Dover Country Store

Dover Country Store, Inc., 14 Dedham St. Vintage Post Card

I have often wished that I had a photograph of the Dover Country Store as I remember it from my childhood, so I was happy to discover this postcard on CardCow. This was a favorite place of my family’s in the days when we lived in Westwood and Dedham. In the front part of the store, they sold random household stuff, lamps and dishes and decorative items, if I recall correctly. (I was never much interested in that sort of thing.) They also sold penny candy, including candy sticks, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mint Juleps, paper strips with candy dots and my personal favorite then and now, red Swedish Fish. They also had old books, which we all loved, especially my father. Many of my parents’ old books that I still have came from there. In the back of the store, there was used furniture, which my mother loved. We bought a big, beautiful round pedestal dining room table there for $5 or $50 or something like that — I was seven or eight and don’t remember the details of the sale, I just remember how pleased my mother was with her bargain.

Bubbling Brook Restaurant : Westwood, MassachusettsWe used to like going for family drives in those days, and more often than not these would end at the Dover Country Store, followed by a stop at the Bubbling Brook for ice cream in season. My father died when I was nine and we moved to Worcester. My mother would still take us to the Dover Country Store once in a while, but it just wasn’t the same.

Happy memories, though, and seeing this picture really takes me back to that place and time. I look at this picture and can see my family standing out in front of the store — the kids with little bags of candy, my mother holding a lamp or ashtray, and my father with a pile of books — PhotoShop of the mind.

My Ancestral Village in Scotland

Day 326 : November 22, 2010

Until I started doing some research on my family history, I had a rather hazy and romantic notion of my Scottish ancestors. My Scottish grandmother entertained me with the poems of Robert Burns, and tales of Robert the Bruce and all the clever ways that he escaped his enemies. My grandfather sang sentimental Scottish songs like “My Laddie” and “My Ain Wee Hoose,” and we listened to records by Harry Lauder, Jo Stafford and Andy Stewart, and one of my mother’s favorites, the soundtrack of “Brigadoon.”

Lucy Goes to ScotlandBut my notions of Scottish village life were largely based on a special episode of “I Love Lucy” called Lucy Goes to Scotland, a spoof on Brigadoon. It’s a fantasy episode, in which Lucy dreams that she visits Kildoonan, the village of her McGillicuddy relatives, where she’s warmly greeted with singing all around, and then informed that every thirty years a terrible two-headed dragon comes around looking for a nice McGillicuddy to eat, and it’s just about time. Lucy is rescued from her fate by Scotty MacTavish MacDougal MacCardo, who is really Ricky Ricardo in kilts. I was very young when I first saw this, and although I knew it was silly, I loved it and thought that someday, like Lucy, I’d go find my family’s village.

My grandmother was born in Aberdeen and my grandfather in Ayrshire, and they had met and married in Glasgow. They had both moved to the big city and then to America, but somehow I had the vague idea that all the generations before them had lived in little stone cottages in the countryside, surrounded by fields of heather. I thought I would someday visit the ancestral villages of my Ross and Rennie relatives, where I’d find crumbling church registers recording births, marriages and deaths back to the Middle Ages, and a graveyard with tilting old stones marking the graves of my ancestors. Perhaps these graves were being lovingly tended by the grandchildren of the brothers and sisters and cousins who stayed in the village, who would invite me home for teas and shortbread.

But as soon as I started following the trail of documents online, I discovered that the past wasn’t like that at all, at least not for my ancestors. They moved around a lot, from town to town within a region, to Scotland’s crowded cities, and to England, Canada, Australia and America. Sometimes whole families moved together, but sometimes not. I found several children who were living with grandparents, and many young men (often just 14 or 15 years old) living as a lodger and working in coal mines or factories. Their sisters were often living on farms as dairymaids or in city homes as servants. My great great grandmother’s sister, Catherine Fraser, went off to China about 150 years before my daughter did the same.

I don’t know why any of this surprised me. I’ve read quite a bit about Scottish history, and know it was not all roaming in the gloaming. My ancestors moved around for the reason people today move around — they were trying to make a living and make a good life, parents sacrificed to support children and then children sacrificed to support parents.

Reality is more interesting and more inspiring than my fantasies.

Guard a Silver Sixpence

Guard a Silver Sixpence by Felicity Davis

In July I spent a few days in Scotland traveling around some of the places where my mother’s parents once lived. I have memories and a collection of facts that I can fit together, but I want to know more, to have a better understanding of the family’s story.

