I have been corresponding with a second cousin of mine from my mother’s side of the family. My second cousin lives on the West Coast.
We are catching up on genealogy, mostly. But I have shared a few tidbits (stories). We never met before, although I had some correspondence prior to his passing with my second cousin, Margaret’s, father.
Near the end of her life, Aunt Etta missed a Thanksgiving. She had moved out of her apartment (I think near Copley Square [in Boston]) to an assisted living place that was very nice. I said to my parents after dinner: I miss Aunt Etta. I am going to visit her. My younger brother went with me. We took the family car. Aunt Etta looked frail but otherwise okay. She was very pleased to see us and appreciated the visit. It was the last time I saw Aunt Etta. [I sensed this, had a premonition.]
She used to always say “extry” instead of “extra.” I think my mother was her favorite niece or nephew. She liked my mother, and why not? My mother was gracious and just plain nice to everyone. I talked about this aspect of her in one of my blog posts. May I share it with you?
My mother was annoyed that Aunt Etta belonged to the DAR because of its anti-Black stance. My mother was very pro civil rights. But they did not come to blows over this. Aunt Etta was justifiably proud of her great-grandfather William Handy and had an interest in genealogy and local history. William Handy’s revolutionary war experience is covered in my post at
In the 1950’s, Aunt Etta — who was always thoughtful and people-oriented, and who seemed to have values much like my grandfather Ralph, her brother (who died when I was an infant) — invited my older brother and me to spend a weekend at her apartment in Boston. She went out of her way to make it an enjoyable visit.
On a Saturday, she took us skating on the Boston Common. My brother was a good skater, I wasn’t. Aunt Etta did not go skating herself. I remember her lacing up our skates in the freezing cold. Her fingers were numb. She was a very un-self-centered person. It did not seem to be a nuisance to her to have to wait for us in the freezing cold.
When we got back to her warm, cozy apartment, we were watching TV or reading magazines and we somehow mentioned Elvis Presley. My brother and I were Elvis fans. Aunt Etta said she didn’t quite know what she thought about him, but, she said, he sure had long “side whiskers” (her word for sideburns). Little things intrigued her.
Aunt Etta brought out a plate of brownies she had baked. They had pecans in them. I meticulously removed all the nuts before eating my brownie. Aunt Etta thought that was so funny. I spent all morning chopping up those nuts, she said. She wasn’t angry, just highly amused.
I believe this was true of my grandfather Ralph, from what I was always told, it was certainly true of my mother; and also of Aunt Etta, whom I knew well, but not intimately — they were all modest and the opposite of pushy, and just plain decent, as well as nice.
The one time I met Uncle Rob [Robert S. Handy, my grandfather’s brother and mother’s uncle; he was a cranberry farmer on Cape Cod], he said one thing to me that I remember distinctly. He told me to buy a house at the first opportunity. He said that that was the best move I could make to ensure financial security.
I was single, probably in my early twenties. I had just graduated from college. The thought of buying a house seemed hard to grasp for me then.
Aunt Etta, as you no doubt know, was frugal and money conscious. She gave me $2,000 on Christmas 1967. It was a bank book with $2,000 in the account. It seemed like a huge gift. She told me — then, or around that time — how she had opened her first bank account when she was young and her father [Henry T. Handy] had advised her to do so and keep her money so it could grow. She wanted to give me helpful advice. I listened but did not pay that much heed then. I was kind of the starving poet type.
I thought you would find this memorial tribute to Jill Jillson [daughter of my mother’s cousin Carol (Handy) Jillson] of interest.
Jill and I were about the same age and we would see her and her siblings on visits, usually to the Cape, with my mother’s cousin Carol and her husband Jack.
Somehow it got mentioned to me once that Jack Jillson [Jill Jillson’s father, husband of my mother’s cousin Carol] was a Harvard grad, like my father. I said to my mother, he went to Harvard, really? He was quiet (soft spoken) and self-effacing, and he didn’t seem quite like a “blue blood” (not that my father was) or intellectual.
He hides his candle under a bushel, my mother said.
In my freshman year in high school, the Jillsons were visiting us in Canton [Massachusetts]. My father and Jack were on chaise longues in the back yard. It was a hot day. I was reading Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” for English class. I mentioned this, and either my father or Jack said, what two cities: Baltimore and St. Louis? They both thought this was very funny.
