the son of two of those settlers. In a wonderful parallel, the tall trees surrounding the house are in fact the saplings which had been left standing by the original family members, as they cleared the brush so many years before. Together the man and the children, in the shade of these trees, watch a highway being put in at the foot of the hill.

This book, told almost from the point of view of the land, was my first glimmer of what I can only call the unbroken flow of life: that the old man was once really a boy; that people whose names have almost been forgotten, or have been forgotten, were as real as I am in all respects; that our lives, far from being the discrete poems we tend to imagine them to be, are just lines, or perhaps at best verses, in a very long song.

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As a teenager visiting Boston, Massachusetts, and South Bristol, Maine, during the summer, I would prod my Grandmother Burgin to recite the names and stories of her family. She could recall from memory much of a nine generation oral history, passed from mother to daughter, that stretched back to Plymouth. At the end of the day, while pouring out orange bottled dressing for the salads, I heard about Robinsons, Frenches, Farrars, Shaws, and Sanborns. The thought of writing it down occurred to me, but before I could—the summer I was sixteen—my grandmother had a stroke and much of that oral history, lore more than names or dates, was lost. Gone.

It was then that I realized what had to be done, and I started saving whatever I could find: old envelopes with names written on the back, newspaper clippings, the nothings on which histories of this sort depend. Anything that would help me to rebuild the framework, and possibly those stories.

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The map is not the territory, and this score, this list you hold in front of you, is not the song. But my hope is that if you read between these lines, you may be able to hear something, faintly, and be able to recall it the next time you’re preparing dinner with some young relative.

Acknowledgments

This is the latest stage of what has always been a group effort and I have received assistance from many. Particular thanks, though, go to those who have most recently helped to re-weave the tapestry: Elisha Flagg Lee Jr., and Helen Burgin on my mother’s side; John Endicott Lawrence Sr., and Frances Weeks Lawrence on my father’s. Lastly, we owe a debt to the eighteenth and nineteenth-century New Englanders who cared, as their families began to scatter, to write this all down the first time.