While I was there I picked up a copy of the UK bestselling memoir Guard a Silver Sixpence to read on the train. Felicity Davis tells her own story of life in a complex, dysfunctional Yorkshire family, suffering abuse from her grandmother while her mother and grandfather seemed unwilling or unable to help. The book alternates chapters between Felicity’s life, and the story of her grandmother’s parents and grandparents, which were much more interesting to me, and explain to some extent how her grandmother became such a cruel, hard woman.

Oaks Colliery Disaster 1866Felicity’s great great grandparents, John and Hannah Hinchcliffe, lived in Barnsley in Yorkshire, where John was a coal miner. In December, 1866, two underground explosions rocked the Oaks Colliery and killed 361 men and boys, including the two of the Hinchcliffe’s sons, Henry and Charles. This event was both an emotional and economic disaster for the Hinchcliffes and whole community. John and Hannah were left and six other children, a son and two daughters who were old enough to work and help support the family, and three little children, including six year old Emily and a younger brother and sister.

Little Emily, Felicity’s great grandmother, grew up in a respectable but poor family. She married William Swann, a glassblower with a drinking problem — glassblowing was apparently known as a thirsty trade. Emily and William both drank and had run-ins with the law, and the family sank into poverty and disgrace. At the age of 42, Emily and her lodger and apparent lover, John Gallagher were convicted of murdering William Swan after he had beaten Emily, and Emily and John were executed in a double hanging. Emily left behind eleven children, including four year old Elsie, who grew up to be Felicity’s grandmother.

Felicity Davis was fortunate, in a way, that her family grandmother’s family history revolves around these two well-documented incidents, a notorious mine disaster and a sensational murder case. In both cases, she quotes extensively from contemporaneous sources, with heartbreaking details that bring the story to life.

But what really interested me here is the social and economic history she shares. She doesn’t just tell us that the Hinchcliffes were miners and William Swann was a glassblower, she tells us what that meant at the time, both economically and socially, what the jobs were like, and how these occupations changed over time. Who was on their way up, and who was on their way down? How did families manage to make ends meet during hard times? Which young adults were able to marry and establish their own homes, and who needed to live at home, work, and help support their families? Many aspects of our lives are determined by the economic circumstances of the place and time where we’re born, come of age, and try to make a living and make a life for ourselves and our families. This is an area that I feel I have somewhat neglected in my own family history work, and this book made me want to learn more.


Google Books for Family History

I just returned from a trip to the United Kingdom. Most of my time was spent in Northern Ireland visiting my new grandson and his parents, but I also took the ferry over to Scotland and spent a few days riding around on trains. My mother’s parents came from Scotland and I grew up listening to tales of Robert the Bruce, poems by Robert Burns and music by Harry Lauder. My grandmother rarely referred to it as Scotland, it was always the Old Country (actually the Auld Country) and that’s how I have always thought of it.

In recent years, I feel like I have spent a lot of time in Auld Scotland, in a way. I have been researching my grandparents’ lives and our family history, tracking down documents on and Scotland’s People, finding images on Scran and specialty sites like Scottish Mining Website.

But whether I am looking clues to help straighten out a genealogical point or just trying to learn more about the specific places where my family members lived, the work they did and their homes, historical events that affected them and their everyday lives, I have found the digitized old public domain books work from Google Books. There are so many available and they’re so searchable. I can search the whole Google Books collection and find a personal or place mentioned in one or two books; I can search just the books I have saved to my own collection or I can search within a particular book. There are also tools for linking, clipping, and embedding the books, like the one at the bottom of this post. These books can also be downloaded in various formats which makes it easy to carry them around when I travel, very useful when I am trying to superimpose the past on the present.

Here are a few of my favorites from my Google Books Scotland collection :

My grandfather’s family came from Ayrshire, and I found this school geography book particularly useful. The travel books cover the cities and scenic places in the countryside, but skip over the small mining communities where my relatives lived. This book lists all the towns and villages in Ayrshire with population, and has lists of industries and mining operations associated with each place, railroad lines, etc., which is very helpful in understanding the economic environment of the places where my family lived.

Did Your Mother Come from Ireland?

Post Office, Clare IslandOr your grandfather or your great grandparents? If so, you should check out the National Library of Ireland, the newest member of the Flickr Commons. They have an interesting collection of photographs and will be adding more.

The Flickr Commons is a program that encourages museums, archives and libraries to share collections of historical images on Flickr where the active community of members can not only enjoy them, but add comments, notes and tags to help make them more searchable. Flickr members often identify people, places and events, and add other interesting information about the images.

Cooperage, Killarney, Co.KerryYou might recognize a photograph of a relative here, pr a photograph of the town where your great grandfather was born. Even if you don’t find anything that relates so directly to your own relatives, it’s interesting to look through these photographs just to see the faces, the clothes, the toys and tools and houses and landscapes.



