Member Spotlight: Harold I. Pratt’s Family Research Guide
Curiosity about past generations of our families is a common interest for many of us, especially at a site like Mount Auburn where our landscape and historical collections are filled with tangible records of so many individuals from nearly two centuries. Longtime 1831 Society member Harold I. (Harry) Pratt has been finding out compelling, noteworthy stories of some of his nineteenth-century ancestors for many years, including two Mount Auburn notables: famed mathematician and navigator Nathaniel Bowditch and Civil War colonel Norwood Penrose Hallowell (Harry’s great-great-great and great-great grandfathers on different sides, respectively). He and his wife, Frances, were eventually inspired to create a short reference book on four of their ancestors, including Bowditch and Hallowell, as a family resource for future generations. The final product was Four Worthy Ancestors, printed by The Ascencius Press in Bar Mills, ME in 2022.
Learning about everyone was a gradual process, Harry recalls, thanks to a combination of saving family documents and participating in programs, trips, and exhibit events with ties to these individuals. “I’d accumulated quite a bit of information about them, which at first ended up on an apocryphal lower shelf in my home. It got bigger and bigger with stuff from the family that I didn’t know much about. And then more time passed, and the lower shelf was getting pretty full. So I began to separate the material and put together a three ring notebook for each of the four ancestors. That got me to thinking that it might be good if I could put together a little book about all this, for the benefit of our children, grandchildren, etc.” That inspired him to read everything more carefully and do additional research, deepening his knowledge of each individual. Now, he and Frances have distributed the final version among their extended families – as well as sending a copy to Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives as an informal, non-academic resource on both Bowditch and Hallowell.
Harry’s advice to anyone interested in researching family history is that there are more resources than you might think, if you start asking around. “I was so blessed by having access to a significant amount of written material about the old boys. But my advice is that if someone is interested in their family’s lineage, start talking to other relatives. Very often cousins have quiet interest in these things that you wouldn’t have known about. Find out if there are any family diaries. If you want to find out deeds or that kind of stuff, try the local probate court. There’s more out there than anyone might suspect. And as I said, I’ve been so fortunate in having – either by accident, or by pure luck – ended up with a lot of material. My job was to try to sort it out and make some sense of it.”
Mount Auburn resources on Nathaniel Bowditch:
Mount Auburn resources on Norwood Penrose Hallowell: