Social History Events in Greater Boston area this spring

This is just a handful of the many events going on at the living museums, historical societies, and repositories. Browse through their calendars to see what else is offered. Let me know about other events to be added.


Ongoing: Finding Home: Stories from a Neighborhood of Newcomers (Strawbery Banke, NH)
Uses stories to explore the experiences of immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Ongoing: Freemasonry exhibits (Lexington, MA)
Several exhibits focus on ritual books, brotherhood and Masonic gifts

Through April 18: Women in Medicine exhibit (Cambridge, MA)
Tells the story of female medical professionals from 1850-present and the barriers they fought against in order to provide medical care

Through April 19: Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell (Lexington, MA)
Explore how maps are created, and how various groups of people, including students, travelers, merchants, and politicians used maps.

Through May 23: Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial (Mass Historical Society, Boston, free)
This exhibition tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African-American regiments to fight in the Civil War, and the monument commemorating the storming of Fort Wagner.


April 17: John Demos (author talk) about the Heathen School (Boston Athenaeum, free)
Explores the Heathen School, which brought together students from all societies in order to “Christianize” them. Their acculturation into the local community (and marriage with locals) intensified racism. Click on link on right side of page for this event for more details. (John Demos is one of my favorite authors in the social history genre, and one of the historians who pioneered social history in the 1970s)

April 21: Patriot’s Day at Old Sturbridge Village (Sturbridge, MA)
Talk with men going off to join the battle at Lexington and Concord, talk with the women left behind, and learn how to make a cartridge and other hands-on activities.

April 23: Zabdiel Boylston Adams (Mass Historical Society, Boston, free)
Adams was a innovative surgeon in the Civil War. After noticing how many soldiers died while being taken off the battle field for treatment, he tried new on-site treatments in the field to save lives. He was captured and self-treated his leg infected with gangrene with nitric acid. Click on calendar link for more details. Registration required.

April 25: The End(s) of Revolution Symposium (Brandeis University, free)
Panel discussion about three different revolutions: The French Revolution, The Haitian Revolution and the American Revolution.

April 26: American Canadian Genealogical Society Conference (Manchester NH, free).
All day conference. The event I am most interested in is a talk in the afternoon by Pauline Cusson about New England Captives about the lives of those who returned to New England and those who stayed in Canada.

April 26: A Primer on conducting historical research (American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA $10).
Workshop led by Mary Fuhrer with a focus on the 18th century and uncovering the tidbits

April 26-27: A Weekend of 17th Century Samplers (Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA $240-$300)
The 2 day special event will focus on the samplers from the 17th century and the girls who created them. Scroll down to April 26 and then click on link.

 May 10: Walking Tour of Boston Black Heritage Trail (Boston, free)
2 hour walking tour by The Boston African American National Historic Site. Click on calendar link for more details. Registration required.

May 13: Slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian County: People of Color and the Struggle for Freedom in Revolutionary Massachusetts (American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA)
Explores the relationship of the struggles of people of color in Central Massachusetts and the new political ideas of freedom.

May 18: Natural Plimoth: Holistic Healing (Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA)
Explores the ideas behind medical treatments and theories in the 1600s. Scroll down to May 18 and click on link.

 June 20-22: The Dublin Seminar: Sports and Recreation in New England (Historic Deerfield, MA)
Explores sports and recreation in New England, primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries

And don’t forget to check out GeneaWebinars for upcoming webinars (most are free) on a a variety of topics.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo has also compiled a nice list of April genealogy events in the New England area.

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Body snatching and cemetery alarms

Recently I have come across an article about body snatching in London and an History Detectives episode that examined a cemetery alarm from the 1800s meant to prevent body snatching. Body snatching is the obtainment of human cadavers (stolen from the grave) to sell to medical schools to dissect. It has been around since the 14th century and was particularly problematic in England during the 1700s and 1800s. It was also a problem in the US. The NIH has put together an informative article on the history of body snatching for those who would like more information.

The History Detectives episode hit a little closer to home, examining an artifact that ended up being connected to grave robbery in the 1800s in Ohio. During the mid to late 1800s, medical schools would buy or steal cadavers to educate their students in gross anatomy.