Just in case the title of this post made you want to hear the song, here’s the late, great Gracie Fields (1898–1979) :

A Question of Language

My mother once told me that when she was a young child, she lived in a neighborhood where all the other families were Polish, and the kids used to speak to each other in Polish just to tease her and make her feel left out. She wasn’t one to complain or criticize other people’s behavior, and I could see she was a little uncomfortable sharing this memory. I remember her generalizing this so it wouldn’t seem like she was bad-mouthing Polish people in particular. She said that kids could be cruel sometimes without meaning to be, they just didn’t know any better.

I found my mother’s family in the 1930 Census. They were living on Endicott Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, and scanning through the census record, I can see that my mother, whose parents came from Scotland, lived in the only household where English was the native language of the parents. But the rest of the street wasn’t all Polish families, as she had thought — it was about evenly divided between Polish and Lithuanian families. So maybe the kids weren’t speaking Polish to single out and exclude my mother, maybe the Polish kids and the Lithuanian kids were switching to their parents’ languages as a way of excluding each other. My mother was only seven years old when her family left that neighborhood, so it’s certainly possible that she didn’t know the difference between the sound of the two languages, and misread the social situation.

Of course, I’ll never know. But I do think it’s interesting the things you find when you examine the scanned images of documents, and get to see your family members in a larger context, along with neighbors, shipmates, witnesses, etc.

1930 Census Snippet

Glimpses of Glasgow

2 Matilda Road, Glasgow, Scotland

I’m going to the UK on Friday, mostly to Belfast, but I’ll be spending a little time in Glasgow and flying home from there. I’ve never been to Glasgow but it’s an important place in my family history. The Ross sisters — my grandmother Agnes and my great aunts Jean, Kate and Lizzie — grew up there, so I grew up hearing about it. My grandfather’s mother was a live-in servant there, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother in Ayrshire, but when he grew up he came here and met and married my grandmother. I’ve always thought of it as our family’s Scottish hometown. The Rosses originally came from Aberdeen and the Rennies came from Ayrshire, but they all ended up in Glasgow and that’s where they all lived before coming to America.

I have been cruising around the streets of Glasgow on Google Streetview, visiting all the addresses I know from census records and marriage certificates. Same streets where my grandparents walked, just 100 or so years later. I find these images haunting in their very ordinariness. I look at them, and half expect them to fade into historic photos, and to catch a glimpse of my ancestors rushing along, late for dinner.

How amazing it is to have Google Streetview and be able to see specific streets and places that might not otherwise be photographed! And how amazing it is to have Flickr, Panoramio and so many other sites with photographs of everyplace you can imagine. For this trip, I have particularly enjoyed browsing around Geograph Britain and Ireland, a project that aims to collect geographically representative photographs for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland.

Off to explore some more…


On Sending Christmas Cards

A Merry Christmas - Santa and Child in a Vintage Car Vintage Postcard

I have great memories of looking through my mother’s Christmas card list. Looking through those names and addresses was part of the Christmas ritual.

We had old family friends named Helen and Henry who lived in the town with the lovely name of Maple Shade, New Jersey, on the street amusingly named Forklanding Road. We sent cards to Uncle John and Aunt Bessie who lived on Rochambeau Avenue in the Bronx. Uncle John was my grandfather’s brother but I have no memory of actually meeting him and Aunt Bessie in real life. Still, I marveled at their exotic address. Why was it “the Bronx” and not just “Bronx?” And how elegant Rochambeau Avenue must be! I pictured it as French, with ladies walking poodles past sidewalk cafes. My mother’s Christmas card list was a family history document, a collection of names and addresses of relatives near and far, old and new friends from various phases of their life.

Boy with Snowman Old Postcard

I sometimes feel defensive about clinging to the habit of sending out paper cards. A lot of people think that sending Christmas cards is a waste of time, paper and postage, and that it’s totally unnecessary in the age of electronic communication. Every December, newspapers, magazine, blogs, etc., are full of articles about how to simplify Christmas, and it seems that reconsidering the sending of paper cards is always one of the first suggestions.

And I’m just fine with that — if you take no joy from sending Christmas cards, don’t do it. I remember the days when the sending of Christmas cards was a social obligation, and people worked hard to maintain their Christmas card lists. I remember people checking off names as people received cards — if someone who you didn’t send a card to sent you one, you were supposed to quickly send one out to them, and if someone you sent cards to didn’t reciprocate for two years, you could safely drop them from your list. Or at least this was what the advice columns said: my mother was not the type to be checking lists and dropping names. But in those days, the same kind of people who today care about how many Facebook friends they have measured their popularity by the number of Christmas cards they received.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. We should all send as many Christmas cards as we want, which might be fifty one year, zero the next and twenty the following year. Who’s counting? We should all graciously receive whatever cards we happen to receive, and send whatever we feel like sending — which for a lot of people is none. When you see Christmas cards as obligations, and associate them with pride on the one hand or guilt on the other, you’ve lost the spirit of the season.

