Library's Big Step
Published: Thursday, August 19, 2010
By Kathryn Boughton
Names have always been important for Timothy Field Beard of Roxbury, one of the nation’s preeminent genealogists. Since early childhood, he has been absorbed with the histories of both his extended families and those of others, tracing some of them to seemingly impossible lengths back to the days of Charlemagne, the monumental eighth-century Frankish king who founded the Holy Roman Empire.
Some 40 generations have passed since the enlightened king, appalled by the illiteracy of his realm, sought to educate himself and his court. Charlemagne would undoubtedly be delighted to know that today even common citizens are routinely educated and that public libraries dot the land. But now the gateway to knowledge in Roxbury is being nudged wider still through the efforts of the man who traces those 40 generations between us and the Carolingian king.
Mr. Beard, a former Roxbury librarian and now chairman of the board for Minor Memorial Library, is encouraging efforts to install a new brick walkway from South Street to the library. Many of the bricks in the long, curving walkway will bear inscriptions of names commemorating births, deaths, marriages and other significant events in the lives of library supporters. Or a donor may opt to choose a favorite quote, to honor a favorite organization, a friend or an important date.
The cost of a 4-by-8-inch commemorative brick, bearing a three-line inscription, will be $125, while 8-by-8 inch bricks with four lines will be $225. There will also be 24-by-52-inch Roxbury granite slabs installed in the walkway, which will be available for engraving at a cost yet to be determined. Order forms are now available at the library.
The campaign, which officially kicks off Sept. 26, with a dedication ceremony from 2 to 4 p.m., is designed to help fund library activities. Speakers on that afternoon will include Mr. Beard.
“This is the path the kids from Booth Free School use when they walk up to the library,” said the genial Mr. Beard, as he sat in the book-strewn living room of his home. He said the elementary school children come to the library to hear stories and sit in the little “house” constructed for them in the children’s section. “They are like little birds, sitting there with their mouths open, just waiting to be fed,” he said affectionately. “What I love to see is the children who come back and continue to use the library. The walkway is their path to knowledge.”
Even in hard economic times, Mr. Beard is cheerily confident about the support Roxbury residents have always shown the library.
“The history of the library in Roxbury is so wonderful,” he said, “and volunteers seem to be our foundation. Back in the 1980s, when we wanted to build the new library, people said we could never raise the money. We raised over $1 million to build it. And when we had to move the books, it would have cost us $26,000 to do it, but the Friends of the Library and other volunteers did it for us. We have wonderful volunteers.”
Mr. Beard has spent most of his life associated with libraries. He was with the New York Public Library for 21 years before moving to Roxbury, where he took over from 92-year-old retiring librarian, John Humphrey. The town’s library had once been housed in the back rooms of the old town hall, but moved to a new building built with elegant Roxbury granite after Charles Watson Hodge left the town $30,000 in 1936—$15,000 for the building and $15,000 as an endowment.
The library remained in the stone building until 1994, when it moved to the new Minor Memorial Library on South Street, constructed on property given for the venture by Mabel and Sandford Sturdevant Smith in 1988. The library was named in honor of Mrs. Smith’s mother, a descendant of Capt. John Minor, who explored Roxbury in 1673. The newest library, three times the size of the Hodge Library, can shelve some 40,000 items.
Mr. Beard notes that he was only the fourth librarian to serve during the library’s first 100 years.
He did not start out to be a librarian, despite his early interest in bookish subjects and even though he made extensive use of libraries as a young person. He was born in Great Barrington, Mass., the son of Stuart-Menteth Beard II and Natalie Sudler (Turner) Beard. His parents kept an inn in Sheffield, Mass., and he was educated at Indian Mountain School and Berkshire School before going on to Williams College. He later helped his mother run the Sheffield Inn, but when she died, he went to New York City and then to England, where he again ran an inn for a year.
Returning to the U.S., he entered Columbia and earned a master’s in library science. Even before he graduated, based in part on the public library’s familiarity with him as a patron, he had already secured a position in its history and genealogy department. Genealogy was an itch he had started to scratch even before he was out of knee pants.
“From the time I was 4, I started to ask questions [about my family],” he related. “My parents were exhausted by the questions and would say, ‘Why did we give them all these historic names?’ I was named for my great-great-great-grandfather, Timothy Field.”
The original Timothy Field was a Yale graduate in 1799. A native of Guilford—now Madison—he was recommended by Yale President Timothy Dwight, his former theology teacher, to be called to the wilds of Canandaigua, N.Y., to head a new church of some 18 families. Before he left, he married Wealthy Bishop of Madison. Mr. Beard sees genealogical humor in a Wealthy Bishop marrying a poor Congregational minister.
Mr. Beard was nurtured in his interest in family history by elder family members. His grandmother gave him a Field genealogy when he was just 10 years old—perhaps a precocious age to have developed such a mature interest, but by then he was already exploring his family’s past on his own. “I was lucky because I started so young,” he said. A cousin, Philadelphia Stuart-Menteth Vines, taught him how to explore records, while another elderly cousin took him to cemeteries.
“The cemeteries were often on farms and she would call the farmers and say, ‘I want you to burn that field because I am bringing a cousin to look at the cemetery,’” he recalled. “I got a lot of training from relatives.
