J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Welcome to Boston, Genealogists!

It's not Macworld, to be sure, but tomorrow the Federation of Genealogical Societies and New England Historic Genealogical Society start their joint conference in Boston. The gathering at the Hynes Convention Center runs 30 Aug-2 Sept. Civilians, be ready for crowds of people with reading glasses and overstuffed notebooks moving with determination between the Hynes and the NEHGS on Newbury Street.

I'm little interested in my own ancestry (great-aunts and other relations have taken care of that), but I find genealogical methods very useful for understanding colonial events. I used NEHGS resources, from the research library through publication in New England Ancestors magazines, for my articles on Ebenezer Richardson and three doctors at the outbreak of war.

But I won't go to this conference. I'm still getting over a local genealogical society meeting last year. Not because my entering the room had a numerically significant effect on the average age. Rather, during the formal session, the chair invited me to introduce myself. I said cheerfully that I was researching Boston just before the Revolution. Insistent whispers rose all around me. What? What now? What had I said? And then I made out those eager genealogists' words:

"What lines? What lines?"

Genealogists think vertically, in terms of family lines, not horizontally. (Yes, that's a simplification, but it's true.) I'd love to know exactly who was working in Isaiah Thomas's print shop in 1775. Genealogists explore Isaiah Thomas's parents, and his wife, and her parents. What's fun is that each type of question can help illuminate the other. (Using genealogical sources, I've found that Thomas signed up an English-born apprentice named Anthony Haswell from the Overseers of the Poor in 1771—just as the Overseers had apprenticed Thomas on his mother's behalf back in 1756. Also in 1775, Thomas's wife had an affair with Benjamin Thompson, leading to the couple's divorce.)

So, for the record, the lines I'm trying to trace are: Whiston, Gore, Grant, Bradlee, Moies, Middleton, Seider, Hartwick, Enslin, Richardson, Machin, Gardner, Cunningham, Gridley, Balch, Holbrook, Bourgatte, Garrick, Burdick, Vassall, Paddock,...


Anonymous said...


If you are trying to trace Captain Thomas Machin's line I think I can help.

Ken Lifshitz

J. L. Bell said...

I'm trying to trace Machin before he came to America. The traditional version casts him as son of London mathematician John Machin. Which is a bit dubious since Capt. Machin is said to have been born near Wolverhampton and John Machin died without heirs. I have an alternative theory, but I don't have an alternative line. So I'd love to hear more.