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[10/19/11: OK, this has now been made public, so I will post:]

The Saturday of Columbus Day weekend, about lunchtime, came a terse e-mail from a genealogist I’d met once, six years ago at Salt Lake City, but know better by reputation. “What’s yer phone number?” Shot it to him quick (with a sentence or two about our recent move), looking forward to his call, whatever it might be about: I’m always happy to hear from pretty much anyone about genealogy.

So I was still surprised when the phone rang (during a rather harried dinner prep for the smalls), and there were two different prominent genealogists on the other end, letting me know that I had just been elected the 160th fellow of the American Society of Genealogists!

Woot! I did ask if it were an elaborate prank, designed to make me burn the smalls’ dinner. They needn’t have resorted to such a strategem: I have burned dinner for far less.

adding Connecticut ancestors — New England roots of a Nova Scotia loyalist

OK, so Julie has had them for years now: Connecticut ancestors. And it seems like every other New Englander with whom I perform the parlor trick of finding common ancestors has them too. But until now, I have not had any — my New England ancestors all lived north of Boston. My single solitary Connecticut ancestor has been a cheat: Great-Migration colonist Andrew Lester or Lister of Gloucester, who migrated to Connecticut, leaving some children settling in each place. Julie descends from one of the CT children, I from one of the Gloucester ones.

But now something new has come up, the identification of a Nova Scotia loyalist in my family tree, Isaac Andrews, whose granddaughter came to Gloucester in the nineteenth century, as a member of a specific Connecticut family. I recently pulled up the 2009 revised edition of A. C. Jost’s Guysborough Sketches and Essays, and saw that it supplied information which had not been in the 1950 original edition: it identified Isaac Andrews as the man of that name who was son of Elon and Sarah (—) Andrews of Wallingford, Connecticut! But the revised Jost doesn’t show what the evidence is to make that identification. Was it a guess, or is there documentation showing it? I rather suspect there’s something clear-cut that shows it but don’t want to reinvent the wheel to seek it. The most efficient thing is to find out who is responsible for the revisions to Jost and work from there (there is no independent editor credited, but the book is substantially updated from the 1950 1st ed., and Mr. Jost himself must have been deceased for 40 years or so). Before taking that step, tracing out my newfound Connecticut ancestors may be a wasted chore. But I’ll admit that hasn’t stopped me from snooping among them already…

UPDATE, 18 October 2011: I went through the Guysborough (Nova Scotia) Historical Society to get hold of the editor of the 2009 revision of Jost. And now, courtesy of the Guysborough Historical Society, I have a citation to a deed of 21 April 1800 in which Isaac Andrews of Manchester, Nova Scotia (across the harbor from Guysborough) sold land in Wallingford inherited from his father, Elon Andrews: so I may now with confidence trace my newfound ancestors in Ancient New Haven. For example, I have already found confirmation (while many sources show her surname as unknown) that Sarah, wife of Elon Andrews of Wallingford, was the daughter of Caleb Beach of Winchester (Caleb’s will names her as wife of ‘Elon Andros’; see Annals and Family Records of Winchester, Connecticut [Hartford, 1873], 32-33). Always happy to have more Calebs in the family tree. And here, I found online, is his house, falling down circa 1910:

It actually did fall down soon thereafter, since the WPA guide for Connecticut (early 1930s) mentions it as just a chimney…

The is the second most exciting thing that has happened to me, genealogically, this month. I’m waiting a bit, before posting on the most exciting thing.

the mother of all medieval genealogies — the ‘great stemma’

An important new interpretation has just appeared, resolving longstanding questions about the puzzling biblical genealogies that appear mainly in several 10th-century Spanish manuscripts of Beatus of Liebana’s commentary on the Apocalypse (like the Morgan Beatus). Jean-Baptiste Piggin, approaching the whole question of this corpus of genealogies from an interest in informational graphics, has tabulated and linked to online versions, when available, of all the manuscripts, and he has collated the texts of the principal recensions. The recension closest to the original (and lost intermediate versions) is a very plain eleventh-century copy in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. The whole thing is available online (Cosimo de’ Medici would be proud! — here is a link to the first page). Here is Esau’s family:

Alone among the scholars who have studied these manuscripts, Mr. Piggin has now convincingly shown the whole to derive from a long scroll of Late-Antique origin, perhaps 4th or early 5th century! His work has been presented at the Oxford Patristics conference, and is more fully explored in a series of amazing essay-pages on his website. Most interesting of all is that he offers a dynamically zoom- & scrollable version of a tentatively reconstructed archetype, as well as the Bibl. Medicea Laurenziana witness. This is ‘medieval genealogy’ — the exploration of genealogy as it was used and understood during the middle ages — at its finest.

a new old map of Barrington

Here’s something that seems to have flown under the radar.