In 1878, a newspaper article describes how the body of John Scott Harrison, father of future president Benjamin Harrison, was found in a medical school by his own son, who was searching for the body of a friend whose grave had been robbed. You can imagine how his son must have felt. This theft occurred despite precautions the family had taken, including hiring watchmen a d placing weights that would require many men to lift them.

As a result of this and other body snatching, people turned to explosive devices, including the one that is featured in the History Detectives episode.

How did your ancestors protect their dead during this time? Were they affected by body snatching?

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Creating your own social history

About a year ago my sister suggested I put together a little photo book about my daily life and send it out to my nieces and nephews for Christmas. I live in the Boston area and aspects of my life such as taking a commuter train and subway, walking through Boston and taking elevators at home and work is so different from the lives that my nieces and nephews experience. Recently my mom was visiting one of my sisters and the book came out. My niece especially loved looking at some of the pictures.

While Bridging The Past usually focuses on learning about social history in order to better understand our ancestors, it is important for us to share our social history with our descendants. Blog posts and photo books are one way to do this. Journals and scrapbooks are other ways.  What are some ways you have found to create your own social history for those that will come after you?

Here is the post I created on my personal blog for your enjoyment:
I take the commuter train into Boston. Here it comes!

Everyone getting on

I feel like I’m in a herd of animals as we all get off the train and cram onto the platform

If it’s nice I will sometimes walk over Beacon Hill

and through the Boston Common

I pass the Frog Pond. In the winter it is a skating rink (see the Zamboni) and in the summer it is a wading pool.

The frogs keeping watch

The Tadpole Playground just across from the Frog Pond. It’s fun to watch all the kids at play when it’s warm.

If it’s cold or rainy I’ll take the subway from where the commuter train lets me out to where I work

I spend much of my time in my office. I am a statistician and work in medical research. I work on a variety of projects with people across the hospital, the university and affiliated hospitals. I love the variety in my work (and having my own office!)

View of my office from the doorway

View of my office from behind the desk

View out of the window

One of the most important places in my office is the filing cabinet that displays the artwork of my nieces and nephews

I love coming home to my condo.

A view of my condo building from the pretty side, with a duck pond and Japanese gardens. Every condo has a balcony overlooking the pond and gardens.

The elevator in my condo building. I bet my nieces and nephews think it’s weird that I take an elevator to get home.

The sun coming through the colored windows in the hallway makes me happy

The living room is where I spend most of my time when I am home. One of the great parts of being a homeowner is that I can paint the walls and add color. I love my red accent wall. I painted the kitchen cabinets white a couple of years ago and it really brightened up the place. The other walls in the living room are beige.

At the same time I painted my bathroom walls. They are blue, not gray (a little lighter than the blue on the shower curtain). Love it!

This squirrel likes to come visit me sometimes on my balcony

I am working on the Master’s in History through the Harvard Extension School. I have finished all my classwork and am now doing pre-thesis research.

Gates to Harvard

This is the building where I had many of my classes.

This is the Widener library at Harvard, where I do some of my research.

I also have a genealogy speaking business. I recently started two blogs in addition to speaking (see Work, school, genealogy and church responsibilities keep me pretty busy. But when I have time to spare I love to create. I make jewelry, photo cards and paper cards. This is one of my favorite beading stores–in Harvard Square. They have a huge selection of fun beads and findings.

I also love to travel. I keep a shelf in my living room with souvenirs from each place that I visit. Can you guess where these are from?

Being a Mormon is an important part of who I am (and who most of my family is). They requested a picture of the temple that I attend. We meet in a regular church building for Sunday worship. The temple is a special place that we go to during the week to worship and make sacred promises with our Heavenly Father. The temple I attend is in Belmont.

Posted in Getting Started in Social History, Material history | Leave a comment

Adding Social History via Blogs

It used to be that we  couldn’t trust what we found on the internet. There are still certainly many cases where that is true, but there are now some very helpful blogs and websites out there that are well researched and documented. As my current interest is medicine in the early modern period (which was almost exactly the same as medicine in colonial New England), I have found some blogs that tie right in. They are written by experts in the field and are well documented.