During the month just ended, I took a trip to Massachusetts to attend the American Literature Association’s annual conference in Boston, and also to take photos of personal interest from the point of view of my personal history and also from a genealogical angle.
I grew up in Massachusetts, in the Greater Boston area.
Practically all of my relatives came from Massachusetts. My father’s ancestors, on his father’s side, emigrated from Scotland to Boston in 1872. His relatives on his mother’s side emigrated during the colonial period and lived mostly in Essex County, north of Boston, and subsequently in the Greater Boston area.
My mother’s relatives were originally mostly from Cape Cod; some of my relatives continue to live there.
The following is a trip itinerary with photographs.
I went to Danvers, Mass., which is where my mother grew up and photographed the house and block where she lived. Danvers was originally an outlying area of Salem; it was known as Salem Village. The Salem witchcraft trials arose from incidents that took place in what is now Danvers.
My mother lived at 19 Braman Street from around 1920 through 1940. The house looks shabby now.
From Danvers, I headed south, in the direction of Boston. Although my focus was mostly family history, it occurred to me, why not make a stop in Winchester, Mass., where the world famous Russian émigré sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin, one of my heroes, lived?
Sorokin, his wife, and their two sons resided at 8 Cliff Street in Winchester. (Sorokin died in 1968. One of his sons still occupies the same residence.) I was interested not only to see the residence of a world renowned scholar and writer, but also to see the house because it was famous for its grounds: a garden developed and maintained by Sorokin himself, for which he had won awards from horticultural societies and of which he was proud.
I drove up the block, which was on a steep ascent, using GPS to guide me. The GPS system advised me that I had arrived at my destination, 8 Cliff Street, on my left. I saw 6 Cliff Street, but where was number 8? Number 8 was shrouded and hidden by a profusion of flowering bushes. It reminded me of the Forest of Thorns in “Sleeping Beauty.”
Pitirim A. Sorokin residence, 8 Cliff St., Winchester, MA. Photographs by Roger W. Smith.
Next, I drove to Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Mass., which was close by — a beautiful cemetery where my Scotch ancestors are buried — and photographed gravestones. This required a return visit a couple of days later because a cemetery worker suggested I have one of the gravestones, for my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother, cleaned, at the cost of seventy-five dollars.
Gravestone of my father’s paternal grandmother Jennie H. (Wright) (Smith) Simpson and her 2nd husband, Capt. George F. Simpson. Marjorie (Smith) Farrar (my father’s aunt) was her daughter. Elva Farrar, who died in infancy, was Jennie’s granddaughter.
I then drove all the way, heading south, to New Bedford, Mass., which was a flourishing city in the nineteenth century but now has a depressing look and feel to it. My maternal grandmother grew up there. I took photographs of the house where she was born in 1894. The house is on South Sixth Street. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Wing Street in New Bedford. I intended to photograph the house, but it is no longer standing.
120 South Sixth St., New Bedford, MA. My maternal grandmother, Annie Congdon (Hart) Handy, was born there in 1894.
I drove to New Bedford again early Thursday morning to visit Rural Cemetery, an old cemetery where many burials occurred in the nineteenth century. There, I located the grave of my mother’s great-grandfather, John Congdon Hart. He died in 1883. He had two wives and thirteen children. His gravestone reads “J. C. Hart / 5th Mass. Batt’y.” No dates are carved on the stone. John C. Hart was a Civil War veteran. The inscription on his gravestone clearly indicates that he was proud of his Civil War service.
Section of Rural Cemetery, New Bedford, MA where John Congdon Hart (1829-1883), my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather, and his family are buried.
From New Bedford, I drove to Cape Cod, a drive of about 45 minutes. I went to Cataumet Cemetery in the town of Bourne (Cataumet being a section of that town). It is a small cemetery across the street from a Methodist church where many ancestors on my mother’s side worshiped. Many of my mother’s ancestors, surnamed Handy, are buried there.
United Methodist Church, Cataumet, MA
Gravestone of Henry Thomas Handy, his wife Lydia Perkins (Ellis) Handy, and three of their children, two of whom died in infancy, Cataumet Cemetery, Cataumet, MA. Etta H. Handy was my mother’s aunt and a close relative. Henry T. Handy pursued a career as a whaler in his early adulthood and later became a farmer on Cape Cod.
Gravestone of my maternal grandparents, namely Ralph Ellis Handy (1894-1946) and Annie C. (Hart) Handy (1894-1972), Cataumet Cemetery, Cataumet, MA. Also named is Clifton Edward Handy, my mother’s younger brother, who died in infancy.