I’ve always liked sending cards as a small way to keep in touch with people who are important to me. This includes some people who I see all the time or perhaps communicate with frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc. There are also a few people who I mainly keep contact with through the annual Christmas card — sad, perhaps, but better than nothing, and just writing their names and addresses once a year reminds me of the good times we’ve shared. I wish I could say that I individually select cards for each person and wrote thoughtful little notes on each card, but I don’t. I just buy UNICEF cards, sign them and send them, most years anyway, and I hope that people I care about don’t sit around wondering why they did or didn’t get a card from me this year.

And whether by card, e-mail, Facebook, or just a good thought, I wish all my friends a merry Christmas and/or a Happy New Year!

A Merry Christmas Postcard

Scan and Copy Those Precious Pictures

Day 241: August 29, 2010I’m going through a box of old Polaroid pictures taken by my uncle Steve Brown, and came across these three. Wonderful photographs taken over fifty years ago of my father, my aunt, my grandmother and my cousins, pictures I had never seen before.

But look how close these were to being lost! They were in a fire and could easily have been destroyed, but fortunately the flames just nipped around the edges and didn’t destroy the images themselves.

Photographs are so precious and so vulnerable. Printed on paper, they can all too easily be destroyed by fire or flood, or damaged by mold, mildew, insects, etc. Digital images can be lost when a drive crashes, deleted in error or forgotten in the transfer to a new computer. And both types of photographs can be lost to posterity if the right person doesn’t take possession of them after you’re gone.

So scan every paper photograph you care about, and make more than one copy of the file, kept in different places on and offline. Give copies to members of your family, either on a CD/DVD or other storage device, or sent by e-mail. Upload them to Facebook or Flickr or — the more copies that are out there, the less likely it is that the image will be lost to future generations.

Digital copies are great, but make paper copies, too. Prints are inexpensive, so make lots and give them to all your family members. Some people will just toss them in a file or a desk drawer, but most of those copies will get passed along to younger family members, and there’s usually at least one person in every generation that’s interested in this kind of thing.

The care and preservation of photographs is a complex topic, and there are lots of books and websites that explain it all in more detail. But sometimes I think the technical stuff scares people away, and that they put off doing anything with their photographs until they have time to learn more and do it right. But don’t put it off — stuff happens and a single copy of a photograph can so easily be lost forever.

Family History in Postcards

If you’re working on your family history, you probably know the names of special places in your family members’ lives. Maybe your parents honeymooned at the Pancoast Hotel in Miami Beach, your grandmother graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and your great grandfather was the President of the Farmers National Bank in Abilene, Kansas.

Pancoast Hotel Vintage Postcard

If you’re lucky, they left you pictures of all these places, but what if they didn’t? My favorite source for this kind of picture is the online postcard store CardCow. They sell real postcards here, but after the card is sold, they keep the scanned images and information on the site. They’ve been doing this for years, and now have a huge collection of postcard images online. You can search by keyword, or browse by category: Churches, Hotels, Amusement Parks, etc. I like to browse by location so I can browse through all the pictures of a particular place, like my hometown: Worcester, Massachusetts. There’s no way to limit a search by date, but try throwing a year in a keyword search anyway. For cards that were mailed, the year of the postmark is indexed, so you just might get lucky. For example : 1906 Syracuse New York. Just keep in mind that you’re excluding all of the postcards that lacked a postcard, and that the dates aren’t very precise because many postcards were sold over a period of several years.

Erasmus Hall High School, Flatbush Postcard

Once you find postcards that are connected to your family history, you have a lot of options. You can order the actual postcard, if it hasn’t been sold already. As devoted as I am to digital images, I like keeping some of these in my paper files, and imagine my future grandchildren discovering them someday. It’s also easy to embed the postcard images in a blog or website, as I have done here. You can get the code to copy-and-paste in three different sizes. The image will be linked back to the Cardcow site, and have a subtle watermark. For cards that have already been sold, you can also buy a digital image in different sizes, starting at $3 for a 600 x 377 unwatermarked image for posting on the web. Larger files (1660 x 1044) with various rights are also available.

These old postcards can supplement family photographs, and help bring your family story to life!

Farmers National Bank Old Postcard

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