Early Modern Medicine is written by Dr. Jennifer Evans, lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research interest is medicine, the body and gender in early modern Europe. Recent blog posts covered topics ranging from treatment and beliefs about the heart and heart maladies, rheumatism and humors, and using unicorn horns to treat poison. Other experts in the field often post as well. On her blogroll page, she has a nice listing of related sites. She is on Twitter at @UniofHerts

The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine is written by an international group of scholars interested in recipes. Recent posts include medicine as an exact science (using specific measurements so ingredients work in harmony rather than cancelling each other out), examining social networks using maps and documents to examine how recipes are collected for a 17th century manuscript, and a 17th century cure-all recipe. The Recipes Project can also be found on Twitter and Facebook (see the About page) and they had such interesting entries that I was distracted from blog writing for a while.  They also have a further reading page.

Hx: Medical Historia is written by Paul Middleton, a medical historian. Recent posts include early treatments for insomnia, the magic of the mythical unicorn horn that is included in many recipes, and sarsaparilla. He can also be found on twitter: @Paul_Middleton1

What are some of your favorite well-researched blogs to add social history context to your genealogical research?

Posted in Food, Medicine, Resources | Leave a comment

Finding history in the most unusual places

I was looking for something to read one night when I was home for Christmas and came across this book. I have really become interested in quilts since I first discovered Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek series. These novels set in the current day, but with strong historical themes, provide an easy to read and rich history of quilts.


I was fascinated by the way the author pulled together a story about individual women  involved in the Mormon migrations from the quilt(s) that they made. In the introduction she explains that she wants to tell the story of women using material culture. This is relatively new field of study focusing on the study of the role and meaning of historical physical items, such as quilts, that still survive. Cross carefully defines the qualifications for inclusion in her study, without any preconceived notions of which items will be included. Inclusion criteria included traceable history of the quilt from when it was made to the present, as well as the time periods and activities in which a woman must have been involved in with the Mormon church and migrations in the 19th century.

The most interesting part of the book is how she studies each quilt and the woman who made it. She gives the name of the quilt pattern, along with a brief history of the pattern and any distinct characteristics of the quilt. A photograph of each quilt is included. She then gives a brief history of the woman who made it.

While none of my ancestors are highlighted in the book, by reading through the biographies of the women and histories of the quilts, I am able to get a strong sense of what it was like to be a female Mormon pioneer in the 19th century. The photos and description of the quilts provide a reminder that this was a real person, not just a name and date on a piece of paper, that made these.

How have you used material culture historical studies in your genealogical research?

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Heritage Wall

I went to my parent’s house for Christmas. I love their heritage wall. They have so many heritage items up that I needed 2 pictures to get it all. The heritage wall is in their kitchen so they get to see it multiple times per day.

DSCN1233 DSCN1232

The pictures on the left feature my dad’s heritage and background. There is a picture of his grandfather, my dad and my dad’s younger sister. My dad was very close to his grandfather and as he was growing up he spent a lot of time helping out his grandfather on the ranch. The ranch heritage is represented with the cowboy hat, spurs and other memorabilia. The girl in the red blanket is Rhoda, the younger sister of his third-great grandmother. Rhoda was the last person in the Martin and Willie company to die–just a day before they came into Salt Lake. Rhoda and her family crossed the plains in 1856 and their entire company was caught in early severe winter weather in Wyoming. Just to the right of and under Rhoda is a photo of Charles Price. He married Rhoda’s sister. He was the minister of a congregation in England and when he heard the Mormon missionaries in the 1840s he and most of his congregation joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Further to the right are the Ellis Island backgrounds of both my mother and father’s surnames. In the middle is a large collage of images from Mormon pioneers crossing the plains. Almost all of my ancestors on both sides crossed the plains in covered wagons or handcarts to get to Salt Lake. Only my mom’s grandfather came later with his family (in the 1890s). In the bottom right are Timothy and Mary Jane Done on my mother’s side.

Have you thought about doing something like this in your home? It is a great conversation starter and a way to display your heritage.

Posted in Displaying Family History | Leave a comment

Genealogy over the holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all enjoy lots of family time this holiday season. I will be finalizing an interview with my dad about his childhood and updating the transcription. I also plan to put up some more posts about my life as part of “The Book of Me, Written by You.” What are you plans for genealogy/social history over the holidays?

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