Another view of my maternal grandparents’ gravestone, Cataumet Cemetery, Cape Cod.
I then drove to Pocasset, also on Cape Cod, which is right next door. I photographed the beautiful house and grounds where my mother’s uncle Robert S. Handy lived. My mother and her cousins spent many enjoyable times during summer vacations there. One can’t miss the house from the street, although it is set back and is fronted by an extensive greensward. It is a neighborhood landmark.
The late Robert S. Handy’s residence, County Road, Pocasset. Robert Handy (1881-1972) was my mother’s uncle.
From Cape Cod, I drove to Dorchester, Mass., to the section known as Mattapan. Dorchester is part of Boston. It took me a long time navigating local traffic to find 67 Woolson Street in Mattapan, a modest house where my father, Alan Wright Smith, was born in 1917. I had never seen the house before.
67 Woolson St., Mattapan (Boston), MA. My father was born there in 1917.
Friday was a total change of pace: the American Literature Association (ALA) annual conference at the Westin Copley Place hotel in Boston. I attended a few lectures and the annual meeting of the International Theodore Dreiser Society.
Attendance at the Dreiser Society meeting was sparse, but I was very glad to be able to participate. I had the opportunity to meet noted Dreiser scholars such as Thomas P. Riggio, Renate von Bardeleben, Yoshinobu Hakutani, and Miriam Gogol, all of whom I already knew (not necessarily well) from prior acquaintance. Professor Hakutani made some very interesting observations comparing a work of Richard Wright’s (he is an authority on Wright), Black Boy, to an autobiographical work of Dreiser’s. I made a mental note to purchase and read Black Boy.
Other scholars present include Ashley Squires, a professor from Moscow who gave a fascinating presentation on the reception of Theodore Dreiser in Russia, where he has been for a long time — and is still — very popular. Being seated right next to her, fortuitously, I struck up a conversation. “For a Russian, you speak awfully good English,” I said. It turned out that she’s one hundred percent American and grew up in the heartland. It just so happens that she is teaching in Moscow.
I had a very enjoyable conversation with a graduate student from Oklahoma who delivered a paper on Dreiser. It was a pleasure to experience for a few minutes her sincere commitment to her studies and enthusiasm for them. A male companion was with her. They are both rabid baseball fans and were very excited about the prospect of attending their first game ever at Fenway Park that evening.
In the afternoon, I had an enjoyable get acquainted chat with a noted American literature scholar, Jerome Loving, a biographer of Whitman, Twain, and Dreiser. He was interested in talking with me about the Chester Gillette murder case, upon which Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy was based. I have done extensive research on the case.
On Saturday, I went back to Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett and photographed the gravestone of my Smith Scotch ancestors, which had been cleaned.
Gravestone of my Smith ancestors, Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett, MA. They included Thomas Smith, my father’s great-grandfather (who was born in Scotland); Thomas’s wife Jane (Gilchrist) Smith (also a native of Scotland); their son Thomas, Jr., my grandfather’s father (also born in Scotland); and Wlliam G. Smith, an uncle of my grandfather. (He was born in Boston just after his parents emigrated in 1872.)
I then drove to Cambridge, Mass., where I lived until age twelve. I photographed the house on Mellen Street, a ten or fifteen minute walk from Harvard Square, where we lived. The house is in excellent condition and looks the same, except that the back yard where we used to play has been paved over. Lesley College (now Lesley University) bought the house from my father in the 1960’s, and the section of Mellen Street on which the house stands has been made into a private way and renamed.
27 Mellen Street, Cambridge, MA. I lived there from birth until 1958.
27 Mellen St., Cambridge, rear view; the fire escape is still there.
I went over to the next block, Everett Street, where my best friend, Francis Donlan, lived. I photographed the apartment complex at 11 Everett Street where he lived. It looked the same, which is to say it sort of “reemerged” into my visual memory/consciousness — I had forgotten. Francis’s father was the janitor there. Parking in Cambridge must be notoriously difficult. Everett Street was one way, and restricted/no parking signs were everywhere.
Apartment house on Everett St. where my best friend Francis Donlan lived.
My last stop in Cambridge was Oxford Street, where I photographed my old elementary school. I walked right past it. Remembering the order of the streets, I was sure I had missed it, but how? I was looking for the familiar old building and schoolyard. I asked a middle aged man in a playground with two children, “Is there an elementary school near here?”