A 1993 book, Historical and Architectural Resources of Barrington, Rhode Island, reproduced two fine old maps, from 1851 and 1870, demonstrating the growth of this town, especially since a railway station was put in at West Barrington in 1868 and development of farmland into bayside summer colonies began. Those maps show the location of houses, but no property parcel divisions, in what was in 1851 still a town of farms. Thumbing in the library through Thomas Bicknell’s Historical Address and Poem and Delivered at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Barrington (Providence, 1870) brought me to a map — very faint and faded — that I had not seen before, showing Barrington in 1866, and most importantly, showing parcel lines instead of structures. Turns out the people at the Preservation Society had not been aware of this map either, sitting quietly on the shelves upstairs at the library. Perhaps the map has escaped notice because it is so faint: a digitized copy of the book available via Yale has only blank pages where the map should be, suggesting the automated scanner ignored its faint lines entirely. There does not seem to be an original around anywhere, either among the Preservation Society papers or the Town Hall deeds & plats collection, so I’d like to scan the printed version and digitally clean it.

Here’s a first effort in that direction, from the circulating copy of the book, which unfortunately had the map sliced in half and rebound with loss of a considerable strip across the center of town (there is another, uncirculating, copy of this map in its original uncut fold-out form, which hopefully can be reproduced more clearly). Click on each image (North and South halves) to load a large-format (600dpi) grayscale jpg in a new window.

As a contrast, here’s the 1870 Beer’s Atlas map (again, click for hi-res):

visiting the Prudence Island Allins

Prudence Island: our Allins came to Barrington from there before 1680; and the story goes that in the winter of 1682, Narragansett Bay froze solid enough for William1 Allin to haul his house over it (presumably minus the stone-end chimney), a few miles up the bay from Prudence to Annawomscutt in West Barrington. Now it’s a ferry ride, ten minutes out from Bristol harbor and fifty years back in time. We spent a gorgeous daytrip there Saturday, biking around to beaches (on dirt roads, with kids in trailers), which wore us all out. But not before visiting the historical cemetery there. Actually, I only brought the 2-year-old to the graves: the others were enjoying one last swim.

The graveyard lies up in the woods, blocks from the shore, long overgrown by pines but neatly kept beneath them. A couple dozen slate stones, still neatly matched head and footstones. Many of them small, though, not having had (or no longer showing) any formal carving. Two modern granite stones, and one table-tomb built up of flat fieldstones, but with the inscribed top stone (presumably slate) long gone. Of the few full-sized formal carved slate stones, Allins were readily visible. The first we found was Captain Joshua4 Allin, d. 1764 (John3, William2-1), a second cousin of our General Thomas. Here is Simon with Capt. Joshua:

Of the words on his stone, his forename is the hardest to read. (Continued)


One update after last Wednesday’s talk. The night before, fleshing out a slide show, I went back up to the attic to look at the 1798 Federal direct property tax valuation page pasted on the partition wall under the eaves, and took a closeup of what I realize is Thomas Allin’s signature, since it is pretty clear that this valuation was filled out in his own hand:

Only then did I realize that it is not every day that one finds, in an eighteenth-century house, the builder’s signature pasted to a wall! This seemed to make an impression at the Preservation Society meeting.


A clinched nail, tip curled like a snail, caught in the low afternoon sunlight coming through the 18th-century window at the west end of the attic, last November.

I’ve hardly blogged at all since we moved in January. I’m finally going through and organizing hundreds of photos taken during the course of our renovations, while I’m preparing for an illustrated talk I’m doing on the Allin House for the Barrington Preservation Society this Wednesday, May 11 (at 7:30 pm in the town library auditorium, if you’re interested): “The General in his Labyrinth: Exploring and Restoring the General Thomas Allin House.”

So many of the photos have such great stories attached that I could talk for hours. Some, like this, are just beautiful in their own right.

Faces of the Civil War — the Liljenquist portraits

I have been completely ground to a halt by the Liljenquist collection of Civil War portraits at the Library of Congress.

Seven hundred cased photographic portraits of Civil War soldiers and sailors and their families — most of them anonymous — were donated last fall by the Liljenquist family, specifically the two boys, Jason and Brandon Liljenquist, who amassed the collection only over the last few years. The donation was noticed and began to be put online in the winter, but notice has recirculated now with the actual sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the war. These cased photos still abound and at least the anonymous ones are not too expensive to collect. But together this series is a priceless window into a whole generation.

The only press stuff I’ve seen does not provide good links. Here are the important links:

First, a selected slide show.

Second, the whole collection in a lightbox browser.

Finally, a moving essay by Brandon Liljenquist about creating and donating the collection.

Thank you, Brandon and Jason!

out of the depths

Part of the long process of settling into any house seems to be the endless shifting of stuff in basements, attics and garages. This sunny weekend I extracted from the basement an enormous pile of old storm windows — full height wooden sashes, mostly two over two, the style of the ‘modern’ replacement windows which were put onto this house — on the street-facing windows only — around the time of the First World War, but which were mostly removed in 1952. No longer needed, these storms have been brought up as giveaways for our architect, Lombard, who keeps quite a cache of old stuff for re-use. Among them were some really old sashes which aren’t storm windows at all, but regular sashes left over from the original fenestration. Mortised & pegged, with wavy glass now coated with years of good basement grime.


ceiling cat is watching me (in the Allin House)

As of Monday, two households of stuff have now been moved into the Allin House, leaving two tides of debris in the basement —

— the second tide so large that our troglodyte feline has actually become ceiling cat. Sure enough, she was watching me, last night, as I tried to make some sense of the jumble beneath her.