And what interesting relatives they were. His father’s name was drawn from the family connection with the Stuart-Menteth Baronetcy in Scotland. The title was created in 1838 for Charles Granville Stuart-Menteth and the family traces its descent from Walter Comyn, third son of Walter Comyn, Justiciar of Scotia, who in 1258 married Isabella, Countess of Menteith. Sir Charles was the first baronet, followed by his son, James. But Sir James was childless, and the English family had to reach into America for its next holder of the title.
Sir Charles and his wife, Ludivina Loughnan, had a second son, Thomas Loughnan Stuart-Menteth, who had immigrated to the United States. He and his wife, Maria, had a daughter, Philadelphia, and a son, James. When the second baronet died in Scotland in 1870, it was assumed that the title would pass to a male descendant in England because the family did not know that Charles and Ludivina had produced a son.
“I guess they [the English portion of the family] knew there was a daughter,” Mr. Beard reported, “but they had never heard about the son. There was a boy in England who was being raised to be the next baronet, but my great-grandmother and her brother had been taken to Canada to be baptized, so when the English family said James had to be an English subject to inherit, they could prove he was. I guess it was a big surprise.”
James’ wife, raised simply as Helen Fay of Fulton, N.Y., suddenly found herself a Lady, while Philadelphia went on to marry Mr. Beard’s grandfather, Dr. Cornelius C. Beard.
The cold of Canandaigua winters soon provided another twist to the family’s history. The Beard women found the cold oppressive, so there were annual sojourns in New Orleans, leading to a Southern connection. And, as was so often the case, family members fought on both sides in the Civil War. “One grandmother was a Yankee, the other was a Southerner,” he reported. “My great-grandfather Beard was a surgeon in the Confederate Army and my mother’s father enlisted as a 13-year-old and fought at Gettysburg. My mother was actually a Civil War pensioner.”
His great-grandfather Beard later moved to Boston, where he once declared himself to be a Civil War veteran on a census of surviving soldiers. But the animosities of that great war were still strong in the 1890s and, when it was discovered be was a Southern doctor, his name was crossed out with a heavy slash of ink and the word “Confederate” written in heavy letters after his name, Mr. Beard related.
The family’s connection to aristocracy is carried on in the Stuart-Menteth name, but according to Mr. Beard, it was his humble Irish great-grandmother’s legacy that sustained the family during the Great Depression. “She arrived from Ireland pregnant and unmarried,” he recounted, “although my mother always insisted she was married. You find her in the 1850 census in Delaware, living in a hotel owned by Capt. Buck Turner and his wife with her son, Henry C. Elliot, then 2 years old. By the 1860 census, they had ‘adopted’ her son, but not officially. She never did marry, but during the Great Depression, it was the money that she left to my mother that bought the inn in Sheffield—it wasn’t the money from the more elegant side of the family that supported us. I still have her sea chest from 1848.”
It is no wonder that this richly varied family snagged a boy’s attention and propelled him into the world of genealogy. So adept did he become at genealogical research that he soon became a force in this rarified world. He belongs to many genealogical associations and has helped to form and run some of them. He has, for instance, been registrar general, honorary deputy and governor general of the General Society of Colonial Wars for its New York and Connecticut divisions, been president general and genealogist general for the Order of Colonial Lords of the manor in America; is past president general and genealogist general for the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the United States of America; is past president general of the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York; past president general and genealogist general of the National Society of Americans of Royal Descent; commander of the Order of Indian Wars of the United States; is past registrar general of the General Society of the Sons of the American Revolution—and so on in a list too lengthy to list in its entirety.
He is a noted author in the genealogical world, having penned the 1,000-page guide, “How to Trace Your Family Roots,” published by McGraw Hill in 1977. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and is past president of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists.
Mr. Beard has done most of his genealogical research the hard way, traveling to towns and cities to research original documents or peering at microfiche copies. Now, he says, online genealogical sites have streamlined the process. “Ancestry.com has got so much,” he said. “It is so easy to access. The biggest change in genealogy is the Internet—on Ancestry you can check out the census records, the Civil War and World War I records, passport applications, passenger lists … .”
Even with the ease of research today—which can start on the Internet and then be filled out by personal visits to specific sites—the basics of genealogy remain the same. Researchers should provide evidence to prove descent, which include records of birth, marriage and death, when possible, drawn from town vital records, wills and deeds and the like.
“In New England there are so many vital records,” he said, “but in the South, there are not so many.”
Mr. Beard sees personal histories as a way to study broader topics. “It means so much,” he said. “When you teach history without names, it becomes just dry facts,” he said. “People were the ones who lived history. When people say they don’t like history, well, it’s the way they teach it.”
Genealogical history can lead to questions that illuminate the whys and wherefores of our past, he said. “Why did they come here, why did they settle where they did?” he asked rhetorically. Genealogy can provide information about emigration patterns, social upheaval, economic forces, and more—all in the context of a person’s own family. “I found out, for instance, that Canandaigua grape vines were sent to France when the blight wiped out French vineyards,” he said. “So French wines [partly] derive from New York grapes.”