“Yes,” he replied, “the Baldwin School,” pointing in the direction which I had come from. The school, which I had inadvertently passed, was a block away.
The school when I attended it was named the Agassiz School. I always liked the sound of the name; it sounded distinctive. It was also hard for an elementary schooler to spell.
The school was named in honor of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873), a world renowned Swiss-American biologist and geologist who was a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University. The school’s name was changed to the Maria L. Baldwin School in 2002, due to objections to the theories of Agassiz, which have been characterized as racist. Maria Louise Baldwin (1856 -1922), an African American educator and civic leader, was principal of the school from 1889 until 1922.
I didn’t recognize the school building, and the playground where I used to play kickball was gone.
Maria L. Baldwin School (formerly Agassiz School), Oxford St., Cambridge, MA. Photographs by Roger W. Smith.
Oxford St., Cambridge, MA
The theories of Agassiz that have led to his being discredited are based on polygenism, the idea that races were created separately, that they could be classified on the basis of specific climatic zones, and that they were endowed with unequal attributes. It appears that the attribution of racism to Agassiz is not such an open and shut case. He did not support slavery, for example. In general, the renaming of buildings and monuments to conform to changing views makes me uncomfortable. A couple of former classmates whom I have mentioned this to feel, on the contrary, that the change of the school’s name was entirely appropriate.
Leaving Cambridge on Saturday morning, I drove as fast as I could to Oak Grove cemetery in Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod, wishing to arrive there before the cemetery supervisor, who works a half day on Saturdays, left. I got stuck in a traffic jam of holiday travelers crossing the Bourne Bridge, which spans the Cape Cod Canal.
At the cemetery, I found quite a few ancestral graves in the same section. I never would have found them without the cemetery supervisor’s help. My mother was born in Falmouth. Her maternal grandparents are buried there, as are several of their ancestors.
Gravestone of William Hewins (1801-1893) of Falmouth, MA and his wife Love (Handy) Hewins (1804-1884), as well as two of their sons. William and Love were great-grandparents of my maternal grandmother Annie C. (Hart) Handy on her mother’s side.
Gravestone of John Swift, 2nd (1806-1864) of Falmouth, MA. He was my maternal grandmother’s great-grandfather on her mother’s side.
Gravestone of Frances Lincoln (Weeks) Swift (1807-1868), wife of John Swift, 2nd, my maternal grandmother’s great-grandmother on her mother’s side.
Gravestone of Llewellyn Russell Hewins (1834-1908) of Falmouth, MA. He was the grandfather of my maternal grandmother, Annie (Hart) Handy, on her mother’s side. The birthdate on the stone is off by a year.
Gravestone of Arabella F. (Swift) Hewins (1834-1868), first wife of Llewellyn Russell Hewins of Falmouth. She was the grandmother of my maternal grandmother.
From Falmouth on the Cape, I turned around and drove right back, heading north and west, to Arlington, Mass., a town adjacent to Cambridge and only six miles northwest of Boston. It was practically a second home town for me in my youth. I photographed the big, stately house on a hilltop on Cliff Street in Arlington Heights where my paternal grandparents, T. Gordon and Esther (Whittredge) Smith, lived in the 1930’s and ’40s, which I remember visiting.
Views of 18 Cliff St., Arlington, MA,where my paternal grandparents lived during my early childhood, and of Cliff Street itself. Photos by Roger W. Smith.
And, the house on Wellington Street, near Arlington Center, where my grandparents lived in the 1950’s and ‘60s. I used to take the streetcar from Cambridge to visit them at the latter residence.
37 Wellington St., Arlington Heights, MA
It was adjacent to Spy Pond, which I photographed, and there was a baseball field across the street where I would sometimes watch games with my grandfather. I photographed that too.
Spy Pond, Arlington, MA
baseball field in park across street from my grandparents’ house
I then drove to East Boston, where my Smith Scotch ancestors lived and where my paternal grandfather, Thomas Gordon Smith, was born and raised. My great-great grandfather, Thomas Smith, settled there in the 1870’s after emigrating with his wife and children from Scotland. I found the house where my paternal grandfather was born and the house he moved to with his widowed mother and siblings when he was about ten years old. I found the residences where his grandfather, my great-great grandfather, lived at 606 and 635 Bennington Street. They are in good condition. The latter residence is owned and occupied now by the Salesians of St. John Bosco, a religious order.
606 Bennington St., East Boston, MA. The family of Thomas Smith, my great-great grandfather, lived their briefly in the 1880’s.
Photos of 635 Bennington St., East Boston. My great-great grandparents lived there for over 20 years. Photographs by Roger W. Smith.
I left East Boston at around 7 p.m. on Saturday evening and drove northward, hoping that I could perhaps reach Crane Beach on the North Shore before it got dark. The beach is located in the town of Ipswich. I remember going there with my parents in the 1950’s. My mother knew the beach well. It is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Massachusetts.
View of countryside, Essex County, MA, near Crane Beach. Photograph by Roger W. Smith.
Crane Beach, Ipswich, MA. Photograph by Roger W. Smith.
Crane Beach, Ipswich, MA. Photograph by Roger W. Smith.
A main objective of mine on this trip was to photograph ancestral sites and graves. Graves are very difficult to find; it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But, I succeeded beyond my expectations. Not only in finding graves, which are invaluable as genealogical sources, but also in finding and photographing ancestral residences and streetscapes and, most importantly, the houses, hitherto unknown, where my father’s father and mother’s mother and also my father were born.
I decided to share this information with as many descendants as I could, emailing them photographs with commentary.
Their response, in most cases lack of response, was much worse than I could have anticipated — disappointing, and in, a couple of instances, not just disappointing, but inconsiderate and mean spirited. Hardly anyone bothered to acknowledge having received the photos.
Worst of all was the response of some of my relatives (I shared photos and pertinent information only with descendants of the ancestors whose graves and houses I had photographed) who actually COMPLAINED, saying that because I emailed the photos and information to them, they found it to be a nuisance. It had taken me about to week to go through the photos, select the best ones, tweak them, identify them correctly, and write commentary so that my relatives would know whose grave or house it was and how that individual was related to us.
I wrote back to the disgruntled respondents, my relatives, merely saying: “This has involved a great deal of time, effort, and expense on my part.” I mentioned, in replying to them, the time, effort, and expense merely for purposes of comparison: what went into the project versus what would be required for someone to open emails, read them, and download what was perhaps a total of 25 photos. (I do not recall the exact number.) Considerable effort over several days (not counting the spade work, planning, organizing, and dissemination of the materials) versus a few minutes of one’s time for each email.
Regarding the supposedly great inconvenience of being bombarded with emails, what the pros and cons are, it’s not worth discussing here, but I would have thought that someone could have overlooked this (despite whatever their preferences are) in consideration of receiving hitherto unavailable photos and information that were obtained at great effort and considerable expense, and which were available nowhere else, that they would never have known about or had access to otherwise. I am talking about things such as gravestones and homesteads of people such as my nineteenth century ancestors, my ancestors from Scotland, the houses were my father and two of my grandparents were born, and so on. (When, say I “my,” I mean also “their,” that is, our relatives.)
I felt it incumbent upon me to share these materials with as many relatives as I could think of contacting and had the email addresses of, hoping that they would disseminate them among their children and grandchildren. I thought they would be appreciative of this and was taken completely by surprise.
It seems to me that it’s a matter of weighing in the balance what one would rather have: the “inconvenience” (as they conceive it to be) of having a few additional emails (of course, they will say, “what do you mean, a few?,” as if they were greatly imposed upon, put out, inconvenienced; choose your participle) within the space of a couple of days in their inboxes, and having to download a photo or two with a simple click, versus the thought, which does not seem to occurred to them, of what goes into ascertaining the facts thorough prior research (such as, where was such and such ancestor buried? where were my father and grandparents born? where in Boston, at exactly what address, did my great-great grandfather and his children live?). Using those facts to locate materials, planning such a trip, driving to various locales not necessarily close to one another, locating the actual graves and houses, and so on. It would seem that the favor and services done for them far outweigh the “inconvenience,” as they perceive it. But, people seem to take things for granted. The last thing they would ever do is look up such stuff themselves. When it is handed to them on a silver platter, they don’t appreciate it but instead complain, vent, and find cause for fault.
I enjoy such projects and find them rewarding, despite the effort involved. And, it is my credo that such materials should be disseminated as widely as possible among parties to whom they would not, presumably, be of no interest or relevance. But, I have experienced such lack of appreciation and inconsiderateness in the past. From persons who have made inquiries of me and requests for information and materials related to scholarly or genealogical research. I always go all out to respond and share what I have. It is incredible how often people don’t even bother to acknowledge receipt or say thanks.